Understanding the textiles world 3: diversity of consumer textiles

Investigating the diversity of style and design available to the textiles consumer.

Textiles are defined as “a type of cloth or woven fabric”. I started off this research point by looking at the history of textiles, to find the route in which we got to today. However it was far more complex than I imagined, with not only the dates of when certain fibres were started to be used to make cloth, but also dates as to when equipment was invented, such as the spinning wheel and loom, along with decorative processes such as dying and embroidering.

From wikipedia, it suggests evidence exists of cloth from 500,000 BC.

The textiles industry started off as a very basic need to provide warm, shelter, with wikipedia suggesting evidence exists of cloth from 500,000 BC. The earliest forms of cloth appear to be linen (36,000 BC), followed by cotton (5000 BC), silk (5000BC), and wool (3000 BC).

By 20th century more convenient man made synthetic fabrics were being invented like rayon (1910), nylon (1939), polyester (1953), spandex (1959), microfibers (1989).

In more recent years the use of technology has developed fabrics to suit nearly every need (and more than we can imagine) such as Goretex (breathable and waterproof – used for outdoor gear) and Kevlar (high-strength, lightweight and flexible, used for police bullet-proof vests), to Micro-encapsulated fabric (which can give off an aromatic and can provide vitamins or reduce skin irritation),and e-textiles (electronics adding within the fabric, which can produce, sound, light, movement).

In life as a whole, it’s interesting to see the more technology advances, the more interest there is in the basic, simple life. This includes a renewed interested handmade, local, vintage and organic textiles (such as handmade quilts, organic baby clothes etc.), as well as interests in basic crafts such as knitting, weaving, dyeing from nature. This can be highlighted with the rise of websites like www.notonthehighstreet.com, www.etsy.com and new magazines like Mollie Makes and Making.

I have an interest in both technology (and am constantly amazed at what is invented) and the traditional, but I decided to make a small collection of fabrics I have at home, which include
  • Leather
  • Organic hand-dyed Fairtrade cotton
  • Bamboo fleece
  • Hemp fleece
  • Woven tapestry
  • Embroidered linen

Half way through compiling this collection, I realised, that I whilst I had thought I had chosen traditional rather than the technological fabrics, the majority of the fabrics I had choosen would not be with me without the aid of technology in some shape and form!
  • Organic hand-dyed Fairtrade cotton - I purchased my cotton from http://www.fairtradefabric.co.uk/ and it is grown in North India to organic standards and woven with hand looms and dyed by a worker's cooperative involving 300 weavers in Tamil Nadu, South India. However, I feel Fairtrade wouldn't be around if it wasn't for the use of the media, and the fact that we are made aware of the poor conditions that some textiles workers abroad are forced to endure, and I guess the same could be said for organic products and the awareness of the chemicals in normal cotton.

  • Embroidered linen - whilst this has the appearance of a traditional fabric with it's embroidered stitches, it owes everything to the technology of a modern embroidery machine, with the capability to embroider tiny stitches in many different colours.

  • Hemp and bamboo fleece - I've tried finding out when these were invented, as they are only products I have heard of in the past few years. But it is technology that has either made making these fabric possible, or the internet that has brought them to the attention of the western world.

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