Textile-based materials

Types of textile-based materials and their uses

Selecting materials

Materials can be selected based upon their working properties. It is important to know and understand which materials can be used for a specific purpose:

  • How do they look?
  • What are they commonly used for?
  • How can they be manufactured?
  • How do they perform in use?
  • What makes them unique - are they the most durable, the lightest etc?

Fabrics are developed to cover a variety of needs.


How a textile behaves is vital to the selection of fabric. Fashion fabrics are usually lighter weight and more decorative than furnishing fabrics. Other functions such as warmth, durability, strength and absorbency may all need to be considered when selecting the right textile for a job.


Textiles used for soft furnishings and clothing need to be attractive to look at to attract the consumer and keep up with fashion. Decoration can be woven, knitted, printed and embellished on to create a particular aesthetic style with thickness, finish and colour all contributing to the overall look.

A modern living room with a grey sofa, many textile cushions and a large lit floor lamp.

Environmental issues

Textiles made from plant or animal fibres, such as wool or cotton, are renewable and easily biodegradable. Man-made textiles are made from oil-based materials, which are non-renewable and harder to degrade when put into landfill. Some consumers may wish to consider the environmental impact when buying products.

Social factors

Some textiles products may not be made in good working conditions. There may be issues with child labour, poor working conditions and the use of hazardous chemicals. Selecting textiles from a fair trade background can help ensure that the producers have maintained standards of fair wages and conditions for the employees making the product.

Cultural factors

When choosing fabrics, it is important to consider elements that might cause offence. The use of fur or animal skins may upset some people, while certain colours have different meanings around the world. The use of symbols and writing needs to be carefully checked for any mistranslation.


Many textiles are available in stock form, which means they can be ordered in bulk to arrive at a manufacturer quickly. Stock textiles will generally be cheaper to buy than specialist materials. Other textiles may need specially decorating or weaving for a particular design, so would need to be ordered in advance from a specialist manufacturer.

A birds-eye-view of a stack of fabric rolls in colourful shades.
Fabric stock rolls


There are several cost factors in the selection of textiles. The quality of a fabric affects the price - for example, coarser, easy-to-produce cotton is cheaper than labour-intensive silk. Decoration or specialist finishes will also add to the cost.

Calculation of material costs

Fabric is sold by the metre. When making garments the length needed is worked out using the pattern pieces in their lay plan, which ensures there is minimum waste while still keeping with the direction of the nap. When using a bought pattern, the lengths of fabric for different sizes of the finished garment is written on the back of the envelope.


When cutting material for a T-shirt with a nap, more material is needed as the pattern must be cut for the front and back side by side or one above the other, rather than having patterns at right angles to each other.

If 4 m of fabric is needed for one dress with a nap, how many metres would be needed for five dresses from material without a nap - provided that the pattern for non-nap material requires 25 per cent less fabric?

4 × 5 = 20 m with nap

25% = 20 × 0.25

= 5

Without nap = 20 - 5

= 15 m


If 2 m of fabric is needed for one T-shirt with a nap, how many metres would be needed for five T-shirts without a nap, provided that the pattern for non-nap material requires 20 per cent less fabric?

2 × 5 = 10 m with nap

20% = 10 × 0.2

= 2

Without nap = 10 - 2

= 8 m