Types of textile-based materials and their uses

Textile materials can be found naturally or can be formed synthetically. They can be processed into different forms such as rolls, yarns or fibres.


Natural fibres come from plants or animals. They are easily renewable and biodegradable.

Natural textilePhysical propertiesWorking properties
CottonGrows on a cotton plant in a ball called a boll, fibres are combed and spun into a yarnTakes dye well, soft, strong, absorbent, recyclable, used in clothing
WoolSpun from animal fleece such as sheep and alpacasCan be fine or thick, soft or coarse, takes dye well, warm and crease-resistant, used in clothing and carpets
SilkMade from the cocoon of the silkworm, the only natural fibre that has continuous filament fibres rather than shorter staple fibresSoft and shiny, drapes well, difficult to wash, expensive, creases easily, used in luxury clothes, underwear and bedding
Showing a group of long filament fibres and a group of shorter wavy staple fibres.


Synthetic fibres are made mainly from non-renewable coal and oil refined into polymers and do not degrade easily.

Synthetic textilePhysical propertiesWorking properties
PolyesterCan be woven or knitted, thick or thin and available in a variety of colours, can be blended with other fibres for better properties (see polycotton)Strong and versatile, it holds colour and washes well
Polyamide (nylon)Can be woven into many different forms, can be blended, available in a range of coloursShiny, water resistant, hardwearing, used for parachutes, clothing and sports equipment
Elastane Smooth and stretchyHardwearing, quick drying but not biodegradable, used in sportswear and swimsuits


Blended fibres are mixtures of fibres that combine properties.

Blended textilePhysical propertiesWorking properties
PolycottonMade of polyester fibres and cotton fibres, can be printed or dyedEasy to wash, cheaper than cotton


Woven fabrics use a warp and weft yarn on a loom to interlock fibres.

Woven textilePhysical propertiesWorking properties
Plain weaveThreads are woven in a simple under one, over oneSimple and cheap, strong and available in different thicknesses, when torn it rips in a straight line
Graphical representation of a plain weave, with the thread moving under one and then over one repeatedly.Plain weave (under one, over one)


Non-woven fabrics are webs of fibres that are glued, compressed or melted together.

Non-woven textilePhysical propertiesWorking properties
Bonded fabricsFibres are visible and random, often has small holes on the surfaceDoes not fray as it has no grain, not strong
Felted fabricsRandomly matted fibres, often wool, available in many thicknesses and coloursFormed with moisture, heat and pressure, can be shaped as it has no elasticity or drape, used for hat making
A close-up image of bright blue, crumpled, non-woven, bonded fabric on a yellow background.
Bonded fabric


Knitted textiles are made from rows of interlocking loops. They can be made from a variety of fibres, not just wool.

Knitted textilePhysical propertiesWorking properties
Knitted fabricsCan be warp knitted (straight lines) or weft knitted (knitted upwards), available in a variety of textures and colours, can have patterns knitted in.Warm, stretchy and strong, tend to unravel when a hole is made, used in clothing and sportswear
A graphical representation of a weft knit, as produced when knitting by hand.

Weft knit

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