Textiles have an assortment of uses, the most common of which are for clothing and for containers such as bags and baskets. In the household they are used in carpeting, upholstered furnishings, window shades, towels, coverings for tables, beds, and other flat surfaces, and in art. In the workplace they are used in industrial and scientific processes such as filtering. Miscellaneous uses include flags, backpacks, tents, nets, handkerchiefs, cleaning rags, transportation devices such asballoons, kites, sails, and parachutes; textiles are also used to provide strengthening in composite materials such asfibreglass and industrial geotextiles. Textiles are used in many traditional crafts such as sewing, quilting and embroidery.
Textiles for industrial purposes, and chosen for characteristics other than their appearance, are commonly referred to as technical textiles. Technical textiles include textile structures for automotive applications, medical textiles (e.g. implants), geotextiles (reinforcement of embankments), agrotextiles (textiles for crop protection), protective clothing (e.g. against heat and radiation for fire fighter clothing, against molten metals for welders, stab protection, and bulletproof vests). In all these applications stringent performance requirements must be met. Woven of threads coated with zinc oxide nanowires, laboratory fabric has been shown capable of "self-powering nanosystems" using vibrations created by everyday actions like wind or body movements.
Textiles can be made from many materials. These materials come from four main sources: animal (wool, silk), plant (cotton,flax, jute), mineral (asbestos, glass fibre), and synthetic (nylon, polyester, acrylic). In the past, all textiles were made from natural fibres, including plant, animal, and mineral sources. In the 20th century, these were supplemented by artificial fibres made from petroleum.
Wool refers to the hair of the domestic goat or sheep, which is distinguished from other types of animal hair in that the individual strands are coated with scales and tightly crimped, and the wool as a whole is coated with a wax mixture known aslanolin (sometimes called wool grease), which is waterproof and dirtproof. Woollen refers to a bulkier yarn produced from carded, non-parallel fibre, while worsted refers to a finer yarn spun from longer fibres which have been combed to be parallel. Wool is commonly used for warm clothing. Cashmere, the hair of the Indian cashmere goat, and mohair, the hair of the North African angora goat, are types of wool known for their softness.
Other animal textiles which are made from hair or fur are alpaca wool, vicuña wool, llama wool, and camel hair, generally used in the production of coats, jackets, ponchos, blankets, and other warm coverings. Angora refers to the long, thick, soft hair of the angora rabbit. Qiviut is the fine inner wool of the muskox.
Wadmal is a coarse cloth made of wool, produced in Scandinavia, mostly 1000~1500 CE.
Silk is an animal textile made from the fibres of the cocoon of the Chinese silkworm which is spun into a smooth fabric prized for its softness. There are two main types of the silk: 'mulberry silk' produced by the Bombyx Mori, and 'wild silk' such as Tussah silk. Silkworm larvae produce the first type if cultivated in habitats with fresh mulberry leaves for consumption, while Tussah silk is produced by silkworms feeding purely on oak leaves. Around four-fifths of the world's silk production consists of cultivated silk.
Grass, rush, hemp, and sisal are all used in making rope. In the first two, the entire plant is used for this purpose, while in the last two, only fibres from the plant are utilized. Coir (coconut fibre) is used in making twine, and also in floormats, doormats, brushes, mattresses, floor tiles, and sacking.
Cotton, flax, jute, hemp, modal and even bamboo fibre are all used in clothing. Piña (pineapple fibre) and ramie are also fibres used in clothing, generally with a blend of other fibres such as cotton. Nettles have also been used to make a fibre and fabric very similar to hemp or flax. The use of milkweed stalk fibre has also been reported, but it tends to be somewhat weaker than other fibres like hemp or flax.
The inner bark of the lacebark tree is a fine netting that has been used to make clothing and accessories as well as utilitarian articles such as rope.
Seaweed is used in the production of textiles: a water-soluble fibre known as alginate is produced and is used as a holding fibre; when the cloth is finished, the alginate is dissolved, leaving an open area.
Lyocell is a synthetic fabric derived from wood pulp. It is often described as a synthetic silk equivalent; it is a tough fabric that is often blended with other fabrics – cotton, for example.
Fibres from the stalks of plants, such as hemp, flax, and nettles, are also known as 'bast' fibres.
Asbestos and basalt fibre are used for vinyl tiles, sheeting and adhesives, "transite" panels and siding, acoustical ceilings, stage curtains, and fire blankets.
Glass fibre is used in the production of ironing board and mattress covers, ropes and cables, reinforcement fibre for composite materials, insect netting, flame-retardant and protective fabric, soundproof, fireproof, and insulating fibres. Glass fibres are woven and coated with Teflon to produce beta cloth, a virtually fireproof fabric which replaced nylon in the outer layer of United States space suits since 1968.
Metal fibre, metal foil, and metal wire have a variety of uses, including the production of cloth-of-gold and jewellery. Hardware cloth (US term only) is a coarse woven mesh of steel wire, used in construction. It is much like standard window screening, but heavier and with a more open weave. It is sometimes used together with screening on the lower part of screen doors, to resist scratching by dogs. It serves similar purposes as chicken wire, such as fences for poultryand traps for animal control.