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Significance Of Textiles

Textiles serve the everyday needs of people, but they may also serve to distinguish individuals and groups of individuals in terms of social class, gender, occupation, and status with the group. Traditional societies associated special meaning with textile designs. These meanings tended to have specific meanings for particular ethnic groups alone. It was assumed that everyone in the group knew them. However, once the meanings have become lost, it is almost impossible to reconstruct them. The patterns in Javanese batiks, for example, originally had meaning to the wearer, but these meanings are now largely lost. Textiles also have real as well as symbolic value. Under Byzantine emperors, silk was a powerful political tool: foreign governments out of favor were denied trading privileges; those in favor were rewarded with silks.

Textiles have played major roles in the social, economic, and religious lives of communities. In many parts of Europe and Asia, young girls spent many months preparing clothing and furnishing textiles for their wedding trousseaus as a demonstration of their skills and wealth. Traditionally, women have played a far larger role than men in producing textiles. In many parts of Africa, however, men produce both woven and dyed textiles, and in many urban or courtly textile traditions, men were the main producers (e.g., Asian rug weaving, European tapestry).

Textiles are thus a major component of material culture. They may be viewed as the products of technology, as cultural symbols, as works of art, or as items of trade. The textile arts are a fundamental human activity, expressing symbolically much of what is valuable in any culture.

See also Dyes and pigments.



Harris, Jennifer. Textiles—5000 Years. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1993.

Simmons, Paula. Spinning and Weaving Wool. Seattle: Pacific Search Press, 1987.


Akin, D.E. "Enzyme-Retting Of Flax And Characterization Of Processed Fibers." Journal Of Biotechnology 89, no. 2-3 (2001): 193-203.

"Nontraditionally Retted Flax For Dry Cotton Blend Spinning." " Textiler Research Journal 71, no. 5 (2001): 375-380.

Randall Frost


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—A small cylinder or similar article round which thread or yarn is wound, in order to be wound off again and as required, for use in weaving, sewing, etc.; a spool.


—A complex morphological unit with an extremely high ratio of length to diameter (typically several hundred to one) and a relatively high tenacity.


—A machine in which yarn or thread is woven into fabrics by the crossing of vertical and horizontal threads (called respectively the warp and the weft).


—A substance enabling a dye to become fixed in the fabric on which it is used, usually applied beforehand.


—A bobbin with two pointed ends used in weaving for carrying the thread of the weft across between the threads of the warp.


—The threads stretched lengthwise in a loom.


—The threads woven at right angles across a warp in making a fabric.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Swim bladder (air bladder) to ThalliumTextiles - History Of Textiles, Weaving, Finishing, Printed And Dyed Textiles, Knits, Netting, Knotting, And Crochet - Textile techniques, Types of textiles, Woven rugs, Embroidery, Lace