Textiles may be made from natural products or from synthetic materials. The textile industry produces fabrics for clothing, as well as fabrics from home furnishing, carpeting, towels, and sheets.
People began weaving the four basic natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool, and silk) into cloth as early as the Stone Age. Pieces of woven cloth dating from about 4,000 B.C. have been discovered in Europe, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. The making of cloth had always been a time-consuming task, because everything had to be done by had. When the Industrial Revolution began in the eighteenth century, textile manufacturing was one of the first industries to be effected by the development of the new machines. The machines used to product textiles saved time and dramatically cut the cost of producing clothing.
The process of manufacturing textiles involves basically the same steps as weaving cloth by hand. The main difference is that now large machines are used to twist the fibers into yarns and then knit or weave the yarns into fabric. In almost all cases, the process is completely automated, with textile manufacturing workers operating the machines and making sure that the machines run smoothly.
The large majority of fabrics are produced by weaving or knitting. Woven materials are made from two sets of yarns. One set of yarn, called the warp, is threaded crosswise through a series of frames. During the manufacturing process, some of the warp yarn is raised and some is lowered. This creates a space through which the other set of yarn (called the filling or weft) is pulled to form the crosswise pattern. Various patterns are formed depending on the amount and type of spacing between the warp and filling. Knitted materials can be made either from a single yarn or a set of yarns. A knitting machine with automatic needles is used to make loops in the yarn and join the loops together, thereby producing cloth. Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber in textile production. Another widely used natural fiber is wool. Synthetic fibers are made from nylon, polyester, acrylic, and olefin. Research and development is an important function of many textile firms. Research is continually being conducted to find new synthetic materials, experiment with dyes and weaves, test fiber strength, and develop computerized equipment.
Another important area of concern for some researchers is improving the plant environment, especially methods of reducing noise and exposure to hazardous materials. Textile research and development people are innovators. They are professional scientists who put their knowledge to work to develop new ideas in textile making. Textile science facilities often include laboratories in which textile products are tested for such qualities as strength, durability, soil resistance, and other characteristics. Although the actual testing is usually done by technicians, a scientist oversees the operation.
While the research and development departments refine the process of textile production, the stylists and designers generate fabric designs. The textile industry offers careers in styling and design for creative people with a love of color and artistic talent. An increasing amount of designing is being done by computer. For example, CAD/CAM technicians use computer-controlled systems with CAM jobs to create the diagrams and drawings required for textile manufacturing.
Once a design is approved it is ready to be manufactured. The first step is to purchase the material needed to produce the fabric. Textile firms divide purchasing into two categories: raw fiber and general purchasing. Raw fiber procurement is a highly specialized field and requires knowledge of fabrics, market prices, market demand for various textiles, and other topics. General purchasing includes everything from office supplies to large machinery.
With the materials available, the production of the fabric may begin. Textile plant operations include many processes: opening of bales of fibers, cleaning the fibers, carding them so that the strands will lie parallel, twisting and roving the fibers, spinning the fibers into yarn, waving or knitting the yearn into fabric, and chemically finishing the fabric. Each of these steps requires special machinery. Textile plants have many kinds of machines doing different kinds of jobs. There is a constant flow of materials between departments. The machines that do most jobs are complicated and must be handled with skill. The people who control them have a great deal of responsibility. They operate many kinds of machines and must be able to do so without supervision.
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