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Textiles, fabrics, and cloth are often used interchangeably, but there are some subtle distinctions between the terms. When it comes to the materials used in producing clothing or blankets, it can get confusing, particularly when you add wovens and nonwovens into the mix.

Merriam-Webster defines textile as a woven or knit cloth or a fiber, filament, or yarn used in making cloth. Fabric is defined as a material that resembles cloth, while cloth is defined as a pliable material usually made by weaving, felting, or knitting natural or synthetic fibers and filaments.

The confusion is illustrated in the definitions of the terms. However, it might be reasonable to say that all fabrics and cloth are textiles, but textiles are not necessarily fabric or cloth.

The word textile can refer to a lot of materials used in various industries and can range from the cotton, wool, and synthetic fibers used in clothing and apparel to those used for industrial purposes, which could include fiberglass yarn. Industrial textiles are used in most industries, and may include such products as belt drives, seat belts, fire hoses, and printer ribbons, and can be made of plastic or even thin metal wire.

Fabrics can be made of a single raw material or two or more raw materials blended together. Common fabrics include cotton, denim, leather, linen, polyester, satin, silk, velvet, and wool. Fabric is the term most commonly used to refer to the material used to make clothing and apparel.

Similarly, cloth is usually associated with the material used to make clothing, although it can also refer to a piece of fabric that covers an inanimate object, such as a computer monitor or a piano.

Any material made of interlacing fibers, including carpet, can be referred to as a textile. A textile fiber might include rayon, silk, thread, yarn, or even thin metal wire. Textiles are created by processing, weaving, or knitting them.

Commonly used to improve the soil where buildings, roads, or pipelines are built, geotextiles are a specialized use of textiles. They are a permeable fabric that drains, filters, protects, or reinforces soil.

Textiles used in bandages and medical dressings are another type of textile. As they are used for first aid and clinical applications, medical textiles are designed with specific qualities such as biocompatibility, absorption, repellence, or resistance to alkalis.

A fabric is a thin, flexible material made from yarn, directly from fibers, polymeric film, foam, or any combination of these. Fabrics cover all woven and knitted materials, but they include nonwoven materials, as well.

When you braid, bond, crochet, felt, or twist a material, it is a fabric and not a textile. The twists and the braids form a fabric through the amount of material that is connected. Through further production, fabrics are used to produce bed sheets, blankets, carpets, curtains, drapes, and clothing.

Textiles can stand alone as an unfinished product, or they can be combined with other materials to form something different. In that sense, fabric is an ingredient that needs to be mixed with other materials to form a product.

Not all textiles are fabric, but all fabric is a textile.

Within the clothing industry, cloth and fabric are pretty much the same thing. The words can appropriately be used interchangeably in most applications. Outside of the industry, there are semantic differences, however. For example, a member of the clergy might be known as a man of the cloth, but not as a man of the fabric. By the same token, the cultural heritage of a society might be known as the fabric of society, but not the cloth of society. Clothing stores are different from fabric stores in ways that we all understand. In most applications, the two terms are the same, though.

Industrial textile is a specialized field of the larger textile industry. These are the textiles used in the chemical, electronics, and mechanical industries, where direct or indirect use of textile materials are used in cleaning, filtration, finishing, industrial, or manufactured product, such as printer tape, silk-screened printing, roller covers, crushing and grinding technologies, seal and gaskets, conveyor belts, drive belts, brushes, and circuit boards.

Industrial knit fabrics are usually made from durable yarns, such as polyester and nylon. Durability, stretch, and breathability are important factors. Knitting machines are used to create knitted fabrics. The fabric is made from interlocking loops from continuous yarn that is looped back and forth to create the material, while woven fabric is made by interlacing two sets of yarn to form a grid-like structure, with very little stretch. In clothing, knit fabrics are cool and breathable, while woven fabrics are thick and more windproof.

Textile fibers may be plant-based, animal-based, mineral-based, or synthetic.



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