Raw Materials Used in the Textile Industry

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  • 0:03 Raw Materials and Textiles
  • 2:00 Cotton
  • 2:38 Wool
  • 3:20 Silk
  • 3:54 Nylon
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

What are you wearing today? Do you know what it's made of and whether it's natural or man-made? In this lesson, we explore a variety of raw materials used in the textile industry.

Raw Materials and Textiles

People have made textiles for thousands of years. We wear them, and we decorate our homes with them. But when you see a label that says cotton, silk, or nylon, do you know what it means?

The textile industry uses many raw materials, or substances that have not yet been turned into textile threads. A textile is a material made of thin fibers or filaments spun into yarn and woven into fabric. The word ''textile'' comes from the Latin texere which means weaving. So textile raw materials are substances to be made into threads for weaving textiles.

Raw materials are in an unprocessed state. They might need to be cleaned, soaked, or treated with certain substances before threads are made. The textile industry uses raw materials from natural and synthetic (or man-made) sources. The type of raw material used depends on textile being made and the process that a factory uses. For example, a cotton-weaving factory might use different machines than one making synthetic textiles like nylon.

Keep in mind, the use of raw materials doesn't end with weaving textiles. Raw materials also include substances made into dyes to add color and pattern. It also involves using chemicals to make certain processes more efficient or provide the textile with desired end properties like waterproofing or fire resistance. For this lesson, we're going to focus on a few raw materials used to make textile threads.

But first, there are two more terms you should know. Staple fibers are fibers with finite length. They're short and include plant-based raw materials like cotton and animal-based fibers like wool. Then there are filament fibers, long thin fibers that don't have a finite length. They can be really long. Silk and nylon are examples of filament fibers. All raw material has to be in fiber or filament form in order to make thread or yarn for textiles.

Now let's look at some raw materials used in the textile industry.


Cotton, a member of the hibiscus family, is an important plant-based raw material for textiles. Others include jute, hemp, and sisal. Cotton comes from seed inside of a fruit covered with a husk-like container called a boll. When the cotton is mature, the boll opens to reveal soft, fluffy white filaments inside.

The bolls are then harvested, and the fiber is separated. Many raw fibers are then pressed into large bales (they may weigh up to 500 pounds!) which are then taken to cotton factories and opened. The fibers are then further processed and spun into yarn which is then used for cotton and cotton blend textiles.


Wool comes from sheep. Today, many sheep are bred specifically to provide as much usable wool as possible. Once a year, sheep are sheared of their wool, which is removed with a tool that looks like a large electric razor. It doesn't hurt them, and their coat grows back over the coming season. The best wool comes from a sheep's shoulder, followed by that from its flank.

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