Types of Finishing in Textiles

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.

Have you ever bought a shirt because it was especially soft or wanted a jacket that was insect repellent? These qualities are good examples of textile finishing. In this lesson, learn about different types of finishing used in the textiles industry.

What is Textile Finishing?

If you've ever purchased insect repellent clothing or enjoyed new crisp white cotton sheets, you've enjoyed the advantages of textile finishing.

Textile finishing is the term for chemical and mechanical processes used on fabric after it's manufactured but before it is cut and sewn into garments or made into other things. Textile finishing is used to achieve desired effects and it can have aesthetic or functional benefits. Finishing processes might modify a fabric's final appearance, make it softer, or improve elements of its performance. Whichever process is done, textile finishing makes fabric more appealing to the consumer.

Interior of a Korean textile factory. Manufacturing textiles can be dirty work.
inside of textile factory

Today, most fabric is manufactured in factories. Right after it is made it's very dirty and harsh. You wouldn't want to wear or use it for other things. In this state, it's called greige goods or grey goods. This is why textile finishing is important. Those dirty, nasty grey goods need to go through finishing processes before they can be used for clothing, bed linens, interior furnishings, and other uses.

Types of Textile Finishing

There are many different types of textile finishing. We can't cover them all, but let's explore important categories and some of the most common processes.

Washing and Drying

Washing cleans the fabric and removes dirt that might remain following the manufacturing process. It can also involve other finishing processes like bleaching, which removes color and whitens fabric, and scouring, which uses high temperature and detergents to remove dirt, grease, and wax from manufacturing. During this phase of textile finishing, the fabric might also undergo special processes like mercerizing, which is done to cotton. In mercerizing, the cotton fabric is submerged in a sodium hydroxide solution for short periods and then rinsed, all while being held in tension. This process makes cotton fabric stronger, gives it a lustrous or shiny surface, and improves its ability to take dyes and hold more vivid colors.

Stabilizing

Fabrics also need to be stabilized. These processes are done after washing.They tend to reduce shrinkage, settle condition, and readjust surfaces that might have become stretched during manufacture. Fabric stabilizing includes processes like calendering, which compacts fabric fibers by pressing them between two large heated rollers. Several types of calendering using different rollers produce specific kinds of finishes.

Some methods might be used on specific kinds of textiles. Fulling is a process that uses heat, moisture and friction on wool fabrics to makes them smoother and more compact. It's sort of like controlled shrinkage. Another process done specifically to wool is crabbing, in which wool fabric is wound on rollers at high tension and subjected to hot or boiling baths. The process eliminates distortion and helps set the yarn fibers so they hold their shape.

Other Finishes

Another element of textile finishing involves applying chemical substances to fabrics in order to achieve certain results. These might make fabrics resistant to static or help them stay wrinkle-free. Substances can also be applied to make fabrics water repellent, flame retardant, or anti-bacterial. Today, there are an endless variety of very specialized finishing processes to achieve desired functional results.

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