What is Textile Finishing?

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 thought about why your favorite fleece jacket feels soft, or why a pair of pants repels water? Those qualities were created by a process called textile finishing. In this lesson we will learn what textile finishing is and how it's done.

What is Textile Finishing?

When you buy textile goods in a store, you choose things for different reasons: because they are brightly colored, soft and perhaps warm, or have some other special qualities. But do you know how the textiles end up looking and feeling they way they do? It is done through a process called textile finishing.

Textile finishing is the term for chemical and mechanical processes used on textiles after they have been made. One important note: textile finishing does not include processes like dyeing that add color to textiles, but it can make fabrics more welcoming to dyes.

These brightly colored flannels went through several textile finishing processes before they were dyed
colored flannels

Right after new textiles have been made, they are called gray goods because they're still in their natural color, and sometimes they are rough and unappealing. The industrial processes involved in making textiles can leave them dirty and not yet ready for use in making products like clothing. Textile finishing produces results that make textiles more appealing and usable to the consumer. Finishing steps may take place before and after fabric has been dyed.

Over time, many such processes have been invented. One simple finishing process, steaming, removes wrinkles. Some finishing processes make textiles softer to the touch. Others make them crisper and more durable. There are finishing processes that control shrinkage, and others that add special qualities such as stain-resistance, waterproofing, or repellence to insects.

Methods of Textile Finishing

But how is textile finishing done? Let's look at a few common textile finishing methods.

Chemical Finishing Methods

Chemical finishing methods include bleaching and mercerizing. Bleaching is a process of whitening textiles through a chemical process that involves oxidation. Textiles may be bleached to remove unappealing natural color or variations in surface color, or as a step in preparation for dyeing. Mercerizing adds strength and luster to cotton textiles by submitting them to an alkali solution. This process also allows them to better soak up dyes.

Mechanical Finishing Methods

Mechanical textile finishing methods include napping and shearing, processes that create a soft surface much like velvet. They also make textiles warmer for the wearer. (Think of your favorite fleece jacket or blanket.) During this kind of treatment, the textile is subjected to rollers covered with many very short wires that raise the fibers from the surface.

Close-up of the surface of a velour textile. This soft surface is created by napping and shearing
detail of velour textile

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