Textiles are classified according to their component fibers into silk, wool, linen, cotton, such synthetic fibers as rayon, nylon, and polyesters, and some inorganic fibers, such as cloth of gold, glass fiber, and asbestos cloth. They are also classified as to their structure or weave, according to the manner in which warp and weft cross each other in the loom (see loom; weaving). Value or quality in textiles depends on several factors, such as the quality of the raw material used and the character of the yarn spun from the fibers, whether clean, smooth, fine, or coarse and whether hard, soft, or medium twisted. Density of weave and finishing processes are also important elements in determining the quality of fabrics.
Tapestry, sometimes classed as embroidery, is a modified form of plain cloth weaving. The weaving of carpet and rugs is a special branch of the textile industry. Other specially prepared fabrics not woven are felt and bark (or tapa) cloth, which are beaten or matted together, and a few in which a single thread is looped or plaited, as in crochet and netting work and various laces. Most textiles are now produced in factories, with highly specialized power looms, but many of the finest velvets, brocades, and table linens are still made by hand.
Yarn, fabrics, and tools for spinning and weaving have been found among the earliest relics of human habitations. Linen fabrics dating from 5000 B.C. have been discovered in Egypt. Woolen textiles from the early Bronze Age in Scandinavia and Switzerland have also been found. Cotton has been spun and woven in India since 3000 B.C., and silk has been woven in China since at least 1000 B.C. About the 4th cent. A.D., Constantinople began to weave the raw silk imported from China. A century later silk culture spread to the Western countries, and textile making developed rapidly. By the 14th cent. splendid fabrics were being woven on the hand looms of the Mediterranean countries in practically all the basic structures known to modern artisans, and there has been no change in fundamental processes since that time, although methods and equipment have been radically altered