The term 'textile' refers specifically to a woven fabric, though in modern usage the term has wider application. Fabric is a general term used for any manufactured, woven or non-woven, cloth-like material made for use in clothing, hangings and coverings. The term textile is used here to refer to woven, non-woven and knitted structures made of any combination of spun or plied, cellulosic, proteinaceous, or synthetic fibres, or metal threads. The processes involved in textile production are many and varied depending on the desired end product. They include extraction of the fibre, dyeing and spinning into yarn followed by weaving, felting, or knitting to produce a textile structure. These structures may be dyed or further embellished with surface decoration such as embroidery, printing, stamping, or calendaring. The processes are briefly reviewed below. For definitions of textile terms see Burnham (1982) and Emery (1980). For a complete account of the making of a textile see Hodges (1976).
Textiles may be used as loose or fixed top coverings over upholstery structures and frames. Choice of material may depend on the status of the user, function of the object and availability of materials. The fibre, colouring, structure, finish and the width and pattern scale (that is, the height and width of the pattern relative to the fabric width) are all relevant to the appropriateness of a fabric to a period frame and should, where possible, be examined and recorded. For example, fibre type and weave structure may indicate the status and function of the seat furniture of which it is a part. In the past, luxurious textiles such as silk brocades, velvets and damasks, often embellished with gold and silver threads, embroidery and trimmings, were reserved for thrones, canopies and beds of state apartments. In comparison, woollen textiles (stamped being of a higher status than plain), linens and cottons were more commonplace and used, for example, to cover the outer backs of chairs or made into case covers. Leather or a cloth with the weft of horsehair was used for dining room furniture since it absorbed food smells less readily.
Factors such as dye type may indicate the date of manufacture. For example, the first man-made aniline dye was not introduced until 1856. The style of the textile design, scale of pattern and width of a textile may distinguish a dress fabric from a furnishing fabric and indicate provenance and date, since there were differences in style and loom widths between different countries and over time. Also, the height, width and scale of the textile relative to the width of the fabric may distinguish sixteenth-century, seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century textiles from nineteenth- or twentieth-century reproductions. This is possible since earlier patterns were rewoven on different looms without allowance being made for the different dimensions of the looms used. Consequently, most of the designs of later reproductions have become elongated in width and shortened in length. All of these factors are relevant in dating, assigning provenance and assessing the appropriateness of a textile in relation to the frame to which it is attached.
Knowledge of the chemical, physical and mechanical properties of fibres, textiles, structures and finishes is essential to assess their suitability for use, environmental response and interaction with other materials in the composite upholstered structure. These aspects of textiles are more fully discussed by Clabburn (1990), Landi (1992), Montgomery (1984), Nylander (1990), Schoeser and Rufey (1989) and Timar-Balazsy and Eastop (1998).
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