While many people associate fabric primarily with clothing, various types of fabric are used for diverse applications in a wide range of environments. The main factor that determines where and how a fabric is used is its composition, which might be woven (of either natural or synthetic fibers) or nonwoven, meaning mechanically fused.
Garments of all types are traditionally made from fabric, though the type of fabric varies greatly depending on the function and style of the garment. Natural, woven materials (wool and cotton) may be used to make simple garments such as pants and shirts, while highly technical, nonwoven fabrics are often used in athletic and insulating gear designed to wick sweat away from the skin. Outerwear is often made from synthetic fabrics with the capacity to block wind or water.
In residential homes, fabrics have both functional and decorative applications. Furniture is commonly covered with fabric, both to protect its structure and to improve its appearance. Curtains might be made from fabrics ranging from light gauze in more decorative applications to heavy brocades. In addition, towels, bed linens, tablecloths, napkins, and kitchen supplies are often made in part or whole from various fabrics.
Many work environments require similar fabric applications as the home; however, workplaces often have additional health and safety demands. Uniforms, for example, are typically made of heavy-duty or highly durable wool or wool blends to withstand the rigors of daily wear. Filtration masks such as those used in hospitals are often made of cotton blends.
Many industries depend on specifically crafted fabrics to perform specialized functions. In the automotive industry, for example, air filtration systems are made in part from specialized nonwoven fabrics. In clean room settings, technical fabrics may be used to filter out specific particles or to prevent workers from inhaling those particles.
In certain agricultural settings, fabric may be used to protect crops from pests or environmental damage. In combat and law enforcement, fabrics contribute to safety gear. Generally, fabrics in industrial applications are referred to as “industrial fabrics.”
The long list of fabric uses attests to its importance in everyday life. In addition to the applications mentioned above, fabric is also commonly used for bags, purses, and backpacks; as part of tents and other forms of temporary shelter; and in air transportation devices such as kites, hot-air balloons, and parachutes.