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You call that a textile?

My Take | June 9, 2022 | By: Janet Preus

It took me a while to embrace the larger industrial textiles world and get comfortable understanding them—all of them—as “textiles” (or “fabrics,” but that discussion will be for another time). What we may call traditional markets, such as awnings and canopies, tents and architectural structures, signage and other graphics, boat covers and upholstery, all use materials that look and behave like a textile. Geosynthetics is another matter, and its own “world,” you might say, but sometimes even geo materials look and behave like a textile. 

Relatively lightweight, flexible, rollable, a material that can be cut and sewn or welded—that’s what we think of. But let me pose the annoyingly picky questions: How flexible does it have to be? Does it have to be able to be stored in rolls? Some are so small that there’s no point in that, so, how large or how small? 

What of engineered materials formed from polymers? Any polymer (as long as it looks and behaves like a textile)? What if it’s grown from fungi and biodegrades in a short time? Does bioengineered leather count, or does it have to be woven, nonwoven, or knit? Or a film … how about that? Sometimes? Never? 

I’ll make this less annoying. I decided when I started writing about what I called “advanced textiles” that I would include anything that looked, behaved and/or functioned as you’d expect of a textile, as long as it presented a story about a new material, process or breakthrough of some other significance, such as in sustainability, health, protection or durability. 

Our features this month deal with this question. “Expanding the definition of textile” by Debra Cobb describes a number of developments, including bio-based and biodegradable materials, which are making inroads, particularly in nonwovens. Cellulose “skin,” conductive hydrogels and 3D printed materials are on the horizon. 

Additional stories in this issue illustrate other newsworthy developments, including Pangaia’s partnership with Spider to create biofabricated clothing, InVitro Labs’ recent grant to manufacture cell-cultivated leather, and Northwestern University’s smart, transient pacemaker that dissolves inside the body. 

I have chosen to be open minded about it all, which has given me the opportunity to include all kinds of stories in this publication that I could not otherwise have included. If you cruise through stories under our “Out There” tab, in particular – although many under the “What’s New” tab are just as intriguing – you’ll get a sense of how it is possible to interpret our industry’s products in many new ways. It’s all interesting, so why leave it out? 

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at

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