I was of the mistaken view that the life of the word textile only began with artificial fibres.

However I discovered from the OED that it was being used in the 17th century and that its etymology is from the Latin

< Latin textilis woven, textile (sc. opus) woven fabric, <

text-, participial stem of texĕre to weave. So French textile.

But what is now puzzling me is why it was not used in English before the 17th century? The following are the earliest OED examples:

Noun. 1626 Bacon Sylua Syluarum §846 In the warp and woof of textiles.

Adjective: 1656 T. Blount Glossographia Textile,..that is weaved or wounden, embroidered.

There are no other seventeenth-century examples and the word does not appear to come into its own until the mid-nineteenth century.

My MA history dissertation which I am finally getting ready for publication concerned the eighteenth-century woollen industry in Norwich. There are plenty of references to cloth, but nowhere did I come across the term textile.

  • It's hard for me to see why we needed the word textile when we already had the words fabric and cloth. Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 13:26
  • 1
    What is exactly your question?
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 13:37
  • Just a guess: "Textile" became more popular (or was invented outright) in English when it was used to denote "textile mills" where mass production of cloth occurred. Though the "Industrial Revolution" officially began about 1750, I'd guess that the first industrial-style (albeit manually powered) looms were developed about 100 years earlier.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 13:47

1 Answer 1


Textile is a term often used referring to the textile of fashion industry:

A factory producing a range of textiles.

The textile industry.

A textile designer.

Though the term textile is also often used as a synonym of fabric, there are actually some subtle differences especially in specialized usage. For this reason, probably, it was used mainly from the early nineteeth century (Ngram), with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the U.K.

  • "The Industrial Revolution began in the United Kingdom and most of the important technological innovations were British. Mechanized textile production spread to continental Europe".

The words fabric and cloth are used in textile assembly trades (such as tailoring and dressmaking) as synonyms for textile. However, there are subtle differences in these terms in specialized usage.

  • Textile refers to any material made of interlacing fibres . Fabric refers to any material made through weaving, knitting, spreading, crocheting, or bonding that may be used in production of further goods (garments, etc.). Cloth may be used synonymously with fabric but often refers to a finished piece of fabric used for a specific purpose (e.g., table cloth).

The word 'textile':

  • is from Latin, from the adjective textilis, meaning 'woven', from textus, the past participle of the verb texere, 'to weave'.

  • The word 'fabric' also derives from Latin, most recently from the Middle French fabrique, or 'building, thing made', and earlier as the Latin fabrica 'workshop; an art, trade; a skillful production, structure, fabric', which is from the Latin faber, or 'artisan who works in hard materials', from PIE dhabh-, meaning 'to fit together'.

  • The word 'cloth' derives from the Old English clað, meaning a cloth, woven or felted material to wrap around one, from Proto-Germanic kalithaz (compare O.Frisian 'klath', Middle Dutch 'cleet', Dutch 'kleed', Middle High German 'kleit', and German 'kleid', all meaning "garment").


  • As usual you have given a well-researched answer, Josh. In answer to what was my question, it is just that I wondered why textile was not used in the middle-ages, given that its etymology is Latin. What I suspect is that the word began its life as a generic term only after cotton came on the scene, and a multiplicity of fabrics were in everyday use.
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 14:46

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