The ‘rag trade’, as it is referred to in the UK and Australia is the manufacture, trade and distribution of textiles.
There were various stages - from a historical perspective - where the textile industry evolved from being a domestic small-scale industry, to the status of supremacy it currently holds. The ‘cottage stage’ was the first stage in its history where textiles were produced on a domestic basis.
During this period cloth was made from materials including wool, flax and cotton. The material depended on the area where the cloth was being produced, and the time they were being made.
In the later half of the medieval period in the northern parts of Europe, cotton came to be regarded as an imported fiber. During the later phases of the 16th century cotton was grown in the warmer climes of America and Asia. When the Romans ruled, wool, leather and linen were the materials used for making clothing in Europe, while flax was the primary material used in the northern parts of Europe.
During this era, excess cloth was bought by the merchants who visited various areas to procure these left-over pieces. A variety of processes and innovations were implemented for the purpose of making clothing during this time. These processes were dependent on the material being used, but there were three basic steps commonly employed in making clothing. These steps included preparing material fibers for the purpose of spinning, knitting and weaving.
During the Industrial Revolution, new machines such as spinning wheels and handlooms came into the picture. Making clothing material quickly became an organized industry - as compared to the domesticated activity it had been associated with before. A number of new innovations led to the industrialization of the textile industry in Great Britain. Clothing manufactured during the Industrial Revolution formed a big part of the exports made by Great Britain. They accounted for almost 25% of the total exports made at that time, doubling in the period between 1701 and 1770.
The center of the cotton industry in Great Britain was Lancashire - and the amount exported from 1701 to 1770 had grown ten times. However, wool was the major export item at this point of time.
In the Industrial Revolution era, a lot of effort was made to increase the speed of the production through inventions such as the flying shuttle in 1733, the flyer-and-bobbin system, and the Roller Spinning machine by John Wyatt and Lewis Paul in 1738.
Lewis Paul later came up with the carding machine in 1748 and in 1764 the spinning jenny was also developed. The water frame was invented in 1771 by Richard Arkwright. The power loom was invented in 1784 by Edmund Cartwright.