The history of textiles, more than that of any other artifact, is the history of human ingenuity. From the earliest needles of 25,000 years ago to techno textiles used in Space Shuttle parachutes today, textiles have been fundamental to human existence and achievements, and have informed developments in other areas from agriculture to metallurgy. Textiles are global commodities, common to every culture and for a long time the motivation for trade, the exchange of ideas, and sometimes even conflict. Silks from China, carpets from Persia, ikats from Indonesia, cottons from India, fine linens from Flanders—each of these has helped to shape the modern world. This groundbreaking book surveys, from prehistory to the early twenty-first century, how textiles are made, what they are made from, how they function in society, the ways in which they are valued and given meaning, and the messages they contain. The author shows the intricate relationships between different cultures' textile traditions and demonstrates the significance of the materials we all take for granted in our everyday lives. 204 illustrations, 100 in color.