The earliest form of fabric most likely came in the form of animal skins draped across the body for warmth, both as clothing and bedding. Because of their very composition, formed from protein and plant sources, early textiles tend to disintegrate over time, so there's very little evidence of their history. The best information we have about the history of fabric comes from the tools used in its creation.
In 1988, distinctive sewing needles made from bone were found near Russia. These needles were dated to around 18,000 B.C., and were likely used to sew animal skins together to form crude clothing. In addition, clay tablets have been found that show fabric weaving in the Middle East as early as 8,000 B.C. It's believed that the first hand looms were created around the same time [source: European Textile Network].
The earliest surviving fabric scraps have been traced to Anatolia (near modern day Turkey, and can be dated to around 6,500 B.C. These include woven rugs, along with some scraps that indicate early wool cultivation. Fabric at this time was spun by hand or woven on primitive looms, and was formed from linen, wool and flax.
In China, silk production began around 2,800 B.C., and became a major export, opening up trade routes and partnerships with countries worldwide.
During the 1st century A.D., both cotton and wool production became popular, and more advanced looms were created to make weaving easier. It was also around this time that the first spinning wheel was created. The first evidence of knitted fabric is also traced to this period.
Through the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, the majority of fabric production was done locally. Raw materials such as silk, lace or linen were traded among the wealthy, but the average person wore homespun or knitted wool and cotton garments. As steam and water-powered machinery became available in the 19th century, fabric production in Western Europe and North America shifted to centralized factories.
The next big development in fabric production came in 1891 in France with the invention of the world's first synthetic fibers. This cellulose product derived from wood and other plants was first known as Chardonnet silk but was eventually named rayon. The invention of rayon was quickly followed by nylon in the 1930s and polyester soon after. Today, a large percentage of fabric is composed of these fibers, bringing down the cost of clothing considerably [source: Encyclopedia Britannica].