The Prologue to the first book in the Engineering with Fibers series provides some history leading up to modern nonwovens technology.
With the exception of wool felts, fabric making has historically involved the conversion of fibers into yarns and yarns into fabrics, primarily by weaving, knitting or lace making. The beauty of these technologies lies in their ability to assemble thousands, indeed millions, of individual fibers — themselves weak, difficult to handle and sometimes functionally useless — into integrated products that are strong, foldable, absorbent, soft, and permeable. Most fascinating, the fabric is often held together, in a highly ordered structural fashion, by frictional forces only. As such, the woven, knit and lace fabrics on the one hand, and wool felts on the other, take the old dictum "there is strength in numbers" a significant step further: "there is even more strength in ordered numbers."