The history of stitch-bonded fabric

Today, stitch-bonded non-woven material is an extremely durable and sustainable textile that offers excellent value for money. The fabric is tough and can withstand heavy use for a long time. This is due to the way it’s made and the fact that it’s a plastic-based material made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) bottles.

Romatex is a leading manufacturer and supplier of stitch-bonded non-woven material in South Africa. We are able to produce up to two million square metres every month and last year, we helped to keep 54 million plastic bottles out of landfills and the environment. Our manufacturing facility in Cape Town uses state-of-the-art machinery to produce high-quality textiles for various applications.

The original stitch-bonded fabrics, which were first developed over 60 years ago, were viewed as low-cost substitutes for traditional textiles. They were generally made from carded webs of staple fibres on converted textile looms and machinery. How far has stitch-bonded fabric come since the mid-1900s?

Non-woven textile machine at the Romatex manufacturing facility in Cape Town

The original stitch-bonded fabric

Traditional textiles were woven together from spun yarns of cotton, silk or wool. The first iterations of stitch-bonded fabrics were not woven; instead, they were bonded through heat, chemicals or mechanical presses. The weaving or knitting processes were done away with and after various trial and error stages, the first ‘non-woven’ fabrics were invented in the 1940s in the United States.

These early versions bonded webs of fibre together with adhesive and were defined as textiles made of carded web or fibre web, held together with glue. One of the first non-woven fabrics was felt, which is made from wool fibres. When the plastic revolution kicked off in the 1940s, non-woven fabrics started to be made from synthetic polymers and bonded together by heat.

Stitch-bonded fabric as we know it today

Between 1940 and 1965, the process of manufacturing modern stitch-bonded non-woven material was refined. An East German textile engineer called Dr Heinrich Mauersberger invented the modern stitch-bond process in 1949. He also produced the first ‘Maliwatt’ stitch-bond non-woven machine that was capable of manufacturing the textile more efficiently and quickly.

In 1968, Arno Wildeman began manufacturing stitch-bonded non-woven fabric in the United Kingdom and was the first person to commercialise its use in the west. He refined his machines and in the early 1970s, Wildeman completely redesigned the original Mauersberger concept to include new capabilities in the stitch-bonding process. Most modern machines are based on Wildeman’s redesign, which has stood the test of time.

Properties of stitch-bonded non-woven material coming off the industrial machine

Theories of the fabric’s history

While stitch-bonded non-woven material, as we know it today, can be traced back to the mid-1900s, there are a few theories as to how the original concept came about. Some people believe that nature was the inspiration; silk cocoons, spider webs and certain birds’ nests could have inspired people to produce fabrics without using a weaving or knitting process.

Others tell the story of how a camel driver placed wool in his sandals to ease his sore feet and by the end of his journey, the moisture and pressure from his feet had created a soft yet bonded piece of material. Another story states that the origins of felt came from the Sumerians as early as 4000 BC.

While these theories make for good stories, there is no real proof of how non-woven fabrics came about. The non-woven industry only developed in the 1940s when industrial manufacturing and mechanical equipment reached a peak. Ever since, the production process has become easier and less costly.

Due to the many properties of stitch-bonded non-woven materials, these textiles have become highly versatile, durable and eco-friendly. They offer various benefits to end-users and the industry is still on a growth curve as new uses are being discovered still. For more information on our various products and textiles, please contact us today.


Romatex has been a leading manufacturer and supplier of stitch-bonded non-woven materials and homeware for over 50 years. Romatex is a Level 2 B-BBEE company that is owned by Deneb Investments Limited, a subsidiary of Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI), which is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). 

Our head office is based in Cape Town but we have branches in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Free State. For more information about our products, please contact Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram for our latest news and industry insights.

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