The main objective of this paper is to investigate the applicability of a finite element method (FEM) to textile problems, in particular to the heat transfer behavior of plain knitted cotton fabrics. For this purpose, a heat transfer measurement unit is initially set up for the experimental study. Then, a plain weft knitted fabric model is developed using CATIA and finally the model is imported into ANSYS Workbench for analysis. A comparison of the experimental measurements with the numerical solutions showed that the FEM model developed for the heat transfer measurement including plain knitted cotton fabric produces very promising results. It also has the potential to obtain effective heat conduction coefficients of fabrics from new fibers such as bamboo, soybean, chitosan, etc., some of which are not available in the literature at present. © 2008, Sage Publications. All rights reserved.