Chazz is an Interior Decorator/Consultant/Retailer, amateur photographer, cook, gardener, handyman, currently restoring an 1880 Victorian.
A Musically & Otherwise Punctuated A-to-Z Glossary of Home Décor Textile Terms
For those who do not have a background in textiles and familiarity with the relevant lingo, trying to figure out the difference between a damask and a brocade or between stain resistant and stain proof, for example, can be difficult and confusing enough -- not to mention the frustration of trying to understand historic fabric terminology and names like Calamanco, Baize, Cretonne, and Turkeywork.
We have assembled this glossary or alphabetic list of fabric-related vocabulary words and phrases you might encounter when researching or shopping for fabrics for interior decorating. It is designed so you can easily find a definition and have a basic reference tool to help you decipher the language of home décor fabrics and to make it easier to decide if a particular fabric is appropriate for the home decorating project you have in mind.
A: Absorbency through Aubusson
Absorbency. The ability of a textile to absorb liquid. (See diaper.)
Abrasion resistance. The ability of a textile to withstand friction, rubbing, and surface wear. The higher the abrasion resistance, the more durable the fabric is, which is important in choosing heavy-duty upholstery fabrics.
Abrasion tests. Tests performed on textiles or surface materials that are designed to gauge resistance to abrasion, friction, scuffing and other forms of abuse. The Wyzenbeek is the most commonly used abrasion test.
Acetate. A manufactured fiber formed by a compound of refined cellulose (from plants and/or wood pulp) and acetic acid. Acetate fabric is made from the cellulose obtained by deconstructing cotton or wood pulp. Acetate yarn was first made in 1913 by the two Swiss brothers who invented the process to manufacture cellulose acetate in 1905. Acetate fibers were first made in the United States in 1924, under the trademark Celanese.
Adaptation. A design based on another usually historic design but modified in some way.
Adire. A traditional Nigerian resist dyed indigo fabric.
Alliballi. Indian muslin popular during the Regency era (late 18th-early 19th centuries).
Ambresine. A heavy cloth of cotton and hemp that was used in the Middle Ages.
Angora. Usually used to refer to the hair of the Angora goat. Also known as angora mohair. Angora may also apply to the fur of the Angora rabbit.
Aniline. A colorless odorless oily liquid base for many dyes that is derived from coal tar or petroleum chemicals. First distilled from indigo (annil) in 1826.
Antimacassar. A piece of cloth or doily originally pinned to the back of an upholstered chair or settee to protect the upholstery from macassar, a type of hair oil formerly used to make hair shine. Today antimacassars are primarily decorative.
Antique Satin. A satin weave fabric with slubs that is reversable with one side having a satin finish and the other side resembling 18th Century spun shantung silk.
Antique Taffeta. A stiff plain weave fabric with a slubbed weft that may be irridescent.
Antron. Dupont's brand of nylon.
Appliqué. Decorations sewn onto fabric or added to an existing surface.
Argyle. A particular diamond-shaped plaid pattern, named for the tartan of a clan in the county of Argyll, western Scotland.
Ariele. A woolen gauze.
Aubusson. A scenic tapestry used for wall hangings and upholstery. Name comes from Aubusson, France. The term is often used to refer to low warp weaving in general.
B: Back through Burlap
Back. The reverse side of a textile that is not seen in regular use. The opposite of the front (you knew that) or face.
Backing. A material or coating applied to the back of a textile to help it keep its shape and to reduce fraying, seam slippage and excess wear.
Baize. A coarse, napped, feltlike, woolen or cotton material that goes back at least to the 1500s and used as a protective cover for carpets, tables, and bookcases in the 18th and 19th centuries. In England, baize was used for school bags and to cover doorways leading to the servants' quarters. It is traditionally dyed red or green but may also be blue. Comes from the old French word "baie," a cloth dyed a brownish red colour. (If it is pale yellow, it is maize, not baize.)
Balanced cloth. An evenly woven cloth made with the same thickness or diameter of yarn throughout. (And preferred by 4 out of 5 jugglers and tightrope walkers.)
Balanced stripes. Any striped pattern with background and stripe the same width. Bengal and candy stripes are both balanced stripes. (Preferred by 4 out of 5 psychiatrists for couch upholstery.)
Bamboo. Bamboo is a natural fiber that comes from the pulp of the fast growing, rapidly renewing Bamboo plant. Growing as much as 3 feet in one day and requiring little or no pesticides, bamboo is even more sustainable and earth-friendly than cotton and is becoming an increasingly popular fiber in many types of fabrics. Animal rights activists will be happy to know that the type of bamboo used to make fabric is not the same as the variety that Panda's feed on.
Bamboo fabric. Fabric made from bamboo fibers is naturally soft, has moisture-wicking (it's three times as absorbent as cotton) and insulating properties, and is breathable and somewhat antibacterial and therefore naturally odor resistant.
Bannigan. A type of moleskin. (Not to be confused with the chain of eateries.
Bargello. Also known as Florentine or Flamestitch. A geometric or zigzag pattern made from long straight vertical stitches on canvas. (See photo.) Bargello originated in 17th century Europe but works with many styles of décor. It is very durable and is suitable for upholstery. Bargello is also used to refer to printed patterns that resemble the traditional needlepoint designs. (Not the name for those jello shots that go down a little too easily at the local bar...)
Barkcloth. Originally referred to a fabric made from inner bark of certain trees, which is soaked and beaten with a mallet into a thin sheet. It can be bleached, dyed or painted. Called "tapa" in Hawaii and "kapa" in Fiji, barkcloth was a staple throughout the South Pacific. Barkcloth also refers to a soft and textured cotton and/or rayon fabric with a crepe-like feel that is made to resemble true barkcloth. (although some can be printed in colors so loud it might be more accurate to say it resembles the bark of a dog). Barkcloth printed with floral and leaf designs was a popular decorating fabric in the 1930s through 1950s.
Barras. A coarse linen fabric originally produced in holland. (Which may be why the only remotely clever thing I think of to say about it is also too coarse to include here.)
Barre. A fabric in which stripes run in crosswise directions. (Not the rail or bar that dancers use for support during warm-ups.)
Barrier Fabric. Fabrics that act as barriers to dust, dust mites, and allergens.
Basketweave. A plain or tabby weaving variation named for the basket-like pattern of the weave. (Duh.)
Bast fiber. Strong, soft, woody fibers, such as flax, jute, hemp, and ramie obtained from the inner stems of plants.
Batik. A type of hand-printed fabric that orginated in Java and involves using wax to coat parts of the fabric so they resist dye. The process can be repeated for multi-color designs. Batik usually has a veined appearance where the dye has gone through cracks in the wax. Batik is also used to refer to mechanically printed designs that imitate batik patterns.
Batt or Batting. Sheets or rolls of carded cotton or wool or other fibers used for spinning or for stuffing, padding, quilting, and felting. (Has nothing to do with America's favorite pastime [ No - not that one - I am referring to baseball. This page is rated "G"], although it would help cushion mitts as well as mattresses, both of which also favor double "t"s. Batting was also used to cushion Dracula's coffin.)
Batiste. Fine lightweight cotton or bleached linen sometimes used for curtains.
Bayardere. Refers to stripes that run crosswise in a knit or woven fabric, usually in strongly contrasting colors.
Bearskin cloth. A thick wool fabric with a shaggy nap produced in Norfolk, England, in the 14th and 15th centuries. (Too bad they didn't stick to using the cloth for rugs too. Would've saved a lot of bears.)
Beaver cloth. A heavy wool that was napped and pressed down to look like beaver fur. (And the beavers are dam happy about that!)
Bedford Cord. A sturdy fabric with raised lengthwise ridges which make it very strong and highly durable. Bedford cord can be made with either man-made fibres, cotton, worsted wool or a combination of all three. It is often used for upholstery. Originally known as a cord broadcloth, it was woven in Britain by Flemish weavers as early as the early 14th century. In the 15th century this cloth was adopted by the Duke of Bedford for his troop's uniforms, hence the name.
Beetling. The striking of woven linen or ramie fabric with rollers to flatten the fibers and produce a more lustrous fabric. (Has nothing to do with bugs or the mop-haired quartet from Liverpool, but bet you can't get them out of your head now...) Beetling comes from the Old English betel, meaning "to beat," and everyone knows the Beatles can't be beat :-)
Beatle-ing of a different sort
Beggar's Inkle. An 18th and 19th century term for a fabric comparable to Linsey-Woolsey.
Bemberg. A brand of high-quality rayon. Because of United States Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Bemberg is now only produced in Italy. (Learn more about Bemberg.)
Benares. A lightweight fabric usually woven with metallic threads that originated in Benares, a town in India.
Bengal stripes. Fairly narrow, equal width balanced stripes.
Bengaline. A lustrous durable fabric with a crosswise rib. It is often made from a blend of fibers (rayon, nylon, cotton, and/or wool) and is heavy. (You guessed it! The name originated because the originally silk fabric originated in what was originally called Bengal but is now called Bengladesh. If you guessed the fabric was named after Bengal Tigers, which also originated from the same area, return to the beginning and start over.)
Bias. The direction of a piece of woven fabric at 45 degree angles to its warp and weft threads. Every piece of woven fabric has two biases, perpendicular to each other. (They are non-partial, although each may be said to lean in a different direction.)
Billiard cloth. The green cloth used on billiard tables. (duh!) This is Traditionally a very fine high-quality wool twilled fabric.
Birds-eye. Fabric with a woven-in dobby design with a center dot resembling the eye of a bird. It is used in diapers, and pique. The expression does not, in this case, refer to an aerial view as one might find in google maps' street view option.
Black work. Refers to an embroidery style worked on a frame in black silk on a white linen ground.Believed to have been introduced by Catherine of Aragon, one of Henry VIII's wives, and also known as Spanish work (because she was). The most common designs were scrolls, vines, and leaves.
Blanket cloth. A thick, heavily napped cloth named after Thomas Blanquette, a Flemish weaver who lived in the fourteenth century. (And carried around by Linus and other tots ever since.)
Blend. A mix of different fiber types combined to create a yarn or fabric. Fabrics are often made from blended yarns to increase durability, stretch, stain resistance and to decrease cost. (As far as we're concerned, not a mix of coffee beans, scotch, pipe tobacco or anything else. This glossary is about fabrics and fabric-related terminology.)
Block printing. A hand-printing process in which a design is carved on a number of blocks of wood which together represent the entire pattern. Each color requires a different block. It is the earliest form of textile printing and today is a highly specialized art form, although in some cases linoleum blocks have replaced the wooden ones. Dye is placed on the surface and the block is placed on the fabric. Pressure is then applied to the block to transfer the dye.
Also referred to as hand-blocked printing.
Block Printing Fabric
Bocking. Coarse wool flannel or baize. Named for a city in England where the cloth was manufactured. (Bet that's not what you thought it meant! And it has nothing to do with bock beer either.)
Body. A term used to describe a full hand with bounce or resilience. It can also refer to the fullness of a fabric. This is a subjective judgment informed by experience. A fabric is said to have a good body when it has a full, rich, and supple hand and is not limp or stiff. (No. I'm not going there.)
Boiled Wool. Thick, dense fabric that is heavily fulled to completely obscure its knitted construction. (Presumably tastes like mutton.)
Bolt. An entire length of fabric, rolled full width on a tube. (Not electrically charged, but can still knock you out if one strikes you.)
Bombast. Cotton wool used for padding in the Elizabethan era.
Bombazine. A twilled silk and worsted fabric. (Has nothing to do with weaponry or war. Actually comes from the French/Latin/Greek word for silk/silkworm. Ain't English grand!)
Botany Wool. Refers to yarns and fabrics made from Merino Wool. The term comes from Botany Bay, Australia.
Bouclé. A knit or woven fabric made from a rough, curly, knotted bouclé yarn. The fabric has a looped, curly, knotted surface on one or both sides. Bouclé, pronounced [boo-klay'], is French for curled or ringed. (Yes, Lucy. It is naturally curly.)
Bourette. A fancy plied yarn with nubs And knots of another color. See noil.
Bridgewater. An early type of light woolen broadcloth.
Brighton weave. See honeycomb weave.
Broadcloth. Originally, a firm, tabby woven wool with a shorn, smooth surface. Broadcloth has been made for more than 600 years. Although it differed by country and purpose, broadcloth was usually about 2 to 2.5 yards wide by varying lengths up to 30 yards or more. Contemporary broadcloth is a woven fabric of cotton, rayon, or a blend of cotton or rayon with polyester, with a smooth finish. (When used to describe fabric, "broad" is considered neither an insult nor a derogatory term.)
Brocade. Originally an elegant, heavy silk fabric with a floral or figured pattern woven with gold or silver thread imitating embroidery and produced in China and Japan. Now, the term brocade more often refers to a rich, heavy jacquard type fabric, that may or may not be silk, with all-over raised designs or intricate patterns. Floating yarns on the back of the fabric are characteristic of brocade.
Brocaded satin. A satin fabric with raised Jacquard woven designs.
Brocatelle. A fabric similar to brocade but with designs in high relief, made on a jacquard loom today, but dating back to medieval times. The fabric usually has a firm texture and high yarn count. The pattern has a distinctive blistered or puffed appearance originally created to imitate tooled leather. (Has nothing to do with Italian food beyond being food for the soul and a feast for the eyes.)
Broderie Anglaise. Comes from the French language term for "English embroidery." Broderie Anglaise is a type of cotton fabric embroidered with white cotton threads in a design outlined in buttonhole stitches and designed to be cut away. Similar to eyelet.
Buckram. A coarse fabric of cotton or linen used for stiffening items like curtain headings and tie backs. Originally, buckram was sized with starch that was not permanent, but today most buckrams are finished so they remain stiff. (Also an angry male sheep.)
Buffins. A cloth similar to Camlet and in production circa 1580-1620. (As far as we know has nothing to do with Hobbits.)
Bugazeen. Also known as calico. (Not a pesticide or anything else to be afraid of, although some of the more garishly colored calicos can be frightening in their own way.)
Burlap. A loosely constructed, heavy weight, plain weave fabric made of irregular yarns such as jute and used as a carpet backing, furniture webbing and, as fashion dictates, a drapery fabric. Also called Hessian in the jargon.
C: Calamanco through Calender
Calamanco. A cotton or worsted fabric with a hot-pressed glazed finish in designs that resemble silk brocade. There are references to Calamanco as early as the late 16th century. Calamanco was very popular in the 1700s through 1800s and was produced in a wide range of patterns. It seems to have originated in Norwich, England. (As far is we know, Calamanco is not the name of a place, which is why Hope and Crosby probably didn't include the "Road to Calamanco" in their popular series of films.)
Calender, calendaring. A cloth finishing machine which presses a fabric smooth by passing it through two heated cylinders. Can be used to emboss velvet or add a glaze to a fabric. (Has nothing to do with schedules or dates, although one can pin-up fabric that has been calendered.)
Calendar-ing circa 1960...
Calico through Camlett
Calico. Calico originated in Calicut, India where the fabric was first produced and printed with cut woodblocks. The first of calicut fabrics were imported to England around 1630. Over time, the name evolved to the term calico that we use today to describe a cotton fabric with a small, usually floral, print. Common end-uses include quilts and curtains. Also called bugazeen.
Cambric. Fine densely woven bleached linen or cotton, with a highly glazed surface and hard finish that retained its sheen through multiple washings. Cambric was first made in the early 16th century in Cambray, France, and was a staple fabric in many countries until just after WWI, when it declined sharply in popularity. Cheaper loosely woven cotton cambric is used for underupholstery on some furniture seats.
Camlett or chamlett. Unglazed plain woven worsted fabric such as harateen and china (cheyney). Camlett dates back to the 18th century and is made with silk or wool in a plain or twill weave. Camlett encompassed a range of checked, brocaded, watered, spot glazed, striped, shot and figured versions. Figured camlet had figures stamped on it with hot irons. Water camlet was treated with water and hotpressed to give it a smooth lustre. Other Camletts finished using still other methods included Harateen, Moreen, Groginette and Cheanis. (Camlett is not to be confused with either King Arthur's or JFK's short-lived euphorias, although you can decide for yourself about Monty Python's version.)
Candlewick. An unbleached muslin fabric with a pattern created by heavy yarns looped to imitate french knots or cut to resemble tufts of chenille or the wicks of candles (duh).
Candy stripes. Broader than Bengal stripes but still even and precise. In other words, a balanced stripe. (Favored by hospital volunteers and purveyors of peppermint sticks and canes.)
Caneva. A fancy woolen fabric made to resemble canvas.
Canvas. A strong, durable, closely woven cotton, linen, or hemp fabric that is generally water-resistant.
Carding. A yarn manufacturing process in which short fibers are disentangled, cleaned, separated and laid parallel to each other. This forms a roving, which is spun into yarn. (Has nothing to do with buying beer or playing poker.)
Casement cloth. A term applied to lightweight sheer and semi-sheer fabrics used for curtains. Casement cloth is often characterized by a loose decorative weave.
Cashmere. A luxury fiber obtained from the soft fleecy undergrowth of the Kashmir goat of Tibet, Mongolia, China, Iran, Iraq, and India. Most commonly used in clothing, cashmere is sometimes used in home decorating for upholstery and accessories. Cashmere has excellent insulating power, providing warmth without weight or bulk. It drapes beautifully, resists wrinkles, and sheds lint. Because the total amount of cashmere hair available is severely limited, cashmere is an expensive luxury fabric.
Cellulose. A carbohydrate polymer found in organic woody substances of most vegetation. The basic raw material in the production of rayon and acetate fibres.
Cellulose Fiber. Cotton, hemp, ramie, and other fibers produced from the cell walls of plants.
Challis. (The word is pronounced like Shall-ee, not like chalice.) A lightweight, soft plain weave fabric with a slightly brushed surface. The fabric is often printed, usually in a floral or paisley pattern. Challis is most often seen in fabrics made of cotton, wool, or rayon. Originally it would have been wool.
Chama. A white fabric handwoven from handspun local cotton in Ethiopia.
Chambray. A linen-finished gingham cloth with a white weft and a colored warp, producing a mottled appearance. The term originated in the early 1800s and is derived from Cambrai, the name of a town in northern France, where it was originally made.
Chamlet. See camlett.
Chamois. Cotton fabric made to imitate chamois leather.
Chamois leather. Soft pliable leather made from the hide of sheep, goats, or deer.
Charmeuse. Refers to silk and silk-like fabrics that have a shiny, soft, satin-like appearance and a crepe back. It is sometimes called crepe-backed satin.
Charmante. A silk fabric with a crepe back.
Cheanis. A worsted camlett often used for furnishings. (Talk about unusual phraseology!)
Chenille. The term Chenille comes from the French word for caterpillar. It refers to a fuzzy cotton yarn that resembles the fuzz on a caterpillar. and is like velvet when tightly woven. In home décor, Chenille is mainly used for upholstery.
Cheviot through Chiffon
Cheviot. A roughly textured, woolen fabric with a twill weave. The name is derived from the sheep of the Cheviot Hills (England).
Chevron. A fabric design printed or woven in the shape of a V or (especially now that GM, has filed for bankruptcy) an inverted V.
Cheyney. A plain worsted fabric derived from a mispronunciation of china. (Generally not worn by vice presidents prone to shoot off their mouths and at their friends.)
Chiffon. A plain woven lightweight, extremely sheer, airy, and soft silky fabric. Chiffon can be used for sheer curtains. (And makes a great cake in orange and lemon flavors or....)
Chiffons of a Different Type - But Still Light and Airy...
China through Chinoiserie
China. A plain worsted fabric. See Cheyney.
Chinoiserie. The imitation or evocation of Chinese motifs and techniques in Western art, furniture, and architecture. Chinoiseries were especially popular in 18th century France.
Chintz. A glazed cotton fabric usually printed in bright colors. It has a polished look from a resin finish that is applied during manufacturing and is naturally dust resistant, making it a popular choice for decorating. (And not at all chintzy.) (Scroll down to glazed to see more pictures of chintz fabrics.)
Chirimen. A Japanese term for a coarse matte crepe fabric that was originally silk but may now be found in synthetics and blends. (And you thought it referred to salarymen after one too many saks!)
Chite. A painted linen that was originally made in Chitta, India. Painted linen was very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Cir. A cloth finishing process which produces a high polish to the surface of the fabric with the use of wax or other compounds and then hot calendering. Derived from the French word cir, meaning wax. Satins finished in this way are sometimes called shoeblack satins, regardless of color. Isn't nomenclature at least nominally interesting?
Cloque. Any fabric whose surface has an irregularly raised effect. From the French term for blistered.
Cloth. In the 18th century, "cloth" referred specifically to finely spun and woven woolen broadcloth.
Coir. Coir is a coarse fiber extracted from the outer shell of a coconut.
Colorfastness. Describes a dyed fabric's ability to resist fading due to exposure to sunlight and washing. (Red is an especially fast color, but generally not one of the most colorfast unless used on sports car.)
Colorway. One color combination of a style or pattern. (Not one of the ways of Taoism.)
Combed, combing. A step beyond carding (see above) that removes additional short fibers and impurities and straightens and arranges the long fibers in parallel fashion, producing high quality, uniform, very fine, strong yarns (and neater hair.)
Corduroy. A strong, durable, pile ribbed fabric in various weights. Ribs vary from narrow (pinwale - 16 to 21 cords per inch) to wide (widewale - 3 to 4 wales or cords per inch). This strong, durable fabric, originally used in the 17th and 18th centuries by the household staff of French kings, was called corde du roi or cord of the king. (Today it seems to be more favored by aging male college professors, who would at least have appreciated the taxonomy lesson in this definition.)
Cotton. A vegetable fiber consisting of unicellular hairs attached to the seed of the cotton plant. (Also a rabbit's or bunny's tail.)
Coupe de Fil. See Fil Coup. (Has nothing to do with the takeover of a government, a type of car, a dessert dish, or a successful move, although all may have strings attached in one way or the other,)
Crêpe. Comes from the French word crêper,which means to crimp or frizz. It is used to describe any type of fabric that has a light crinkled surface made. May also be called crape. (I remember the crêpes from that place in Montmartre, spread with pureed marrons....sorry. Almost dinner time.)
Crêpe de Chine. A fine, lightweight crêpe usually made of silk. (And silk came from China, hence Crêpe from China.)
Crêpon. A heavy crêpe fabric with lengthwise crinkles more pronounced than crêpe's.
Cretonne. A substantial cotton cloth printed on one or both sides with usually large designs. Popular in the late 19th century for curtains and slipcovers.
Crewel. A fabric embroidered with a loosely twisted, two-ply wool yarn on a plain weave fabric. Traditional crewel fabricsare hand-woven and embroidered in India. The design motif for crewel work is typically outlines of flowers, vines, and leaves, in one or many colors. (Crewel, unlike its homonym, is a very pleasant fabric and are not at all malicious, contemptible, vile, odious, or loathsome -- unless perhaps you are severely allergic to wool.)
Crimp. The waviness or curvature of a fiber or yarn. Can be found naturally, as with wool, or can be mechanically produced (if you want to put a crimp in your style or your hair).
Crocking. The tendency of excess dyes to rub off. Napped and pile fabrics in deep colors are most likely to crock. (And that's no crock.)
Crushed fabrics. Fabrics such as velvet and velour are treated with heat, moisture, and pressure in finishing to distort pile formation and give the fabric a crushed appearance.
Custom color. A colorway created to suit a customer's unique needs.
Cut pile. A fabric in which the pile is cut rather than looped, creating a velvet effect. (Not what the director said to the editor after filming an episode of that old sitcom starring Jim Nabors.)
Cut Velvet. A Jacquard fabric with a velvet design on a plain ground.
Cylinder printing. See roller printing.
D: Damask through Dye Lot
Damask. A figured woven fabric with a pattern visible on both sides. Originally a rich silk made in China, it was introduced to Europe via Damascus, from which the name derives.
Damasks have smooth satin backgrounds with matte twill designs and are reversible. They are woven on jacquard looms and typically have stylized floral motifs.
Today, damasks are made in linen, cotton, silk, rayon or blends. Damask comes in different weights and is often used in tablecloths, napkins, formal draperies, and upholstery. Damask is similar to brocade, but flatter and reversible.
Darnix (also Dornick). A heavy linen coth, usually checked, or damask table linen. (Can be dorky, but usually not.)
Delaine. A lightweight wool print fabric. (Or, for those of you who remember the 60s, Bonnie's partner. For those of you less fortunate, we interrupt this page briefly at this point so you can catch up.)
Delaney & Bonnie
Denier. [den'-yehr] A system of measuring the weight of a continuous filament fiber. The lower the number, the finer the fiber; the higher the number, the heavier the fiber. Numerically, a denier is the equivalent to the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of continuous filament fiber. The word denier comes from denarius, a Roman coin dating from the first century.
Denim. A hard-wearing cotton twill originally called Serge de Nimes after the southern French town where it was first produced. Originally used for sails on ships crossing the Atlantic, it is most familiar to us when used to make jeans.
Diaper. Fabric with motifs of small woven patterns (diamonds, arrowheads, etc) in linen or cotton white goods. (Also may be considered a precursor of Huggies, Pampers, etc., when the fabrics were used to wrap baby bottoms since the patterns created a more absorbent cloth.)
Dimity. A hard-wearing, sheer cotton fabric woven with raised stripes or checks giving it a seersucker type look.
Discharge printing. A method of obtaining light designs on a very dark ground. The fabric is piece dyed first, then the color is discharged or bleached in spots, leaving white designs in a pattern. An additional step is often the roller printing of these design areas with patterns and colors.
Distressed, distressing. The marring, damaging or finishing of an object or material to create an aged, used or rustic appearance. (Gee. Isn't that what stress does to people too?)
Dobby. Refers to the fabric produced on a dobby loom on which small, geometric figures can be woven in as a regular pattern. (Neither the nickname used by Maynard for his friend, Mr. Gillis nor the house elf in Harry Potter.)
Dobby. Dobie, Doobie, Oobie Doobie, Scoobie Doo, Doobey Doobey Doo
Document. A historic fabric or other historic source that provides the design and colorway for a reproduction fabric.
Doeskin. Generally applied to a type of fabric finish in which a low nap is brushed in one direction to create a soft suede-like hand on the fabric surface. (Loved by the LA Rams.)
Donegal tweed. A medium to heavy plain or twill weave fabric with colorful yarn slubs woven into the fabric. The name originally applied to a hand-woven woolen tweed fabric made in Donegal, Ireland.
Dotted Swiss. A sheer fabric of cotton or blends with a small dot pattern woven, printed or flocked on the surface. Used for curtains. (Not to be confused with cheese that goes with ham sandwiches or a person from Geneva with the measles.)
Double face. A double cloth which can be used on either side. Also used to describe any fabric with two right sides. (Double face fabrics can have two right sides, but two-faced people have at least one wrong side.)
Drabbet. Coarse linen.
Drape. The way a fabric hangs. Drape depends on yarns, weave structure, and finish.
Dreadnought or dreadnaught. An early coarse wool fabric similar to Bearskin cloth. Also referred to storm coats made from that fabric and, in 1906, was the name given to a British battleship with big guns, all of which hark back to the original meaning: A fearless person, i.e. one with no dread.
Dresden. A fancy silk and worsted cloth of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Drill. A heavy, strong, durable twill fabric.
Ducape. Heavy, corded silk.
Duck. A plain weave fabric usually made of cotton or sometimes linen. The terms canvas and duck are often interchangeably, but canvas is generally considered heavier than duck. The term "duck" pre-dates the mid 1800s when all canvas for sails were imported from England and Scotland and bore the trademark of a duck. (Canvas may be more durable, but duck tastes much better.)
Dupioni. A medium weight lustrous silk, dupioni has slubbed yarns and a crisp, scrunchy hand. It is similar to shantung but has a more pronounced texture. See Silk. (Not a derogatory term you heard Tony Soprano use when someone acted like a dope.)
Durability. The ability of a fabric to resist wear.
Durant. A glazed woolen fabric, calendered with a sharp center crease. (Not His Airness, the hoopster, though he's sharp too!)
Dye Lot. Because fabrics are dyed in varying quantities of yardage, consistency of color will vary. Therefore there may be differences in color from bolt to bolt. (Also slang for graveyard.)
E: Ell through Eyelet
Ell. A long measure of cloth that varies by country, In England an ell is about 45 inches or 1.25 yards. (In Brooklyn and Chicago, it is a raised train platform.)
Embellished. With additional decoration or ornamentation.
Embossing. A calendering process that produces a design by passing the fabric through hot engraved rollers, shearing the pile to different levels, or pressing parts of the fabric flat to form the motif. Also called gauffrage.
Embroidered, embroidery. A decorative design sewn (by hand or machine) on fabric with colored threads.
Epinglé. From the French word épinglér meaning "to pin." Originally the term referred to a velvet made from silk. This lustrous corded fabric is now made in a variety of natural and synthetic fibers in a single colour or with the ribs in contrasting colours. épinglé weaving in Europe originated in Italy, but most épinglé made today is woven in Belgium. It is generally quite durable and used for upholstery.
Etamine. A lightweight, open weave fabric made with hard spun, course yarns. The term comes from the French word tamine meaning sieve or strainer.
Eyelet. A fabric that is designed with a series of finished patterned cutouts, or perforations. Eyelet is a popular choice for bedding and curtains.
F: Face through Fustian
Face. The front or finished side of a fabric; the side designed to be seen.
Faconne. A jaquard fabric with a pattern of small scattered motifs.
Faille. A soft, finely-ribbed woven fabric with a light lustre made from cotton, silk, or manufactured fibers. Depending on the weight, faille is used for draperies and upholstery applications. (Use this and you will not faille, even though it is pronounce [fyle].)
Faux silk. A synthetic fabric that imitates silk. Faux is French for false or fake.
Faux fur. Artificial fur made from synthetic material.
Felt. A fabric made from fibers intermeshed by heat, moisture, and agitation. It is not woven from fibers and has superior density, resilience, strength, and a soft hand. (In touch with its feminine side.)
Fiber. A natural or manufactured material that is spun into yarn and then woven into a fabric.
Fiberglass. Very fine flexible fiber made from glass. It is used for curtains and draperies. Glass fiber fabrics are very strong and wash well, but care should be taken to avoid getting small splinters of the glass yarns in the hands or lungs. Glass fiber is stiff and has poor resistance to wear and abrasion. It is also fireproof.
Figurative. A design using the human figure. (It figures.)
Figured velvet. A velvet fabric with a design in relief made by pressing or cutting the pile.
Fil Coupé. Fil Coupé literally means cut threads in French. Can be a woven, lampas, or embroidered fabric where the threads that form the motif are cut close to the back of the fabric, reducing bulk and weight.
Also called Coupe de Fil. (That's de Fil, not de ville as in Cadillac's Coupe.)
Filament. A continuous strand of silk or manmade fiber. (Or a mint with a gooey center.)
Filling or Fill yarns. The horizontal threads of a woven fabric which interlace with a vertical warp yarn in weaving fabric. Also known as weft or pick.
Fireproof. Fireproof means that a fabric literally will not burn. To be labeled fireproof, the Federal Trade Commission requires that a fabric must be 100'% fireproof. (If the fiber or fabric has been treated to prevent flames from spreading, it must be labeled as flame or fire resistant.
Flame or fire resistant. Describes a fabric that burns very slowly, or has the ability to self-extinguish upon the removal of an external flame. Flame resistance may be due to the natural qualities of the fiber or of a chemical finish applied to the fabric.
Flame retardant. A fabric that resists or retards the spreading of flames. A flame retardant fabric can be made by using fibers that are themselves flame retardant, or by using special chemical finishes on fabrics.
Flamestitch. A ziz-zag pattern that suggests a flame. See Bargello.
Flannel. A warm, soft fabric made in tightly woven twill or plain weave, and finished with a light napping. Derived from the Welsh word gwlanen, which means wool.
Flax. Taken from the Linum plant, this lustrous fiber is considered to be strong, highly absorbent and quick drying. When processed into fabric, flax is called linen. (And that's a flax.)
Float. The portion of a yarn in a woven fabric that extends or floats, unbound, over two or more adjacent ends or picks.
Flocking. Fibers applied to a fabric with adhesive to create a raised pattern. (Or birds going south for the winter?)
Florentine. See Bargello.
French knots. Decorative embroidery knots worked on the face of a fabric to create textured dots of color.
Frieze. A heavy pile fabric dating back to the 14th century or earlier. Used today primarily for upholstery, slipcovers, and draperies. Frieze is looped, and the loops are often sheared to varying heights to form the pattern. Originally made of wool or cotton, the fabric is now usually made of mohair, wool, cotton, and blends of cotton and man-made fibers. Also called frise.
Frise or frise. See Frieze. (Also see the following video for your daily dose of adorable.)
(Bichon) Frise - They have nothing to do with Frise fabric but they ARE cute!
Fulled or fulling. The process of fluffing up an already woven or knitted piece of woolen cloth.
Fustagno. See fustian.
Fustian. Originally a heavy cotton and linen cloth. By the 18th century, fustian was the term for a variety of linen and cotton fabrics which could be herringbone, diaper, or plain woven. In the 19th century, fustian was most commonly ribbed on one side. There are also references to a fustian woven in Naples, Italy, that was so silky it resembled velvet. Also known as fustagno in Europe during the Middle Ages. (Aha! Snuck another taxonomy lesson in there!)
G: Gabardine through Gudza
Gabardine. From the Medieval Spanish word gabardina. A tightly woven cloth traditionally made with fine worsted yarns although cotton and man-made fibers are now also used. Gabardine is characterized by a fine steep twilled wale on the face and smooth back. It is water repellent and hard wearing.
Galatea. A strong cotton woven to resemble linen. Popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries. (Hmmm. Galatea was also the name Pygmalion gave to his statue that so resembled flesh it became it was brought to life. Galatea was too hoity toity to be a cockney name, so Shaw changed it to Eliza Doolittle...)
Gauffrage. The French term for embossing.
Gauze. A very fine sheer fabric originally produced in Gaza, Palestine and called gazzatum. A thin, sheer plain-weave fabric made from cotton, wool, silk, rayon, or other manufactured fibers sometimes used for curtains. (Gauze I said so. That's why.)
Georgette. A sheer, lightweight plain-weave fabric with a fine crepe surface. Originally silk, now also synthetic. Also called crepe georgette or georgette crepe. (It was named after a French dressmaker, Georgette de la Plante, circa 1900, who made dresses that, rumour has it, were 2die4.)
Gingham. A yarn-dyed, checked or plaid fabric made of pure or blended cotton. Checked ginghams use two colors, plaid ginghams use several. The name gingham comes from the Malay word ging gang, meaning striped.
Glazed fabric. A fabric that has undergone a glazing process. Chintz is one type of glazed fabric.
Glazing. A finishing process consisting of treating the fabric with glue, starch, paraffin, shellac, or resin, then moving it through hot friction rollers that produce a sheen.
Glen Plaid. A woven design that pairs small checks with larger ones of similar colors. Named for Glen Urquhart, a valley in Inverness-shire, Scotland. (Not to be confused with Glen Campbell or Watkin's Glen or....)
Gossamer. Traditionally used to describe silk fabrics but now used to refer to any sheer, fine fabric.
Grass cloth, A plain-weave, loosely woven fabric made from such fibers as hemp and ramie. Today, true grass cloth is rare, but the appearance of grass cloth is copied in wallpaper and fabrics of man-made fibers.
Greige. The state of a fabric as it comes from the loom (after it has been constructed) but before it has been colored or finished.
Grenadine, A Leno weave fabric (no relation to the late-night host) often with woven in stripes, checks, or other patterns. Used for curtains. (Or, if a syrup, used to give a touch of red and a taste of pomegranate to cocktails.)
Gros Point. A heavy woven fabric made of wool or synthetic fibers and resembling hand-made needlepoint. Gros Point is very durable and used mainly for upholstery. (Also the point when your gag reflex is activated.)
Grosgrain. A tightly woven, firm fabric with heavy ribs. Grosgrain can be made narrow for ribbon ribbon or full-width for fabric. (Also wheat that has gone bad, even though in the ribbed fabric, the 's' is silent.)
Grosgrinet. A fine, watered camlet.
Ground. The base fabric or background color against which a design is created.
Gudza. Cloth handwoven in Zimbabwe from the softened inner bark from either the munhondo or mupfuti trees.
H: Habutai through Huckaback
Habutai. Soft, lightweight silk fabric originally woven in Japan. Habutai means "soft as down."
Haircloth. A stiff, wiry fabric made from a combination of natural or man-made fibers with animal hair filling, usually mohair (goat) or horsehair. It is used in upholstery and as interfacing for stiffening because of its strength.
Hairline stripes. Thinner than pinstripes. The name comes from the width of a hair. (Better than a comb-over.)
Half drop repeat. The design works by being dropped halfway down the first area of pattern. Fabrics with a half-drop have less obvious repeats and create an interesting pattern with fewer motifs. Half-drop repeats disrupts the effect of the same motif at the same level and so appearing on each surface. Commonly used for pleated draperies and larger areas for these reasons.
Hand. Describes the way a fabric feels to the touch and how it drapes.
Hand-blocked print. Fabrics printed by hand with blocks made of wood or linoleum. See Block printing.
Harateen. In colonial America, referred to a wool moir.
Harlequin. A diamond pattern in two or more contrasting shades or colors and reminiscent of the costume of a harlequin from whence the term comes. (Also the inspiration for a series of romance novels?)
Heather, heathered. A yarn or fabric of two or more colors blended together to create another. Gray heather, for example, is created from blending black and white fibers. Heathers tend to have a soft coloring and appearance. (Kind of like Heather Locklear.)
Hemp. The fiber from the plant Cannabis sativa. Hemp fiber is strong and lustrous like flax and can be spun into yarn that resembles flax but is somewhat coarser. Hemp has been used for textiles for more than 500 years, especially in China, Persia and Japan. (Does smoke when lit, but don't.)
Henriette. A twill faced cloth with a smooth back first made in 1660 in honor of Maria, the Queen consort of King Charles I. (So why didn't they call it Maria or Mari-ette?)
Herringbone. A twill weave in a geometric pattern consisting of two slanted rows that form a chevron or V shape in the fabric. (Like the bones in a herring or similar fish.)
Hessian. See Burlap.
High count. Refers to fabrics woven with a relatively high thread count, resulting in a dense, tight fabric. (and preferred by nobility.)
Holland. An 18th century tem for closely woven starched cotton cloth commonly used for window shades.
Homespun. A simple fabric generally considered to be coarse with irregular, tightly twisted, uneven yarns giving a homemade appearance, although good homespinners can produce a finer, more refined cloth. Homespun is used for window treatments, tablecloths, and accessories, especially in country style décor. (Also what Dorothy's house did before landing on the wicked witch.)
Honeycomb. A piqu weave in a hexagonal shape that is often referred to as a waffle weave. (Both the cereal and waffles taste better.)
Hopsack. A loosely woven coarse fabric of cotton, wool, hemp, or jute. (Or when you get home late after a long work day...and want to just shower and hop in the sack but are too tired to say more than 2 words.)
Horsehair. A lustrous fabric woven from long hairs obtained from the mane and tail of a horse. Horsehair is woven with a cotton, linen, or worsted warp. Used for upholstery. 18th century horsehair was usually ribbed; Satin weave and patterned horsehair was more popular in the 19th century. Natural colors are tan, brown, and black, other colors (green, claret, crimson, and occasionally blue or gold) were obtained by use of dyes. Shorter hairs were curled and used for stuffing upholstered furniture and mattresses.
Houndstooth. A variation on twill weave construction, where a broken check effect is made by a variation in the pattern of interlacing yarns, using at least two different colors. (NOTE: Will be ignored by tooth fairy if placed under pillows.)
Huck. A type of fabric with a honeycombed surface made by using heavy filling yarns in a dobby weave that may have Jacquard borders. Huck is highly absorbent and traditionally made of cotton, linen, or rayon, or a mixture of these, although today, other fibers may be used. Also called huckaback. (Also Tom Sawyer's friend.)
Huckaback. See huck.
Not exactly Huckaback -- but close enough for me...
I: Ikat through Intarsia
Ikat. Fabric made using an Indonesian decorative technique in which warp or weft threads, or both, are tie-dyed before weaving. Ikat, pronounced [ee'-kat], designs appear similar to water reflections. See also: kasuri.
Imberline. A woven fabric with colored stripes in the warp, sometimes separated by gold thread. Although woven in one piece, Imberline appears to be made of different strips joined together. Used in upholstery and drapery applications.
Indiennes. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a term used for any Eastern printed or painted cloth.
Indigo. A dark blue dye obtained from several species of the Indigofera plant.
Ingrain. Refers to a yarn that was dyed prior to being woven or knitted. (Also refers to an intricately loomed type of carpet.) (Some habits are also ingrained.)
Inkle. See Beggar's Inkle.
Intarsia. A flat knit fabric with solid-colored, geometric patterns. Both sides of the fabric are identical. Intarsia is derived from the Italian word for inlay.
J: Jacobean through Jute
Jacobean. A 17th century style floral imitating embroidered crewel work. Pronounced [jak-oh-bee'-uhn]. Jacobean patterns are perennially popular in woven or printed fabrics.
Jacquard. An elaborate woven or knitted pattern made on a Jacquard loom. Invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in France in 1801, the loom uses an attachment which provides versatility in designs and permits individual control of each of the warp yarns. Thus, fabrics of almost any type or complexity can be made. Brocade and damask are two types of jacquard woven fabrics.
Jaspé. A fabric characterized by a series of random faint lines formed by dark, medium, and light yarns of the same color. From the French "jasper," meaning to marble.
Jersey. A generic term for a plain knit fabric without a distinct rib. Originally made of wool, jersey fabric was first manufactured on the island of Jersey, off the coast of England. (Better known as the home of Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, "The Jersey Boys," and Vin Scelsa...which means? Yup. Time for another musical interlude! Didn't jute know it?)
Jute. A rough vegetable bast fiber. (Made famous when mispronounced by Cary Grant as Ju-tee, Ju-tee, Ju-tee.)
K: Kanica through Kilim
Kanica. A medieval silk and/or woolen fabric.
Kapok. A fine, fibrous cottonlike substance that grows around the seeds of the ceiba tree, frequently used as batting. (Not Tupac's bro.)
Kasuri. Japanese ikat. (See ikat.)
Kelt. A coarse fabric made from black and white wool.
Kente. Hand-woven African silk fabric often woven with traditional geometric designs.
Kersey. A coarse fulled woollen cloth dating to the 14th century or earlier.
Kilim. A Turkish word that refers to a particular flat-weaving technique. Also used in the West to refer to the colorful, angular, geometric designs characteristic of kilim textiles.
L: Lace through Lyocell
Lace. An openwork fabric produced by a network of threads, twisted together and sometimes knotted, to form patterns. It may be made by hand, with needles, with hooks, or by machinery.
Lampas. An ornately patterned cloth resembling damask, especially one made of silk, which uses additional wefts and warps to form a design in one texture on the ground of another, with the additional threads woven into the back of the fabric. Used mainly for upholstery and heavy draperies, it was very popular during the 18th and 19th centuries. (Note: If a fabric is reversible, it is not lampas.)
Lattice. A crisscross pattern often found in wood products or textiles. The pattern can be squared or on the diagonal. (Useless for supporting climbing plants in the garden.)
Leatherette. Simulated leather. (Pre-1960s, the female version of leather.)
Leno weave. A method of weaving that creates a very sheer, yet durable fabric. Also called gauze weave. Frequently used for window treatments. (Has nothing to do with the former Tonight Show host -- but then I haven't seen his windows.)
Limoges. brightly coloured bed tickings with a hard glazed surface. See ticking.
Linen. A fabric made from linen fibers obtained from inside the woody stem of the flax plant. Linen fibers are much stronger and more lustrous than cotton.
Woven and textured or smooth and printed, linen has been found in Egyptian tombs and other archaeological sites. Especially popular in home décor today because it is eco-friendly and sustainable, it has been an important historic fabric in virtually every period. From gossamer sheers to prints and thick velvets, you can find most any type of home decorating fabric in linen.
Linsey-Woolsey. An 18th century fabric that was a strong, coarse loosely woven flannel with a linen or cotton warp and a woolen weft, usually homespun, hand-woven, and somewhat scratchy. (Also an unpopular 1952 presidential ticket.)
Lisere. A jacquard stripe simulating embroidered silk. The design is created by coloured warp threads brought up on the face of the fabric, leaving loose threads on the back that are sometimes clipped. Lisere is also called Lisserie.
Longcloth. So-called because it was one of the first fabrics to be woven in long rolls. A fine soft cotton sheeting similar to nainsook but a little heavier with a duller finish.
Loom. A machine used for weaving fabrics. (And for making underwear out of fruit.)
Loom figured. Fabrics that have the design or pattern woven or knitted in as opposed to printed or otherwise applied to finished cloth.
Luggage stitching. A sewing technique that creates seams featuring the two parallel rows of stitching often found on fine luggage. (Although two rows are not any better than one when it comes to lost luggage.)
Luster, lustre. The gloss, sheen, or shine of a fiber, yarn, or fabric.
Lyocell. A manufactured fiber composed of regenerated cellulose. Lyocell has a similar hand and drape as rayon, but is stronger, more durable, and in many cases machine washable. It has a subtle luster and is rich in color. Lyocell possesses low shrinkage characteristics, as well as good absorbency and wrinkle resistant qualities. (Also a drum-beating bunny that uses the wrong type of batteries.)
M: Macramé through Mungo
Macramé. An ancient technique of making fabrics by knotting yarn, string, or other threads to form open-weave or tighter material from delicate passementeries to strong cloth for hammocks and wall hangings.
Madras. A handmade cotton fabric originating in Madras, India, featuring bright, bold striping and checked patterns.
Manufactured fiber. Refers to fibers like viscose and nylon that were referred to as man-made in less politically correct times, although I can't understand how manufactured is considered a more neutral term... (Also, lying about the fiber content in a food product.)
Marl. A yarn consisting of two or more different colors plied together. The word is used to describe fabrics with colored slubs that appear on the surface adding texture and design interest to the fabric.
Marquisette. A fine lightweight open-mesh fabric used for curtains and mosquito netting.
Marseilles. A heavy corded cotton fabric with a pattern woven in that resembles hand quilting. Usually white, it was used for bed coverings from the 18th to early 20th centuries. (Which is weird since if you're French you have to stand up and salute it, not lie on it.)
Matelassé. A dobby or jacquard cotton fabric. Matelassé means cushioned or padded in French. It was originally a padded silk. The pattern in matelassé fabric stands out to give a quilted look for bedspreads and other home fabrics.
Material. Another word for fabric.
Matt or matte. A usually smooth, even surface that is dull or without any sheen. (Also a floor covering or my brother-in-law, even though he is far from dull.)
Mercerized. Cotton fabric or thread treated with an alkali to strengthen it and make it more lustrous and receptive to dyes. (Also refers to the state one is in when under the spell of "That Old Black Magic," "Moon River," "Days of Wine and Roses" and other lyrics penned by the inimitable Johnny Mercer.)
Merino, Merino wool. High-quality wool yarn is made from the fleece of merino sheep that is fine, strong and elastic, and takes dye well. (Not Dan Marino's hair piece, although it takes dye well, or Giuseppe Morino, the "King of Belcanto" whose voice is strong and elastic)
Meter. A universally accepted measurement based in hundreds. One meter is equivalent to 39.37 inches. The metric system is used in the majority of the world for measuring length and distance. (In the U.S. it is used to collect coins in exchange for not having your parked car ticketed, fined, towed, or all of the above.)
Microfiber. Fabrics made from ultra-fine fibers created by micro-technology. Any synthetic fiber finer than silk. Microfiber fabrics are soft, lightweight, breathable and durable. Microfibers are 100 times finer than a human hair and are made from acrylic, nylon, rayon, and polyester.
Mille stripes. Stripes formed by individual threads that alternate in color that you have to look closely at to see that fabric is not a solid.
Modal. Fibers spun from Beechwood cellulose. Modal fabrics are resilient to pilling, shrinking and fading.
Mohair. A wool-like fiber made from Angora goat hair. Mohair yarns and fabrics are bright and lustrous as well as durable, making it particularly desirable for use in home decorating, especially as velvet. (Can also refer to the pre-Beatle hair style sported by one of the 3 Stooges.)
Moiré. A corded fabric, usually made from silk or synthetics, which has a faint but distinctive water-marked wavy pattern or moiré [mwaah-ray'] on the face of the fabric.
Moleskin. A heavy durable cotton fabric with a short, thick, velvety nap and smooth dense surface resembling suede -- and the short silky fur of a mole from whence the name came.
Momie cloth. A fabric made with a weave that produces a pebbled effect, similar to crepe.
Momme or mommie.The Japanese unit of weight of a piece of silk 25 yards long and 1.5 inches wide.
Monk's cloth. A heavy weight cotton fabric with a basket weave. Used for draperies and slip covers. (May also be used by OCD TV detectives to wipe their hands.)
Monochrome. One color or shades of one color.
Moquette. A durable plain or patterned fabric similar to velvet and used for upholstery and carpeting. Usually mohair or wool with a cotton backing but also made with synthetic or manufactured fibers.
Moreen. In the 18th century, a strong worsted or mohair fabric. By the late 19th Century, wool with a cotton warp, sometimes embossed, sometimes plain, sometimes imitates watered background of a moire. Used for upholstery, and heavy curtains for beds and windows.
Motif. The dominant theme or design.
Mousseline. Refers to a range of fabrics that are semi-opaque and lightweight with a usually crisp hand. Mousseline is finer than muslins and comes in a variety of fibers, including silk, cotton, wool, and synthetics. (Not an Italian dictator. Although some found him to be semi-opaque, he was not, unfortunately, a historic lightweight.)
Mousseline de soie. French for "muslin of silk." Mousseline de soie is a lightweight, sheer, plainweave silk organdy fabric. (That sounds suspiciously like a lightweight, silky chocolate dessert...)
Mungo. Cloth made from regenerated wood fiber. See shoddy. (Okay. Break time.)
Muslin. An inexpensive, medium weight, plain weave, low count (less than 160 threads per square inch) cotton sheeting fabric introduced to Europe from the Middle East in the 17th century. It was named for Mosul, the city where it was first made, in what is now Iraq. (Muslin is not a religion although some use it religiously.)
Mutton cloth. A usually cotton, plain knit fabric with a loose texture.
N: Nacre Velvet through Nylon
Nacre velvet. Nacre velvet has pile of one color and back of another, giving a pearlized, changeable appearance. (Great for Elvis paintings.)
Nainsook. Fine soft cotton fabric originally from India. Name comes from the Hindi "nain" meaning eye and "sukh" meaining pleasure.
Nap. The short fibers that form a soft surface on a fabric such as velvet or corduroy. A fabric can be napped on one or both sides. Nap lies in one direction and is usually shiny in one direction and matte in the opposite direction. (No sleeping on the job...)
Natural Dye. Dye obtained from substances such as roots, bark, wood, berries, lichens, insects, shellfish and flowers. (Also, death from natural causes.)
Natural Fiber. Fiber obtained from animal, vegetable or mineral sources, as opposed to those regenerated or synthesized from chemicals.
Needlepoint. Stitching on canvas in a petit (small) point or gros (large) point manner.
Ninon. A lightweight, plain weave, made of silk or manufactured fibers, with an open mesh-like appearance and a crisp hand. Used for curtains. (And to counter the effects of El Nino?)
Nub. A small amount of colored fiber added to yarn during carding to add color or texture to a fabric. (Don't be Lookin' for Nub in all the Wrong Places...)
Nylon. Nylon is a generic term for various synthetic fibers having a protein-like structure. They are formed by the condensation between an amino group of one molecule and a carboxylic acid group of another. Invented at DuPont in 1938, nylon was the first completely synthetic fiber developed. Known for its high strength and excellent resilience, nylon has superior abrasion resistance and high flexibility. Nylon wears well and resists static electricity, but it is not breathable and it pills - characteristics that make it unsuitable for upholstery but perfect for parachutes and umbrellas.
O: Oatmeal Cloth through Overprinted
Oatmeal cloth. A heavy, soft fabric with a pebbly textured surface resembling oatmeal. Used for upholstery and draperies. (Not good for breakfast or making cookies.)
Oilcloth. A plain weave cotton canvas coated with linseed oil (from the flax plant) on one side, painted or otherwise colored, and then glazed to ensure water-resistance. Oilcloth is very durable and was/is used for table coverings and floorcloths. Known as American cloth in the United Kingdom. Go figure.
Olefin. Synthetic polypropylene fiber that is lightweight, strong, and abrasion resistant. Sometimes used in upholstery fabrics for those reasons. (Also part of the ole fish.)
Ombre. A graduated or shaded tone or color. (One tough fabric...)
Opaque. Refers to any material that is does not allow light to pass through.
Organdy. A stiffened, sheer, lightweight cotton or silk plain weave fabric that maintains its crisp character through repeated launderings. The term organdy comes from the town named Urgench (in present-day Uzbekistan in Central Asia). It was on the old silk route and was an early market for Chinese silk fabric. End-uses include curtains and draperies and song lyrics. (This fabric was immortalized by Simon & Garfunkel's "For Emily")
Organza. An extremely crisp, sheer, lightweight fabric. Organza was traditionally the silk version of organdy, but is now made from other fibers as well.
Osnaburg. A coarse plain woven linen or, later, cotton. (Or a suburb of Osna?)
Ottoman. A heavy, plain weave fabric with wide, flat crosswise ribs that are larger and higher than in faille. Ottoman sometimes comes with alternating narrow and wide ribs. Uses include upholstery and draperies. (Relax. Put your feet up. The empire will wait...)
Overprinted. Usually describes printing over a previously dyed fabric. Can also refer to printing over previously printed fabrics.
P: Paisley through Print
Paisley. A distinctive curvilinear pattern originating in Persia and popularized in Kashmir, India, where elaborate wool shawls have been woven in the paisley pattern for centuries. The shawls were prized even in ancient Rome. During the 1800s, shawls were handwoven in Paisley, a town near Glasgow, Scotland, with designs based on the paisley motif. The popularity of the motif spread across Europe and the U.S. and paisley has remained a global favorite.
Palampore. A chintz bedcover traditionally hand -painted in Southern India.
Paliocta. Medieval cotton fabric woven with dyed and white yarns in stripes or patterns. Used for lining quilts and bedding draperies.
Panel fabric. A fabric that is ideally suited for furniture panels.
Panne. A fabric that has had its surface flattened by heavy roller pressure, giving it a luster. A popular treatment for velvet and similar fabrics. (Not to be used for frying or prospecting for gold.)
Passementerie. A French word originally used in the 16th and 17th centuries to describe all types of lace, whether made from silk, linen, or metal. Passementerie is now used to describe trimmings, braids, cords, gimps, fringes and similar embellishments.
Pattern. A design that is either woven into a textile or applied after weaving using dyes or printing.
Pattern repeat. Intervals at which the pattern is (usually vertically) duplicated. One repeat is one full pattern.
Patina. A lustrous, aged finish. (When applied to just about anything except people.)
Peachskin. The soft surface of certain textiles which feels and looks like the skin of a peach.
Peau de soie. A French term, literally meaning "skin of silk." A heavy satin fabric, originally made of silk but now may be a manufactured fiber. It has a smooth texture and a fine grainy or ribbed surface. Uses sometimes include draperies, bedding, and accessories.
Pencil stripes. Narrower than a Bengal stripe but wider than a pinstripe. (Does not come with erasers.)
Percale. A fine smooth cotton, plain weave fabric. See Sheeting.
Percaline. A glossy lightweight cotton. (Not a type of coffee maker.)
Perse. Cloth of a dark blue or bluish-gray color. (Can be used to make a purse, but I'll leave it up to you to parse farther.)
Pick. A single horizontal yarn (fill or weft) in a woven textile. (Or an Afro comb, to gather flowers from plants, best of a group, open a lock without a key, pulling at something repeatedly, to niggle, to bully, play a stringed instrument by plucking strings as well as what a plectrum is generally called, to lift and carry - as a child or a wallet from someone else's pocket, to eat in small amounts without much appetite, a basketball strategy, to provoke, a narrow tool for cleaning between teeth, a sharp pointed tool or type of axe, to sort and select, etc. You choose (yeah, that too). A lot to carry for such a little word.)
Piece-dyed. Fabrics that are dyed (in a single color) after they are woven.
Piece goods. See yard goods.
Pignolati. A napped and sheared cotton cloth similar to flannel with a woven pattern resembling a pine cone and used in the Middle Ages. (Not to be confused with pignolata that are also known as struffoli, or pignoli (pine nuts, duh!) used in pesto, cookies, and other recipes.)
Pignolati, Pignolata, Pignoli...
Pile. The part of a fabric (or carpet) with erect yarns or fibers that form a surface above the basecloth. (May or may not be uncomfortable to sit on.)
Pill, pilling. Fiber filaments that break in yarn due to friction leaving small clumps of loose fibers on the surface. (What pharmacists do?)
Pima Cotton. Named after the Pima tribe of Native Americans who cultivated this variety in the Southwestern U.S. Pima cotton, like is Egyptian cotton, has exceptionally strong, long, combed fibers, dyes well and has a silky soft hand. (That's Pima, not Prima, although it certainly is.)
Pincord/pinwale. Fabric with a very narrow wale or rib. Also called Baby Cord.
Pinstripes. Originally referred to stripes the width of a pin, now used to refer to any fabric that has narrow lines in it.
Piqué. A medium-weight, usually cotton or silk fabric with raised dobby designs including cords, ribs, waffles, or patterns. (Watch it! Can capture your interest and make you curious or insult your pride and make you resentful.)
Plain weave. A one up, one down warp and filling weave arrangement that creates a plain fabric. It is the simplest weave construction.
Pleather. A versatile synthetic leather fabric that is much less expensive than leather, easier to care for, and animal friendly.
Plissé. Pronounced [plih-say']. A lightweight cotton, rayon, or acetate fabric permanently puckered by chemical treatments and similar in appearance to seersucker. Plissé is French for crinkled or pleated. (Has nothing to do with ballet.)
Ply, plied. When two or more threads are twisted together before weaving, increasing yarn density and weight.
Pocket weave. A double-layered, jacquard fabric in which the layers are joined only at pattern changes, creating spaces or pockets between the two layers of cloth.
Point D'esprit. A machine made net with small all-over dots.
Polished cotton. Polished cotton is a medium-weight, plain weave fabric that has been given a glazed finish. (Or sent to finishing school.)
Polyester. A manufactured fiber introduced in the early 1950s. It is made from long-chain synthetic polymers that is characteristically crease-resistance and with high strength and abrasion resistance. (Does not have a cloyingly cheerful quality like that Disney film featuring Hayley Mills as twins...)
Polypropylene. See Olefin.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC). A waterproof, rubbery textured manufactured fiber.
Pongee. A plain weave silk or silk-like fabric with a slubbed effect. Name comes from the Chinese word "penchi," which means woven at home. Also see Tussah and Silk.
Poplin. A plain, strong fabric with fine ribbing The term poplin comes from the French word popeline, which was a fabric used for church vestments originally made in the papal city of Avignon in southern France. Historically poplin was originally woven with silk in the warp and a fine worsted weft and traditionally has been high luster cotton. It is now still made of cotton but also in cotton/polyester blends. Also tabinet.
Portiére. A curtain hung over a door or doorway. (Not Sydney.)
Print. A fabric design created by applying dyes or pigments used on engraved rollers, blocks, or screens. Printed fabrics come in a variety of fibers and weights from lightweight amorphous sheers to heavy velvets and wools. Handprinted fabric usually refers to fabrics printed by silk screening. (See Screen Printed.)
Q: Quilling through Quilting Fabric
Quilling. Ornamental shaping of fabric into small cylindrical pleats or folds that look like (what else?) quills.
Quilting. A fabric construction in which a layer of cotton batting, down or synthetic fill is placed between two layers of fabric, and then held in place by stitching or sealing in a pattern.
Quilting Fabric. Usually a 100% cotton printed with novelty designs or specific images and used for making quilts.
R: Rafia through Russian Leather
Rafia. A vegetable fiber produced from the rafia palm. (Not the Romanian Mafia.)
Railroad/Railroaded. A fabric that is made with the design running horizontally instead of vertically to avoid unwanted seaming in upholstery applications. (Are we still on track?)
Ramie. A strong, lustrous fabric similar to linen but coarser. Sometimes called China Grass. Ramie is a bast fiber that is soft and lustrous. Ramie fabric is breathable, strong, smooth, and durable. (but it does not make good noodle soup.)
Ravel. Wear that causes individual yarns in a knitted or woven textile to wear out, separate or pull away.
Raw Silk through Resiliency
Raw silk. See also: Tussah Silk, Pongee.
Rayon. Composed of regenerated cellulose, derived from wood pulp, cotton linters, eucalyptus, or other vegetable matter, Rayon is the oldest manufactured fiber. The original process was patented by the Count du Chardonnet in 1884, but was deemed too dangerous. Experiments to make artificial silk by safer processes were carried out and in 1892 a patent was granted to C.F. Cross and partners. In 1904, both of these methods were replaced by the viscose process, developed in England by Samuel Courtauld and Company. Rayon can be used in filament form or as staple fibre. Rayon fabric has high absorbency, bright or dull luster, pleasant feel or hand, good draping qualities, the ability to be dyed in brilliant colors and superior strength, but should be used with care in high-humidity locations since the dampness may cause shrinkage.
Reclaimed Fiber. Fibers that have been made into fabric and then converted back into fiber. Most reclaimed textile fibers are wool and other natural fibers because it is extremely difficult to reclaim man-made fibers. See shoddy and reprocessed fiber.
Regenerated Fiber. Modified natural fibers. Rayon and acetate, for example, are cellulose regenerated fibers.
Rep or Repp. Fabric with closely woven crosswise ribs in solid colors. Popular from 1835 on for upholstery and heavy curtains. (Has nothing to do with sales agents, theater companies, how many times you do an exercise, or what people think of you.)
Repeat. Intervals at which the pattern is (usually vertically) duplicated. One repeat is one full pattern. (If repeat is frequent, try tums.)
Reprocessed fiber. Fibers obtained from scraps and clips of woven and felted wool fabrics that have been shredded back into fiber form and then remade into new yarns. Reprocessed fibers must be relabeled as such.
Resiliency. The ability of a fabric to spring back to its original shape after being twisted, crushed, or wrinkled.
Resist. An 18th century method of indigo printing where a paste was used to inhibit or resist the dye thereby creating the pattern. Resist printed fabrics have an appearance similar to batik.
Rib. A straight, ridged, or corded effect woven into a fabric. Ribbing can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.
Roller printing. The use of engraved metal cylinders to print textiles, using a separate cylinder for each color. Also called cylinder printing.
Ruched. Fabric can be ruched (gathered) to achieve a more elegant effect. Mostly used in welts or in the face of decorative pillows.
Russell. A ribbed or corded fabric, usually a worsted woolen satin. (Not a terrier, a philosopher, or film star.)
Russian leather. Black dyed seal or goatskin imported from Russia in the early 18th century and used for upholstery.
S: Sackcloth through Suzani
Sackcloth, sacking. A very coarse, rough, scratchy cloth said to chiefly used for making bags and sacks but also worn in mourning or as penitence. See burlap.
Sailcloth. Any heavy, plain-weave canvas fabric, usually made of cotton, linen, polyester, jute or nylon and used for sails in addition to clothing and decorating.
Sateen. A fabric with a soft, smooth hand and a gentle, subtle luster. Sateen fabrics are often used for draperies and upholstery.
Satin. Traditionally silk, but now made with other fibers as well, satin has a lustrous fabric surface and a dull back. Satin is made in various weights according to its end-use.
Satin weave. A weave that produces a very smooth or satin-surfaced fabric. It is made by passing the filling threads under several warp threads before passing over one warp thread.
Screen printed. Fabric printed by forcing dye, ink, or other source of color through a screen of fine material stretched over a wood frame and prepared with a coating or masking agent so as to create a picture or pattern on uncoated or unmasked areas. A different screen must be used for each color in the design.
Scrim. Loosely woven cotton used for window curtains and as a ground for some laminated fabrics.
Scroop. The rustling sound produced when some silk is compressed. Considered a desirable characteristic in luxury fabrics.
Selvage or selvedge. From the Middle English for self-edge. Refers to finished sides along the lengthwise edges of the fabric that prevent raveling. The width of a fabric is measured selvage to selvage.
Serge. One of the oldest fabric names, serge comes from the Latin "serica" which implies that this was once a silk fabric but is now a hard wearing worsted twill fabric with pronounced diagonal ribs. A popular chair covering in America in the decades around 1700.
Serging. Overcasting the edge of a piece of material to prevent fraying.
Shantung. A light to medium weight, plain weave, silk or silk-like fabric with characteristic slubs. Similar to dupioni but with less texture.
Shearing. Refers to trimming the pile on a fabric to a desired height. (Also has everything to do with de-wooling or shaving sheep or other animals.)
Sheer. A very thin, transparent or semi opaque fabric. (Has nothing to do with de-wooling or shaving sheep.)
Sheeting. Plain-woven, carded yarn cloth in different weights. Sheeting with a low thread count is muslin. When the thread count is high and the yarn is combed, sheeting is percale.
Shibori. A Japanese tie-dye or stitch-resist technique, usually using indigo dye on silk or cotton fabric.
Shoddy. A cloth made from reprocessed or regenerated wool fiber often obtained from old woolen rags. The process of was developed in Britain in 1806. By 1832 became a mainstay of the British wool trade. The production of shoddy has now moved to northern India. See mungo.
Shot. Fabric having threads of other colors woven into the background, giving it the appearance of a different color when viewed from a different angle, i.e. an irridescent or changeable fabric.
Shoot. Another term for filling, weft, or woof.
Silence cloth or silencer. A cloth put on a dining table beneath the tablecloth to protect it and to quiet the clatter of china, glass, and silver. A silence cloth is usually a fairly heavy, napped fabric.
Silk. Known as one of the finest textiles, silk fabric is strong, soft, absorbent, and has a brilliant sheen. It is the only fabric made from a natural fiber that comes in a filament form from silkworms.
Silk, Silkworms, Silkroads...
Sisal. See hemp.
Skirt Drop. The measurement from the box spring (or other horizontal surface being skirted) to the floor. (C'mon. You don't need me to comment on this one.)
Slub. A portion of twisted yarn that is thickened. This effect can occur naturally (i.e. silk slubs) or it can be created deliberately for added texture. Slub yarns are used to create random surface interest in textiles. Fabrics with slubs were considered inferior until the late 20th century because they were indicative of careless spinning. (By a lazy person or slacker?)
Soil release. A finish applied to polyester and some other manufactured fiber fabrics in an attempt to overcome their tendency to retain dirt and/or stains once it has penetrated the fibers.
Solution-dyed. Fiber dyed by injecting colored pigments into the spinning solution prior to the extrusion of the fiber through the spinneret. Fibers and yarns colored in this manner are quite color-fast.
Spun silk. Yarn or fabric made from short fibers of pierced cocoons or from short ends at the outside and inside edges of the cocoons that cannot be reeled.
Stain Release. Refers to a special finish that minimizes most stains, repels liquids, and releases most stains during normal washing.
Stain Resistance. The term stain resistance refers to any finish that repels water, oil, and most stains.
Stri, stria, striae, striated. A striped design where a directional effect is created by subtle variations in colour or texture. From the Latin word for furrow.
Stuff. Refers to woven cloth in general and specifically to worsted, cloth which has not been made into anything. The word stuff comes from a French word for cloth: toffe, not from the George Carlin comedy routine.
Suede cloth. A synthetic woven textile with a brushed nap that imitates suede.
Suspension. The parts of an upholstered piece that contribute to the support and comfort of the seating and back areas. Elements may include coils, springs, webbing and foam.
Suzani. A decorative embroidered fabric with raised needlework that comes from Central Asia. Iran, Tajikistan, or Uzbekistan. It is traditionally done in silk on panels of hand-woven cotton fabric and features bold colors and imaginative designs in a variety of stitches. (Because many producers of suzani are Muslim, the designs rarely feature people or animals.) The panels are basted together and the design in drawn on the entire piece. Then the basting threads are removed and the panels are separated and worked individually before being reassembled into the finished piece. The name suzani comes from the Persian or Farsi word for needle.