Whether you're shopping for a new sofa or commissioning new window treatments—choosing the right fabric is an important part of the decorating process.
Warp and Weft are often used to describe fabric patterns and colorations. Warp yarns run the length of the fabric and are parallel to the selvage edge; while the weft yarns run opposite of the warp yearns, and often create the texture or pattern in a fabric.
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Definitions for key textile terms you may encounter.
- by Trisha McBride Ferguson
Houndstooth, harlequin, botanicals, florals, damask, toile … Do you feel overwhelmed by all the choices—and terms—when choosing your new furnishings? If so, you’re not alone. With so many options today in fabrics, patterns, colors and textures, this handy glossary will help you make the selection that’s right for you. For a more extensive resource of textile terms, visit talktextiles.com.
The ability of a fiber or fabric to withstand surface wear and rubbing.
Cellulose acetate or acetate rayon fiber is one of the earliest synthetic fibers and is based on cotton or tree pulp cellulose (“biopolymers”).
Acrylic fibers are made from a chemical compound called acrylonitrile and processed much like polyester compound. Acrylic fibers can be fine or heavy. The finer fibers have the bulk and hand of heavy wool. They have a fluffy quality that holds up through long wear. Acrylic has low moisture absorbency but dyes quite well.
Long, fine hair from Alpaca.
1. The hair of the Angora goat. The long, fine fibers are so smooth and soft that they must be combined with other fibers in weaving. 2. The hair of the Angora rabbit. The fine, lightweight hair is warm, and it is often blended with wool to decrease price and to obtain novelty effects in weaving. By law, the fiber must be described as Angora rabbit hair.
Fibers from an animal.
Patterns that mimic those which occur naturally on animal fur or hides.
A pattern of diamonds similar to a harlequin, with a solid background color but generally with an overlay of lines in the same shape but a contrasting color.
A nonmetallic mineral fiber that is nonflammable. The fiber is woven into fabrics and used in industrial places where flame-resistant materials are needed.
Stripes of alternating colors that are equal in width and repetition, such as seen on rugby shirts and awnings.
A type of canvas embroidery in which stitches in a variety of shades create patterns of various zigzag designs.
A textile with a slightly nubby or pimply texture.
1. In coated fabrics, the underlying substrate. 2. The original cloth before any printing or other treatment is applied. 3. The primary cloth used to cover a piece of upholstery.
Originating in Indonesia, a dyeing process in which wax is applied in patterns to portions of the fabric. The wax resists the dye, allowing the underlying color of the base cloth to show through once removed. Additional wax and dyes can be applied to achieve a multi-colored effect.
Designs or patterns with dominant plant images such as leaves, trees, branches, and ferns.
A novelty yarn with loops which give fabrics a rough appearance. Some bouclé yarns have cotton cores with other fibers wound around them. Bouclé yarns may be made from wool, cotton, silk, linen, manufactured fibers, or a combination of fibers.
A measure of yarn strength calculated as: (1) the product of breaking strength times indirect yarn number, or (2) the product of breaking strength times the reciprocal of the direct yarn number.
1. The maximum resultant internal force that resists rupture in a tension test. The expression “breaking strength” is not used for compression tests, burning tests, or tear-resistance tests in textiles. 2. The load (or force) required to break or rupture a specimen in a tensile test made according to a specified standard procedure.
The speed at which a fabric burns. It can be expressed as the amount of fabric affected per unit time, in terms of distance or area traveled by the flame, afterglow, or char.
A process of running cloth between rollers to create a desired effect of texture, hand, or finish.
Long, fine hair from a camel.
The extremely soft hair of the Cashmere goat. Cashmere is often blended with sheep’s wool in fabrics.
A fiber composed of, or derived from, cellulose: a carbohydrate that is the chief component of the cell walls of plants.
A pattern of alternating colored squares achieved by weaving a two-color banded warp with the same bands in the filling direction. The pattern can be achieved by printing or through the weaving process. Typically small, but some can be quite large, such as the buffalo check.
A yarn with a fuzzy pile protruding from all sides, cut from a woven chenille weft fabric. Chenille yarns are made from all fibers, and they are used as filling in fabrics and for embroidery, fringes, and tassels.
A design achieved, usually by weaving, in small side-by-side, interlocking V patterns, reminiscent of a herringbone.
A pattern style dominated by traditional Chinese motifs and scenes. Chinoiserie often depicts a story, and most patterns include traditional Chinese people and often landscapes or buildings.
Resistance to fading; i.e., the property of a dye to retain its color when the dyed (or printed) textile material is exposed to conditions or agents such as light, perspiration, atmospheric gases, or washing that can remove or destroy the color. A dye may be reasonably fast to one agent and only moderately fast to another. Degree of fastness of color is tested by standard procedures. Textile materials often must meet certain fastness specifications for a particular use.
The term contemporary encompasses any pattern that is considered modern or current. Contemporary designs are generally clean-lined and bold, or abstract.
A textile with neatly organized rows of higher ridges and lower channels. The higher cords or ridges are called wales. Wales may be wide or very narrow (called pin wale), or combinations of widths. Corduroy can be achieved by weaving, tufting, cutting, or embossing.
Cotton is a soft, staple fiber that grows in a form known as a boll around the seeds of the cotton plant, a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, India, and Africa. The fiber most often is spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft, breathable textile, which is the most widely used natural-fiber cloth in clothing today.
The yarn numbering system based on length and weight originally used for cotton yarns and now employed for most staple yarns spun on the cotton, or short-staple, system. It is based on a unit length of 840 yards, and the count of the yarn is equal to the number of 840-yard skeins required to weigh 1 pound. Under this system, the higher the number, the finer the yarn.
The ability of a fabric to maintain an inserted crease. Crease retention can be measured subjectively or by the relation of a crease in a subsequent state to the crease in the initial state. Crease retention may be strongly dependent on the conditions of use, e.g., normal wear, washing or tumble-drying.
A lightweight fabric characterized by a crinkled surface obtained by the use of: hard-twist filling yarns, chemical treatment, crepe weaves, or embossing.
A type of embroidery applied in a pattern, created by using a two-ply worsted yarn, most commonly of wool fiber. Crewelwork is defined by thick embroidery lines and a loosely woven ground fabric, which tends to be neutral in color.
The rubbing-off of dye from a fabric as a result of insufficient dye penetration or fixation, the use of improper dyes or dyeing methods, or insufficient washing and treatment after the dyeing operation. Crocking can occur under dry or wet conditions.
Velvet with a cutout pattern or a velvet pile effect. Cut velvet patterns are often florals, damasks or simple geometrics.
Originating in Damascus, a single-layer woven fabric produced by using variations of warp-faced and filling-faced weaves to create the pattern. Damasks are one color and often have balanced floral motifs. If damask has more than two colors, it is called a Lampas.
The mass per unit volume (usually expressed as grams per cubic centimeter).
Any stripe that runs on the bias of fabric while progressing down the length of fabric. Such a stripe would be considered angled across the fabric.
A design created by printing or weaving circular shapes or spots on the fabric. A pattern of dots is commonly called a polka dot.
A fabric woven of Duppioni yarn, which is a yarn crafted from rough, irregular silk reeled from double or triple cocoons. Fabrics of Duppioni silk have a slightly luminous appearance with long, thin slubs.
A term to describe the way a fabric falls while it hangs; the suppleness and ability of a fabric to form graceful configurations.
A relative term for the resistance of a material to loss of physical properties or appearance as a result of wear or dynamic operation.
The ability of a strained material to recover its original size and shape immediately after removal of the stress that causes deformation.
A calendaring process for producing raised or projected figures or designs in relief on fabric surfaces. Embossed surfaces are usually produced on fabrics by engraved, heated rollers that give a raised effect. Embossed velvet or plush is made by shearing the pile to different levels or by pressing part of the pile flat.
Embroidery is a technique of applying a raised design of yarns or threads on the surface of a base cloth. Embroidery can be applied either by hand stitching or by machine. Typically, embroidered designs are applied for decoration.
Named for the loose ends of yarn on the surface of the fabric reminiscent of eyelashes.
A yarn composed of continuous filaments assembled with or without twist.
In a woven fabric, the yarn running from selvage to selvage at right angles to the warp. Each crosswise length is called a pick. In the weaving process, the filling yarn is carried by the shuttle or other type of yarn carrier.
A term used to describe a material that burns slowly or is self-extinguishing after removal of an external source of ignition. A fabric or yarn can be flame resistant because of the innate properties of the fiber, the twist level of the yarn, the fabric construction, or the presence of flame-retardants, or because of a combination of these factors.
A design of interlacing peaks and valleys that gives the impression of a flame. The pattern can be achieved either with print or weaving techniques.
Historically associated with the French monarchy, the fleur-de-lis is a stylistic version of an iris or lily.
1. The ability to be flexed or bowed repeatedly without rupturing. 2. A term relating to the hand of fabric, referring to ease of bending and ranging from pliable (high) to stiff (low).
In knitting and weaving, a length of yarn that extends over several rows or stitches without being interworked.
The material obtained by reducing textile fibers to fragments by cutting or grinding. There are two main types: precision cut flock, where all fiber lengths are approximately equal, and random cut flock, where the fibers are grounded or chopped to produce a broad range of lengths.
A pattern dominated by flowers or parts of flowers, bouquets, or foliage.
1. A term applied when the pile of a velvet, plush, velour, or other pile fabric is uncut and therefore creates a loop. A friezé fabric is sometimes patterned by shearing the loops at different lengths. Friezé fabrics are widely used for upholstery. 2. A cut-pile carpet made of highly twisted yarns normally plied and heat-set. A knitted or curled yarn effect is achieved. Excellent durability results from the hard-twist pile yarns.
Patterns using geometric shapes such as circles, lines, boxes, triangles or combinations of these shapes.
The tactile qualities of a fabric, e.g., softness, firmness, elasticity, fineness, resilience, and other qualities perceived by touch.
1. A skein of yarn. 2. A standard length of slubbing roving, or yarn. The length is specified by the yarn numbering system in use; e.g., cotton hanks have a length of 840 yards. 3. A term applied to slubbing or roving that indicates the yarn number (count); e.g., a 1.5 hank roving.
A design of side-by-side diamonds of alternating colors, reminiscent of a checkerboard of diamonds rather than squares.
A property of certain fibers or yarns whereby they resist degradation at high temperature. Heat resistance may be an inherent property of the fiber-forming polymer or it may be imparted by additives or treatment during manufacturing.
A term to describe fiber or yarn heat-treated to reduce the tendency of the fiber to shrink or elongate under load at elevated temperature.
A coarse, durable bast fiber of Cannabis sativa found all over the world. Used primarily for twines, cordage, halyards, and tarred riggings.
A pattern created by pairing warp end colors with an equal number of filling pick colors in a two-tone twill weave. Possibly derived from a Scottish Lowland check pattern, the square edges have been distorted by the zigzag of the twill line.
1. The resistance of a material to fracture by a blow, expressed in terms of the amount of energy absorbed before fracture. 2. In yarn or cord, the ability to withstand instantaneous or rapid rate of loading.
English embroidery with strong Oriental influence. A central tree design, luxuriously ornamented in color with fruits, flowers, and birds is common.
A complicated woven textile on a Jacquard loom, which controls each warp end separately. This method allows for more intricate and larger scale patterns.
A bast fiber used for stacking, burlap, and twine as a backing material for tufted carpets.
The degree of resistance of dyed textile materials to the color-destroying influence of sunlight. Two methods of testing are in use: (1) exposure to sunlight, either directly or under glass, and (2) accelerated testing in a laboratory apparatus equipped with any of several types of artificial light sources.
Flax is the plant, linen is the product from flax. The term “linen” cannot be used except for natural fiber flax. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather. The collective term “linens” is still often used generically to describe a class of woven and even knitted bed, bath, table, and kitchen textiles. The name linens is retained because traditionally, linen was used for many of these items.
A machine, either operated by hand or by other power sources, that weaves yarns into textiles.
The quality of shining with reflected light. With reference to textile materials, the term is frequently associated with the adjectives bright or dull to distinguish between varieties of manufactured fibers.
A lightweight, plain weave fabric with a striped, checked, or plaid pattern. True madras is guaranteed to bleed, creating the unique coloring and patterning.
A soft, double or compound fancy-woven fabric with a quilted appearance. Heavier types are used for upholstery. Crepe matelassé is used for dresses, wraps, and other apparel. Matelassé is usually woven on a Jacquard loom.
A single motif or motifs in a circular type arrangement often centered in a fabric or rug as the focal point.
The temperature at which the solid and liquid states of a substance are in equilibrium; generally, the temperature at which a substance changes from a solid to a liquid.
Fiber term for all nonmetallic, inorganic fibers, which may be natural.
A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is any long chain synthetic polymer composed of less than 85 percent but at least 35 percent by weight of acrylonitrile units. Both wet and dry spinning are used. Although modacrylics are similar to acrylics in properties and application, certain important differences exist. Modacrylics have superior resistance to chemicals and combustion, but they are more heat-sensitive and have a higher specific gravity (less cover). The principal applications of modacrylic fibers are in pile fabrics, flame-retardant garments, draperies, and carpets
A wood grain or watermark effect that is created in a woven fabric by contrasting weaves or a rib fabric that is embossed with a pattern to create a wood grain or watermark effect.
Natural fibers are found in plant, animal, or mineral life. Their physical structures have often been the inspiration for man-made fibers. Generally more costly, natural fibers wear well, boast a higher comfort and “breathability” factor, and have a rather elusive “hand” and especially desirable feel and luster that is difficult to replicate, and justifies the added expense.
Any pattern depicting nautical, oceanic, or boating themes.
Nylon is a thermoplastic silky material, first used commercially in a nylon-bristled toothbrush (1938), and followed more famously by women’s stockings. Nylon is one of the most commonly used polymers.
Ogee is a shape consisting of a concave arc flowing into a convex arc, so forming an S-shaped curve with vertical ends. The resulting pattern mimics a series of hourglass figures.
A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is any long chain synthetic polymer composed of at least 85 percent by weight of ethylene, polypylene, or other olefin units. Olefin fibers combine lightweight with high strength and abrasion resistance, and are currently being used in rope, indoor-outdoor carpets, and lawn furniture upholstery.
Ombre is an effect or pattern created as one color gradually blends into another color or as a color blends from light to dark.
Heavy, large, filling rib yarns, often of cotton, wool, or waste yarn, covered in their entirety by warp yarns, characterizes this fabric used for both apparel and upholstery.
A pattern derived from the Persian boteh (flower) motif. The stylized shape resembles a squash, teardrop, or a yin or yang symbol.
Pieces of fabric in various colors and/or shapes sewn together to form a fabric. Often created in print patterns to mimic the handcrafting of patchwork.
A pattern relaying or capturing a scene from a story.
A process of coloring a textile in large portions after the weaving or knitting process.
A dull or colored yarn spun from a solution or melt containing a pigment.
Thin, vertical stripes on a background.
A pattern created when horizontal and vertical stripes intersect perpendicular to one another. The thickness of the lines and their orientation to each other determines the type of plaid created.
One of the three fundamental weaves: plain, satin, and twill. Each filling yarn passes successively over and under each warp yarn, alternating each row, and yielding a simple, flat cloth with little texture or pattern.
A yarn formed by twisting together two or more single yarns in one operation.
Polyester is a category of polymers that contain the ester functional group in their main chain. Although there are many polyesters, the term “polyester” as a specific material most commonly refers to polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
A thermoplastic polymer made by the chemical industry and used in a wide variety of applications.
An image on a textile that is achieved by the use of colored inks or dyes applied to a base cloth. Prints may be realistic, such as flowers or people; geometric, such as stripes or plaids; abstract; or any of an almost limitless range.
A bast fiber similar to flax obtained from the stalk of a plant grown in China, the United States, and Japan.
Rayon is a manufactured regenerated cellulosic fiber. It can imitate the feel and texture of silk, wool, cotton, and linen.
The ability of a fiber or fabric to spring back when crushed or wrinkled.
A double-knit fabric in which the wales or vertical rows of stitches intermesh alternately on the face and the back. In other words, odd wales intermesh on one side of the cloth and even wales on the other. Rib-knit fabrics of this type have good elasticity, especially in the width.
Any heavy, strongly made woven canvas of cotton, linen, jute, polyester, nylon, aramid, etc., that is used for sails. Laminated fabrics are also finding use in this market. Sailcloth is also used for apparel, particularly sportswear.
One of the most basic weaves: plain, satin, and twill. The face of the fabric consists almost completely of warp or filling floats produced in the repeat of the weave. The points of intersection are distributed evenly and as widely separated as possible. Satin-weave fabric has a characteristic smooth, lustrous surface and has a considerably greater number of yarns in the set of threads, either warp or filling, that forms the face than in the other set.
A pattern depicting a scene such as a landscape or cityscape.
A technique used to create patterns on a base cloth by applying color via a series of stenciled screens. The fabric passes under, over or between these screens as each applies its color in a specific pattern.
The bound edges of the width of a fabric.
Plain-weave fabric with unevenly ribbed surface and crisp texture.
Widthwise or lengthwise contraction of a fiber, yarn, or fabric, usually after wetting and redrying or on exposure to elevated temperature.
A natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from cocoons made by the larvae of the mulberry silkworm.
A strong, white, bast fiber produced from leaves of the Agave plant, which is found in Central America, the West Indies, and Africa. Sisal is used chiefly for cordage and twine.
Any type of yarn that is irregular in diameter; the irregularity may be purposeful or the result of error.
A short length of warp or filing yarn that has twisted on itself because of lively twist or insufficient tension. The snarling may occur during or prior to the weaving process.
A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is a long chain synthetic polymer composed of at least 85 percent of a segmented polyurethane. Spandex is lighter in weight, more durable, and more supple than conventional elastic threads and has between two and three times their restraining power. It can be repeatedly stretched over 500 percent without breaking and still recovers instantly to its original length. It does not suffer deterioration from oxidation as is the case with fine sizes of rubber thread, and it is not damaged by body oils, perspiration, lotions, or detergents.
Designs using stencils to create a pattern. May also refer to a pattern mimicking the appearance of stencil work.
Varying narrow stripes in a similar color family to create visual interest. Stria generally refers to yarn that may create texture as well as pattern.
Any pattern created with parallel bands of color. Vertical stripes run the length of the fabric; horizontal stripes run across the width of the fabric.
Great strides have been made in the field of synthetics, which now boasts a world of fibers. In its simplest form, the manufacture of man-made fibers resembles the work of the silkworms. A man-made liquid substance, forced through fine holes, solidifies much like the continuous filament extruded by the worm. Synthetic fibers occasionally approximate some of the attributes of natural fibers, and often manifest great strength and durability. Sometimes these fibers have a tendency to ball or roll up on the surface of certain fabrics. It occurs when fiber ends escape from the yarn used in making the fabric, and work their way up to the surface. Once there, they are exposed to rubbing and abrasion, causing the formation of balls of fuzz called pills. Pills that appear on natural fabrics will usually work their way out and be eliminated in the cleaning process. Because synthetic fibers tend to be stronger, and because of their propensity to accumulate static, the pills cling permanently to the surface. Polyester, nylon and acrylic are especially prone to pilling.
The force required to begin or to continue a tear in a fabric under specified conditions.
The tensile stress when expressed as force per unit linear density of the unstrained specimen (e.g., grams-force per denier or Newtons per tex).
1. In general, the strength shown by a specimen subjected to tension as distinct from torsion, compression, or shear. 2. Specifically, the maximum tensile stress expressed in force per unit cross-sectional area of the unstrained specimen, e.g., kilograms per square millimeter, pounds per square inch.
A term describing the surface effect of a fabric, such as dull, lustrous, wooly, stiff, soft, fine, coarse, open, or closely woven; the structural quality of a fabric surface as detected by the hand and eye.
A decorative pattern which originated in France. Usually created on a white or cream background. The pattern depicts scenes, usually nature. These scenes are created using one color, often in sharp contrast to the background.
An effect that is created when two shades of a color are used to create a pattern.
A fundamental weave characterized by diagonal lines produced by a series of floats staggered in the warp direction. The floats are normally formed by filling (filling-faced twill). A warp-face twill is a weave in which the warp yarns produce the diagonal effect.
1. In knit fabrics, a column of loops lying lengthwise in the fabric. The number of wales per inch is a measure of the fineness of the fabric. 2. In woven fabrics, one of the series of cibs, cords, etc., running either warpwise or fillingwise.
1. The set of yarn in all woven fabrics that runs lengthwise and parallel to the selvage and is interwoven with the filling. 2. The sheet of yarns wound together on a beam for the purpose of weaving or warp knitting.
The resistance of a dyed fabric to loss of color or change in properties during home or commercial laundering.
The yarns that run opposite of the warp yarns and complete the weaving process, often creating any texture or pattern. Also referred to as fill yarns.
The measurement of the strength of a material when it is saturated with water, normally relative to the dry strength.
Pattern named for mimicking the grids of a window, generally thin lines on a contrasting background.
Wool is the fiber derived from specialized skin cells, called follicles. Wool has several qualities that distinguish it from hair or fur: it is crimped; it has a different texture or handle; it is elastic; and it grows in staples (clusters).
The two systems used to determine woolen yarn counts in the United States are the run system and the cut system. The run system has a standard of 1,600 yards per hank, while the cut system is based on 300 yards per hank.
A woolen yarn measure. A 1’s worsted yarn has 560 yards in one pound of yarn.
The dyeing of yarn before it is woven or knit into fabric. Yarn can be dyed in the form of skeins, muff, packages, cheeses, cakes, chain-wraps, and beams. The dyeing process is usually done in a large kettle or drum with heat and liquid or steam.