A Fabric Glossary

Acetate--a man-made cellulosic (wood pulp) fiber that imitates silk or the fabric made from it, often blended with natural fibers; good for draperies.

Acrylic--a synthetic fiber derived from petrochemicals; soft, resilient, imitates wool, many uses

Batik--a resist-dyed fabric where areas not to be dyed are blocked out with wax

Batiste--a fine, sheer woven material usually used for light curtains or casement curtains, usually cotton

Broadcloth--a plain weave lightweight woven woolen fabric

Brocade--a three-element woven cloth in which a supplemental weft is added to a ground fabric, usually in multiple colors giving the effect of embroidery. A luxurious look for upholstery, pillows, drapery.

Burlap--a coarse woven cloth made of jute

Calico--a small-patterned, usually floral, inexpensive cotton fabric often used for quilting

Camel's hair--a cloth is woven from the shed hairs of camels and is used in its natural characteristic color.

Cane--cane for furniture is obtained from rattan and cut into lengths for weaving into an open, yet strong, mesh pattern.

Canvas--a thick, sturdy plain woven cotton fabric

Casement--a sheer drapery fabric

Cashmere--from combed or shed hairs of Kashmir goats. Very expensive, but makes a nice throw.

Challis--a fine textured fabric, often wool, cotton, rayon or a blend usually printed in a floral or paisley pattern

Chambray (or cambric)--a plain, tightly woven lightweight cotton fabric with a slight sheen often used for shirting, light upholstery and drapery.

Chenille--a soft, velvety woven fabric made of cut pile yarns of cotton or synthetics, good for upholstery

Chintz--tightly woven glazed cotton fabrics usually with multi-colored printed floral designs. Originated in India.

Coir--a coarse fiber derived from coconut husks; used for carpeting and doormats

Corduroy--a heavy cut pile fabric (usually cotton) in vertical ridges, called wales, which can be fine to coarse.

Crepe--a wool fabric made from a highly twisted yarn giving it a pebbly texture.

Crewel--pattern embroidered on a ground cloth. Upholstery, pillows, bedcoverings. Especially good for Tudor, Jacobean or William and Mary designs.

Cultivated silk--silk produced on farms from the cocoons of silkworms fed on mulberry leaves. The silk is unwound in a long continuous filament and woven into fabric. Produces the finest, smoothest silk.

Damask--a reversible fabric with woven designs in one or two colors using a special Jacquard attachment on the loom; has a satin background on the right side. Typically woven of silk, cotton or linen. Originated in Damascus.

Denim--a durable cotton twill fabric, typically used for jeans, but good for casual upholstery, slipcovers, pillows and bedspreads. Originated in Nîmes, France; therefore it is fabric "de Nîmes."

Dotted Swiss--a sheer to semi-sheer drapery fabric, usually cotton or cotton/polyester blend embroidered, flocked or woven with raised dots.

Douppioni silk--a spun wild silk made from filaments of two cocoons which grew together; has characterisic slubs which synthetics often duplicate.

Duck--a very tightly woven, and therefore very durable, cotton canvas fabric

Faille--a densely woven ribbed fabric usually of silk or acetate.

Felt--a non-woven fabric usually of wool joined by heat and moisture to cause matting. The oldest fabric in the world, it is not very strong and can be pulled apart. Use for wallcoverings, table coverings or as underskirt to give body to tablecloths.

Fiberglass--a fabric made of spun glass, used for draperies

Flannel--a cotton or wool fabric with a soft brushed finish

Fortuny--gorgeous fabrics printed by a secret process on cotton cloth often with gold or silver imprinting. Invented by Mariano Fortuny in Venice.

Friezé--an uncut loop pile fabric, often of wool--good for upholstery

Grospoint--a woven ribbed fabric with a larger rib than faille, but not as large as rep or ottoman, as in grospoint ribbons

Herringbone--a twill fabric woven in a herringbone stripe (chevron) pattern

Horsehair--fabric is woven from the mane and tail hairs of horses. Makes a tough, but quite expensive upholstery fabric. Horsehair used to be used to stuff upholstery and mattresses.

Houndstooth--a twill fabric woven in a houndstooth check pattern

Ikat--a fabric woven used yarns that have been tie-dyed.

Knits--non-woven construction. Knits are generally cheaper than woven fabrics. Since they are stretchy, they make good choices for curved upholstery (contemporary).

Lace--an openwork fabric made by hand or machine

Lambswool--from the first shearing of a sheep, very soft

Leather--natural animal hide, tanned. Can be treated many different ways--woven, tooled, dyed, embossed, glazed. The best leather is called "full grain," because it includes the top dermal layer, or full grain, of the hide. Beware of leathers commonly sold as "top grain." In this case "top" does not mean the best, but literally "topped." These are hides from which the top layer (full grain) has been removed along with the pores and breathability. Leathers and suedes are sold by the hide and priced by the square foot rather than by the yard. Edelman and Spinneybeck are two tanners who make the best full grain leathers.

Linen--a fabric made of flax. It comes in many weights from fine handkerchief linen suitable for drapery to heavy upholstery weight in solid colors or printed patterns. Tends to wrinkle badly and wear at abrasion points.

Matelassé--two cloths joined by tacking or stitching; gives a quilted look

Moiré--a ribbed fabric (usually a faille) with a watered pattern produced using rollers under pressure.

Muslin--a plain weave cotton or cotton blend fabric available in several weights; often used for drapery or sheeting

Organdy--a sheer, stiff, crisp cotton fabric used for draperies

Ottoman--a heavily woven ribbed fabric, good for upholstery

Paper--a celluosic material made from wood pulp and/or cotton fiber

Passementerie--a fancy name for decorative trimmings such as bullion fringe, moss fringe, tassels, gimp, braid, cord, rope, etc. Some of the finest are made by Houlès, Samuel & Sons, and Scalamandré.

Percale--a plain weave cotton or cotton blend fabric more densely woven than muslin; used for sheeting, tablecovering or drapery

Plush (mohair)--a deep, soft, resilient cut pile fabric made from the hair of Angora goats, usually backed with cotton

Polyester--a synthetic fiber derived from petrochemicals; wears well, good for draperies as it is wrinkle and light resistant and stable.

Pongee silk--a lightweight fabric made traditionally made from spun wild silk; also available in cotton and rayon blends

Poplin--a plain woven fabric with a small ribbed texture

Rayon--the oldest man-made fiber; made of regenerated cellulosic fiber (wood pulp); imitates silk

Rep--a woven ribbed fabric heavier than taffeta or faille

Sailcloth--a tightly woven cotton fabric, lighter than canvas or duck.

Sateen--a finely textured satin weave chintz-like fabric with a permanent sheen, usually of cotton

Satin-- a woven fabric that is glossy smooth on one side and dull on the other. Can be made with silk, linen, synthetics or blends.

Sea grass--a grass used for weaving into rugs and tatami mats

Shantung--is a wild douppioni type of silk that changes colors as the fabric moves due to being woven of two different colors in the warp and weft and has irregularities and slubs in it.

Sisal--a tough fiber made from the leaves of the agave plant. Used for rugs and carpeting.

Strié--a subtle, fine broken satin stripe

Suede--a natural animal hide which has been buffed to raise the surface texture

Taffeta--a finely woven ribbed fabric creating a crisp effect usually of silk or acetate.

Tapestry--a woven fabric that can be made by hand or machine that is usually scenic, floral or paisley. Large tapestries were originally woven as wall hangings to insulate against drafts. Use for upholstery, pillows, tablecoverings, wall hangings, trims.

Terry cloth--a cotton or cotton blend fabric made of uncut loop pile; usually used for towels

Ticking--a (typically striped) cotton twill fabric traditionally used for pillow and mattress covers. Makes good casual upholstery or slipcover material for sofas and chairs.

Toile de Jouy--a screen printed pattern usually in one color on a solid ground of cotton or linen often depicting historic or fanciful scenes.

Tussah silk--a wild silk from China and India. The silkworms eat leaves with a lot of tannin in them (unlike mulberry leaves) resulting in cream to brown colors.

Ultrasuede--a soft synthetic suede fabric made of polyester and polyurethane.

Velour--a soft, plushy fabric that may be woven or knitted (cheaper) usually made of cotton with the look of velvet, and falls somewhere between velvet and and plush in pile height.

Velvet--a cut pile woven fabric with a soft luxurious texture, usually made of silk or cotton.

Velveteen--a soft woven cotton fabric of short pile construction

Viscose--a common type of rayon fiber, often used in blends with other fibers

Voile--a lightweight woven fabric of cotton, linen or a blend with polyester. Used for drapery.

Wool--fabric woven from the fleece of sheep. Can be worsted wool which is combed and carded resulting in a smoother finish, or woolen which is carded only and fluffier. Worsted is good for upholstery, wallcoverings, bedcovers; woolens are made into casements and draperies (but subject to sun rot). Wool is naturally flame-retardant (not flame-proof).

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Lantana 'Miss Huff'