Glossary: Cotton Flannel

Cotton flannel is a fabric made from cotton, a natural fiber. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber. Today, cotton flannel is typically plain-woven and brushed to raise a soft, fuzzy nap on one side. It is sometimes referred to as “flannelette.” Historically, “flannel” usually indicated wool flannel. “Canton flannel” was and is a twilled cotton fabric with a soft, fuzzy nap on one side. Modern, mainstream cotton flannel is generally not appropriate for most historical applications. But it is very fuzzy!

Definitions of flannel, cotton flannel, and canton flannel from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

I could not find any references to flannel in this book.

While discussing wool textiles for mid-19th century reproduction clothing on page 61, it is stated that:
“When you come across references to ‘flannel’ in mid-century sources, this is most often a wool flannel, not cotton. Wool flannel can be made in a plain weave, or in a twill weave; it may be fuzzed on one or both sides. Woolen flannel generally has a loose weave, and is resistant to creasing; the woolen fibers give it an almost springy feel. Worsted flannels are firm, with a very slightly fuzzed surface, and tak[e] well to tailoring and creasing. Worsted flannel also tends to be less itchy, due to the longer fibers.”

On page 177, “flannel” is defined as “soft wool or wool and cotton cloth, with or without a nap, of loose texture, varying from fine to coarse.”

Entry for “canton” on page 191: “Known from the 1786 Hilton manuscript as a ribbed cotton cloth–the warp passes over several weft threads to form the cords.” The entry goes on to list three different types of canton cloth manufactured in the nineteenth century, one of which is “Canton flannel, a 2 / 2 twilled soft cotton fabric with a long nap; bleached, unbleached, or piece-dyed in plain colors. Used for sleeping garments, interlinings, overcoat pockets, household purposes, and diapers (ca. 1900).”

Entry for “flannel” on page 238: “Made of woolen yarn ‘slightly twisted in the spinning, and of open texture, the object in view being to have the cloth soft and spongy, without regard to strength. . . . All the sorts are occasionally dyed, though more usually sold white.'”

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Updated January 10, 2012

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