Challis is a fabric made from wool, a natural fiber which comes from the fleece of sheep. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Wool Fiber. The term is used with various spellings, and has historically been used for silk and wool fabrics, and for wool and cotton fabrics. It is a fine, delicate textile with a soft drape, suitable for dresses. I have seen mixed references about whether it is a twill or plain woven fabric, though quoted here I only have a reference to twill. Historically, challis was often printed. Unfortunately, it is extremely rare to find printed wool fabric today.
See also the entry on wool tabby.
Note that many fabrics of this type available today are made of synthetic or man-made fibers (especially rayon), or blended wool with synthetic or man-made cellulosic fibers; blends, and especially fully man-made fabrics, do not look, feel, or behave the same way as natural fabrics. For more information on the differences between natural and man-made fibers, see the entries on synthetic fiber and rayon fiber (which includes information on other man-made, cellulosic fibers).
Definitions of challis from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:
- Bassett, Lynne Zacek. Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850: A Workbook of Swatches and Information. Formerly titled Textiles for Clothing of the Early Republic. Arlington, Virginia: Q Graphics Production Company, Product division of Sally Queen & Associates, 2001.
Challis is not mentioned.
- Clark, Elizabeth Stewart. The Dressmaker’s Guide; 1840-1860. 2nd edition, Revised & Expanded. Idaho Falls, Idaho: Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company, 2009.
In the textile primer section on page 60, it is noted that “Challis” is “pronounced ‘shallee’; plain weave, very soft, often printed.” I believe that the note about it being “often printed” refers to the challis commonly available in the mid 19th century.
- Marsh, Heidi, Compiled by. Styles and So Forth of the Era of the Hoop; with Glossary. Greenville, California: Heidi Marsh, 1994.
On page 176, “challie” is defined as “fine, delicate fabric without gloss of wool or of silk and wool, usually printed in colors.” On the same page, it also defines “chale” as “the same as challie, or French for shawl” and “challais” as “the same as challie.”
- Montgomery, Florence. Textiles in America 1650-1870: A Dictionary based on original documents, prints and paintings, commercial records, American merchants’ papers, shopkeepers’ advertisements, and pattern books with original swatches of cloth. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007.
On page 195, “challis (challie)” is defined as “A soft wool, or wool-cotton cloth, plain, printed, or figured.” It also states that “It was twill woven.”
- “Wool” on Wikipedia (Remember to read critically!)
- “The Prewash” by Sarai at The Coletterie
- “Fabric Series: Wool” by Caitlin at The Coletterie
- “Worsted Wool vs. Tropical Weight Wool,” a thread at The Sewing Academy which discusses different terms for and characteristics of wool fabrics
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