Wool tabby is not a specific type of fabric, but rather a general term which I am employing to refer to the whole range of light- to mid- to heavy-mid-weight wool fabrics in a plain, or tabby, weave. For more information on wool, see the entry Glossary: Wool Fiber. Many different terms have been used historically to refer to wool textiles in this range, and many terms are used today. Often, wool fabrics in this range are currently sold as suiting, though the majority of suitings are in some type of twill weave. A significant distinction in wool fabrics is between “woolen” and “worsted” wools; in the latter, before weaving, the yarns have gone through additional combing to remove short fibers and produce a smoother, higher quality yarn. Worsted wools are smoother and less scratchy. Woolen wools tend to be fuzzier, and can be warmer, because they trap more air.
See also the entry on wool challis.
Note that many fabrics of this type available today are made of synthetic fibers, or blended wool with synthetic fibers; blends, and especially fully synthetic fabrics, do not look, feel, or behave the same way as natural, 100% wool or animal hair (such as cashmere) fabrics. For more information on the differences between natural and synthetic fibers, see the entry on synthetic fiber.
Definitions of light and mid-weight plain-woven wool fabrics 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.
On page 12, on the subject of fibers, it is stated that “Wool or woolen is a staple fiber, meaning it is of relatively short length. Short staple wool is carded before spinning and creates fluffier yarn and fabric. Longer staple wool is called ‘worsted.’ Worsted fibers are combed to lay them parallel before spinning, creating a smoother yarn and thus a smoother fabric.”
On page 16, on the subject of weaves, it is stated that “Plain or tabby is the simplest of weaves. The weft (crosswise) yarns cross the warp (lengthwise) yarns in an over-one, under-one pattern, with each pass of the weft alternating with the row before it.”
- Butterick Publishing Company, The. Vogue Sewing. Revised edition. New York: The Butterick Publishing Company, 2000.
On page 39, it is stated that “Woolen and worsted yarns are, respectively, the wool counterparts of carded and combed, yarns in other fibers,” after stating that “Carding produces a loose strand of more or less parallel fibers about and inch (25 mm) in diameter. Further combing eliminates shorter fibers and produces a strand of higher quality.”
- Marsh, Heidi, Compiled by. Styles and So Forth of the Era of the Hoop; with Glossary. Greenville, California: Heidi Marsh, 1994.
On page 175, “broadcloth” is defined as “fine, stout, smooth-faced wool cloth, felted or given a nap finish to avoid raveling, much used for men’s clothes.” 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.” Also on page 176, “Georgian cloth” is defined as “light-weight broadcloth, first popular in 1806.” Also on page 176, “ladies’ cloth” is defined as “a light-weight broadcloth used for dresses.” Also on page 176, “de laine” is defined as “a light-weight wool or wool and cotton fabric.” On page 177, “kersey” is defined as wool cloth, usually coarse and ribbed.”
On page 178, “mouseline-delain” and “mousseline de laine” are both defined as “wool muslin,” while “muslin” is defined as “stout, light, open cotton fabric of varying fineness, used for summer dresses, plain, printed, dyed, dotted. A general term used for similar fabrics as lawn, mull, cambric.” On page 179, “poplinette” is defined as “wool or linen fabric resembling poplin,” while “poplin” is defined as “fine, smooth, strong fabric with a plain silk warp and coarse silk weft, or of all cotton.”
On page 180, “stuff” is defined as “plain wool fabric.” Also on page 180, “tartan” is defined as “wool fabric crossbarred by narrow bands of different colors.” Also on page 180, “wool” is defined as “fabric made from the fleece of sheep, woven in many different styles, has warmth and elasticity.” Also on page 180, “algerine wool” is defined as “from Algeria, a soft fabric with bright colored stripes.” Also on page 180, “woolen saxony” is defined as “fine glossy wool fabric made in Saxony.” On page 181, “woolen valencia” is defined as “fabric for waistcoats; probably made entirely of wool.” Also on page 181, “worsted” is defined as “wool fabric made of well-twisted yarn of long-staple wool, combed to lay the fibers parallel.”
- 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 375, “woolen” is defined as “Cloth made of carded short-staple fibers. After weaving, the cloth was fulled for shrunk to make it denser and heavier. Broadcloth was England’s traditional fine woolen manufacture. The soft fluffy fibers of carded wool were also suitable for knitting.” Also on page 375, “worsted” is defined as “Lightweight cloth made of long-staple combed wool yarn. The name was derived from the village of Worstead near Norwich, a center for worsted weaving. The smooth, shiny fibers were suitable for embroidery and indeed were synonymous with the word crewel, or crewel yarn.”
On page 177, “broadcloth” is described as being “Made of carded wool in plain weave and fulled after weaving.” 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.” On page 215, “delaine” is defined as “A fine woolen fabric, first called mousseline de laine, or muslin of wool, developed by the French.” It goes on to state that delaines were often printed, and were wiry and hard in texture. On page 325, “plaid” is defined as “A twill or plain woven cloth with a pattern of intersecting stripes in both the warp and the weft. The patterns may also be printed.”
On page 353, “stuff” is defined as “A general term for worsted cloths.” Drawing from an 1833 list, stuff was available twilled or plain, in such varieties as merino, shalloons, lastings, prunella, florentine, tammies, calimancoes, camblets, and plaids. On page 360, “tammy” is defined as “A strong, lightweight worsted of plain weave and open texture, often glazed.”
- “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