Tag Archives: cotton fiber

Glossary: Velvet and Other Pile Fabrics

Velvet is a type of pile fabric, which can be made of various fibers. Traditionally, velvet is made of silk, or sometimes wool. Historically, the term “plush” seems to have applied to a variety of fibers and fiber combinations, but consistently seems to have had a deeper pile than velvet. Today, velvet is most commonly available made from synthetic fibers, or sometimes from rayon. Burn-out velvets are made of a combination of silk and rayon, and undergo a chemical process to remove some of the material to create a pattern. Cotton velvet is usually made with a short pile, and known as velveteen. Pile fabrics come in many varieties, but for historical, pre-twentieth century applications, generally only natural fiber pile fabrics, and occasionally rayon, are appropriate. Because silk and even cotton velvet ribbons are very difficult to find today but were much used historically, it is sometimes necessary to substitute high quality man-made velvet ribbons; in this case, man-made cellulosic fibers such as rayon and acetate, are preferable to noncellulosic synthetics such as polyester and acrylic.

Definitions of velvet, plush, velveteen, and other pile fabrics from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

On page 46, under the heading “Velvet,” it is stated that “Velvet is a dense, pile-woven fabric commonly produced in cotton or silk. Florence Montgomery notes that it was also produced in wool in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Textiles in America, 370). Depending upon one’s budget, either cotton or silk velvet could be used in the early nineteenth century for breeches or pantaloons, vests, cloaks or greatcoats, and dresses. Velvet was also much used as trimming and embellishment; for example, many men’s coats and cloaks from the period have velvet collars. The sample shown here is cotton velvet.”

All on page 180: “Velvet” is defined as “silk fabric cut with a dense pile on right side, may have a cotton back.” Then “cut velvet” is defined as “velvet with the pile loops cut so the pile is of single threads.” Later, “uncut velvet” is defined as “pile velvet; loops of the pile are not cut.” Then “velveteen” is defined as “cotton fabric made in imitation of velvet.” Then “wool velour” is defined as “heavy wool fabric with a pile like velvet.”

On page 179, “plush” is defined as “fine quality cotton fabric with a pile or nap of silk, softer and longer than velvet.”

On page 370, “velvet” is defined as “A pile fabric made of silk, wool, or cotton fibers. It is an extra-warp woven-pile structure whereas velveteen is an extra-weft structure.” Also on page 370, “velveteen” is defined as “Cotton velvet. According to Emery it has an extra-weft woven-pile structure.” On page 325, “plush (Fr. peluche)” is defined as “Wool velvet. A kind of stuff with a velvet nap or shag on one side.”

On page 287, “Manchester velvets” are defined as “Cotton velvets including thickset, velveret, and corduroy.” On page 363, “thickset” is defined as “A kind of cotton fustian or velvet made either plain or flowered.” On page 370, “velveret” is defined as “A cotton pile fabric, often ribbed like corduroy, and largely made in the Machester area from about 1750” and the entry goes on to discuss how they were often stamped and patterned.

On page 205, “corduroy” is defined as “‘A kind of coarse, durable cotton fabric, having a piled surface, like that of velvet, raised in cords, ridges, or ribs’ (Merriam-Webster). It was made with an extra weft in the pile. The character of corduroy has not changed greatly since the late eighteenth century.”

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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Glossary: Cotton Jean

Cotton jean is a fabric made from cotton, a natural fiber. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber. Today, the terms “denim” and “jean” are often used interchangeably, and often include fabrics with synthetic, especially spandex, fibers. Historically, there was some differentiation, though both are twilled fabrics in the drill family. Jean could be cotton, linen, wool, or some combination of the above, though cotton seems to have been most common in the nineteenth century. Denim was probably originally wool, but was likely to be cotton by the nineteenth century. As with today, denim was often woven with dark blue (or sometimes dark brown) warp and white weft, giving it a slightly mottled appearance. Twill could be white, colored, or sometimes striped; it was generally thinner and finer than denim, which was fairly coarse and very sturdy.

There are 17 instances of the word “jean” in The Workwoman’s Guide (originally published 1838), which can be found here in a list of excerpts. None of them specify a fiber, and indeed it may still have been variable at that point, but collectively they seem to imply that jean was a stable, sturdy fabric which could be quite fine (“fine French jean” is recommended for ladies’ corsets on page 81), or somewhat heavier, but was appropriate for a range of articles of clothing. It seems safe to assume to, in the mind of the author of this book, jean was not a wool fabric, because it is recommended as a washable fabric (see page 172).

Definitions of jean and denim from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

Under the heading of “jean” on page 35, there is a swatch of light-medium-weight, smooth twilled cotton fabric, and the text states that “Florence Montgomery defines jean as ‘A linen/cotton, twilled cloth’ (Textiles in America, page 271). It is medium weight and, like denim, is in the family of drill fabrics. (Montgomery also includes jean in the fustian family of fabrics.) Jean could also be made with a cotton warp and wool weft, or even all wool, according to Cole’s Dictionary of Textiles. White cotton jean was convenient for work clothes, as it was durable and could be boiled clean. A pair of men’s 1830s overalls in a private Massachusetts collection are made of white cotton jean. The Workwoman’s Guide suggests the use of jean for undergarments such as men’s coarse drawers and women’s corsets.”

Under the heading of “denim” on page 31, the swatch is much heavier than that of the jean entry, with an indigo warp and a white weft. The text states that “As it is today, denim in the early nineteenth century was a serviceable, rugged, twilled cotton cloth, often with a colored warp and a white weft. It came in different weights, depending upon its purpose, which varied from men’s work shirts, overalls, frocks, and trousers, to women’s work petticoats or skirts. Denim is related to drill, a heavy twilled cotton cloth, generally white or solid-colored.”

On page 177, “jean” is defined as “twilled cotton cloth used for shoe linings, corsets, dyed or bleached.” There are no definitions for denim or drill.

On page 271, “jean” is defined as “A linen / cotton, twilled cloth of the fustian group.” I take this to mean “linen or cotton,” because among the quotes from historical sources are several that state that jean is made of cotton. Some jeans seem to have been more fine and fashionable than others.

On page 216, “denim” is defined as “‘Washable, strong, stout twilled cotton cloth, made of single yarn, and either dyed in the piece or woven with dark brown or dark blue warp and white filling; used for overalls, skirts, etc.’ (Harmuth) The term probably derives from Serge de Nismes, a twilled woolen cloth made in France; by the late eighteenth century, it was also being made of wool and cotton.”

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.

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

Glossary: Cotton Sateen

Sateen is a fabric made from cotton, a natural fiber. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber. Sateen refers to a particular type of weave with long floating yarns which produce a shiny surface, similar to satin-weave. Sateen is typically, though not always, cotton. Sometimes, stretch cotton sateen, with a small spandex content, is also available, but this is not an interchangeable fabric and has different applications from 100% cotton sateen. Sateen currently available is often rather thin, as it is generally intended for shirting use.

For more information on the satin weave, see the entry on silk satin.

Definitions of sateen and satin from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

On the topic of “Weaves” on page 16, it states that “Satin is both a weave structure and the name of a fabric. Satin weaves are much like twill weaves. However, the warp yarns float over from four to as many as twelve weft yarns, and the offset of each successive pick is different, so that no diagonal ridge is formed. Sateen is like satin, except that the weft yarn forms the float, rather than the warp. Sateen is generally woven with cotton. Satin weaves are less durable than other weaves, because the long floats of yarn are easily abraded, and they also tend to pick up and hold dirt. For this reason, and because of the elegant luster that the satin weave creates, these fabrics tend to be used for more formal purposes–evening clothes, or high quality table linen.”

  • Butterick Publishing Company, The. Vogue Sewing. Revised edition. New York: The Butterick Publishing Company, 2000.

Page 41: “Satin weave has a characteristic luxurious shine. The surface is composed of floats, or warp yarns, which may pass over many filling yarns before being caught under one. The surface yarns, usually of filament fibers, intersect cross threads at points randomly spaced so the smooth texture appears unbroken. A variation called sateen has similar surface floats, but they run in the filling direction and are usually of a spun staple yarn.”

On page 179, “sateen” is defined as “cotton or wool fabric with a glossy, satin-like surface, often used for linings and corsets” while “satin” is defined as “thick, close textured silk fabric with the warp threads completely covering the weft threads,thus producing a glossy surface.” Further types of satin, including thinner varieties, are also defined on the same page, including “satinet,” which is “thin or imitation satin.”

On page 339, “sateen” is defined as “An irregular twill weave in which the satin effect is produced by predominant weft threads. Sateen often refers to a cotton material.” On pages 339-340, “satin” is defined in several quotes from historical sources, similar to previous definitions listed on this page. It is also clarified, on page 340, that “The warp threads are ordinarily much finer than the weft threads and more numerous to the square inch so that they conceal the weft and make an unbroken, smooth, and lustrous surface.”

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.

Glossary: Cotton Calico

In modern American use, the term “calico” generally refers specially to printed (often floral), mid-weight, plain-woven cotton fabric, primarily produced for quilters. In the UK and Australia, however, “calico” is used to refer to unbleached or white cheap cotton fabric that would be called “muslin” in the United States, in modern usage, and which I refer to as “utility muslin.” Both “muslin” and “calico” had different meanings historically than they do today. Muslin was a different type of fabric entirely, whereas calico simply had a broader definition, including a whole range of light- to mid-weight cotton fabrics in tabby weave. These fabrics were sometimes printed, but might also be plain white or colored. Some historical calicoes were lighter in weight and finer than most modern calicoes.

For more information about mid-weight plain-woven cotton fabrics, see the entry on cotton broadcloth. For information on cotton in general, see the entry on cotton fiber. For information on historical muslins, see the entries for cotton voile or cotton batiste.

Definitions of calico and other midweight cottons from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

Several samples of cotton fabric of this type are included, but are known simply by their printed or woven design (for instance calico) or their intended use (for instance shirting), without specific names being applied. Three different light-mid-weight cotton prints are shown, on pages 9, 10, and 11, in addition to the calico sample shown under the heading “Calico” on page 25, which goes on to state that “Printed cotton fabrics are still called ‘calico’ today. In the nineteenth century, calico revolutionized women’s wardrobes. Previous to the Industrial Revolution, printed cottons were status symbols of wealthy American colonists, who purchased the expensive, hand-painted and block-printed cottons imported from India and, later, England and France. By the nineteenth century, with the invention of the cotton gin and water-powered spinning, weaving, and printing machines–along with slave labor in the cotton-growing southern states–cotton calicoes became affordable for all.”

Page 26 states that “‘Cambric’ as a term was used rather loosely in the early nineteenth century” and that in addition to being line white linen in a tabby weave, “it could be colored, it could be glazed, and it could be printed. Ackermann’s Repository, an early-nineteenth-century English periodical of literature and fashion, frequently uses the term ‘cambric’ to mean ‘calico.'”

Page 26 offers a sample of chambray, which is plain woven and light-to-mid-weight, but “generally has a colored warp and a white weft.” It is also stated that “It is likely that cotton chambray was generally considered under ‘shirting’ in store inventories, and not otherwise specified.”

Page 33 offers a sample of gingham, which is a mid-weight cotton. It states that “Rather than denoting a particular woven checked pattern, ‘gingham’ described a family of pattern-woven fabrics in the early nineteenth century, including all sorts of stripes, checks, and chambray, in cotton, linen, and even wool or silk.”

On page 175, “calico” is defined as “cotton cloth of various qualities, often applied to the coarser, printed cottons.” On page 176, “dimity” is defined as “a fine ribbed fabric, white or colored, sometimes prints.” On page 178, “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, “poplin” is defined as “fine, smooth, strong fabric with a plain silk warp and coarse silk weft, or of all cotton.” Also on page 179, “print” is defined as ” a plain fabric, often cotton, with a figure stamped on one or both sides, sometimes called calico.”

Entry for “calico” on page 184: “Cotton cloth of many grades and varieties first made in India and later in the West. Thomas Sheraton gives a broad definition in his Encyclopedia, 1804-7:

“In commerce a sort of cloth resembling linens made of cotton. The name is taken from that of Calicut, the first place at which the Portuguese landed when they first discovered the Indian Trade. . . . Calicoes are of different kinds, plain, printed, stained, dyed, chintz, muslins, and the like, all included under the general denomination of calicoes.” (page 184)

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

Glossary: Cotton Utility Muslin

The short-staple, coarse-textured cotton fabric of modern days bears little resemblance to the range of textiles historically referred to as muslin. In order to be clear, I try to be very specific when referring to any textile which might in one century or another be called muslin. When referring to the modern fabric, I will throughout this site say “white cotton utility muslin” or “unbleached cotton utility muslin.” When referring to the fine, long-staple, sheer or semi sheer fabrics that were historically referred to as muslin, I will try to be as clear as possible, and will usually use specific a modern term for the fabric as well.

For more information on historical muslins, see the entries for cotton voile or cotton batiste. For more information on cotton in general, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber.

For information on mid-weight to slightly lighter weight plain-woven cotton fabrics, including modern utility muslin, see the entry on cotton broadcloth; see also cotton calico. Note that like the term “muslin,” the terms “broadcloth” and to a lesser degree “calico” also had different meanings in the past. Also, in the UK and Australia, “calico” is the term used for the utilitarian fabric known as “muslin” in the US.

Modern utility muslin, in the bleached white version, can be useful for making inexpensive underclothing for 19th century reproduction garments, especially since it is readily available in 36″ widths, which would have been a more common width for 19th century fabrics than the 44″ and 60″ widths commonly available in fabrics today.

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

Glossary: Cotton Broadcloth

Broadcloth is a general term for mid-weight and slightly lighter weight, plain-woven (tabby) cotton fabrics. Cotton is a natural fiber made from a plant; for more information, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber. Cotton broadcloth weights and qualities cover a wide range, and may be woven from short- or long-staple fibers, at least as the term is generally used. Historically, broadcloth is more likely to refer to a particular type of wool fabric, very different from modern cotton broadcloth. Light- to mid-weight, non-sheer, plain-woven cotton fabrics have been known by a variety of names, including some whose meanings have changed, or overlap with other types of fabric, such as calico and cambric.

In the interest of clarity, I will throughout this site refer to cotton fabrics of this type generally as broadcloth. When speaking of printed cotton fabrics similar to historical calicoes, I will use the term calico specifically. When speaking of the material that is now referred to as “muslin” but which bears almost no resemblance to the fine sheer cloth known as muslin in the 18th and 19th centuries, I will use the terms “white cotton utility muslin” or “unbleached cotton utility muslin.” (For more information on historical muslins, see the entries for cotton voile or cotton batiste.)

Definitions of broadcloth and other midweight cottons from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

Several samples of cotton fabric of this type are included, but are known simply by their printed or woven design (for instance calico) or their intended use (for instance shirting), without specific names being applied. Page 26 states that “‘Cambric’ as a term was used rather loosely in the early nineteenth century” and that in addition to being line white linen in a tabby weave, “it could be colored, it could be glazed, and it could be printed. Ackermann’s Repository, an early-nineteenth-century English periodical of literature and fashion, frequently uses the term ‘cambric’ to mean ‘calico.'”

Page 26 offers a sample of chambray, which is plain woven and light-to-mid-weight, but “generally has a colored warp and a white weft.” It is also stated that “It is likely that cotton chambray was generally considered under ‘shirting’ in store inventories, and not otherwise specified.”

Page 33 offers a sample of gingham, which is a mid-weight cotton. It states that “Rather than denoting a particular woven checked pattern, ‘gingham’ described a family of pattern-woven fabrics in the early nineteenth century, including all sorts of stripes, checks, and chambray, in cotton, linen, and even wool or silk.”

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” and no mention is made of cotton. Also on page 175, “calico” is defined as “cotton cloth of various qualities, often applied to the coarser, printed cottons.” On page 176, “dimity” is defined as “a fine ribbed fabric, white or colored, sometimes prints.”

On page 178, “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, “poplin” is defined as “fine, smooth, strong fabric with a plain silk warp and coarse silk weft, or of all cotton.” Also on page 179, “print” is defined as ” a plain fabric, often cotton, with a figure stamped on one or both sides, sometimes called calico.”

Entry for “calico” on page 184: “Cotton cloth of many grades and varieties first made in India and later in the West. Thomas Sheraton gives a broad definition in his Encyclopedia, 1804-7:

“In commerce a sort of cloth resembling linens made of cotton. The name is taken from that of Calicut, the first place at which the Portuguese landed when they first discovered the Indian Trade. . . . Calicoes are of different kinds, plain, printed, stained, dyed, chintz, muslins, and the like, all included under the general denomination of calicoes.” (page 184)

Entry for “broadcloth” on page 177: “Made of carded wool in plain weave and fulled after weaving” and no reference is made to cotton.

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.