Tag Archives: wool challis

Glossary: Wool Challis

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:

Challis is not mentioned.

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.

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.”

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.”

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: Wool Fiber

Wool is a natural fiber which comes from the fleece of sheep, or sometimes other animals such as goats (including cashmere) and even rabbits. Usually, however, the term refers to the wool of sheep. Many different fabrics are made from wool fiber, including wool gauze, wool challis, many different weights and types of wool tabby (including some varieties of suiting), many varieties of twilled wool (including gabardine and herringbone), and fulled wool fabrics, including flannel and a variety of suiting and coating fabrics. Historically, wool broadcloth was a tabby-woven fabric which was fulled and otherwise processed.

“Wool fibers are composed of a protein called keratin, and are in general composition similar to human hairs. The fibers have three parts, or layers: the epidermis, the cortex, and the medulla. The medulla is at the center of the wool fiber. Thick, stiff wool fibers have larger medullas; fine, flexible, easy spun wool fibers have almost invisible medullas.
“The cortex layer is responsible for the natural crimp in wool fibers. It gives wool fabric elasticity and the ability to shed wrinkles.
“The outermost layer of the wool fiber, the epidermis, is formed from scales that, under a high-powered microscope, look slightly like hooks. The epidermis helps make wool waterproof and resistant to abrasion. When the yarn is spun, the hooklike scales interlock with one another to create a strong yarn. These scales cause wool to feel ‘scratchy’ and irritate some people’s skin. Processes remove the scales from wool fibers before spinning. Woolens treated in this manner are not scratchy, and are washable.” (Ingham and Covey, The Costume Technician’s Handbook, page 64)

“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. Natural colors of wool range from creamy white to beige to brown to black. Wool dyes well because it is absorbent upon prolonged exposure to moisture. Overlapping scales that cover the fiber (seen under magnification) give wool its felting ability, because they interlock and entangle the fibers with the application of heat, moisture, and agitation. This is important in the fulling process, which shrinks and felts the wool to a desired degree. The scales also trap air, which makes wool warm to wear. Wool does not burn well; thus, in this period of open fires, it was often used for kitchen aprons and for children’s clothes.” (Bassett, Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850, pages 12-13)

“Versatile in weight, texture, weave, and color. Unique properties of wool permit constructions not possible in any other fiber. Tailors well because of ability to be molded into shape. Used for coatings, suitings, crepe, tweeds, knits, gabardine, flannel, jersey.” (Butterick, Vogue Sewing, page 51)

“Wool is one of the most versatile fabrics known to dressmakers. Usually quite colorfast and fade-resistant, wool adapts well to draping and pleating. Due to its insulating qualities, wool can actually keep you more comfortable in warm weather than a synthetic fabric. Wool can absorb a large percentage of moisture without feeling wet, and unlike cotton, it retains its insulation benefits even when damp.
“Wool is somewhat elastic, extremely hard-wearing, and naturally resistant to soil and stains. It releases odors more easily than cotton or silk. In most cases, a wool garment will not require frequent laundering. A good airing after use, with spot cleaning and brushing to remove dust as needed, will keep wool garments in excellent shape for years.” (Clark, The Dressmaker’s Guide, 2nd ed., page 54)

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 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 Entries for Wool Fabrics:

Online Resources:

Print Resources: See the article Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials for a list of print resources.

Updated January 10, 2012

1860s dress of plaid wool challis in moss green and scarlet

Garment

Intro: 1860-64 plaid dress and ensemble

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