Tag Archives: wool 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: Wool Coating

Wool coating is not a specific fabric, but rather a general term for a whole range of heavy-weight wool fabrics in a variety of weaves. Most are fairly stiff, but some have a softer, more drapey hand. For more information on wool in general, see the entry Glossary: Wool Fiber. “Coating” is a very broad modern term which designates fabrics based on their common intended use for coats and other outerwear. Typically, any fabric designated “coating” will be too thick for any type of fitted, regular garment, as coatings generally fall into the heavy end of the fabric weight range. Some coatings are fulled, such as flannel, to make them denser and warmer; for more information, see the entry on wool flannel and fulled wools.

Definitions of wool related terms and of relevant types of wool fabrics from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

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.”

  • 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.”

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 181, “worsted” is defined as “wool fabric made of well-twisted yarn of long-staple wool, combed to lay the fibers parallel.”

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 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.

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 Flannel and Fulled Wools

Wool flannel 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 flannel refers to woven fabrics which have been fulled to make them denser and thus, warmer. Often, the fabrics are also brushed to raise a nap, on one or both sides, which gives the fabric a soft, fuzzy texture. Historically, wool broadcloth is a similar textile, undergoing a process of fulling and brushing. Modern cotton flannel, sometimes called flannelette, is very different; in historical references, “flannel” typically means wool flannel (see the entry on cotton flannel for more information). Fulled wool fabrics are usually made of woolen, rather than worsted, yarns. For more information on the distinction, see the entry on wool tabby.

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 flannel and other fulled wool fabrics from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

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. 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.”

There are no specific references to “flannel,” but on page 24, the fabric swatch for “baize” is something that could be termed a heavy flannel. The text states that “This plain-weave woolen cloth was heavily fulled so that the fibers became felted. Both sides were brushed to raise a nap. The linings of many early nineteenth century cloaks appear to be home-woven baize (commonly green), and are of a lighter weight than the same shown here, which represents a factory-woven baize.”

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

Under the heading of “Texture Finishes” on page 46, it is stated that “Napping is a common finish by which short fiber ends of spun yarn are raised to the surface of a fabric by a series of revolving wire brushes to create flannel or fleece.” On the same page, it is also stated that “Fulling takes advantage of the natural shrinkage capacity of wool. Subjecting the cloth to moisture, heat, and pressure compacts the yarns, strengthens the weave, and imparts warmth, body, and stability. It is similar to the felting of non-woven fibers.”

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.
“Similarly, when you find references to ‘broadcloth’ in mod-century sources, it is most often a wool broadcloth, not cotton.”

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, “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.”

On page 180, “wool” is defined as “fabric made from the fleece of sheep, woven in many different styles, has warmth and elasticity.” On page 181, “worsted” is defined as “wool fabric made of well-twisted yarn of long-staple wool, combed to lay the fibers parallel.”

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.” On page 177, “broadcloth” is described as being “Made of carded wool in plain weave and fulled after weaving.”

On page 152, “baize” is defined as “A heavy woolen cloth, well felted and usually raised, or napped, on both sides. Dyed brown or green it is used for covering tables, especially billiard tables.”

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 Tabby

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:

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.”

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.”

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.”

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 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