Tag Archives: wool tabby

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

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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