Glossary of Weaving Terms

This is a glossary for people who design, produce and sell textiles, for those who collect, use and enjoy textiles. It sets out to avoid too much technical jargon and will help students, producers, retailers and consumers alike and stimulate their interest in textiles.


Musa textilis. Abaca is a similar plant to banana. Abaca, banana, sisal and manila hemp are all leaf fibres. The length and thickness of the fibre normally indicates the strength of these fibres. Each is different and are used for a variety of different usus. Abaca produces a fine white fibre, similar, but longer than sisal. This fibre is extracted from the inner leaf sheath, which forms the trunk of the abaca plant. The outer leaf sheath is removed in the form of ‘tuxies’ which are stripped to recover a course cream to brown fibre. See also banana, sisal and manila hemp.

abrasion test
A test used to simulate the wear performance of textile yarns and fabrics. This test is often done using a piece of equipment called a Martindale Abrasion Tester, designed by Dr Martindale in the early part of the second world war to test the wear and tear of gas capes worn by soldiers who rode bicycles. It is generally agreed, however, that abrasion tests using any one of a variety of pieces of equipment do not necessarily simulate effects produced during normal day-to-day wear.

A genus of shrubs and trees found in tropical climates and used in textile production in many forms. Acacia senegal, found in eastern and western parts of Africa, acacia arabica, found in India, yielding the best quality gum arabic (see gum arabic) and acacia farnesiana produces gum used normally in India for textile printing. Acacia leucophloea yields a coarse bast fibre used in the manufacture of string, ropes and nets. Acacia catchu known as catchu, cutch or kutch, gives a dark brownish grey when an iron mordent is used. Alum mordent will produce a yellow-brown and a mixture of tin and cream of tartar gives a darker brownish-yellow. See gum arabic.

Textile fibre invented in 1865 and patented in 1894, derived from cellulose. Produced as acetate rayon (see also viscose rayon), known as acetate, from wood pulp or short cotton fibre (linters) treated with acetic acid or acetic anhydride to make the liquid from which the fibre is spun. Because of its lustrous sheen, it is the one man-made fibre which closely resembles silk. See rayon and cellulose acetate.

acid dye
A chemical anionic dye used in dyeing protein fibres, including wool and silk, also polyamide fibres. This range of dyes is often referred to as brilliant dyes, are wet-fast and produce good results in fastness and brightness of colour. They can normally be applied in an acidic or neutral state. This large group of acid dyes, with a limited range of colours, is subdivided into four main classes:

  • acid levelling or equalizing dyes
  • acid milling dyes
  • half milling or perspiration fast dyes
  • super-milling or fast dyes

acrylic fibre
The generic name given to a man-made fibre derived from acrylic resins. As a soft and woolly fibre it is often used as a substitute for wool.

A traditional Nigerian resist dyed indigo fabric. See indigo.

This was formally a process in which printed fabric was exposed to a hot, moist atmosphere. Now the term is almost exclusively applied to the treatment of printed fabric in moist steam in the absence of air. Ageing is also used for the development of certain colours in dyeing such as aniline black.

airbag cloth 
(details of this are in the pipeline)

An extract from certain algae or seaweed. Sodium alginate, a gummy nitrogenous organic compound used as a size for finishing cotton cloth or as a thickener in textile printing pastes. Alginic acid is extracted from algin, neutralized with caustic soda to form a spinning solution from which filament alginate yarns can be produced. Alginate yarns are soluble and non-flammable and have a low wet strength. Filament or staple alginate fibre can be blended with other fibres in the production of sheer fabrics where the alginate fibre is washed away to leave a sheer web of the supporting fibre. This is done when it would not be possible to spin a yarn from the supporting fibre alone. When areas of other fibres are embroidered onto 100% alginate woven fabric backing, the backing can be dissolved away leaving the embroidered area. This creates a lace effect. Latin: alga, seaweed. PVA (poly-vinyl alcohol) filament has now replaced algin in the production of soluble yarns.

Girandina diversfolia. The local name given to a nettle plant 2 to 3 metres in height, grown at altitudes above 1500 metres in the forest areas of Nepal. The stem contains fibres which are strong, straight, lustrous with a fibre length up to 58 centimetres in length. Used for bags, belts and fishing nets. See also nettle.

all silk 
This term is used when a yarn or fabric contains no other textile fibre than silk.

Alpaca fibre is from the semi-domesticated animal of the same name or of the llama, both of which live in the mountains of South America. The fibre is soft and lustrous, from brown to cream in colour and 18 30 centimetres in length. See llama.

Aluminium potassium sulphate. Used as a mordant when dyeing wool. Usually combined with cream of tartar in a ratio of 3 parts alum to 1 part cream of tartar.

A half-bleached, coarse Irish linen fabric used mainly for sailors shirts.

american cloth
This term is used in the United Kingdom to describe a waterproof fabric produced by enamelling the surface of an oiled cotton cloth. Used for household applications and inexpensive upholstery, it has now been replaced by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coated fabrics. See oil cloth.

The hair of the angora rabbit. Yarn spun with angora is extremely soft and in most cases contains a proportion of other fibre to facilitate easier spinning but is usually no more than 7% of the total amount of material. The soft lustrous hair from the angora goat is referred to as mohair. See mohair.

armistice cloth
A worsted cloth produced and used after the Boar War in South Africa.

A dye obtained from the soft pulp covering the seeds of bixa orellana. Known variously as annetto, rocou, bixin and orean. Found in Central and South America and Asia. A fugitive orange dye used as a ground for other colours. Traditionally used for colouring butter and cheese for which its use is now highly regulated. Barely soluble in water can be dissolved in caustic alkali.

artificial silk
Filament viscose or acetate rayon. Sometimes this term is shortened to art silk.

A fibrous texture mineral, containing silicate of magnesium and calcium with traces of iron and other minerals, obtained from rock. It is acid proof, rust proof and flame proof. The practice of spinning asbestos with other fibres into yarns to manufacture protective cloths is discouraged as small asbestos fibres can be easily inhaled and enter the lungs.

azoic dyes
A range of dyestuffs, which are formulated within the fibre by combining two components. The production of an insoluble azo compound on a substrate by interaction of a diazotized amine (azoic diazo component) and a coupling component (azoic coupling component). Also known as ice colours because of the necessity of lowering the temperature during processing. Traditionally used in the production of African prints, they have been superseded by other dyestuffs and become uneconomic, their use having declined.


back beam
The beam at the rear and full width of a weaving loom onto which the warp has been wound and from which the warp is subsequently taken to be woven. See beam, breast beam and double beam.

back strap loom
A loom without a frame.  The strap is put round the back of the weaver who maintains the tension of the warp by leaning back while the other end of the warp is attached to a wall or tree.  The length of the fabric produced on a back strap loom is limited in length, as with vertical (frame) and horizontal (frame) looms. The fell of the cloth moves along the loom instead of remaining stationary as with a conventional frame loom.

back grey 
An absorbent undyed (greige) cloth used to support and carry the fabric being printed.  It protects the blanket from contamination by surplus print paste.  See greige.

A term used in handweaving when an incorrect weft thread has been introduced across the warp and then taken out or unwoven.

A treatment using natural or synthetic tanning agents applied to improve wet fastness of dyed or printed silk or polyamide fabrics. See polyamide and Appendix Fibre Chart, polyamide.

A loosely woven woollen cloth, heavily felted and cropped to produce a fine nap on both sides. Traditionally dyed red or green.  From the old French word baie, a cloth dyed a brownish red colour used for clothing, lining cutlery draws and covering tables. The Spanish name for the same cloth is bayetta.

balanced cloth 
The term describes a cloth made with the same thickness or diameter of yarn throughout, woven with the same number of ends in the warp as picks in the weft. The actual diameter of a yarn with a specific count can vary according to the compactness of the yarn.

balanced weave 
A weave in which the average float is the same in the warp and the weft directions and in which the warp and weft floats are equally distributed between the two sides of the fabric.  See weaves.

ball warping 
A method of transferring a prepared warp from the warping mill to the loom.  The leased warp, in the form of a thick rope, is wound into a ball by hand or by machine.  The end of the warp is attached to the back beam then, while under tension, it is gradually wound onto the back beam as it is being unwound from the ball. See lease.

Of the same family as abaca. Fibre is obtained from the leaf sheath of the non-edible banana plant. Used in spinning string, cord, fine cloth suitable for shirts (traditionally used in the Philippines as shirt fabric) or table cloths or coarse cloth suitable for sacking or matting.  Fibre is also obtainable from the edible banana plant but the yield is half of that obtainable from the abaca.  See abaca.

bandage cloth
Usually woven from un-mercerized cotton.  Warps: from 24s cc to 28s cc set at 40 epi.  Wefts: from 20s cc to 24s cc at 23 ppi.  Bleached and sized before rolling and cutting. Usually measured into 2 metre (80″) roll lengths and cut into standard bandage widths of 2cm (1″), 5cm (2″) and 10cm (4″). See mercerize.

Also known as bandhanna, bandhani, bandh, bandhnu, bandhara and plangi. A process of resist dyeing. Fine yarn is wound tightly  round small areas of cloth to resist the dye creating a small diamond shaped dot.  Several dots can be arranged into a pattern some of which are sometimes overdyed.  This process was exploited in the 16th century in the manufacture of handkerchiefs in Gujerat, India.  Using the same process pulecat handkerchiefs were made in Pulicat on the coast near Madras in southern India.  See also plangi and tie-dye.

A type of moleskin. See moleskin.

A tweed or suiting named after the Scottish town made famous by the Scottish victory over the English in 1314.  The fabric is made in 2 and 2 twill weave from marled cheviot woollen spun yarn prepared by twisting together two contrasting colours then weaving them together in the warp and weft to produce a mottled effect. See weaves.

A fabric traditionally woven with a spun silk warp and worsted weft.  Now usually woven with worsted yarns throughout.  Recognized by a combination of twill and hopsack weaves which produce a characteristic pebbled appearance.  The cloth is commonly dyed black or dark blue and used as a suiting.

A mark in the form of a bar across the full width of a piece of woven cloth which differs in appearance from the rest of the cloth.  Often a mistake in weaving caused by either incorrect picking or wrong weft or yarn tension.  Barry or barriness.

bark cloth
The inner bark of a tree, such as the paper mulberry Brousonnetia papyrifera or another tree Pipturus albidus, which is soaked and beaten with a mallet into a thin sheet. It can be bleached, dyed or painted. Called tapa in Hawaii and kapa in Fiji.

basic dyes
Dyes which are applied with the assistance of a mordant. Used for dyeing cotton and cellulosic fibres. Not in common use.

basket weave
This term is used to describe a simple weave using two or more warp ends and picks woven parallel to each other as one, in a plain or tabby weave formation.  See weaves.

bast fibres
Also known as stem fibres.  Fibre obtained from between the inner and outer layer of the stems or stalks of many plants such as: allo, flax, hemp, hop, jute, kenef, nettle, ramie, roselle, sunn hemp, urena.  They are strong, long fibres and can be used to make ropes, string, gunny, hessian, sacking and fishing nets.

The word batik is derived from the Javanese word membatik which means drawing or painting on cloth.  It is the general term which describes a form of dye resist by wax on cotton cloth. The craft of batik making is practised in India, parts of Africa and is renowned in Java. Resists of rice flour paste in India or Africa are painted or printed on the cotton cloth. In Java hot wax, prepared from 1 part paraffin wax and 3 parts resin, is applied to the cotton cloth to resist the dye by either a block called a tjap or drawn onto the cloth with a canting sometimes called a tjanting. The wax solidifies and cracks on handling.  The waxed areas resist the dye.  When the wax is washed out of the fabric there remains the characteristic veining effect where the dye liquor has penetrated the cracks. See canting.

The frame containing the reed which is pulled to and pushed from the weaver when beating up the weft into the fell of the cloth. Known also as a sley or beater.  See fell, fly shuttle and reed.

The continuous filament bave is exuded by the silkworm to form its cocoon.  It is composed of two brins which are stuck together with sericin or silk gum.  The two brins are extruded from a pair of silk glands in the silkworm’s head.  The length of bave varies with the breed of silkworm, from 300 m to 1500 m. The thickness of the bave varies from 1.8 denier to 3.0 denier.  See also brin.

A cylinder of wood or metal with end bearings for mounting into flanges either at the front or rear of a loom. A double beam refers to two beams which can be fixed to the rear of the loom when two warps are taken up in the weaving under two different tensions.  See back beam, breast beam and double beam.

beam dyeing
The process of dyeing a prepared warp having been wound on a perforated metal back beam and dyed prior to weaving.  The dye is passed through the beam, the perforations and the warp under pressure.

Often referred to as the sley or batten. Used to beat up the weft into the fell of the cloth. See batten, fell and sley.

beating up
Or beat up. See beaten and fell.

bedford cord
Originally known as a cord broadcloth it was woven in Britain by Flemish weavers during the reign of Edward III in the early 14th century.  Later in the 15th century this cloth was adopted by the Duke of Bedford for his troop’s uniforms.  Bedford cord can be made with either man-made fibres, cotton, worsted wool or a combination of all three.  The character of this warp directional rib or cord is produced by the weave (see Annex; weaves), similar to corduroy.  Depending on the size of the yarn used and modifications made to the weave, other corded fabrics are also produced, such as the heavier London cord.  In France Bedford cord is called côte de cheval and in South America, diable fuerte.

A group of 40 warp threads. Also a group of spaces used in reed-counting, eg. the number of 20 dents in 37 inches which traditionally indicates the reed count.

A bundle or sheaf of tied flax or straw.

A mechanical treatment that uses beetlers or fallers (hammers or mallets) to give the surface of a linen or cotton fabric a flattened appearance. The spaces between warp and weft of the fabric are closed in producing a flat lustrous surface.

billiard cloth
Made from the finest merino wool. A compact cloth, usually woven in a 2 and 1 twill with great precision, heavily milled and cropped to produce a perfectly smooth fabric which is soft yet firm, waterproof and capable of resisting the dampest atmosphere.  Traditionally dyed green, as the name describes, is used for covering billiard table tops.  During the 19th century it is said that billiard cloth was exported from the West of England mills to India where the green dye was extracted and re-used to dye yarns for Kashmir shawls. See weaves.

A breed of mulberry silkmoth which produces two generations per year and lays hibernating and non-hibernating eggs.  The monovoltine silkmoth produces one generation per year and multivoltine or polyvoltine up to eight generations per year.  Multivoltine or polyvoltine are tropical varieties which, unlike bivoltine or monovoltine from temperate regions, have no dormant period. See monovoltine, multivoltine and polyvoltine.

The Scottish Blackface sheep produces wool with a staple length of 20 30 cm and of outstanding quality which is most suitable for tweed and carpet manufacture.

From the French word blankete, derived from blanc meaning white.  Blankete was an undyed woollen cloth chiefly used as a warm heavy bed covering.  Traditionally constructed with woollen or shoddy yarn in a 2-and 2 twill weave and then brushed, some blankets are woven with a cellular or honeycomb weave and remain unbrushed.  The term blanket is also used in textile manufacture terminology to describe a sample length of cloth usually with a variety of different patterns and colourings in one piece. See shoddy and mungo.

blazer cloth
From the French word blason, a coat of arms or badge worn as identification.  Traditionally blazer cloth is woven either in solid colours or in stripes using a
5-end satin.  Worsted wool or wool/polyester yarns are usually used in the production of this fabric.  Imitation blazer cloths are sometimes woven in plain weave using wool, cotton or man-made fibres, then raised to produce lightweight jacket cloth. See weaves.

A chemical which whitens yarn or fabrics. Sodium chlorite (chlorine), hydrogen peroxide or reducing agents such as sulphur dioxide or sodium bisulphite are the most common bleaches. Bleaching is used to remove natural and other types of impurities and blemishes from fabrics prior to dyeing and finishing. The removal of colour from dyed or printed textiles is usually called stripping.

Colour which run together from wet, dyed material onto a material next to it.  It has been known that the property of bleeding, sometimes caused through the  use of fugitive dyes or bad dyeing techniques, enhances its acceptability in certain markets. A range of striped and checked cotton cloths woven in India known as Bleeding Madras.

A process of combining  two or more types of staple fibres in one yarn to achieve a blend or mixture of either two types of natural fibre, a natural fibre with man-made fibre or several coloured fibres to achieve a colour mixture. See staple fibres.

block printing
Blocks for printing cloth are be made from wood, linoleum or copper; a seperate block being used for each colour. A design is carved from the flat surface of the block, printing ink or dye applied to the raised surface of the block which is then put down on the cloth and tapped once to transfer the ink or dye to the cloth.

A large area or background area of a design printed in a uniform colour.

blotch printing
Printing a fabric with any dyestuff over the entire surface with an open screen.

A finishing process which opens the fibre and sets the weave of a fabric. Steam is passed through a cloth which has been wound onto a large perforated roller covered in an endless roll of cotton canvas between which the cloth to be blown is sandwiched.

A spool or cylindrical barrel onto which yarn is wound for use either in the shuttle for weaving or for carrying the under thread in a sewing machine. The term is usually qualified to indicate the purpose or process for which it is used: ring bobbin, spinning bobbin, condenser bobbin and weft bobbin. A brass bobbin is used on lace making machines.

boiling off
The process of degumming or the removal of sericin or silk gum from yarn, fabric or silk waste prior to spinning. The process is done by means of a controlled hot mildly alkaline treatment having little or no effect on the underlying fibroin.

See cotton boll.

Synonymous with a piece of cloth. Also a roll of ribbon traditionally 10 yards (approx. 9 metres) long.

bolting cloth 
Plain woven sheer silk fabric used for sifting. From the French word blutage meaning sift (flour).  Also known as miller’s gauze.

A white or brownish seed fibre from the malvaceae family of plants found in South America, India and Africa.  Known as Bombax cotton.  Lacking in strength and elasticity is used primarily as a pillow stuffing or wadding.  Mixed with other fibres can be spun into yarn.

bombyx mori
The mulberry silkworm which feeds solely on white mulberry leaves and produces the finest white-yellow silk.  See silk.

The standard term to describe a bundle of sixteen to twenty skeins or hanks of raw silk compactly packed weighing 2 to 2.5kg.

A term applied to merino wool tops, yarns or fabrics. See merino.

A French word meaning curled, used to describe a looped or curly effect in a knitting yarn or in a knitted or woven fabric. See fancy yarn.

The simplest form of fabric which is woven or plaited flat, in the round or as a tubular narrow fabric.  Braiding or plaiting yarn, narrow strips of fabric, flexible wire or metallic threads, to make shoe laces, candle wicks, ropes and cord.

A honeycomb weave.  See cellular fabric and honeycomb.

Two brins are exuded from the head of the silkworm to form the bave or silk filament.

An elaborate and richly figured fabric woven on a Jacquard loom using satin weave.  The warp float give a raised appearance.  Originally woven in silk, but now can be made with man-made fibres, with additional silver or gold threads. Was first produced in China.  Light weight brocade is used for apparel and heavier weights for furnishings.  A brocatine is a brocade with a raised pattern imitating embroidery.  Latin: brocare meaning to figure.

Similar to but heavier than brocade. The pattern, woven with two or more wefts with extra binder warp, in high relief on a Jacquard loom.

A brocade fabric that is figured with additional weft threads introduced by means of swivel or lappet weaving. French: broché, figured. See lappet.

A stiff fabric made of normally of cotton, linen, hemp or hair. A plain weave, open-sett fabric impregnated with fillers or stiffeners.  Also made by gluing two open-sett sized fabrics together.  Used as lining, bookbinding, sometimes known as Library Buckram, and in millenary.  Also a 16th century English woollen fabric used for church vestments.

bullion cord
An highly twisted yarn made from continuous filament yarn components which has a coarse central core covered with either a finer yarn.  Used in the manufacture of bullion fringe, often covered with metallic threads and used in furnishing fabric decoration or military braiding.

A tall slim box fixed to the side of the Malaysian hand weaver’s loom seat in which the long thin palm tree bark patterning sticks, bilah, are deposited during weaving.

bump yarn
A thick, coarse condenser yarn, usually spun from cotton waste. The count is traditionally expressed in yards per ounce and has normally ranged from 25 to 120 yd/oz (600 to 250 TEX). Woven into bump cloth normally used as absorbent floor cloth and oven gloves. See Appendix: yarn counts.

The expression to bunt, from the old English word meaning to sift, was a process used after grain milling when an open weave woollen cloth was stretched across the bunt or sieve. Coincidently the German word bunt means strong bright colours which are characteristic of bunting.  The German word for coloured fabric is buntgewebe.  Both these terms could be linked as they both describe the present day plain woven, crossbred cloth called bunting which is normally dyed in basic armorial colours of red, blue, yellow, white and black, with additions of green and orange, used for making flags or banners.  Bunting is known as etamine in France.

Removal of loose threads, knots, slubs, burrs, and other extraneous material from fabrics, before finishing without damaging them, by means of a burling iron or tweezers. A burl is a small knot or lump in a thread or fabric.

The North American term for sacking or hessian.

burry wool
Wool containing vegetable matter in the fleece.

A block printed cotton fabric produced in Turkestan used for bedcovers or horse blankets.

Also known as buti. The floral decorative motive sometimes referred to as the paisley pattern originating in Persia and associated with the Mughal period. Derived from the shape of the mango, almond or pine cone. See paisley.

The red flowers from butea frondosa containing an almost colourless dye principle called butin which, when steeped in cold water, converts into the orange dyestuff called butein.


Two or more yarns folded together. A cable twist can be a cord or rope constructed in which each successive twist is in the opposite direction to the preceding twist.  This type of cable is defined as S-Z-S or Z-S-Z.

A single cylindrical package of yarn not supported by an internal tube or bobbin (3½in (9cm) high, 6in (15cm) external diameter, 4in (10cm) internal diameter), normally of continuous-filament yarn produced in the viscose spinning industry.

A process used to flatten cloth by passing the cloth through alternate smooth metal and softer cloth-wrapped or paper-wrapped rollers. Works very much like a domestic iron. The machine is called a calender. A friction calender is used to give a glazed (as in glazing chintz), moiré or watermarked finish to certain fabrics which have been soaked in starch, wax or resin.  Also used for coating fabrics with rubber or plastics. See ciré.

The term calico, which is still used today, was introduced into Britain in the 17th century and was used to describe a plain weave cotton cloth made from carded unbleached cotton which had retained the small dark flecks (leaves or other vegetable matter) normally taken out in further spinning processes and bleaching. The name calico was given to all types of cotton cloth coming from the small town of Kozhikode (from Kolikodu meaning Cock Fortress), known as Calicut, on the Malabar coast  of south west India.  An act was introduced in 1720 by King George to encourage the manufacture of silk and woollen fabrics in Britain, to effect the employment of poor people, by prohibiting the use and wearing of calico.

A plain weave soft cotton or linen fabric calendered to give a slight lustre on the face of the fabric.  Originally a linen fabric woven in Cambrai in northern France. Also refers to a calendered fine bleached cotton muslin. Cambric grass is another name given to the ramie plant.  See also chambray.

camel hair
A luxury textile fibre which comes from the two-hump Bactrian camel or the single-hump dromedary found in parts of Asia from Turkey to China and as far north as Siberia. The main hair is coarse and strong ranging in length from 13 to 15cm. The soft underwool, used in the production of fabrics for clothing, is between 4 to 5cm long.

Thick, soft condenser yarns, of about 1s cotton count, twisted, plaited or braided together to make a much thicker soft yarn, commonly used for wicks in candles or in oil lamps. The term is also used to describe a fabric, often used as bedspreads, where the surface of the fabric is covered with tufts of cotton yarn which have been introduced into the fabric by a needle or hand operated tool.

Sometimes known as tjanting, is the name given to the Javanese instrument used to draw a design in wax on cotton cloth to resist the dye and becomes a batik.  There are two types of canting.  The Rengrengan canting with a single spout, used for drawing the outline figure of a design, and the Isen canting with two or more spouts, used for filling in the main areas of the motif and the background to the design.  See tjanting.

Canvas has become the generic term to describe many heavy, closely-woven cotton, linen, jute or hemp cloth.  The use of man-made fibres has now superseded cotton and linen in the manufacture of sail or tent canvas. Some commonly know types of canvas include: prelate canvas, manufactured for sails which can be treated with tar, oil or varnish, artist’s canvas, cotton or linen canvas stretched onto wooden frames, sometimes referred to as kit-cat canvas, and a wide range of embroidery canvases for needlework and embroidery.  Some popular embroidery canvases include:  Berlin canvas, Java canvas, bincarette or ada canvas – a basket weave cloth, hardanger, panama canvas – a hopsack or matt weave, penelope canvas – a loosely woven stiff fabric in 2-and-1 weave. The word canvas comes from the Early English word canevas which derives from the Latin for hemp: cannabis. See duck.

cap spinning
A spinning system in which the spindle supports a stationary cap the lower edge of which guides the yarn onto the revolving spinning package.  See spinning.

carbon fibre
A modified form of acrylic (polyacrylonitrile) fibre. As strong as glass fibre and five times as stiff.  Developed at Farnborough, United Kingdom, between 1936 and 1964. Each fibre is finer than a human hair often about 7 microns in diameter. Is light in weight and is ideal for use in reinforced plastics.

A chemical process of eliminating cellulosic matter from animal fibre. Cloth is treated with either hydrochloric acid gas (dry process) or sulphuric acid solution (wet process) followed by a heating.

A process of opening, disentangling, cleaning, separating and making parallel fibres, on a machine called a card, to produce a thin web which is then condensed into a single continuous strand and in turn, after further drawing, is spun into a yarn. The fibres which produce carded yarn have not been combed. Combing is the additional process by which a superior quality smooth cotton yarn is produced. See bump yarn, combed yarn, condenser yarn, cotton carding and cotton combing.

Cards used in conjunction with a machine invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752 1834) between 1801 and 1810, for weaving, complex and elaborate patterns. A Jacquard mechanism, similar to the simpler dobby system, operated by punched holes in card. Each hole in each card allows for selection of a single warp thread. Each card represents one pick in the weft.  The most common sizes of cards have space for 200, 400 or 600 holes in each.  Further developments of the Jacquard mechanism have been made, some of which are used in knitting machines.  Modern Jacquard looms are operated electronically with computers determining the patterns. See Jacquard.

The term cards is often used when referring to hand or mechanical carding devices for pre-processing any fibrous material before spinning. See carding and spinning.

Neoglazovia variegata. Native to Brazil, yields a soft, white, flexible fibre with a tensile strength three times that of jute. It has a soft lustre and can be anything from three to seven feet in length. Used principally for cordage, rope and very coarse fabrics. Also known as caraua, caroa, carao, craua or croa.

Low to medium lustre hair from the downy undercoat of a hybrid goat; the male angora goat crossed with a feral female cashmere goat.

The fine, soft hair, resembling wool from beneath the guard hair of the Asiatic goat (capra hircus laniger).  Similar to the pashmina (Persian for woollen) goat found in northern India (Kashmir and Himachel Pradesh), Nepal, Tibet and China. Attempts have been made to produce similar quality fibre from feral goats bred in Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. See also pashmina.

caustic soda
Sodium hydroxide. Used in many textile processes including viscose rayon production, mercerizing, boiling-out, dyeing and printing.  Causticizing is a treatment given to cellulosic fabric to improve the colour yield in printing and dyeing particularly with reactive dyes.

cellular fabric
A honeycomb, leno or mock-leno loosely woven cloth with an open-weave construction.  Aertex is probably the most famous cotton cellular fabric ever produced.

A carbohydrate polymer found in organic woody substances of most vegetation. The basic raw material in the production of rayon and acetate fibres. Cotton is 96% cellulose.

cellulose acetate
Filaments spun from a solidified acetic acid ester of cellulose.

The same as hopsack weave. See hopsack and Appendix weaves.

A woollen blanket or large shawl woven in India.  Also called chadur, chadder, chadar, chaddah or chudder.

A white fabric handwoven from handspun local cotton in Ethiopia.

The chambon croissure (French) is composed of two groups of silk filaments which cross between the cocoon and the distributor on a silk reeling machine.  The reason for doing this is to allow agglutination of the silk filaments of several cocoons to form a compact yarn.  The cross also squeezes out water from the yarn as it is being reeled.  This process also acts as a form of quality control as the weak filaments break under its tension.  An alternative Italian device is called a tavelette.

Newly hatched silkworm.

A lightweight cotton cloth, usually woven in checks or stripes and used in the manufacture of dresses and shirts.  The word comes from Cambrai, a town in the northern part of France near the Belgian border where the fabric originated.

An Indian spinning wheel. Also hand or foot operated spinning machine. All hand and foot operated spinning machines in India are used to spin cotton, wool or silk yarns for khadi (hand-spun,hand-woven) cloths. Also spelt charaka. See khadi.

A cylindrical package of yarn, cross-wound on a parallel sided central core made of either paper, plastic or wood.

cheese cloth
An inexpensive, lightweight, open cloth woven with carded cotton yarn, made originally for the sole purpose of covering cheese during its manufacture.  Was also used for covering bacon and packing tobacco.  Sometimes referred to as gauze, flag bunting or scrim.

chemical dyes
More often referred to as synthetic dyes. First manufactured synthetic dyestuffs were derived from coal tar in 1856. Synthetic dyes may be categorized into the following dye groups:

FIBRE                                                MAIN DYE GROUPS
Wool and hair fibres                         Acid
Silk                                                        Acid, Direct, Reactive
Cotton Flax, Jute, Viscose rayon    Direct, Vat, Azoic, Sulphur,  Reactive
Acetate Rayon                                    Disperse
Nylon                                                   Acid, Disperse
Acrylics                                                Basic, Disperse
Polyesters                                            Disperse
See pigment and dyeing

Bleaching non-protein fibre with dilute hypochlorite solution.

A Scottish mountain sheep which produces both coarse and fine qualities of wool with an average staple length of 10 cm used in the manufacture of tweed and blankets. Used in the production of high quality tweed such as bannockburn tweed.
See Appendix: British breeds of sheep.

A type of embroidery found in north east India, in and around Lucknow.  Traditionally the embroidery was done with silk thread on muslin, is now done with cotton thread on slightly coarser cotton cloth.

A very light, diaphanous fabric.  Both warp and weft yarns used are highly twisted crêpe. Unlike in crêpe de Chine, the weft yarn is either S or Z twist. The characteristic wrinkles in the finished fabric are created by the weft yarns being pulled in one direction. From the French word literally meaning a rag.

A cotton twill dyed khaki.  Woven from 2-ply combed cotton, the fabric is then mercerized giving it the characteristic shine.  Originally manufactured in Manchester and exported to India, then re-exported to China where it was used to make uniforms for the United States army stationed in the Philippines before World War One until 1925.  The term chino derives from the fact that the fabric was purchased in China although the British army had, for many years, used this hard wearing fabric for uniforms.

Chintes is the plural of the hindi word chit, meaning spotted or variegated. Chintes or chintz is a plain woven cotton fabric decorated with birds plants and flowers, originally painted by hand in India. Also a printed cotton cloth glazed with wax or resin. The term fully-glazed chintz is used if the cloth has been stiffened with starch or other substance and friction-calendered.  Semi-glazed or half-glazed means chintz which has been friction-calendered only.

Used as a mordant in dyeing cotton.  Use is now limited because it may, if used to dye fabric for clothing, cause skin allergies.  These adverse effects are eliminated when chrome is used in association with formic acid while enhancing its fastness properties.  The most common chrome mordants are bichromate of potash, potassium dichromate or sodium dichromate.  These mordants are light sensitive and must be kept in dark containers.  See chrome dye.

chrome dye
Chrome dyes are related to acid dyes but require the addition of bichromate of potash, potassium dichromate or sodium dichromate.  They are the fastest dyes to wet processing and are used principally for dyeing wool to achieve maximum fastness.  A wide range of colours but are duller than acid dyes.  See chrome.

A cloth finishing process which produces a high polish to the surface of the fabric with the use of wax or other compounds and then hot calendering. Can also be a finished obtained by applying heat to fabrics made with thermoplastic yarns. Derived from the French word ciré meaning wax.

One season’s yield of sheep’s wool. See fleece.

A generic term given to all textile fabrics, usually to describe any woven fabric. A medieval English worsted fabric measuring 6 yards by 2 yards wide. The word material, although not technically true, is often used to describe any fabric or cloth.

A term used for re-dyeing woollen fabric which is off-shade or uneven in colour.

A dye prepared from the ground dried bodies of the coccus cacti insect which live on the prickly pear cactus found in Mexico, Peru and the Canary Islands. Gives a magenta colour when alum is used as the mordant, crimson when a mixture of alum and cream of tartar is used, chrome alum producing a deep purple, oxalic acid and cream of tartar a deep geranium red, tin crystals with cream of tartar a bright scarlet and with iron as the mordant a deep purple-grey.  Traditionally used also as a food colouring but now restricted by food and hygiene laws. Similar to lac found in India.

cockspur willey
Also known as tenterhook willow, fearnaught, teazer, battering willey, single or double cylinder willey, dust and wool willey.  A variety of machines consisting of bladed or pinned rollers for opening, cleaning and mixing staple fibres before scouring or carding wool.

The oval casing of filament silk, or brin, spun by the silkmoth larvae or caterpillar, the silkworm, to protect itself when it changes into a chrysalis. The silkworm extrudes through the silk glands in its head a viscose fluid building up round itself layer upon layer crossing the filaments in a figure of eight. Colour of cocoons, which is contained in the sericin is removed in the degumming, range from white to yellow, golden yellow and brown.  The cocoon grading system in France has become the standard for Europe and India.  They are sorted into nine different grades:

  1. Good cocoons, Perfect for mechanical reeling
  2. Pointed cocoons, No good for mechanical reeling
  3. Cocalons, Larger than normal
  4. Duppions, Double cocoons
  5. Soufflon, Loose or transparent
  6. Perforated, Pierced or broken
  7. Good choquettes, Containing dead chrysalis
  8. Bad choquettes, Rotten cocoons
  9. Calcinated, Containing petrified chrysalis​

Coconut fibre.  A reddish-brown coarse hydrophobic seed fibre obtained from the fruit of the coconut palm, cocus nucifera. The longest and finest fibre is obtained from the unripe fruit and used for spinning into yarn to make mats and ropes obtained usually from India.  Coarser fibre or bristle fibre and short fibre used for filling mattresses and for upholstery are mainly from Sri Lanka.  The waste fibre can be used for composting and mulching in the garden. See seed fibre and fruit fibre.

Any colouring matter, eg. dye or pigment.

A sensation of light in the eyes induced by certain frequencies, each colour of the rainbow as we know it, having a different frequency.  Colour is applied to textiles by dyeing and printing.  The basic, so called primary colours, are red, blue and yellow.  Secondary colours are made up of a mixture of two of each of the primary colours: red + blue = purple; blue + yellow = green; yellow and red = orange. The word hue normally means red colour, blue colour and yellow colour. The word shade is a colour which has been made darker with black. A tint is a colour which has been lightened with white. The word tone, often mis-used, means lightness, darkness or brilliance of colour.

colour abrasion
Sometimes called frosting. Colour change in localized areas of a fabric where differential wear has taken place.

colour fastness
All textile dyes are rated according to their performance. The term colourfast describes a fabric which has retained sufficient colour after dyeing so that no noticeable change in shade has taken place. See Appendix: fastness, wet-fast, light-fast.

colour index
The Colour Index categorizes dyes by their trade names and colour.  The first edition of the Colour Index was published in 1928.  Since then it has been updated and consists of nine volumes.  The Colour Index is now available on CD-ROM.

colour and weave effect
The visual effect created in a fabric, using a particular weave and by grouping coloured warp threads and crossing them with groups of coloured weft threads.

A strong fine bast fibre from urena lobata. Originated in China and now found throughout the western hemisphere. Also known as cadillo, patta appell, akeiri, guaxima, uaixyma and bun ochra.  Used for string and ropes.

A reed with one baulk used to keep the warp ends parallel during warp preparation.

combed yarn
During the series of pre-spinning processes fibre is always carded to remove most of the impurities and straighten the fibres.  A further process of combing, with combs and brushes, is used to straight the fibres, to make them parallel, remove the short fibres and any remaining impurities.  Traditionally used in pre-spinning cotton processing.

A fabric made with two types of silk yarn of which one is single twisted and the other is untwisted.  When twisted together, the resultant yarn crinkles up along its length giving a knobbly appearance.

condenser yarn
Usually a thick woollen yarn usually spun directly, with the minimum amount of twist, from the sliver. Occasionally cotton yarns are made by this method. see bump yarn.

A yarn package spun on a mule or ring spindle. A paper, cardboard, wooden, plastic or metal tube is used as the core of the package.

From the French expression cord du roi. A hard wearing fabric woven in a special weave on a fine cotton warp. The weft floats of soft cotton yarn are then cut to produce wales, ribs or cords running the length of the fabric. There are a variety of different types of corduroy: needlecord 16 to 21 cords per inch, partridge cord or thickset cord 8 to 11 cords per inch, constitution cord 5 to 7 wales per inch and elephant cord, with very wide wales of only 3 to 4 wales per inch, algoa cord, which is a fancy cord, and knitted corduroys. Originally developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in France where it was used extensively for servants’ clothes in the royal households hence it became known as cord du roi. Known today in France as velours cotele, in Spain as pana.

core yarn
A yarn produced by a spinning process which puts a continuous filament or core yarn, such as an rubber elastic, elastomeric filament  (for elasticity) or polyester filament (for strength), under tension and covers it with a sheath of other types of staple fibres such as cotton or wool.

cottage basin
A type of hand or power operated silk reeling machine commonly used in villages. A simplified version of a multi-end reeling machine. Requires seperate cocoon cooking system and re-reeling is necessary.

The word comes from the Arabic word qutn or qutun meaning cotton.  A long unicellular seed fibre grown on the outer skin of the cotton seed. Belongs to the mallow family as do hibiscus and okra. Vary from 10mm to 55mm in length, wild varieties, gossypium thurberi, are brown in colour and cultivated hybrid types, from which they derive, are white.

coton                    France
cotone                  Italy
algodón                Spain
algodáo                Portugal
baumwolle          Germany
vamvax                Greece
quoton or goton     Egypt
puca or katan      India
hoa mein              China
momen                 Japan
poombeth            Persia
tonfaa                   Thailand
kohung                 Mongolia
kapaski                 Sanskrit

The length of cotton fibre, known as staple length, is classified in three main groups:

  • Fine, over 30mm long staple, high lustre fibre

Best quality cotton: Sea Island (39mm and over in staple length, grown in the West Indies, Central America and Mexico), Egyptian, Sudanese, Peruvian, American Pima and East African (between 30mm to 38mm)

  • Medium, between 26mm to 29mm long staple American Upland (the bulk of production in the United States of America)
  • Short, below 26mm long staple, coarse fibre India and China

Before cotton is spun into yarn the fibre is put through a series of pre-spinning processes:

Bales of cotton are sent from the ginnery (the gin) and arrive at the spinning mill and are first put through the bale-breaker and then onto the opener. The opener literally opens the compressed cotton fibre ready for the following rigorous processes. The cotton, having then been cleaned in the picker (or scutcher) and all the seeds and heavy impurities are extracted, enters the lap former which produces a continuous roll, 50mm thick x 1000mm wide, of semi-cleaned cotton fibre, called a lap.

The lap is passed through a set of revolving cards which disentangles and begins to align the fibres. As the carded cotton comes off the card (carding machine) a thin web, about 10mm thick, is produced and is rolled into loose rope of fibre called a sliver.

The finest quality cotton yarns are spun with combed cotton, therefore the importance of this process is to eliminate all short fibres and parallel all the remaining long fibres. The short fibres, called noils, are usually blended with shorter cottons and spun into cheaper, carded yarns. The combing process produces a continuous rope (20mm diameter) of clean straight cotton fibre called a sliver.

Several slivers are combined and blended through the draw frame, eliminating any further irregularities, to form a single sliver.  By combining the slivers to make one sliver, in this process, it ensures that any variations in the ultimate yarn are eliminated.

The sliver is drawn out still further into a finer strand about the 8mm thick and a slight twist put into it to form the roving.

The roving is now drawn out still further and twisted to produce a single yarn.  It is at this stage that the speed of the roving entering the rollers of the spinning machine is strictly controlled to produce a specific size (count) of yarn.  The singles yarn can then be doubled on a doubler to produce a two-fold yarn.​

cotton boll
The seed pod containing the cotton seeds and cotton fibres. As the pressure in side the pod increases during the growing period, the expanding cotton seed hairs build up. The pod bursts open revealing a fluffy ball of cotton known as the boll.

cotton gin
A machine invented by Eli Whitney 1794 to mechanically strip and separate the cotton fibre from the seed.  Ginning is normally done in or near the field where the cotton is grown and before it is transported in bales to the mill.

cotton waste
Hard cotton waste comes from spinning, reeling, winding machines and looms. Soft cotton waste comes from the earlier processes where the fibres are looser with no twist and not compacted. Hard cotton waste can be used for cleaning down machinery. Soft cotton waste is often reprocessed to produce a batt or web of cotton wool for medical or cosmetic purposes.

A system for measuring the fineness or thickness of yarn by spinners, weavers and knitters. In Scotland the term is known as grist. In all other English speaking countries the term count is used.

nummer                          Germany
numéro or titre              France
numero or titolo            Italy
número or título            Spain
número or título            Portugal

A number is used to indicate the size of the yarn and is calculated from one of the following indirect or direct systems:

Indirect fixed weight system
The number of length units per weight unit

English cotton                        number of 840yd hanks per lb (pound)
Worsted                                   number of 560yd hanks per lb (pound)
Galashiels woollen                number of 300yd hanks or cuts per 24oz
Yorkshire skeins woollen     number of 256yd hanks per lb (pound)
West of England                    number of 320yd snaps per lb (pound)
Linen (wet spun)                   number of 300 leas per pound
Metric                                      number of kilometres per kg

Direct fixed length system
The number of weight units per length unit

Tex                                   number of grams per kilometre
Decitex                            number of grams per 10,000m
Denier                             number of grams per 9000m
Jute, Linen (dry spun),
Aberdeen woollen        number of pounds per 14,400yd

counting glass
A small magnifying glass mounted in a small hinged metal frame with a fixed focus the base having an aperture measuring either one square inch or one square centimetre. Used for counting the ends and picks, courses and wales in a fabric. Also known as a linen prover or pick glass.

A coarse, rough linen or cotton/linen twill or granite weave fabric possibly originating from Russia where it was woven from unbleached linen.

cream of tartar
A white crystalline compound made by purifying argol, potassium hydrogen tartrate. Used often in combination with alum as a mordant in vegetable dyeing.

A frame to hold spools, cheeses, cones or any package from which yarn is taken to produce a warp.  Creels can be horizontal or upright depending on the type of package used.

A general classification of fabrics made of silk, cotton, wool or man-made fibres or combination of fibres to produce a range of crinkled, grained or textured surface effects. Can be made by using hard twist yarns, chemical treatments, weave constructions or embossing.

crêpe de chine 
A soft, thin, opaque and lightweight fabric with a crinkled effect.  Woven with alternate S and Z highly twisted weft threads and untwisted warp threads. Alternate picks are of opposite twists resulting in a crimpy appearance on the fabric.

crêpe de laine
Sheer lightweight fabric woven with a crêpe weave, originally made of wool.

crêpe suzette
Synonym for crepon geogette in which the weft yarn has the same direction of twist.

A printed fabric heavier than chinz.  Often used for curtains or loose covers.

The waviness in a fibre or in a yarn.  Produced naturally as in sheeps wool or mechanically introduced.

Synonym for rubbing when referring to fastness by rubbing of dyed or printed fabric.  The use of a crockmeter determines the fastness to rubbing of dyed or printed fabrics.

The term given to wools, tops, yarns and fabrics produced from medium quality  wools from sheep of mixed breed.

When two or more different fibres are either spun together in the same yarn or woven or knitted in the same fabric, each being dyed with its appropriate dye in the same dyebath or in seperate dyebaths. See chemical dyes.

A 3 and 1  twill, also known as crow weave, crow twill or broken crow, used in wool and worsted fabrics.  See Appendix: weaves.

crystal gum
Often known as Nafka crystal gum and is produced from vegetable gums such as gum karaya. Used as a printing dye thickener mainly for acid and discharge printing.

A length of fabric in loom or grey state, or a length of warp to produce it, usually 45m to 90m (50yd to 100yd).

Used in the indirect fixed weight count system for woollen yarn in Galashiels when 300yd of yarn weighing 24oz make 1 cut and in Hawick, also in Scotland, when 300 yards of yarn weighing 26oz make 1 cut.  See also count.

To fold a finished fabric down the centre, known in the woollen industry as rigging, and placed in transverse folds.  Sometimes fabric is not folded and usually placed in folds in open width.


dacca muslin
A very fine quality of muslin produced in Bangladesh. Traditionally the cotton yarn was handspun to 400s cotton count. Ten yards of this fabric would weigh only three or four ounces.

A heavy jacquard woven fabric woven in silk, linen, cotton, worsted wool and man-made fibres. Traditionally woven with an 8 and 8 satin weave. The reversible pattern is distinguished from the background by contrasting lustre. The word derives from a rich silk fabric introduced into Europe through Damascus.

Also known as decating. A process used to improve the handle and appearance of fabrics usually containing wool. The fabric, interleaved with a cotton canvas wrapper forming an endless belt, is wound tightly round a perforated roller through which steam is passed under pressure.

The removal of grease, sometimes known as suint, natural fats, oil and dirt from wool by organic or synthetic solvents. degumming The process of removing of sericin (the gum) from silk filament, silk yarn, cloth or silk waste prior to spinning, by controlled hot, mildly alkaline treatment without effecting the fibroin. See discharging.

A direct fixed length count system to determine the size of a filament yarn. Denier is the number of grams per 9000 metres of yarn. The word denier comes from denarius, a Roman coin dating from AD 14, having a diameter of 18mm and was the forerunner of the French denier coin. See count.

A hard wearing cotton twill cloth originally woven in Nimes in Southern France where it was known as serge de Nimes and used as sail cloth for ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The warp is usually a hard twist indigo dyed cotton yarn with a softer undyed yarn in the weft. Woven in either a compact 2-and 1 or 3-and 1 twill weave. Used in recent years in the manufacture of jeans is also ideal for making work cloths and uniforms. There are some lightweight striped cloths, similar to denim called galatea (multi-coloured) and fodens (blue and white) traditionally used for fishmongers’, butchers’ and milkmen’s aprons.

The space between two adjacent wire in a reed. The number of dents per inch determines the sett of the warp. Also known as split.

design paper
Sometimes referred to as point paper. Paper ruled with vertical and horizontal lines to form equally spaced squares divided by heavy ruling in blocks of eight. Used to show weaves or designs in diagrammatic form. designer’s blanket Also known as a pattern blanket. A cloth woven with a number of warps, usually of a specific range of yarns either in solid colours or in stripes and woven with the same range of weft colours or stripes in the weft in the same sequence as the warp. See blanket.

A process of printing with certain chemical printing pastes onto specially structured cloths to produce burnt-out effects or sheer areas of a fabric. Fabrics constructed from blends containing nylon and viscose, nylon and cotton, nylon and cuprammonium rayon can be printed with: 15 20% Aluminium Sulphate, 20 15% water, 5% glycerine, 60% thickening. Bake the cloth after printing for 25 seconds at 165°-180° C. Wash off in hot water and follow with neutralizing treatment in 1gm to 1 gallon sodium carbonate at 45° C for 10 minutes. Rinse well in cold water and dry.

dhurrie Durrie or dari
A reversible flat, plain weave floor covering usually made with a hard twist cotton warp, also forming a fringe, and either cotton, wool or silk weft.

A light weight, sheer, plain weave cotton cloth with well defined, raised warp. From the Greek word dismitos (dis = twice; mitos = warp threads).

direct count
Direct fixed length count (numbering) system. The number of weight units per length unit. See count.

direct dye
Of all the types of dye available for dyeing cotton direct dyes are the simplest to use. They can easily be applied to cotton or other cellulosic fibres without the need of pre-treatment or mordant, by heating the dye solution and adding common salt or Glauber’s salt to increase dye take-up. Poor to moderate fastness to wet treatments. Light fastness varies from poor to very good according to group, for example:

  • Moderate light fastness: Chlorazol (ICI), Diphenyl (Ciba-Geigy), Benzo (Bayer)
  • High light fastness: Durazol (ICI), Chlorantine fast (Ciba-Geigy), Sirius supra (Bayer)

discharge (printing)
Method of printing with bleaching or colour-destroying chemicals on dyed fabric to produce white areas. Coloured patterns on a dyed ground are possible by adding a dye to the bleaching paste which will not be affected by the bleach.

The process of boiling off and removal of gum from silk. See degumming.

disperse dye
Developed in the 1920s to dye synthetic fibres which could not be dyed with existing, traditional methods. Available in powder or liquid form, they are also used in the manufacture of inks and crayons. The dyes are absorbed into the fabric only at high temperatures (90 – 100°C).

district checks
Scottish district checks are synonymous with glenchecks which are woollen check cloths or tweeds designed for use as the livery of Scottish estates. See glen checks.

A mechanism which controls the shafts or harnesses to permit more complex geometric weave patterns than those obtainable on simple cam, tappet, countermarch or counterbalance looms and simpler than those obtained by the use of a Jacquard mechanism.

A straight-edge metal blade mounted either parallel to a printing roller or on the face of a fabric to remove excess or unwanted print paste.

A pattern made with four dark coloured threads in the warp and weft alternating with four lighter coloured threads using a 2-and 2 twill weave. See houndstooth.

A machine normally used for washing open-width cloth which is sewn end to end and passed continuously through the washing liquor.

dooputty Dupatta
A hindi word for a piece of cloth. In north east India the word also meant that a one piece garment cloth was made from two pieces of cloth sewn together and worn by low caste Bengali women.

During the production of man-made fibres, a colourant is introduced into the chemical spinning solution, known as dope, before extrusion into filaments. Often pigments, which withstand high temperatures during the production process, are used as colourants.

A hindi word for an inexpensive coarse, double thread cotton fabric. See duck.

double cloth
A compound fabric in which the two component fabrics are woven with either centre-stitching, self-stitching or interchanging.

double jersey
A weft knitted fabric which is produced on a rib or interlock knitting machine. Usually made on a 10 gauge circular knitting machine, or finer, it is often referred to as non-jacquard or jacquard double jersey. See jersey.

Combining, plying or twisting two or more yarns together to make a single yarn. The process is often carried out on a machine called a doubler.

See leno weaving.

Dupion silk is a irregular, bumpy or nubby silk yarn which usually quite coarse produced from double cocoons. Often inferior quality cocoons are combined with the silk from the double cocoons in the reeling process. Used in weaving shantung, nankeen and pongee cloths.

The order in which warp threads are drawn through the heddle or heald eyes. This will determine the weave of the fabric when the shafts, holding the heddles or healds are mounted into the loom. See heddle and healds.

When a fabric hangs in soft, gentle folds.

draw frame
A machine which draws out and combines several slivers of carded fibre into one sliver, which is then drawn out still further into a roving, then spun into a yarn. drawing in See drafting.

Woven with hard-twist coarse cotton yarns in a 3-and-1 weave. This type of cloth is often used in making lightweight, washable uniforms. From the Greek word drillich, which broadly means three warp threads. The French word for drill is contil and the fabric, sometimes called coutille, is commonly used for making mattress covers whereas lighter qualities were traditionally used in the manufacture of brassières.

drop spindle
The simplest and oldest method of intermittent spinning. Used for thousands of years this simple device takes the form of a short stick, forming the spindle, and a weight or whorl, which can be a stone, dry mud or bone. Known as a takli in India.

Derived from the Dutch word doek meaning a linen canvas which was used for sailors’ clothing. There are now many types of duck or fabrics referred to as duck. A very tightly woven cotton fabric made with double warp threads and double weft threads in plain weave. The duck family includes: number duck, army duck, flat duck, ounce duck, sail duck, belting duck, hosepipe duck, boat or bootleg duck, linen duck, shoe duck, plimsoll duck (used for sneakers, track shoes or tennis shoes, wagon cover duck, tent duck and naught duck. A heavy duck cloth made in for tents in India is called dosooty. See dosooty.

From the hindi word dungri or dongari to describe a low-priced coarse cotton cloth, traditionally dyed brown, woven originally in the Rajapur and Karwar areas of Goa. The fabric was originally exported in the 17th century to the Malaysian islands including those owned by the Dutch and eventually becoming an important export from India to Britain. The Dutch called it dangerijs. This cloth is similar to denim woven with yarn dyed blue in a 3 and 1 or 2 and 1 weave, but sometimes piece dyed. Has also been known as bluettes.

The process of colouring yarn or cloth through immersion in a liquor containing either mineral, vegetable or animal dyes or synthetic chemical dye compounds together with other chemicals to fix the dye into the fibre. The process of dyeing, to give colour to a fabric is used in the context of any of the following: batik chemical dyeing, cross-dyeing, dope-dyeing, ikat natural dyeing, patola piece-dyeing, plangi space-dyeing, tie-dyeing, top-dyeing, vat-dyeing, yarn-dyeing.

Dyes and dyestuffs are classified as follows: Reactive Vat Disperse Modified basic Chrome Azoic Direct Acid Pigment Natural or Vegetable.


The term used for a fabric or yarn which has the tendency to recover the original form or size after having been stretched. Usually refering to natural rubber elastic or elastomeric filament. See elastomeric.

Similar to cavalry twill but finer with a diagonal rib which gives a smooth surface and soft handle. elastomeric The term given to a stretch yarn made chiefly from a filament of highly elastic polymer, such as polyurethane. Often elastomeric yarns can be covered with non-stretch fibres for greater control in weaving and knitting. The wrapping or covering is done by either core spinning or uptwisting. See elastic.

A calendering process which produces a design or pattern on a fabric in relief. The design is pressed into the fabric by passing it through hot engraved rollers.

The term used for ornamenting a fabric with needlework using threads of one or several thicknesses. Embroidery is made either by hand, with a sewing machine or on an electronic, computer controlled machine. Unlike lace embroidery always requires a base or ground fabric. See needlework fabrics.

An individual warp yarn (single, plyed or corded). The term is used to describe an individual sliver, roving, thread or cord. Also the term is used to describe a length of finished fabric less than the standard unit length or piece (in certain places a half-piece).

end and end
Alternating warp ends using yarns of similar counts and different colours or different counts with different colours. See pick and pick.

An Indian fabric, plain woven from spun eri silk and dyed red or dark reddy-brown.

A dyeing fault when the colour changes from one end of the fabric to the other or when the colour changes from the main bulk of a fabric to the end of the fabric.

Eri silkworms, found in northern parts of India and Bangladesh, thrive on castor oil leaf to produce their cocoons which are usually white but often golden in colour.

From the French word épingler meaning to pin. Originally made in silk this fine lustrous corded dress fabric is now made of man-made fibres or fine worsted yarns either in a single colour or with the ribs in contrasting colours.

estate tweed
See glen checks.

A lightweight, open weave fabric woven with hard spun, course yarns. The term is derived from the French word étamine meaning sieve or strainer.

A French term for all sorts of woven fabrics.


Fabrics are woven, knitted, felted, tufted, braided, embroidered, made of lace or net and some produced by a range of non-woven processes. Sometimes referred to as cloth.

fabric widths
Standard fabric widths in centimetres and inches:

65 cm 25 in dress
70 cm 27 in dress
80 cm 32 in dress and non-woven interlinings
90 cm 36 in dress
100 cm 40 in dress
105 cm 42 in dress and furnishings
113 cm 45 in furnishings
120 cm 48 in furnishings and coatings
125 cm 50 in furnishings and coatings
138 cm 54 in furnishings, coatings and sheetings
150 cm 60 in furnishings and sheetings
170 cm 68 in furnishings and sheetings
180 cm 72 in furnishings, sheetings and knitted jersey

fabric care
Soiled fabrics are either washed or dry cleaned. The cleaning treatment given to each type of fabric varies according to the fibre content, construction or finish of the cloth, including the types of dye used. An International Textile Care Labelling Code was introduced in 1974 in Europe.

fancy yarn
Decorative yarns used in weaving or knitting which are usually produced from a combination of two or three of the same or different single, 2-fold or three-fold yarns. Often made on conventional doubling machinery or on specialized machines. Fancy yarns include: spiral, loop, gimp, cloud, knop, eccentric, stripe, slub, snarl or chenille types.

This term applies to the resistance to change or fading, either by water, washing with soap or detergent or by daylight, which the dye possesses. Sometimes referred to as colour-fastness.

The last weft thread which is introduced through the shed of the warp, forming the woven fabric.

A cloth formed directly from fibre without the formal structure of a weave or knit. Usually short staple loose wool fibre or noil compacted together by milling with soapy water. Some felts can be made with a combination of wool and cotton, rayon or sometimes kapok. Compared with wool felt, fur felt is softer, smoother and is often more water resistant. Fur felt, used in hat production, can be made from the short fibres of rabbit, muskrat and the better grades of beaver. Felt is probably the earliest form of fabric. Nomads all over Asia were able to travel through extreme terrain and climates using felt for protection. In the fourth century BC China was called ‘the land of felt’.

Synonymous with remnants of short lengths of cloth, cut from a piece, end or lump of cloth, having been accumulated either at the mill or sometimes in the wholesaler’s or retailer’s store, and often sold at cost or below cost price.

fibre length
The length of each individual natural or man-made fibre. See staple length.

A protein chemical substance which is the chief constituent of silk, not soluble in water and which forms the core of the silk filament.

flax Linum usitatissimum L. Linaceae
A stem fibre commonly grown in Europe and Russia. The fibre, produced after retting and put through the scutching process, is used in the production of linen and paper. The seed of the flax plant produces linseed oil. See linen.

The complete crop, in one go, of wool from a living sheep. The first clip of the sheep is called lamb’s wool while subsequent clips are called fleece wools.

The loose silk round the cocoon which is retained, before reeling is started, and used in the production of spun silk. It is also the name given to some low twist silk embroidery yarns.

The fly-shuttle technology is the basis of all power shuttle looms and some handlooms where a batten is used. The shuttle is propelled from side to side by being hit with a picking stick or picker.

Twisting together two or more single yarns to form a folded, plied or doubled yarn.

A 2 and 2 twill soft, lustrous, silk fabric originally woven in India.

frame loom
A handloom which is usually made of wood, although other materials can be used, such as bamboo, palm tree, metal, concrete or any material with which to build a simple frame form which to support the back beam, the front take-up beam, shafts and peddles, and the sleigh or beater carrying the reed.

fruit fibre
Fibre obtained from the mature seed (or fruit) of a plant. Typical examples are: the cotton boll and coir from the coconut fruit.

fur felt
See felt.



A lightweight Japanese silk fabric. Sometimes referred to as Jap cloth.

Animals which live in cold climates, such as the pashmina goat, usually grow a soft down like wool under a protective hair called guard hair. The hair of the llama, alpaca and camel are spun by hand into coarse yarns and woven into cloth for bags and floor covering. The fine hair of the angora rabbit is so soft that it is mixed with fine wool and spun into knitting yarns. Most different animal hairs, even human hair, can be spun and woven or knitted into a textile. See haircloth and horse hair.

Woven from twisted cotton or linen warp with horse hair, goat hair or camel hair in the weft. Traditionally used for interlining in the tailoring of coats and jackets. See hair and horse hair.

The term used to describe the feel of a fabric. See drape.

A continuous loop of yarn, without a specific measurement or weight the circumference of which can be a yard, metre, 45 inches or 60 inches depending on the type of textile trade. See skein.

harris tweed
One of the most well known woollen tweeds Woven in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland on the islands of Harris and Lewis. Traditionally made from a blend of strong Scottish wools, which are scoured, dyed and spun into yarn centrally in local spinning mills. The yarn is distributed to the outlying crofter to be woven in 2 and 2 twill weave on either traditional wooden handlooms or Hattersley domestic treadle looms. Once woven and taken off the loom the tweed, which is approximately 78 metres long, is collected in its greasy state and taken back to the mill for finishing. In 1909 the Harris Tweed Association was formed and the familiar Orb Mark was registered as its trademark and authenticates the tweed as having been handwoven from 100% pure new wool on the isles of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra. The Orb Mark protects Harris Tweed from other weavers attempting to copy it on neighbouring islands or in other countries.

hat Haut, hath, huth or hut
A hindi word meaning hand or forearm. A cubit equal to the measurement from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow. Between 18 and 22 inches (between 45 and 56 centimetres). Also hindi for a market.

Twisted galvanized wire or stamped out narrow, stainless steel, strips with a central hole or eye through which the warp end is passed. Healds have a loop at each end with which to attach it to the shaft frame. See heddle.

Looped cord or varnished string with central loop through which the warp end is passed. Sometimes the heddle has an extra loop at each end which is attached to the shaft. See heald.

hemp A bast fibre from the stem of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa L. The hemp plant grows from 1 to 5 metres high in temperate climates. The fibre varies from creamy-white to grey-brown and is lustrous and as strong as flax. As with flax, hemp is either dew retted or water retted. Used as a textile fibre for thousands of years is still widely used in the manufacture of string, cord, rope and can be spun into yarns resembling flax although the cloth from which it is made is much coarser. The word hemp comes from the Anglo-Saxon word henep. See flax.

A coarsely woven, yet open, fabric made from jute yarns in a plain weave. Can be used for embroidery and in the making bags, wallpaper and theatrical scenery. Known in the United States of America as burlap. See burlap, gunny, jute, osnaburg and sacking.

A fabric which is traditionally handwoven from handspun yarns. See khadi.

A tightly woven jute or hemp fabric made with a weave which was to become known as hopsack (see weaves). A 2 and 1 twill weave is now used to weave hop-pocketing and as the term describes, is used in the manufacture of very large bags in which to transport dried hops from the fields to the breweries.

Chinese horse hair, from the tail of the mare only, is used in the manufacture of specialized upholstery fabrics. One kilogramme bundles of horse hair are sold in three main colours, black (84omm long), mixed grey (840mm long) and natural white (685mm long). The natural white is shorter because of noticeable staining and is in short supply because of alternative uses, such as violin bows and specialised wigs. Traditionally woven with a cotton or linen warp although silk is now sometimes used, the horse hair is used only in the weft and can be dyed. The traditional horse hair upholstery cloth is black hair woven on a black cotton warp with sateen weave, although fancy dobby designs in a variety of colours are also produced. See hair and haircloth.

A colour and weave effect produced with a combination of 4 and 4, or 8 and 8, threads of contrasting colours in the warp crossed with similar wefts and woven in a 2 and 2 twill to form a jagged check. See shepherd’s check.


When either the warp or the weft are tie and then dyed to create a pattern in the cloth. indigo Indigofera tinctoria.

Indigo dye
Indigo is a dark blue dye which comes from the leaves of a sub tropical bush. The leaves are processed by fermentation and the sediment collected, dried and ground. The best quality indigo comes from lower Bengal.

inkle loom
A simple loom, usually made of wood, for weaving narrow fabrics like belts and ribbons. Used by itinerant traders, of which there were about 4000 in the Spitalfields area of London during the 18th century, to weave inkle. See inkle.

A narrow tape or braid. Also refers to the thread or yarn from which the tape or braid is made. Often a linen warp with a wool weft similar to an Old English cloth called Linsey Woolsey, only narrow. An inkling is something small and inkle was produced and sold in London in the 18th century by itinerant traders, each weaving his products on an inkle loom. See inkle loom.


jacob (sheep)
A four horned, piebald or spotted sheep which grows a coarse wool ideal for making tweed.  The colours of the kempy wool vary from dark brown to off-white and can be separated to spin solid colours or combined in the carding to produce a neutral mixture.

jack loom
A pedal handloom with a rising shed. Used in the United States of America.

A device for weaving elaborate designs by a machine invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752 1834) between 1801 and 1810. The Jacquard mechanism is attached to a loom and operated by a punched card system which selects individual warp threads.  A variety of mechanically operated jacquard machines exist providing control over 100, 200, 400 or 600 ends.  Jacquard systems can now be electronically controlled.  There are also Jacquard systems for knitting machines. See also draughting and point paper.

A very fine cotton muslin fabric, often used for saris, woven with an extra figuring cotton or gold weft threads, producing complex patterns.  Originating in the north eastern part of India, chiefly on the plains of Dacca.  Sometimes spelt jamdhani or jamdanee.

An attachment to the silk reeling machine which simplifies the process of taking in fresh filaments from the cocoon during reeling.

The Jenny was the first intermittent spinning process and was developed by James Hargreaves in 1764, who called it the Spinning Jenny. A mechanism operated by hand, a single Jenny imitated the actions of about ten spinners each using an single spinning wheel. Richard Arkwright then invented the Water Frame Spinning Machine in 1769, which was followed by a development in 1779 by Samuel Crompton called the Mule, a similar machine to the Jenny but with many more spindles. See spinning and water frame.

A knitted garment or knitted fabric. A jersey is a knitted garment with sleeves, usually made of wool without buttons, known also as a pullover or   as a sweater in the United States. The Edwardian actress Lillie Langtry, the daughter of the Dean of Jersey, adopted the fashion of wearing a long tight knitted jersey garment with a long tight skirt becoming known as Jersey Lil. Jersey cloth, either single jersey or double jersey, is the term given to fine gauge machine-knitted fabric.

Co  rchorus capsularis L., white or China Jute. Corchorus olitorius L., Brown or tossa jute. Tiliaceae. A stem fibre grown in tropical countries, typically in Bangladesh and in north east India. Used in the production of sacking, gunny, hessian, twine and carpet backing.


Kain is the Malay word for cloth.  Kain tenunan is Malay for handwoven cloth and kain ginggang is Malay for gingham.

Traditional kalamkari is hand painted cloth produced in Sikalahasti, India. The design is first hand drawn with a pen or kalam. From the preparation of the gada cloth, the drawing and painting of iron black, pabuku red, karakapuwu yellow and indigo blue, the cloth is mordanted and processed through eighteen stages.

A Japanese process of dyeing yarn is similar to ikat or patola, when thread is wound round the yarn to be dyed to act as a resist when dyeing.  In Japan when kasuri yarn is used for the warp it is called tate-kasuri or when used in the weft, when it is called yoko-kasuri.   Itajime-kasuri is a method of clamping the yarn between carved wooden blocks instead of using the thread tying method.  See ikat and patola.

The Malay word for a hand weaving loom.

Course animal fibre found in wool from the same fleece. Shorter than other fibres in the fleece, it tapers sharply towards the root end. Often is noticeable in woollen fabric as a white or tinted fibre because the kemp is flatter and therefore does not absorb so much, if any, dye. A yarn or cloth containing kemp can be called kempy.

A woollen cloth which traditionally was a heavily milled fabric with a short lustrous nap obscuring the twill weave from which it was made.  Similar to a melton cloth although kersey is heavier and more lustrous.  Until the end of the 19th century a fine cloth called kerseymere, a corruption of cashmere, was woven from the best quality wool and pashmina in India. The term kersey derives its name from the village of Kersey in Suffolk, England, where it was originally made. See Linsey-Kersey.

The Hindi words khadi and khaddar mean handwoven cloth produced from handspun yarn. In 1947, during the period of independence and in retaliation of mass produced cotton cloth from British and Indian mills, Mahatma Ghadi promoted the idea of one man, one loom.  The Khadi and Village Industries Corporation was then established and is responsible, although not exclusively, for the employment of millions of hand spinners and handloom weavers in India today.

Used to describe either a colour or often used loosely to describe a fabric of this colour.  The Hindi word khaki, khakee, kharki or kharkee, means dusty or mud coloured.  English army records show that in 1848 Harry Burnett Lumsden equipped his troops, who were fighting in Afganistan at the time, with uniforms dyed an earthy, yellowy colour which he called khaki.  In India, at the time of the Indian Mutiny in 1857-58, some of the soldiers at Lucknow dyed their uniforms a light brown or dust colour with a mixture of black and red office inks.  These looking drab uniforms replaced the red ones which ultimately gave the British soldiers the nickname Lal Coortee Wallahs.

kinky yarn
A snarled, lively yarn.

Knitting is the interlocking loops of yarn.  There are two types of knitting:

  • Warp knitting, when a yarn is looped across the fabric.
  • Weft knitting, when several yarns are looped together the length of the fabric.

The Hindi word kukri originally meant a twisted skein of thread, from kukna meaning to wind and later anything curved, hence the name of the curved weapon which is carried by all Gurkha soldiers.



A closely woven cotton cloth the surface of which is treated with a solution of rubber, making it waterproof.  Invented by Charles Macintosh (1766-1843).

Macramé is a hand knotting technique which is similar to tatting and net-making.

A fast natural red dye from the root of the eurasian herbaceous perennial rubia tinctoria.  Used to produce Turkey red on cotton and wool.  See natural dyes.

The term madras has become synonymous with bold, colourful striped and checked handwoven cotton cloth from India.  It gets its name from Madras, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, south east India.  Many types of madras cottons are produced in Tamil Nadu: madras shirting, madras gauze, madras muslin, madras gingham and madras handkerchiefs, which in the early 19th century were woven with a silk warp and cotton weft.  Sometimes the methods used in dyeing the cotton yarn, before weaving, are very haphazard.  The dyestuff used are not always tested for light or wash fastness and quite often the dyed yarn is never given a very rigorous final wash so that surplus dye is still on the surface of the yarn. Many types of garments made from madras cotton were exported to the United States of America in the 1950s and 1960s. The impermanence of the colour was marketed a positive feature and became to known as bleeding madras.

manila hemp
Another name for abaca. See abaca.

Warp ikat silk, dyed and woven by Isan or Cambodian immigrant weavers in the north-eastern part of Thailand. See ikat.

A process which produces a smooth lustrous finish to cotton, or other cellulosic fibre, yarn and fabric. Mercerizing causes the cotton fibres to swell giving it greater dye affinity and also making the fibre stronger. The yarn or fabric is usually singed before mercerizing, but can precede or follow bleaching. The yarn or fabric is then passed through a solution of caustic alkali (caustic soda), then washed off. There are two types of mercerizing: hot mercerization, for uniform penetration into the fabric, and slack mercerization in the absence of tension. Discovered by John Mercer in 1844, the process was enhanced, to increase the lustre, by Horace Low in 1889.

The most internationally well known sheep is the merino of Australia which came originally from Spain.  The climate in Spain was ideal for rearing sheep and the merino was developed in Tanaconensis, some two thousand years ago, by crossing the Tarentine with the Laodicean from Asia Minor.

Long, white, lustrous hair from the angora goat.  Length ranges from 10cm to 30cm (4in to 12in).  A native of Asia minor the name comes from the province of Angora in Turkey.

As the name suggests, moleskin is woven and finished to simulate the short, soft, fine fur of the small tunnelling rodent.  It is a cotton pile fabric woven with a satin weave construction with closely woven floats on the face of the fabric.  The floats are cut, steamed to open the fibres to produce a dense nap looking like a heavy suede.  Moleskin is a hard wearing fabric and lighter weights are used for trousers and working cloths.  The heavier weight, with a longer pile, can be used for winter coat lining.  The term bannigan was given to a moleskin fabric which was at one time produced specifically for work cloths in the potteries of Staffordshire.  Dry clay or mud can easily be brushed from the dense pile of moleskin.

Sometimes referred to as univoltine. A breed of mulberry silkmoth which produces only one generation per year. Found in temperate regions and hatch only in the spring. See bivoltine.

The literal meaning of the French word moquette is tufted cloth. Similar to velvet, although with moquette the loops normally remain uncut, therefore it is possible to have cut and uncut moquette, or both in the same fabric. Usually made with wool or mohair pile with a cotton backing, often made with man-made fibres. An excellent upholstery cloth, particularly for public transport.

The term is generally applied to metalic salts or a metalic compound. During the process of dyeing natural fibres mordants are normally used to fix natural dyes into yarn or fabric.  Alum is the most commonly used mordant. Other mordants include chrome, copper, iron, tannic acid and tin. An early reference to the use of mordants in dyeing fabric was made by Pliny the Elder in AD 70 saying that mordant dyeing was practised by the Egyptians. Much later in 1742, it is recorded that a similar process was used in Pondicherry, India, where the tradition continues today. Most mordants are poisonous and should be used with care.

An unsupported (by cardboard tube), cross-wound package of yarn. Similar to a mock cake.  Traditionally the term muff means a ladies garment (a tube of cloth) in which she could put her hands to keep them warm.

muga silk 
muga silkmoths, found in Assam, northern India, belonging to the same genus as tussah, live on leaves from hance (liquidambar  formosana).  The muga silkworm produces a fine, strong, golden coloured silk.

The mule is a multi-spindle spinning machine which was developed by Samuel Crompton in 1779 at Hall i’ th’ Wood, near Bolton, Lachashire, England.  The mule was a cross between the Spinning Jenny, invented by James Hargreaves in 1764 and the Water-frame, which was patented by Richard Arkwright in 1769.  See jenny.

From the Hindi word mulmull which means muslin.  A soft, fine, pliable cotton fabric originally produced in Bengal, north east India.  Although mull is commonly used in garments, plain mull is also used in book binding.  See also muslin.

Also known as polyvoltine.  A silkmoth variety which produces several generations per year and lays only non-hibernating eggs.

Cloth made from regenerated wool fibre. See shoddy.

Although not always considered to be a fine, lightweight cotton fabric, muslin is thin and sheer.  The name comes from mussolin which was woven in Mosul, a city in the northern tip of Iraq near the boarder with Turkey on the river Tigis. Muslin is produced in India and many Hindi names are used to describe it: malmal, mallmol or mulmull from which the word mull is derived.  There are several other local Indian names used to describe different muslins: alabalee, ajiji, alliabably, jhuna, shabnam and sullah.  Book binding muslin has a hard, stiff finish, but not a true muslin. See Dacca muslin.

Also spelled matka.  A silk cloth woven from handspun mulberry silk waste


A lightweight, plain-weave, cotton cloth with a soft finish, although French nainsook has a crisp finish.  Sometimes this fabric is made with a closely woven satin or twill stripe forming a corded effect at intervals across the fabric.  Often used in the manufacture of lingerie and dresses.  The word nainsook comes from the Hindi words nain, meaning eye, and sukh, meaning delight.  This fabric dates back to seventeenth century India when it was sometimes called nansook, nyansook or nainsook and was thought to give ‘pleasure to the eye’.

A soft surface covering either one or both sides of a fabric.  Can be achieved by raising the surface fibres of a woven, knitted or felted fabric, sheared to a uniform length and then brushed with wires or teasel burrs.  Not to be confused with pile.  See pile.

narrow fabrics
A fabric not exceeding 45cm in width.  In the United States and for the purpose of EC tariff coding the maximum width is 30cm (12in) and having a selvage on both edges.  Woven, knitted or non-woven ribbons, braids, labels, webbings and tapes are narrow fabrics.  Known also as smallwares.  See braids, inkle, labels, ribbons, tapes or webbing.

natural dye
Dyestuffs obtained from  vegetables, fruits, lichens, insects (see also cochineal), shellfish and minerals. See NATURAL DYE table.

A fine instrument used for sewing by hand or in a sewing machine.  A fine instrument used in hand knitting.  Also a fine instrument with a beard, latch or hook at one or both ends used in machine knitting.

A non-woven fabric, resembling felt, where the batt or web fibres have been mechanically interlocked by barbed needles. See non-woven.

needlework fabrics
Several types of fabric are specially made for needlework and rug making. Generally they are made of cotton, linen and sometimes other plant fibres, such as jute. They are usually stiffened which makes working on them easier. The stiffening material normally washes out if necessary once a piece of work is finished. The most common embroidery fabrics are:~

  • Linen Twill, Used for traditional Jacobean or crewel embroidery. Crewel curtain fabrics, which are produced in Kashmir, India, are embroidered on cotton fabric
  • Medium Weight Linen, Suitable for tablecloths and should be embroidered with stranded or twist cotton
  • Shere Linen, Lightweight, fine linen for handkerchiefs to be embroidered with stranded cotton or silk
  • Evenweave Linen, Known sometimes as art linen. Varying weights. Used for counted or drawn work and Florentine embroidery
  • Evenweave Cotton, Similar uses to Evenweave Linen
  • Hessian, A jute cloth suitable for embroidery with wool, appliqué work and rug backing
  • Danish Hardanger, Plain weave cotton cloth used for hardanger embroidery and drawn thread work
  • Calico, Lightweight cotton fabric used for all types of embroidery and needlework
  • Crash, A heavy cotton fabric made with slubby yarns and used in many types of needlework
  • Binca, Bincarette or Ada Canvas, A stiff, mock leno-weave, open canvas with mesh of various sizes. Used for binca or cross-stitch embroidery
  • Plain Weave Cotton Cloths and Canvas, Various weights of these cloths are used for gross point, petit point, tent stitch, Bargello and cross-stitch
  • Lockthread Cloth, An open leno weave canvas used for large embroidery and rug making
  • Panama Cloth, A mock-leno cotton fabric used for cross-stitch embroidery
  • Aliganate or PVA Fabrics, Used in machine embroidery when the background, supporting fabric is dissolved away leaving only the embroidered thread. See algin.
  • Felt, Made of wool or man-made fibres. Used for appliqué work and toy making. See felt​

A nautical term for a small line or cord made of two strands of rope yarn.  Also a short fine flax-like, bast fibre from the stalks of the various plants of the nettle family, urtica dioica, urtica urenaandurtica ceæ (Nepalese allo), by retting or decorticating.  See allo and nilghiri nettle.

A very open mesh fabric produced either by hand or by machine in which the structure is ensured by some form of twisting or knotting of threads. Produced with yarn made with most fibres, it may be produced by leno or gauze weave, knitting,knotting or macramé. Net is also produced on a lace machine such as a roller-locker, Levers lace machine or Barmen lace machine. Types of net include: curtain net, mosquito net, fishing net, tulle, cable net, Brussels net, Bretonne net, stirrup net. See netting.

A method of entwining and knotting yarns, cords or ropes to produce a mesh. See net.

nett silk  
A filament of silk which is drawn off the cocoon as a continuous thread.

nilghiri nettle
A long fine bast fibre from girardinia heterophylla.  Found in the Himalayas, Central India and Sri Lanka.

The short fibres, usually of wool, which have been separated from the long fibres during combing in the fibre preparatory processes before spinning.

A range of fabrics made from different fibres which can be bonded together by heat processing, mechanical or chemical means and which are neither woven, knitted or felted. There are basically two types of non-woven fabrics:

  • Long Life Non-Wovens, made of various textile fibres by needle punching, (See needlefelt), bonding with natural or synthetic rubber and impregnating with resins.
  • Short Life Non-Wovens, usually made of cellulose fibres which are disposable. There are several hundred different non-woven disposable products manufactured, which include: bandages, adhesive bandages, handkerchiefs, interlinings, iron-on or sew-on interfacings, industrial and domestic cloths, filters and surface tissues for glass reinforced plastics and resins.

A very strong man-made polyamide fibre.  The generic name given to fibres composed of long chain polyamide derived from coal and petroleum.


oil cloth
A plain woven cotton fabric which is coated with a mixture of linseed oil and a pigment.  The pigment is often white but can also be tinted.  A glaze finish is given to the finished cloth in creasing its waterproof quality and which can easily be sponged down.  Oil cloth has now been replaced by more durable and pliable plastic coated fabrics.  Known as American cloth in the United Kingdom, it also has been called enamelled cloth, leather cloth and a marbled variety, Lancaster cloth.  At one time oil cloth was used for kitchen tablecloths, shopping bags and sometimes rainwear.

A loosely woven plain weave cotton cloth, although silk is often used, impregnated with linseed oil which oxidizes to a hard, smooth, translucent finish making it completely waterproof.  The cloth, which becomes stiff, retains its distinctive smell of linseed oil and its golden yellow colour.  Before the invention of flexible plastic fabrics, oilskin was the only available fabric used in the manufacture seaman’s waterproof clothing, slickers and sou’westers.  A fine silk fabric impregnated with boiled linseed oil was at one time used for surgical purposes.

A machine used to separate closely packed fibres, such as baled cotton, during the preliminary stages of processing raw materials before spinning.

Organdie or organdy is a very light, thin fabric woven from tightly twisted cotton yarns.  It appears to be transparent and usually has a permanent, crisp, starched finish.  Although some stiffening treatments can be washed out, organdie can withstand repeated laundering and only needs to be ironed to bring back its original crispness.  Organza is a pure silk fabric which resembles organdie.  Organzine is a fine, folded, slightly twisted, filament silk yarn commonly used as warp to weave silk fabrics.  See organzine.

A strong silk yarn made from high quality filament silk.  Single raw silk yarn is twisted and then doubled.  The compound thread is twisted once again in the opposite direction resulting in 350 to l300 tpm. Organzine is mostly used as a warp yarn.

A rough, tough plain-weave, cotton cloth made with coarse yarns sometimes spun from cotton waste.  Commonly used in its unbleached state for bags for sugar, grain or cement. At one time Osnaburg was made of linen and originated from the city of Osnabruck, north west Germany.

oxford cloth
Oxford cloth was never woven in Oxford but gets its name through its popularity as a shirt fabric worn by the undergraduates of Oxford University because it wears well and launders well.  The fabric is a soft, absorbent, sturdy, cotton fabric shirting with a lustrous finish.  Button down collared shirts made from Oxford cloth became very popular in post, World War 2, United States of America, and was the height of Ivy League university fashion for men. This cloth is now manufactured and converted into shirts in many other countries.  Made in plain weave with two fine warp ends woven as one giving the effect of a 2 and 1 matt weave.  Oxford cloth is now woven in a various blends of cotton and man-made fibres.


This term is normally used when referring to a quantity of yarn which has been wound onto a cardboard, wooden or plastic cylindrical tube or support. Yarn packages include: tubes, cheeses, pirns, cones, perforated cones for dyeing, spools, bobbins or beams. If there is no support or centre the package is referred to as a cake. Sometimes a hank or skein is referred to as a package.

Between 1805 and the early 1870s, shawls were handwoven in Paisley, a town near Glasgow, Scotland, with designs based on what was known as the pine motif. The pine motif, which became synonymous with the paisley pattern, came from Kashmir, India, where for centuries was the design source for all the shawls so elaborately handwoven from pashmina wool.  It is believed that the pine motif, which sometimes looks like a cypress tree, originated in Persia and travelled east to Kashmir.  In India it is more identifiable as the cashew fruit and seed pod, which has been the symbol of fertility for thousands of years.  Kashmir shawls or jamawars were highly valued as far back as Roman times.  These highly decorative shawls were introduced into France and then into England by way of Napoleon’s officers returning from Egypt.  The fashion for Kashmir shawls swept Europe and cheaper reproductions were produced in Lyon, Norwich and Edinburgh, but it didn’t take long for the expertise of the weavers of Paisley took over the sole production of the shawls in Britain.  The paisley pattern has now become a classic design motif.

Also palempore.  A chinz bedcover hand painted traditionally in Masulipatam and Satras, South India.  A hybrid of the Hindi and Persian word palang-posh.

A Persian word meaning woollen or like wool. Short fine, soft wool sometimes referred to as cashmere grown under the long, hard guard hair of goat (capra hirus laniger) found at 4000 metres in Central Asia. While the female goat produces about 200 gms annually, a male produces 400 gms.  See also cashmere.

A French word to describe trimmings, braids, cords, gimps, beads or tinsel.  See narrow fabrics.

A fine smooth cotton, plain weave fabric.  Ideal cloth for the manufacture of bedsheets and lightweight summer clothing.  The term originates from the Persian word pargalah.

A silk, double ikat fabric produced in Patan, India. The silk warp and weft are prepared and tied and dyed according to a graph design. Sometimes there are four colours so each time a new colour is dyed the whole process of untying and re-tying and dyeing is repeated. the weft is placed carefully across the warp and intricate images and patterns emerge. Traditionally the process of patola is used in the production of very expensive saris. Because it is a very time consuming process, a sari will take months to prepare and complete. See ikat

A machine or wooden frame over which a fabric is inspected for faults, illuminated from behind by natural or artificial light.

A highly decorative embroidery.  The term is used in northern India, particularly in the Punjab, for a piece of cotton about 80cm x 160cm embroidered, to cover the complete surface of the cotton cloth, in silk by village women, particularly Jats.

A weft thread in a fabric. Sometimes referred to as a shot. When weaving, to pick is process of passing the weft through the warp shed.

Sometimes called a linen prover or counting-glass. See counting glass.


  1. A simple device, known as the John Boyd Picker, invented and patented in 1872 by John Boyd of Castle Cary, Somerset, England, to select a single length of horse hair at a time, picked up by a rapier, instead of a shuttle, and introduced into the warp shed during the manufacture of horse hair fabric.  Until the Education Act of 1870 the selection of each horse hair had been done by hand by children.
  2. Also a part of the picking mechanism of a loom that strikes the shuttle to propel it through the warp shed during the weaving process. See pick.
  3. Also a machine used in cleaning and processing cotton fibre before spinning. See spinning.​

Any fabric sold by the piece (or length).

Dyeing a piece or length of fabric, rather than dyeing the yarn first before it is woven or knitted.

The extra yarn or fibre which projects from the main structure and surface of the fabric.  Pile can be cut, as in velvet, corduroy and carpets or uncut as in moquette and terry towelling.  The word is derived from the Latin pilus meaning hair. See velvet.

Ananas comosus L. Fibre can be extracted from the sword-shaped leaves of the pineapple to produce fine yarns or twine.  Pineapple is grown in the Phiippines, Taiwan, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the West Indies.  Of the four most common varieties grown in the Philippines the Spanish Red and native varieties are grown solely for fibre, which are used to produce a sheer fabric called pina and made into shirts, while the Queen and Smooth Cayenne varieties are grown for the fruit.

Usually a fine cotton woven with a special weave structure to give a three-dimensional, quilted effect.  A pin wale piqué is a very fine, corded cloth while a waffle piqué is made in a small honeycomb pattern. Used in the manufacture of dresses, sports clothes and men’s traditional dress shirts.  The term piqué comes from the French verb piquer meaning to quilt.

pit loom
This type of loom is constructed above a pit in order to economize with construction materials.  The weaver sits on the edge of the pit to control the peddles in the pit.

A piece of tartan woollen cloth approximately 1800mm wide by 3600mm to 5400mm long, and used as part of the older form of Scottish Highland dress.  The plaid was pleated so that the width was adjusted to the girth of the wearer.  Secured by a leather belt and pinned on the left shoulder with a large brooch, it was known as the belted plaid.  Conveniently it could also be used as a blanket.  The Scottish kilt, measuring 760mm wide and between 6000mm and 7000mm long, unpleated, is a development of the belted plaid. In the United States of America tartan is often referred to as plaid.  See tartan.

Synonymous with a braid. The intersection of the strands of a braid.

The Indonesian word for rainbow. A dyeing process to produce a variegated effect of different colours.  See bandhana.

plied yarn
An alternative expression for folded yarn, as in 2-ply or 2-fold yarn, meaning two yarns lightly twisted together.  The term doubled yarn means two yarns plied together.

A plain weave cotton cloth with wrinkled, crinkled or pleated effects produced by printing a solution of caustic soda in stripes or patterns to shrink the treated areas.  The effect is permanent and the effect cannot be ironed out. Often confused with seersucker, a similar effect being produced by the construction of the cloth using special yarns in the warp. Used for dresses, shirts and bedspreads.

An exaggerated velvet with a deep dense pile.  Traditionally woven from wool or mohair, it can be woven from cotton, silk or man-made fibres.  Used in the manufacture of coats and furnishing fabrics, it is extensively used in the making soft toys like teddy bears.  Plush can also be knitted.  The word plush comes from the French peluche meaning shaggy or hairy.

When two or more threads or yarns are plied or twisted together.  The industrial term for ply is fold.

point paper
The same as graph paper used for drawing weave patterns. Used particularly in designing Jacquard fabrics.

A man-made fibre usually referred to as nylon.

A large molecule built up from a combination of many smaller units of different chemicals.

A strong, thermoplastic, man-made fibre produced from petrochemicals (petroleum-chemicals). Used in filament form, by itself or blended in staple form with other fibres.  A wide range of uses in apparel, furnishings and industrial fabrics.

A plastic material which in one form, can be produced as a foam sheet for laminating to other fabrics. As a textile fibre its more commonly known as a synthetic elastomer fibre or by the generic term elastine or by one of it’s trade names, Lycra. Used extensively in the apparel and furnishing fabric industries.

polyvinyl chloride
Commonly known as PVC. In sheet form is used extensively for domestic and industrial uses. Also can be used to coat woven or knitted fabrics as a waterproof finish.

The Chinese word  pen-chi means hand woven or woven at home.  Other types of pongee are:  shantung, hohan, antung and ninghai.  The warp is finer than the weft which is usually a dupion yarn often mistaken for so called wild silk because of its creamy colour.

The term poplin comes from the French word popeline, which is a fabric used for church vestments originally made in the papal city of Avignon in southern France.  Poplin is a lightweight, closely woven cotton fabric with very fine ribs across the width of the cloth.  The ribs are created by using a fine mercerized yarn in the warp and a thicker one in the weft.  Although traditionally made in 100% fine, high lustre cotton, poplin is now woven with cotton and staple polyester fibre blends.  There are many weights and types of poplin the most common of which are used for shirts or pyjamas.  Historically poplin was originally woven with silk in the warp and a fine worsted weft.  Sometimes referred to, even now, as popeline or Irish poplin.

The method of transferring a pattern onto another surface by dusting fine charcoal through a perforated paper, skin or metallic foil stencil.

There are several basic methods or techniques used in printing textiles:

Hand methods

  • Block. Usually the blocks are made of wood, engraved by hand, or imbedded with wire nails or metal strips, or pieces of rubber to form a design. Used extensively in India.
  • Screen. A wooden or metal frame on which a fine even silk or polyester fabric is stretched and blocked in predetermined areas by a variety of processes to allow a dye-gum to be pressed through the open areas with a squeegee.  The blocked areas act as a stencil. Practised in Japan since the eighth century.  Known as Table printing in the United States of America.​

Mechanical methods

  • Screen. Similar to the hand method but more automated with the squeegee  being mechanically passed from one side of the screen to the other.
  • Rotary screen. While the squeegee is static, unlike the flat screen method, the engraved cylindrical metal screen rotates as the cloth is moved.  Sometimes as many as 12 to 14 cylinders, each printing a seperate colour, can be used on the same print table.
  • Roller. The design is engraved by line into the surface of a metal roller, the engrave line being filled with the dye and then transferred to the cloth under slight pressure.
  • Duplex. Printing by rollers on both sides of the fabric at the same time so that the design coincides and produces a reversible fabric.
  • Sublistatic. Printing a fabric, usually polyester, from a pre-printed (with dye) patterned paper.  Sometimes referred to as transfer or heat transfer printing. ​

pure silk 
Any silk yarn or fabric which contains no metallic or other weighting agents except those essential ones used in dyeing.

pure dye silk 
Similar to pure silk.  No weighting of any kind is used even during dyeing.

A piece of homespun woollen fabric originally made from the hair of the Kabul goat. Originating in the Himalayas a derivation of the puttu became known as puttee (approximately 150mm wide and 3600mm long) when adopted by the army to spiral round their legs for protection.  The Hindi word puttu has other local spellings: puttoo, pattoo, pati – meaning bandage. Shawls and blankets are given local names in India: puttu chet, pattu pashmini,  pattu abshar – a striped cloth, and pattu kundrang – a fine blanket made with camel hair and then embroidered.


A leaf fibre from the raphia spp. palm.  grown in Tropical America and Madagascar.  Used in the manufacture of decorative household items, ropes and in the garden.

A strong soft bast fibre, usually about 800mm or more in length, obtained from the stems of various species of the genus Boehmeria nivea (L.) of the Urticaceae nettle family. Ramie is sold in various forms: China grass (sometimes bleached), Ribbons (complete stem), de-gummed fibre, tops, roving or yarn.  Used in the production of clothing fabrics, furnishing fabrics, netting, canvas, rope and string.  Can be blended with other fibres and spun into knitting yarn.  Cultivated in China, India, Philippines, and Brazil.

raw silk
Continuous filaments of silk, with no twist, which have been reeled from cocoons but as yet, unprocessed and still containing sericin.

Rayon (viscose rayon) is the oldest of all the man-made fibres and was originally produced by dissolving nitro-cellulose into a solution which could be extruded through a nozzle and made into a filament. The process was patented by Count du Chardonnet in 1884, whose recipe was similar to that of producing gun-cotton and was too dangerous. Towards the end of the 19th century further experiments were carried out to make artificial silk by the cuprammonium process. This process was much safer. Then, in 1892, the viscose process was patented by C.F.Cross and his partners. The first filaments of viscose rayon were made in England in 1904 by Samuel Courtauld and Company, silk weavers. Rayon is made from cellulose and the highest yield of high-grade cellulose is from Scandinavian and Canadian Spruce and South African Eucalyptus. Viscose can be used in filament form or as staple fibre.

reactive dyes
Can be used on all types of fibre and can produce a wide range of colours. They are called reactive dyes because they react with the fibre molecules to form a covalent dye/fibre bond. A great deal of experimentation went into the development of reactive dyes. The first reactive dyes were marketed by ICI in 1955 under the brand name Procion, which was developed by Professor Ratee and Dr Stephens.

The reed determines the arrangement or spacing of the warp threads across the width of the fabric. When the weft is placed into the fell of the cloth the reed beats it into position evenly. Usually made of thin metal strips bonded at equal distances between baulks. In order to seperate the metal strips evenly, they are spaced by smooth string which is wound round each baulk. Traditionally, the baulks are usually covered with pitch and then paper to hold the string and metal strips in place. In some countries reeds made from slivers of bamboo, or reed, are still produced and used by handloom weavers. See batten, fell and fly shuttle.

The term used to determine the weight of cocoons in kilograms to reel 1kg of raw silk.

A narrow fabric of varying widths, having selvedge edges.  Traditionally made in silk but more commonly can be made from cotton or man-made fibres. Derived from the Old French word riban (modern French: ruban).  See narrow fabrics.

An alternative method of retting whole stems which rets the outer part of the plant stem. Known as ribboning, it produces strips of fibre containing bast. A simple ribboner is the bicycle ribboner.  The Alvan Blanch ribboner is based on an existing small-scale rice thresher.

Advantages of ribboning:

  • Less water required for retting
  • Valuable plant nutrients are returned to the soil
  • Less weight of material to transport

Disadvantages of ribboning:

  • Additional labour required for green stem stripping by hand
  • Mechanical ribboning requires high capital outlay for ribboners
  • Retting fibre from ribbons tends to be inferior to fibre from retted whole stems​

ring spinning
A continuous mechanical spinning process which is mostly used in the cotton industry and in spinning most short staple fibres in a wide range of counts.  With the expansion of the domestic, cottage based industry of textile production and the further development of factory systems in the late eighteenth century, for the mass-production of textiles, came several spinning inventions. See jenny and mule.  The ring spinning process was developed in the United States of America in 1828 but was not immediately adopted in Britain or elsewhere in the world.  The simple principle of ring spinning is similar to cap spinning except that the yarn is guided onto the spinning bobbin by a ring and traveller arrangement rather than the edge of the cap.  Although ring spinning is still very popular in the spinning industry it has reached its peak of development and has now been superseded by new spinning methods, such as rotor spinning.

A strong, thick cord produced by twisting, braiding or cabled vegetable fibre or man-made fibre or filament rope yarn.

rotor spinning
A continuous supply of fibres either in the form of a sliver or straight from the cotton opening unit is sucked down a fibre delivery tube and into the rapidly rotating rotor. The fibre is peeled, at speed, from the grove in the rotor, through the trumpet, through the yarn tube and at the same time twisted, then through the take off rollers and wound onto a package. In comparison with ring spun yarns, for instance, rotor spun cotton yarns are:

  • More uniform in appearance
  • Less variable in strength
  • not as strong
  • more extensible
  • bulkier
  • more absorbent
  • more abrasion resistant​

The name of the process and the product. The final stage in fibre preparation before spinning. The roving is drawn out from the sliver. Since the roving has no strength at this stage, a slight twist is inserted into the roving to hold the fibres together in a thin rope about ¼” (5mm) in diameter.


Generally applied to a variety of coarse fabrics chiefly used for making bags and sacks.  Often made from jute, hemp, flax or man-made fibres such as polyolefin.  See gunny and osnaburg.

sack cloth
A very coarse, rough cloth said to have be woven from goats’ or camels’ hair and worn in mourning or as penitence.  The term has also been used to describe a solid colour flannel. See burlap.

A tightly woven heavy canvas traditionally made of cotton or linen and used in the manufacture of ship and yacht sails.  Now often made of nylon (polyamide) or polyester for lightness, durability and strength. Cotton sailcloth is often used for sports shoes and upholstery.

A weft face weave which is normally associated with cotton cloths, although man-made fibres are sometimes used either by themselves or blended with cotton.  A smooth fabric, free of any twill direction, where the the weft thread is usually coarser than the warp.  A fabric made with this weave is often referred to as a sateen fabric.  See weaves.

A warp face weave which is often associated with silk and artificial fabrics.  Traditionally made of silk, satin has a smooth, lustrous, unbroken surface texture.  There are many types of satin fabrics which include:  ciré satin, panne satin, duchesse satin, charmeurse, antique satin, crêpe back satin, skinner’s satin and a very thin satin called satinette. Satin is used extensively in the manufacture of clothing and also used in furnishings.  It is highly probable that the word satin derives from Zaitun or Zayton, the name by the Chinese medieval port of Chinchew was known by traders who exported all types of silk, particularly satin, in the 13th and 14th centuries. See weaves.

A soft hard wearing woollen cloth woven from 60s, or finer, woollen spun yarn. Also sometimes woven from soft worsted yarns.  A lightweight tweed suitable for clothing.  The name comes from the Saxony area of northern Germany, where this type of cloth was first woven.

schappe silk 
Spun silk woven fabric which has been de-gummed by fermentation.

The process of scouring. Washing all types of textile fibres, yarn or cloth to remove dirt, natural fats, waxes, proteins, oil or other impurities.

An open-mesh, plain weave coarse cloth made either from jute, hemp, cotton or flax.  Used in embroidery, for gluing to the inside of wooden panelling to prevent shrinkage, to reinforce plaster when casting models, for curtaining and in theatrical scenery where a transparent area is required.

Used to describe the rustling sound produced when silk yarn or cloth is handled. Sometimes the same sound comes from certain cellulosic fibres, yarns or fabrics which have had specialized finishing.

The process of scutching has various definitions:

  1. The process of opening cotton mechanically and cleaned, then formed into a continuous lap.
  2. The operation of separating the woody part of retted flax from the flax fibre.
  3. The process carried out on a scutcher, in the finishing process, for opening a rope of fabric.

The old Persian phrase for milk and sugar, shír o shakkar, aptly describes the character of this fabric. Usually a warp striped plain weave cotton fabric, its design is of smooth stripes contrasting with puckered or crinkled stripes.  Sometimes the stripes are dyed in contrasting colours. The fabric can be produced in three different ways: by each stripe in the warp being woven under different tension, by using two yarns in the warp of varying twist or by printing a resist on a cotton cloth which is then treated with caustic soda which then crinkles the resist free areas of the cloth.  Requires little or no ironing.

The two longitudinal edges of a woven fabric. The selvedge is made when the weft turns round each of the extreme warp ends when the weft passes through the warp.

shepherd’s check
A check effect, normally using in black and white yarns. The yarns are usually arranged in groups of either 4 white and 4 black, 6 white and 6 black or 8 white and 8 black. Woven in a 2 and 2 twill weave. Similar checks are called dog’s tooth or hound’s tooth checks. See glen checks.

The cultivation of silkworms, or lepidoptera larvae, for the production of cocoons from which silk is unwound to produce a textile thread.

The protein liquid, known also as gum, which coats the silk as it is exuded by the silkworm.

Alternative spelling: set. This term is used to indicate the density of the ends and picks in a woven fabric.  Usually expressed by the number of ends per inch or centimetre and the number of picks per inch or centimetre.  For example a square sett cloth would have the same number of ends and picks in a square inch or centimetre.  The state of the fabric should be described at the same time, for example: loomstate sett or finished sett. Sometimes the term pitch is used to mean the same. See tartan.

From the Persian word säl. An oblong or square piece of any textile, either wool, cotton, silk or other fibre worn chiefly by women as a covering for the shoulders or head.

A shawl or light blanket woven from the underwool from the Tibetan antelope or Chiru, a rare and now endangered animal found in the remote high mountain regions of Kashmir, northern India.  Shahtoosh is literally a very soft wool (toosh) fit for a king (shah) which has been handspun.  It became illegal to trade in this rare wool in 1976.  See pashmina.

The opening for the weft to pass through selected lifted warp ends leaving the remainder lowered. For instance when weaving a plain weave fabric, the warp ends are lifted and lowered alternately.

Any animal of the ruminant genus ovis. Sometimes horned, especially the widely domesticated species ovis aries, which is reared not only for meat and skin but the wool from which many different types of textiles are made.  There are over 50 pure, half and rare breeds of sheep in the United Kingdom.  Three main breeds of sheep in the southern hemisphere are reared in large numbers for their wool: merino, polwarth and corriedale.  See wool.

Japanese tie-dye or stitch-resist technique. Usually on silk or cotton fabric using indigo dye. See bandhini, plangi, tie-dye.

A woollen cloth made from reprocessed or regenerated wool fibre often obtained from old woollen rags.  The process of was developed in Britain in 1806 by two Yorkshiremen, Messrs Law and Parr.  By 1832 the term shoddy to mean woollen cloth made from recycled, shredded woollen rags and became the mainstay of the West Yorkshire woollen trade providing warm clothing for the mass market.  The shoddy industry has now moved to Italy and northern India. See mungo.

shoddy shaker
A machine used to shaking dirt from the waste short staple wool or shoddy, after carding.  Also known as Issit’s shaker.

shot silk 
An iridescent effect in a silk cloth, like taffeta, woven with one colour in the warp and contrasting colour in the weft.

The yarn-package (such as a pirn) carrier that passes through the shed (of the warp) to insert the weft during weaving.  There are many types of shuttle.

The protein filament formed into a cocoon by the larva of the silk moth during the process of sericulture.  see  Chinese

  • silk  – English
  • soie  – French
  • scide  – German
  • serikon  – Greek
  • seta  – Italian
  • sir  – Korean
  • sericum  – Latin
  • sutera   – Malay
  • seda  – Spanish
  • sheolk  – Russian

See also raw silk

A leaf fibre, which is over a metre in length, is extracted from Agave sisalana Perrine.  The fibre is hard, strong and pale cream in colour.  The fibres are imbedded in the soft tissue of the long, pointed leaf and can be extracted by scraping away the soft tissue.  The fibre is used in the manufacture of string, binder twine and rope which are used to make bags, brushes, floorcovering and matting.   It resembles henequen (Agave fourcroydes) which is quite often confused as sisal.  Originally grown in South America, Agave sisalana was introduced into West and East Africa in the early 1900s. Sometimes referred to as Bahama hemp.

There are various different sizes, which are usually glutinous in consistency: starch, animal glue size, gelatin size, rice size, linseed oil and chemical sizes such as polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and polyacrylic acid. Often size is applied to warps, and sometimes wefts, to lay the hairiness of some yarns and increase their strength. The sizing is done before weaving, and in some cases during warp preparation, to protect the yarns from abrasion on the healds and reed.

A continuous length, of no set measurement, of yarn or thread coiled into collapsible coil obtained by winding a definite number of turns on a reel with a set circumference.  The circumference of the reel can measure a yard or a metre, 45 inches or 60 inches often depending on the type of textile trade.  Often referred to as a hank.

The frame, which hangs in front of the shafts on the loom, supports the reed through which the warp ends are threaded in order.  The slay is pushed back and forth during he process of weaving, to press the yarn firmly into the fell of the cloth.  Sometime referred to as the beater, batten, lay, lathe, going-part or fly-beam. See batten.

A continuous untwisted rope of assembled fibre with a uniform cross-section.  A sliver is produced after fibre has been carded.  Several slivers can be processed further by putting them through a drawframe to produce a single, well blended and straightened sliver.  The sliver usually goes through further processing by drawing out into a roving.  The same term is used throughout the woollen, worsted, cotton and man-made fibre industries.

Soosie, soosey, susi or soucis. From a Hindi word given to a coloured stripe silk or silk and cotton fabric loosely handwoven in plain weave. Possibly the source of the proverb which says that a silk purse cannot be made from a sow’s ear (soosee).

The process of applying one or several colours on a single yarn by printing, spraying, tie-dyeing, wax resist or any other method.

The process by which a mass of staple fibres is converted into a yarn or thread to meet required specifications of thickness, evenness, twist and composition.  Spinning can be done by hand, by hand controlled machine (like a spinning wheel) or mechanically.  There are many types of spinning mechanisms all based on five different principles:

  • Fly spinning
  • Cap spinning
  • Ring spinning
  • Centrifugal or pot spinning
  • Rotor spinning

See ring spinning, rotor spinning, jenny and mule

spun silk 
Yarn spun from waste silk which has been processed and spun like cotton.

Used to describe a small mass or tuft of animal, vegetable or man-made fibre illustrates the fibre length, hence, for example, the terms ‘short staple wool’ or ‘long staple cotton’ or ‘short staple polyester’.

staple fibre
Usually used to describe man-made fibres which have been cut or broken into pre-determined lengths, for example, 50mm polyester staple fibre.

staple length
The length of staple fibre compared to the length of natural fibres, for example, ‘mountain wools have a staple length of 50mm’or’the staple length of Indian cotton averages 20mm’.

One of a series of finishing processes when the selvedges of an open-width textile fabric are held at a predetermined width and the tension maintained.  The attachment to the selvedges can be by needles, hooks or clips.  Traditionally done on simple frames, is now done in a stentering machine which usually contains a dryer.  The term stentering is used for passing a fabric through a stenter, or tenter. Stentering is done for a variety of reasons:

  • drying and setting fabrics
  • heat-setting of thermoplastic materials
  • dye fixing
  • controlling the width of fabrics

A flexible stick, called a stenter or tenter, is often used when weaving on a handloom to maintain a constant width of the fabric under an even tension, as it is being woven.  Hence the term ‘to be under tenter hooks’ means to be tense.

A single knit fabric which derives its name from stocking stitch traditionally used in the manufacture of socks and stockings.  Stockinette is now associated with cotton cleaning cloths, although it can be used for nightwear or dresses.  Although similar in weight it is generally looser than the knitted fabric used in the manufacture of T shirts.

A method of vigorously washing and tumbling a fabric or garments, to create a ‘peached’ or suede surface and soft handle, using water, sand or pebbles.  The process is used in finishing silk and cotton fabrics and garments.

A single or multiple yarn used as a component of a rope or cable.  The term also refers to a strand of raw silk which is composed of filaments reeled from several cocoons at the same time.

A fine stripe or streaky effect, created (sometimes by accident) in the length of the fabric produced by random warp yarns having been dyed in a variety of tones of the same colour.

A thick, folded yarn made from jute, hemp, sisal, cotton or any strong fibre.  String yarn is coarse mercerized yarn often used in the manufacture of gloves.

Often refers to woven cloth, specifically worsted, which has not been made into a garment. The word stuff derives from a French word for cloth: étoffe.

A broad term used for a range of wool, silk, cotton or man-made fibre fabrics that have body and can be tailored into men’s and women’s suits.

Or songket in Brunei or sungket in Malay.  A highly decorative woven cloth approximately 2m by 84cm wide.  Used as a ceremonial garment and worn by men like an apron or kilt over a silk suit.  The term comes from the Malay word menyongket meaning ‘to embroider with gold or silver threads’.  Sungkit is not embroidered but is a woven fabric belonging to the brocade family of fabrics.

A soft, bast fibre obtained from the stalk of the Crotalaria juncea L. plant.  It is light in colour and lustrous. Also known as sunn hemp, san hemp, sana, sewnee, itarsi, Indian hemp, Jubbulpure hemp, Madras hemp, Benaras hemp or Bengal hemp, although it is not hemp.  Used to make string and used in paper making.  Chiefly grown in India and Sri Lanka.  See hemp.

surgical cloths
See bandage and gauze.

A simple metal or wooden frame normally 36″ or 1 metre in circumference and supported on a stand, rotated by hand or motor.  A simple device to support a hank of yarn from which to unwind it.

swivel weaving
A special type of loom mechanism allows for small decorative effects, such as dots, to be interwoven on the surface of a fabric while being constructed on the loom. The interweaving of the spot requires extra weft yarns which are introduced across the warp by a row of small shuttles. Each spot or figure can be of a different colour as it has its own shuttle. see lappet weaving



There are three definitions of union cloths:

  1. A fabric manufactured in England from a cotton warp and shoddy weft. The cloth is heavily napped.
  2. A fabric made with the warp yarn of one fibre differing from the weft yarn of another fibre. For example it is common to find tea towels made with linen warps and cotton wefts.
  3. A fabric woven from yarns made by twisting together single yarns of differing fibres, such as linen and cotton.​

Silkmoth variety, native only to temperate regions, and which produces one generation of only dormant eggs per year.

Any fabric used to cover furniture. Can be manufactured from any fibre or combination of fibres.

Twisting one or more yarns by withdrawing them over-end from a rotating package.

Urena lobata L. A bast fibre similar to jute. Grown in West Africa, South East Asia, South America and Caribbean. Processed in the same way as jute.


vat dyeing
Mainly used to colour cellulose, such as cotton, yarns or cloths made from cellulose yarns. Vat dyes are insoluble in water so they require to be made soluble before dyeing the fibre. Using an alkaline solution of caustic soda and sodium hydrosulphite the dye is converted, by chemical reduction, to a leuco alkali-soluble. At this point the colour will differ from the final dyed colour. The dye, having entered the fibre, is exposed to air which oxidizes the dye in the fibre back to its insoluble state. This is a dyeing process when the dye is accepted into the fibre in a reduced or vatted form, when oxidized the colour is fixed firmly to the fibre. The basic principles of vat-dyeing are:

  • The conversion of the insoluble vat dye into the soluble sodium-leuco form by reduction or vatting.
  • The conversion of the absorbed dye, in the cloth or yarn, back to the insoluble state by oxidation.
  • Dyed or printed yarn or cloth treated in a hot detergent bath to produce a stable shade with maximum fastness.

Indigo is a natural vat dye and has been used extensively in India and west Africa for many centuries.

v-bed knitting
A type of rib knitting machine with two needle beds with the hooks from each bed facing each other, both beds forming an inverted V.

A pile fabric where the loop, created by an extra warp is cut. The distinguishing feature of velvet is a succession of rows of short, close together, cut tufts creating a uniform surface which is lustrous in appearance and soft to the touch. The quality of velvet is determined by the closeness of the tufts and the density of the backing. Traditionally woven with silk pile and cotton back as a single fabric. Can be mechanically woven as a double, face to face, cloth and cut down the centre in the same way as Wilton carpet. There are many types of velvet with names like: chiffon velvet, Lyon velvet, façonne velvet, panne velvet and brocade velvet. A wide range of uses include: dresses, jackets, shoes, hats, upholstery, curtains and in industry.

A 100% cotton velvet made in Manchester, England in the early eighteenth century. Constructed with a weft float, which is then cut to form the pile, from mercerized cotton yarns, although rayon was also used. The pile slopes slightly to emphasise the sheen of the yarn and create a lustrous surface to the cloth. Used for clothing and as a furnishing.

viscose rayon
See rayon.



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