The Dictionary of Fabrics and Its Origins

Dictionary of Fabrics

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When compiling a dictionary of fabrics, regardless of whether these are made of wool, cotton, linen or some other precious or refined material, it is useful to start with the weaving techniques so as to better understand the weave at the base of each fabric’s frame. 

Where a Fabric Begins: The Weave

The most frequent and famous weave is the plain weave, which is obtained by criss-crossing weft and warp yarns. It can be represented as a checkerboard, where the weft of the fabric is made up of the black squares and the warp of the white squares that interlace. The face and the back of a plain weave fabric are the same.

The even-sided twill is the most common weave used for men’s clothing fabrics. The resulting fabrics have the same face and back with a typically diagonal effect, and are particularly flexible and elastic. Grisaille, houndstooth, Glen plaid and many other types of fabric are made with the even-sided twill weave.

The warp-faced twill is characterised by diagonal lines with the face of the fabric different from the back. One side of the fabric shows more warps, while the other side shows more wefts. In fact, on one side of the fabric, the warp yarns pass twice over and once under the weft, while the opposite occurs on the other side.

The satin weave is characterised by the fact that the woven threads do not create diagonal lines but distant and regularly distributed points. On one side of the fabric you can see a weft effect because there are almost exclusively weft threads, on the other side, warp. The most common are 5 and 8-harness satin weaves, in which the fill yarn interlaces under the last warp yarn out of every five, or eight.

Dictionary of Fabrics

The Main Fabrics for Clothing

Having established the position of the weft and the warp threads, the next step is to review some of the most popular fabrics among the clientele of tailors, both men and women.

Bouclé fabric, from the French verb boucler, to curl, is a medium-weight, winter fabric, generally made from carded yarn, characterized by the presence of curls that create small knots or rings. Due to the structure of the yarn, this fabric has an irregular and wavy surface. Bouclé jackets are a statement from 1950s fashion.

Cool wool is obtained by weaving very twisted yarns of the best quality in a rather loose and open weft weave. Light and difficult to crease, it is suitable for the production of summer or mid-season garments, such as women’s suits and men’s business suits.

Gabardine fabric is resistant and tightly woven with a diagonal optical effect. It can be woven from natural fibres, such as wool and cotton, usually of a medium weight. It is therefore ideal for making dresses, suits, skirts or trousers.

The French name for houndstooth, pied-de-poule, derives from the French expression meaning hens feet, probably because its irregular checked pattern recalls this shape. Usually produced in two colours to enhance the contrast, it became popular in the 19th century for tailoring jackets, skirts and trousers.

The term pinstripe was coined to indicate a wide range of striped fabrics. Originally, pinstripe fabric was dark in colour, crossed by a thin vertical line of a contrasting light colour. The width of these lines has varied over the years, going from a simple linear, pencil-like stroke to a much wider and fuller stroke.

The last term in this brief overview is gingham. These striped, check or plaid patterns, varying in size and colour, are used for the creation of countless types of fabric. Suitable for every season, they give the fabric a sporty, leisure look. Fabrics belonging to this family are widely used for informal menswear.

This brief piece set out to illustrate a series of weaves and fabrics used in design and fashion, selected on the basis of their graphic value and characteristics of use.

For more detailed information, please refer to the full article “The dictionary of fabrics according to Carnet” on Carnet a respected source in the field of fabrics.