Fabric Glossary

Welcome to the Whaleys Fabric Glossary — your go-to resource for understanding the diverse world of fabrics and textile terminology. Whether you are a seasoned designer, a student delving into the heart of textiles, or a DIY hobbyist, our glossary is designed to help you navigate the vibrant yet intricate landscape of fabrics with ease and confidence.


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A manufactured fibre formed by a compound of cellulose. It resists shrinkage, moths and mildew, but is not a strong fabric as it breaks easily and has poor resistance to abrasion. It has a soft crisp feel and a lustrous face. 


A manufactured fibre that has a soft, wool-like feel, and uneven finish. The fibres create a strong weave that is machine washable, dryable and resists shrinkage.

Aqua film

A traditional water-soluble embroidery stabiliser. Clear dense film. Cold water soluble (lukewarm is ideal).




A natural sustainable fibre, which is absorbent and breathable. Bamboo’s strength lends excellent durability to a fabric.


Originally made of wool or silk, now often a man-made fabric.  Although rough in appearance it is smooth to touch.  A fine woven fabric with a broken rib pattern.


A soft, thick, slightly textured fabric, so named because of its rough surface resembling that of tree bark.


An extremely fine, semi-sheer, lightweight, and plain weave fabric. It is almost transparent and is usually made of cotton or cotton blends. In the UK this is more commonly known as lawn


Diagonal direction of the fabric. True bias is at a 45% angle to the grainline.


A substance or object capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution.


Blackout fabrics are triple-layered with a central black layer to completely block out light. The outer layers provide the style and colour.


To remove natural or applied colour or impurities from yarn or fabric by a chemical treatment.


The combining of two or more different fibres in the same yarn or cloth.

Blocking Net

A simple mesh weave that can be moulded, perfect for the foundation of hats. 


A soft net, ideal for veiling.

Bolton Twill

A traditional style woven cloth that has a pattern of diagonal ribs.  It can be used as a dimout fabric, as either a face fabric or lining.  Ideal for use as stage curtains.


A high-quality Australian Wool from Botany Bay.


An irregular slubbed yarn made usually of silk waste. A rough and uneven appearance when woven.


A hairy surface produced by brushing some of the cloth fibres with a wire brush or teasel.  (See Raised).


A stiffened jute, used for commercial pelmets and tie backs.



Calico is a plain weave cotton material that is unbleached and still retains some of the natural vegetable matter normally extracted in the manufacturing process. 


A plain weave fabric with a slightly glossy surface.


Canvas is a heavy-duty, close, plain weave fabric.  Can be woven from several different fibres, including cotton, linen or manmade fibres.


Made from the soft undercoat of the Cashmere goat. Cashmere is a lightweight and luxurious fabric.

Chapa Silk

Chapa Silk is woven from the fibres of wild silkworms; the slubbed and unevenly spun yarns make a coarse weave, which, in its natural-coloured state with the impurities left in, shows an array of tones from off-white to brown.


A satin weave fabric with a dull back and a fairly shiny right side.  It can be made from silk, cotton or viscose and is often used for lingerie or soft evening dresses.


A loosely woven plain weave.  Soft, inexpensive and is popular for use in the culinary world for straining.


A lightweight sheer airy fabric.


A plain weave fabric with a glazed/shiny surface on one side.


Coated Fabrics are finished or coated with substances to prepare them for either printing or to make them waterproof etc.

Collar interlining

A sturdy interlining is placed between two pieces of cloth, which gives the collar its stiffness and strength

Corn fabric

A strong, fine, lightweight fabric. It is an eco-friendly substitute for polyester and nylon combinations. The fabric is also better than synthetics in resistance to UV light and is also naturally flame retardant.


Made from the soft fibres that grow around the seeds of the cotton plant. The fibres are spun into yarns to create comfortable, breathable, machine-washable fabrics.


A ticking-woven cloth is used for more structured projects such as corsets and mattresses. 


Crepe is a lightweight fabric made of synthetic or natural fibres that are twisted to give a slightly crinkled texture. Can be produced in several weights and has a dull coarse feel.

Crepe-back Satin

A reversible fabric with a satin face and a crepe back.  Can be used for dresses, blouses and evening wear.

Crepe de Chine

Crepe de Chine is a soft opaque lightweight fabric with highly twisted yarns, and has a beautiful drape with a crepe surface.


A loosely woven silk organdie, used as a backing support for fragile textiles.


A stiff, lightweight mesh is used to create volume under large skirts.


A fabric either woven with pleats or treated to have that “wrinkled” look. 



A crisp, closely woven, twill weave fabric originally made of pure cotton, named after the French town ‘Nimes’ where it originated.  


Devoré, (also called burnout) is a fabric technique particularly used on velvets. A mixed-fibre material undergoes a chemical process to dissolve the cellulose fibres to create a semi-transparent pattern against more solidly woven fabric.

Digital Printing

Digital Textile Printing is a process of printing on textiles and garments using inkjet technology to print colour onto fabric.  The fabrics used in this process must be coated with a substance specifically to enable digital printing.


Discharge printing, also called Extract Printing.  A method of applying a design to dyed fabric by printing a colour-destroying agent to bleach out a white or light pattern on the darker coloured background.


Dissolvable or water-soluble fabric is traditionally used in commercial machine embroidery to prevent stitches from sinking into high-pile fabrics like towels and fleece.  It can be dissolved in cold or hot water depending on the fabric you choose.


A plain, lighter-weight fabric that has been heavily brushed.  It can be used as an interlining between the lining and face fabric of both curtains and blinds

Double Faced

Double-face is one layer of fabric with two right sides. It is created by weaving together two layers of fabric on specially designed looms. The final double-face fabric enables the creation of clothes that do not need lining.


A silk fabric made from a double strand of silk is produced when two silkworms spin a cocoon together.  This creates a thicker, more uneven and irregular yarn and fabric.


A tightly woven cotton, specifically designed for Down Feather Duvets or Down Pillows. The tight weave helps prevent the down and feathers from pushing through.


A sturdy, durable, twill weave fabric of medium weight.  Usually made from cotton/cotton blends.


Duck fabric is a closely woven, heavyweight, durable fabric.


Produced using fine yarn in the warp and uneven yarn reeled from two or more entangled cocoons in the weft. This creates a tightly woven fabric with a highly lustrous, crisp finish.



These fabrics are readily available from nature, are not processed with harmful chemicals or toxins and will biodegrade, making them friendly to the planet.


Known for its excellent elongation and almost instantaneous recovery, adding stretch, comfort, fit and control to any garment.



A silk or man-made fibre fabric with flat ribs.  Faille is softer than grosgrain, with heavier and wider cords or ribs.  Weft yarns are heavier than warp.  


A non-woven fabric where the fibres are pressed, matted, and condensed together to form a compact material. It comes in varying weights and thicknesses, and because it has no grain, felt can be cut in any direction, and does not fray.

Flame Retardant

Fabrics can be treated with a flame-retardant coating, this gives the fabric the ability to delay or hold back the flame, reducing fire hazards. 

Some fabrics are inherently flameproofed like Wool, which is considered the most fire-retardant natural fibre.  It is difficult to ignite and may extinguish smaller flames on its own.  It can resist flames longer than either cotton or linen.  

Modacrylic fibres are flame-resistant synthetic copolymers that are inherently flame-resistant. Because modacrylics provide FR protection at a relatively low density, inherent fabrics made from these fibres offer a lightweight solution without losing durability.


A plain weave fabric of medium weight, usually made of either cotton, viscose, wool, or a wool blend with a napped finish.


A vegetable fibre obtained from the stem of the flax plant.  Flax refers to the raw material stage and becomes linen at the spinning stage.


Made from a wide variety of fibres with an especially deep nap or pile.


A fabric which can be joined to another fabric in a fairly permanent bond through the application of heat, moisture and pressure. The fusible fabric has dots of polyamide resins on the wrong side, this is then placed on the wrong side of the outer fabric, and the heat melts the resins and fuses to the outer fabric.



A fabric made from a wide variety of fibres and blends which has a close, firm, twill weave, creating a diagonal pattern.


A thin, sheer fabric that is quite open and woven with tightly twisted yarns.  Gauze can be made from a variety of fibres.


Georgette is a very thin, transparent, loosely woven fabric.  Yarns have a high degree of twist creating a crepe-style appearance.  Usually made of polyester or silk.


The grain of a fabric refers to the direction of the warp and weft threads used in weaving.


A heavy, ribbed fabric that is most often made out of either rayon or silk.

Grosgrain comes from the French term, “gros grain” which means “big grain”.



Silk habotai fabric is a type of plain weave silk cloth renowned for its fineness, light weight, softness, sheen and beautiful drape.

Hair Canvas

Hair Canvas is a traditional woven interfacing is used for tailoring.  It is woven with wool, goat and horse hair.

Half Panama

A woven fabric, manufactured with two warp yarns over each weft. This gives the fabric a uniform look with more surface interest than a standard square weave. 

Heatseal Paper

Used in cutting rooms to apply manually drawn patterns onto fabric.


Hemp fabric comes from the stem of the hemp plant.   It is similar to linen, jute, flax, and bamboo, all of which are obtained from plant stems. 


Named for its resemblance to the backbone of a herringfish, herringbone is a broken twill weave composed of vertical sections of diagonal lines that are alternately righthand and lefthand in direction, creating the fishbone pattern.


Hessian fabric is a plain weave fabric with a coarse texture, made from jute and vegetable fibres.



Used as a wadding/padding in tailoring shoulders in coats etc.


Interfacing is used to shape detailed areas of a garment.  It adds body, crispness and stability to garment edges, cuffs, collars, pockets and waistbands, depending on the type and weight of interfacing used.  There are several types of interfacing, woven, non-woven, knitted, sew-in and iron-on fusible.


Interlining is a layer of fabric that is intended to provide additional warmth.  Generally, a wool, brushed cotton, or non-woven polyester fleece is placed between the lining and the face fabric.



A design or motif is woven into the construction of the weave of the fabric. Jacquards come in an array of designs, from dramatic damasks to florals, stripes, chevrons or geometric patterns.


A single-knit fabric known for its stretch and softness. Because the jersey is knitted, there is a natural elasticity without using stretch fibres such as elastane.


Jute is the name of the plant this fabric is derived from.  Also known as burlap or hessian. Essentially, jute fabric is a tough, durable and rough fabric, usually used to make sacks and bags. 



A textile that results from interlocking yarn together with long needles. The knitted fabric falls into two categories: weft knitting and warp knitting.



Lawn fabric is a sheer, fine, semi-crisp, plain weave fabric generally made from cotton or blends.  It is stiffer than voile and batiste but not as crisp as organdie.


One of the oldest textiles in the world.  It is flax-based, which is strong, absorbent and comfortable to wear. Linen on its own is a crisp fabric and has no stretch or elasticity, but is often blended with made-made fibres to improve its wrinkle resistance. 


Used in a variety of sewn articles such as clothing, bags and curtains, they provide a neat finish to the inside of a garment, concealing interlinings, raw edges and padding.  Linings extend the life of a garment and can add warmth, give a smoother finish when clothing is being worn and make it easier to wear. Lining a garment helps to keep its shape and prevents the garment from stretching – a garment will hang much better if it is lined.


Loomstate is a fabric that has not undergone any finishing or treatment since it left the loom.


Invista’s registered trade name for elastane.  An extremely elastic fibre with an instant recovery when stretched.



A heavy crepe densely woven of fine silk threads. It has the pebbly surface typical of crepe fabric with a subtle sheen and drapes beautifully in elegant folds enhanced by the contrast of shine and shadow.


Mercerised is a textile finishing treatment which improves dye uptake and tear strength reduces fabric shrinkage and imparts a silk-like lustre.


A broad term for fabric characterized by open spaces between the yarns


Metallic fibre means simply a fibre that is made from metal.

While certain textiles have an inherently metallic sheen, some textiles have metallic threads woven in with other fibres.


A synthetic fabric consisting of ultra-fine fibres.  It is very soft and absorbent.

Milk Fibre

A milk protein fibre is used to create underwear, t-shirts, shirts and loungewear etc.  Comfortable to wear and takes dye well.

Millinery Net

A stiffened mesh fabric that can be moulded to make hats. 


As the name suggests this fabric looks like the fur of a mole.  It is a densely woven fabric with a brushed surface that looks like suede.


A woven fabric with a tight twill weave, raised/brushed on both sides.


A course, heavy fabric with a basket weave.


A sheer fabric, more closely woven with slightly more body than chiffon, made in a variety of fibres.


A fine, sheer fabric resembling muslin, but with a tighter weave.


A soft, thin, plain-weave fabric, often made of cotton or silk.


Muslin is a loosely woven fabric that can be produced from different fibres.  Made using the plain weave technique, which means that a single weft thread alternates over and under a single warp thread. 



Fibres are brushed up on the surface, which lie smoothly in one direction.

Examples of pile textiles are carpets, corduroy and velvet.  (See Pile).


A fusible foam interlining is used for jackets and coats.


Net or netting is any textile in which the yarns are fused, looped or knotted at their intersections, resulting in a fabric with open spaces between the yarns.


A fabric made using shorter fibres left over from the manufacture of other silk fabrics. Rather than a continuous length of silk, these short fibres are used for noil silk, which has a slightly rough texture.


The first fibre was made entirely from chemicals, initially used for hosiery.  Nylon is exceptionally strong, sheer, easy to wash and dries quickly, but tends to build up static electricity.


Optic White

This means the fabric has been washed, bleached and optically whitened.  An optic white cloth will glow under a black light.


lightweight, sheer, stiff fabric, usually made of cotton. It is characterized by a crisp and stiff feel, often achieved with a starch finish.


Organic fabric can be labelled as such if 95% of the fabric is organically created. For example, if cotton has been grown without the use of harmful pesticides and defoliants for a least three years, it can be referred to as organic. 


A crisp, lightweight, sheer fabric, traditionally made from silk.  It is a great choice for draping and is mostly used by tailors to create voluminous skirts and dresses. 



Painting canvases are made from cotton or linen fibres, that are tightly woven. This cloth would be backed or framed as a surface for painting on, i.e., an artist’s canvas. 

Paper Nylon

A technical fabric used for functional garments due to its durability and water-resistant properties. The dry paper-like quality is obtained through an advanced post-production process that compresses and stiffens the fabric.


A closely woven, medium-weight fabric that is firm and smooth.  Made from finer both carded and combed yarns.


Fibres are brushed up on the surface, which lie smoothly in one direction.

Examples of pile textiles are carpets, corduroy and velvet.  (See Nap).


A delicate, lustrous, transparent cloth made from silky pineapple fibres.   Lightweight but stiff and sheer in appearance. 


Polyester is made from acids and alcohols and can be produced in many forms.  It is fairly strong, easy to care for and resists wrinkles, stretching, shrinking, abrasion and mildew.  These qualities make it an important fibre to blend with and improve on natural fibres.


Poplin is a plain weave cotton fabric with very fine horizontal “ribs” that results in a strong, crisp fabric with a silky, lustrous surface.


Made from a blend of nylon and elastane, it has excellent stretch and recovery properties. One of the most notable properties of Powernet fabric is its compression. It has a firm and supportive feel that helps to smooth and shape the body, making it popular for use in shapewear and athletic wear.




A hairy surface is produced by brushing some of the cloth fibres with a wire brush or teasel.


A flowering plant from the nettle family. Ramie is one of the strongest natural fibres, it exhibits even greater strength when wet. Ramie fibre is known especially for its ability to hold shape, reduce wrinkling and have a silky lustre.


Also known as viscose, it is a cellulose fibre made from wood pulp and mixed with chemicals to produce a more cost-effective alternative to silk fabrics. 


Recycled fabric is made from waste material that is reprocessed into new fibres and then spun into new yarns and fabrics.


A rib fabric is produced with pronounced parallel vertical lines.



A process by which the fabric is treated to give it an even softer surface texture, almost a suede-like feel


A fabric is woven in such a way that gives it a dull sheen on the face of the fabric. Sateen can be woven using any fibre such as cotton, linen, viscose, silk and more.


Satin is a weave which produces a shine on the face of the fabric and can be woven using any fibre such as cotton, linen, viscose, silk and more.


A cleaning treatment process is used on certain textiles. It removes soluble and insoluble impurities.  It is important to use scoured fabric if you want to achieve a good even dye. 


A woven material that may be either finely woven, lightweight and translucent or coarsely woven and heavy, depending on which fibre is used to create it.  Scrim is generally made from cotton, linen or jute.


Usually made with a cotton fabric where tight-tension yarns alternate with loose-tension yarns: this special weaving process gives the fabric a ‘puckered’ surface.


A lengthwise finished edge on all woven fabrics.


A robust weave, generally made from Wool, used for uniforms and outerwear.


Originally a wild silk fabric therefore had a coarse, irregular cross-ribbed surface.  Today’s synthetics can also emulate this look.


A sturdy, plain woven, soft, lightweight cloth.  As the name suggests, sheeting fabric is often used for sheets and other bed linens.  However, bedding is not the only way that you can use sheeting fabric.


A broad term used to refer to a variety of fabrics, where the cloth is generally tightly woven, has a high thread count and is less sheer, making them an ideal weight for shirts


This means that the fabric undergoes a controlled process during manufacturing whereby the fabric is pre-shrunk.  Further shrinkage can still occur after this process; therefore, it is always best to prepare your fabric by washing it first before starting your project. 


A lightweight, smoothly finished, twilled fabric, used for garment lining, especially pockets.


Silk is a natural fibre and can be woven into a raw textured cloth, plain weaves, sandwashed finishes, fine chiffons and much more.


A generic term for elastane.  It is a synthetic fibre known for its exceptional elasticity and has an instant recovery when stretched.


A fabric that has the ability to stretch, that is, its fibres can stretch to a certain degree and then return to their original size. Stretch fabrics are expressed as “1, 2 or 4-way”.


The dye-sublimation printing process uses heat to transfer dye onto the fabric.


An imitation suede fabric that can be made from a variety of fibres.


A man-made, chemically produced cloth.  Some examples of this are polyester, acrylic and nylon.  



A crisp, plain woven, lightweight fabric, smooth to the touch with a lustrous sheen and can be made from a variety of different fibres. 

Tailoring Canvas

A canvas, (also known as interfacing) is typically made from horsehair and can be blended with cotton or synthetic material. It is the layer placed in between the facing cloth and the lining.  It is known for its stiffness and resilience, making it ideal for providing structure to garment fronts, lapels, and collars.


A sheer fabric in an open plain weave, usually heavily treated to make it stiff. Used for stiffening garments.


A tightly woven, striped fabric usually made from a heavy cotton or a cotton blend.  It is traditionally used to cover tick mattresses and bed pillows. The tight weave makes it more durable and hinders the stuffing (straw, chaff, hair, down feathers, etc.) from poking through the fabric.


A hand method of producing patterns on textiles by tying portions of the fabric so that they will not absorb the dye.


A version of a sewing pattern that you make in order to check the size and fitting of 

the garment before you cut it into your final intended fabric for the project.

Transfer Adhesive

Essentially like a ‘floating’ layer of glue on a release paper liner, used for a variety of bonding and laminating applications. 


A woven, knitted, or braided fabric made in a circular seamless form. Jersey is usually knit as a tubular fabric.


A net-like fabric that can be made from a variety of fibres. It is a sheer, delicate and lightweight material that is often used to make bridal veils, tutus and other special occasion items.


A fabric that is characterized by its diagonal weave pattern. Created by weaving warp and weft threads in a specific way, giving the fabric a distinctive and durable texture.




A soft fabric that is characterized by its dense pile of evenly cut fibres that have a smooth nap.


Viscose is a cellulose fibre made from wood pulp and mixed with chemicals to produce a more cost-effective alternative to silk fabrics. Absorbent, breathable and soft, the lighter-weight fabrics drape well, making them perfect for dressmaking.


A soft, lightweight, plain-woven fabric usually made from 100% cotton or cotton blend.  Generally used for voile drapes.



Wadding can be made from various fibres, and it is a soft material for stuffing and padding.  It is used as a layer of insulation between fabrics and is typically used in quilt making.

Warp & Weft

Warp and weft are the two basic components used in weaving to turn thread or yarn into fabric. The vertical warp yarns are held stationary in tension on a frame or loom while the horizontal weft is drawn through and inserted over and under the warp.

Water Repellent

Water Repellent fabrics are treated with a surface coating of wax, resin or silicone.  This finish will not easily be penetrated by water, usually leaving beads on the surface of the fabric rather than soaking through.  

Water Resistant

These fabrics are able to resist the penetration of water to some degree, but eventually, the water will soak through. 


A fabric made from the natural fibres of animals such as sheep, goats, rabbits, camels, and more.  Wool was the last natural fibre to be spun and woven.  It is generally woven in a plain or twill weave.


Wool yarns that have been carded and then further refined prior to spinning, produce tightly woven, smooth fabrics in a variety of constructions including gaberdines and serges.




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