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Part 4: Fabric glossary

When you go to a fabric store, there are rolls of fabric displayed, as far as the eye can see. The back of your pattern envelope has a list of suggested fabrics. Many fabrics can look alike but have very different properties, which makes a huge impact on the finished project. There are basically two categories of fabrics: Woven and Knit.

Woven fabrics are created by two sets of threads, one set running the length of the fabric, the other running across the width. These two sets of threads are intertwined together in different weaving patterns, forming fabrics with various surface effects. Woven fabrics have little or no stretch to them, but are very stable to work with.

Knit fabrics are created by looping a single thread around itself in a specific pattern, forming a piece of stretchy fabric. Since the fabric is created in this way, it doesn’t fray when cut, which makes finishing the edges unnecessary.

There are many types of Woven and Knit fabrics available, with different looks, weights and characteristics, suitable for various end uses. To help guide you we created a handy Fabric Glossary.

There are many types of Woven and Knit fabrics available, with different looks, weights and characteristics, suitable for various end uses. To help guide you we created a handy Fabric Glossary.


Brocade is a mid to heavyweight fabric that has several coloured threads woven together to create a decorative patterns, usually floral or Asian-inspired. Brocade often has metallic threads mixed in, as well as a more pronounced surface textured. Damask is similar to brocade in the way that it is woven, but while brocade is woven from silk, rayon and metallic threads, damask is woven primarily from cotton threads. Both of these fabrics make fabulous jackets, skirts, dresses, but brocade if more often chosen for evening looks, while damask is used more for day.


Chiffon is an ultra-lightweight, ultra-sheer fabric woven from very fine threads. Because it is so lightweight, chiffon is extremely drapey and has a slick, smooth surface. Georgette is similar to chiffon, but is less sheer and often has a little more weight to it, I tis still at least semi-transparent and also has a lot of drape. These are a little more difficult to work with, but make beautiful blouses, shawls and special occasion wear.


Corduroy is a woven fabric with a soft brushed surface that forms a vertically-striped texture. These vertical stripes are called wales. Lightweight corduroys that have narrow stripes are referred to as narrow wale of fine wale corduroys, and are perfect for shirts, skirts and dresses. Heaver weight corduroys with wide stripes are referred to as wide wale corduroys, and are suitable for pants, jackets and home décor.


Crepe is a woven fabric that has a light pebbly or sandy texture to it. Crepe also has a lot of drape which means it’s not a stiff or crisp fabric. It can be woven from silk, wool, rayon, polyester or a blend and comes in several weights. Lightweight crepe creates beautiful feminine blouses and tops, while mid to heavyweight crepe is perfect for suiting.


Eyelet is a lightweight cotton woven fabric that has holes punched into it, with embroidery that finishes the edges of the holes and also creates an overall pattern. The embroidery can be the same colour as the cotton fabric, for a tone-on-tone look, or can be different for a contrasting look. This fabric is great for blouses, sundresses and children’s clothes.


Flannel is a lightweight fabric that is usually woven from cotton threads, with a smooth brushed surface. This soft, machine-washable fabric is perfect for sleepwear and can also be used for shirts.


Fleece is a unique knit fabric that has a little stretch and a highly-brushed surface. This fabric is a thicker knit, with a plush soft feel on both the right and wrong sides; in fact, it’s often difficult to tell which sides of the fabric is the right and the reverse. Fleece is very easy to work with, since it’s a stable fabric that doesn’t have too much drape and the cut edges don’t ravel. Fleece is used in jackets, cold-weather accessories, throws and blankets.


Gabardine is a woven fabric whose weave forms a subtle diagonal pattern. This fabric is woven from wool or wool-blend threads and has a smooth surface. It also has a slight drape to it, not being really stiff or crisp. Gabardines are perfect for pants, skirts and suit jackets.


Gingham is a woven fabric with a smooth surface. Weaving alternating brands of white and single-coloured threads together creates the block-checked patterns. This fabric ranges from lightweight, which is suitable for shirts, blouses and sundresses, to mid or heavy weight, which works well for the table cloths, curtains and seat cushions.


Jacquard is a soft, lightweight, drapey fabric that has a design woven right in. The play of matte and shiny threads in the weave creates the pattern, which is usually floral but always tone-on-tone. Jacquard is suitable for blouses, dresses and special occasion wear.

Jersey Knit:

Jersey knit is a knit, stretchy fabric that has a smooth, even surface. This fabric comes in several different weights; tissue-weight or very lightweight Jersey Knits are great for drapey, pullover tops and dresses, while heavier weight versions are perfect for t-shirts, sleepwear and athletic wear. Jersey knits come in a variety of solid colours, or can also be printed with floral, dotted or novelty patterns.


Lace is a special fabric that begins with a woven netting. This netting is then embellished or embroidered with an openwork pattern, usual floral. This fabric is lightweight, soft and sheer, and is mostly used for special occasion or bridal wear. Lace requires special handling and almost always needs some form of lining when used in a garment for modesty.


Pique is a cotton or poly-cotton woven fabric that is crisp with an overall textured surface. Piques weaves come is several textures; some look like a basket weave, others look more like a honeycomb. Piques usually come in light or medium weights and are great for dresses and separates.


Poplin is a basic, smooth-surfaced fabric woven from cotton or poly-cotton threads. It comes in several weights and is one of the most versatile fabrics available. Poplin is often the base fabric for prints and plaids, and is suitable for everything from clothing to home décor.


Satin is a woven fabric that has a shiny, slick surface. The reverse side of satin is usually matte or not shiny. Satin is used mostly for special occasion dresses and bridal gowns, since it is a tight woven fabric that can hold structured silhouettes. Charmeuse is a very lightweight woven fabric that also has a slick, shiny surface, but is extremely drapey. Charmeuse is often used for lingerie, as well as slinky evening gowns and swingy skirts.


Seersucker is a lightweight striped woven fabric with a slight puckered look. Two different types of threads are woven together in the stripe pattern; the fabric is then washed and dried, causing one type of thread to shrink and the other not, creating the permanent puckering. Seersucker is suitable for summer suiting, dresses and shirts.


Shantung is a woven fabric whose weave forms a horizontally-striped texture. Since the threads used in shantung are not perfectly smooth, there are little nubs woven into the fabric, adding even more texture. Shantung is mostly woven of ilk threads, giving it almost a glowing look. Being tightly woven, this fabric has a crisp feel to it, making it ideal for ball gowns, bridal looks and gathered skirts and little girls’ party dresses.


Taffeta is a very crisp, crunchy woven fabric that has a slick surface and has a slight sheen that is often iridescent. It is usually woven from silk, polyester or a blend of the two and used in special occasion wear, especially bridal gowns or little girls’ party dresses. Because of its crisp nature, taffeta looks best when gathered up in full skirts or sleeves.


Twill is a woven fabric whose weave forms a subtle diagonal pattern. It is usually medium to heavy weight, and is suitable for dresses, pants and skirts. When woven in heavy-weight cotton, it becomes Denim, which is of course perfect for pants and skirts.


A luxurious pile fabric woven with an extra set of warp yarns, resulting in a rich, plush surface. It varies in weight and drape and is available in silk, rayon, cotton, polyester, acetate and various blends of the above. Silk and rayon velvets tend to have a softer hand and more drape than those made from other fibres. Velvet crushes easily and wrinkles can be difficult to remove.

Velveteen is similar to velvet but more durable and easier to work with and car for. It has a short pile. The surface tends towards the dull side and the hand tends to be a bit stiffer than that of velvet.

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