Identification of Fabrics
ICOM Costume Committee board member
The main techniques of fabric construction are
Lacemaking, not fitting into this pattern, is examined separately
Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger: Systematik der Textilen Techniken. Basel 1991 (Basler Beiträge zur Ethnologie Bd.32) – English edition: Textile: a classification of technique. Washington 1994 (It is about all things you may do to connect threads)
Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier, Bernard Berthod, Martine Chavent-Fusaro: Les Etoffes. Dictionnaire historique. Paris 1994 (Very solid and readable at the same time, many English terms as well)
Irene Emery: The primary structure of Fabrics, London 1994, 3rd edition
And don’t forget a magnifying glass for looking at your fabric; it need not necessarily be a linen tester.
Felting and Fleecemaking
Felting is supposed to be the oldest way of producing a fabric, matting, condensing and pressing fibres, generally wool, or wool and hair and today synthetic fibres as well.
Every woven fabric / tissue consists of at least two systems of threads, the warp ends, a set of lengthwise yarns, fixed to a frame or loom and the weft, the yarn that is inserted over-and-under the warp threads.
Plain weave or tabby – Binding system of weave based on a unit of two ends and two picks, in which each end passes over one and under one pick, the points of binding being set over one end on successive picks.
Extended tabbies are tabbies, where two or more ends or weft threads move together as one:
Twill weave binding system or weave based on a unit of three or more ends and three or more picks, in which each end passes over two or more adjacent picks and under the next one or more or under two or more adjacent picks and over the next one or more. The points of binding are set over by one end, always in the same direction, on successive picks forming diagonal lines.
Satin weave – binding system or weave based on a unit of four or more ends, and a number of picks equal to, or a multiple of, the number of ends. Each end either passes over four or more adjacent picks and under the next one or passes under four or more adjacent picks and over the next one. The points of binding are set over two or more ends on successive picks.
Gauze – to get a fabric which is stable and at the same time transparent, doup weft threads are carried alternatively to the right or the left of fixed ends. There are many variations according to the complexity of the movements made by the doup ends in relation of the fixed end.
Plain weave is the most common way to interlace warp and weft and has other names as well: tabby weave, linen weave and taffeta weave. It is the simplest type of weave.
Tissues in plain weave have different names, varying with history and country, the use of different types of fibres, varying thickness of warp or weft, changing warp density or subsequent treatment etc.
Some of the tissues produced with plain weave are:
Quite a lot of fabrics have twill weave, see some examples:
Satin is very supple as two weave points never touch one another, the material is silk or synthetic fibre. Sateen uses the same weave, the material used is cotton. Charmeuse is a very light satin, once only made of silk, mostly used for underwear. Damask is a reversible figured fabric; the pattern of it being formed by the contrast of binding systems. By extension it may be produced with two distinct binding systems.
Cheesecloth of cotton and very loosely woven is the main use for Gauze, it is used for medical purposes, but in the 1960s and 70s for shirts as well. Gauze weave is often used in combination with other weaves just as another pattern. Gauze has been used since the Renaissance as a kind of filet ground for stitching.
These comprise quite a lot of very different types of weave. Among them count:
Dobby weaves with small rectangular patterns, giving a certain relief and volume to the fabric
|Piquet is a typical dobby weave|
|Waffle cloth or waffle piquet are excellent water absorbers|
Brocade using different types of yarn, even metal ones, to produce a pattern all over the width (lancé) or just partially (broché). As the looms producing these fabrics are governed by a jacquard machine many of these very different fabrics are often just called Jacquard.
|Brocade patterned by hand|
|Brocade with metal threads|
|Double face has two different sides, connected by a special weft binding the two sides|
Sometimes it is just the finish and not the type of weave that is expressed by the name of the fabric
Flannel, for example, is a soft woven fabric, or plain weave or twill. It was originally made from carded wool or worsted yarn, but is now often made from either wool, cotton or synthetic fibre. Flannel may be brushed to create extra softness or remain unbrushed. The brushing process is a mechanical process where a fine metal brush rubs the fabric to create fine fibres from the loosely spun yarn
If you are not sure how to identify a fabric, just describe what you see and feel. “Material not identified, looking like…” is already quite useful, especially if accompanied by some photography. This is all the more important, as there is no internationally accepteduniform wording. The same fabric may have different names in U.S.A. and U.K or Australia, or you find different definitions for the same fabric as commercial terminology is not consistent: Duck for example is partly described as a synonym to canvas with plain balanced weave, partly as a fabric with louisine weave.
Knitting creates a fabric by intertwining consecutive rows of loops (stiches) either by hand or by machine. They are increasingly important as they offer more elasticity than woven fabrics
Knitting with one running thread producing one mesh after another is the traditional type of knitting, which may be made by hand as well as by machine.
The most common pattern is the stocking stich, knitting on the right side and purling on the other one. If you knit in the round it is only knit stiches.
|Single jersey is the simplest knit|
|Norway pattern with floating threads is weft knitted|
|Interlock has a more complicated structure and shows two right sides. The threads change constantly from the front to the back side.|
The yarn may also zigzag along the length of the fabric, requiring a number of separate strands of yarn ("ends") equal to the number of stitches in a row.
|Tricot is the best known fabric produced this way. Whereas the right side has fine lengthwise rows, the other side has crosswise stiches|
With Raschel knitting machines, a wide variety of fabrics is produced and a wide variety of yarns may be used. The best knows examples are laces.