Brigitte Herrbach-Schmidt

ICOM Costume Committee board memberfab


The main techniques of fabric construction are

Lacemaking, not fitting into this pattern, is examined separately


Read more

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

See also

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.

If the fibres are connected by some kind of solution and not by matting, the product is called fleece , or nonwoven fabric.


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.

There are many ways to do this crossing of threads, the most common ones are:

I. Weave with one warp and ONE? weft system

II. Weave with two and more weft systems


I. Weave with one warp and ONE? weft system

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 - fabrics

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:


Twill weave - fabrics

Quite a lot of fabrics have twill weave, see some examples:


Satin weave - fabrics


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.


Gauze - fabrics



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.




II. Weave with two and more weft systems

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

II 7.1  Piquet
 Piquet is a typical dobby weave
 II 7.2 Wafflepiquet  Waffle cloth or waffle piquet are excellent water absorbers


Pile fabrics

Z 19 velvet Pile fabrics are three-dimensional by the threads inserted vertically
II 7.3 1 Velvet Velvet is produced by adding an additional warp (or an additional weft), which is cut after weaving.
II 7.3 2 silk velvet Silk velvet
II 7.3 7 Corduroy Corduroy shows velvet wales in different breadths
II 7.3 17 Manchester Manchester is a heavy corduroy with broad wales
II 7.3 27 Terrycloth Terrycloth usually keeps the loops uncut – used to be of cotton


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.

II 7.7 Brocade Brocade patterned by hand
 II 7.9 Brocade  Brocade with metal threads
II 7.15 Double face 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

II 7.20 FlannelFlannel, 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


Weft-knitted fabric


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.

III 1.11 single jersey 2 Single jersey is the simplest knit
 III 1.25 Norway pattern  Norway pattern with floating threads is weft knitted
 III 1.20 Interlock-a Interlock has a more complicated structure and shows two right sides. The threads change constantly from the front to the back side.


Warp-knitted fabric


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.

 III 2.1 Tricot 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.

See more:

Know your Knits from Threads Magazine