So we've been around for a while, you and I. We know our fabrics. I mean, we know what velvet is, right? That's a woven tufted fabric where the threads are cut into a short dense pile. No problem. And we know what Boucl is. A, well, it's a... wait a minute. Let's pick something else. Brocade. That's an easy one. Brocade means, um, well... Hmmm.
Maybe a little refresher course is in order.
Poking around the internet, looking for different types of fabrics, we stopped counting at about 250. Some really familiar and some that might have been in Martian. Trouble is, when we looked closely at the ones we thought we knew everything about, turns out we didn't. Maybe you're that way, too.
But we deal with fabrics a lot - in our clothes, our linens, our furniture. So we need to know what we're really talking about when we hear words like "chenille," and "damask," and "gabardine." And trust us, those are some of the easy ones.
So let's see what those words really mean. Because I don't like asking questions like "Ikat? What is an Ikat?" And seeing the salesperson's patronizing smile. So Boucl up. Here we go.
Alpaca. Basically made from the hair of Alpaca sheep, a member of the llama family. Called Alpaca fleece, it's lustrous, silky, and hypoallergenic. It's sometimes used in bed quilts and furniture upholstery, as well as in clothing.
Angora, on the other hand, is from the fur of Angora rabbits. We don't quite know how we feel about this, but it is what it is. It's soft, silky, fluffy, and is warmer and lighter than a number of other fabrics, including wool. Because it comes from the Angora rabbit, It can be confused with Mohair, which comes from the Angora goat. Mohair is prized for its high luster, sheen, resilience and durability.
Bamboo. Bamboo fabric is made from the pulp of the bamboo grass. It's growing in popularity because it's light and strong, has excellent wicking properties, and is to some extent antibacterial. You'll find it in quilts and upholstered furniture, as well as in clothing.
Batik. Okay, so this isn't technically a fabric, but we need to know. It's a way of dyeing fabric by covering some areas with wax to keep the dyes from penetrating the cloth, making multicolored and blended effects. This can be repeated over and over until the pattern is complete.
Boucle. Oh, yeah. Now we remember. It's a knit or woven fabric using curls or loops to create a looped, knotted surface. It's often used in sweaters, vests, and coats, and we see it from time to time on a classy chair or sofa.
Brocade. This is a heavy jacquard-type fabric with an all-over raised pattern or floral design. We see it a lot in upholstery, draperies, handbags and evening wear. Uh, but what's a jacquard? We'll get into that in a minute.
Burlap. Here's a real easy one. Burlap's simply a loosely constructed, heavyweight, plain weave fabric usually made of jute or sisal. It has a rough, uneven surface, and is used a lot in draperies, as well as in clothes and some upholstery. By the way, "plain weave" is a simple way of creating fabric by weaving yarn in a "tic tac toe" pattern.
Calico, is a tightly-woven cotton type fabric with an all-over print, usually a small floral pattern on a contrasting background color.
Cashmere. We all know cashmere comes from the Kashmir goat, don't we? Used anywhere the maker wants a luxurious, warm, soft material. In clothes, bedding, furniture, etc., etc.
Chambray. This is a plain woven fabric made from a variety of natural and manmade fibers, most commonly cotton. It ordinarily has a blue background with random white accents.
Chenille. From the French word for caterpillar, which it supposedly resembles, this soft fabric is created by placing short lengths of yarn between two other "core" yarns and twisting them together. In the late 1990's a faux chenille was introduced, in which the fabric is applied to a backing for use in quilts, upholstery, and some clothing. Nice, but the caterpillars are gone.
Chantilly lace. We don't run into this often, but we really like saying the name. Chantilly is created by embroidering thread and ribbon to create floral designs, then applying them to a lace background. The pattern traditionally has areas of differing density, and may be outlined with heavier cords or threads.
Chiffon. This is a lightweight, extremely sheer and airy fabric, made of highly twisted fibers.
Chintz. The name given originally to polished or glazed cloth from India, printed with colorful flowers and other patterns. Today's chintz is a woven fabric that's been glazed to give it a polished look. Once popular in clothing, most chintz is now found in drapes and upholstery.
Crewel. A true crewel fabric is embroidered with crewel yarn (a loosely twisted, two-ply wool) on a plain weave fabric, hand-woven and embroidered in India with a design typically showing flowers, vines, and leaves. Modern technology is able to create traditional "crewel" looks with weave effects alone, without the use of embroidery.
Damask. A glossy jacquard-type fabric (there's that word again; be patient) with flat and reversible patterns, all one color. Used extensively in draperies, curtains, bed and table linens, and upholstery.
Gabardine, is a wrinkle-resistant worsted (meaning the yarn is smooth, with no nap) twill weave (woven so it has a pattern of diagonal parallel ridges). Most commonly made of wool, and found lots of places.
Gingham. A medium weight, plain weave fabric with a plaid or check pattern. Can be made of a wide variety of materials, and is most commonly used for dresses, shirts, and curtains.
Ikat. Somewhat like Batik, Ikat is made by tightly wrapping bundles of yarn in a desired pattern before dying. This process can be repeated until the pattern is complete. Then the bindings are removed and the yarn is woven into cloth. Seen in clothes, pillows, quilts and bedspreads, upholstered furniture, and many other places.
Jacquard. Yay! Here it is. This fabric is made with a special Jacquard attachment on the loom, which gives the weaver individual control of each of the yarns. In this way, all types of yarns can be used, and fabrics of almost any type or complexity can be made. Jacquard woven fabrics include brocades and damasks, among others.
Lame, is a woven or knit fabric containing ribbons of metallic yarns, commonly silver or gold, to create either the design or the background in the fabric. It's quite delicate, so is rarely used in clothing or upholstery.
Microfiber. A kind of miracle cloth, microfiber is made from extremely fine synthetic fibers that are only about one-sixth the diameter of a human hair. The shape, size, and combinations of synthetic fibers are chosen for their specific characteristics. They are then woven into textiles with the texture and drape of natural-fiber cloth but with enhanced softness, toughness, absorption, water repellency, electrostatic properties, cleanability, and/or breathability. Used literally everywhere.
Paisley. Named for early Persian designs using as their motif a tear-drop shaped vegetable called the boteh. That motif is still apparent in today's paisley designs, which are colorful fancy printed patterns, used in everything from clothing to bedding to curtains to sofas.
Pique. A medium-weight cotton or cotton blend fabric with a pebbly weave that looks almost like a check. Used in clothing for vests, jackets and fitted blouses, in children's clothes, and in upholstered furniture.
Toile. From the French word meaning "canvas," toile traditionally is a white or off-white background with a repeating pattern showing a fairly complex, usually pastoral, scene such as a couple having a picnic by a lake or an arrangement of flowers.
Velour. Usually with a knitted back, soft and furry velour resembles velvet, but has some stretch. Used in clothing for tops and sportswear like pants and jackets, in quilts and bedspreads, and in upholstered furniture. Costumes in the early "Star Trek" episodes were made of velour, giving it a big popularity blast.
For more fun facts about designer fabrics, furniture and decorating ideas, visit: The Fashion Report, on Mathis Brothers Furniture website.