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Glossary

This is a glossary for people who design, produce and sell textiles, for those who collect, use and enjoy textiles. It sets out to avoid too much technical jargon and will help students, producers, retailers and consumers alike and stimulate their interest in textiles.

The worldwide textile industry is second only in size to agriculture and over the centuries has developed a vast array of regional and international technology and terminology. The origin of many terms in the textile industry are obscure and often, to the layman, quite mystifying. Words we use in daily life like, cop, cheese, cake, hat, beam, card, dolly, sley and nap have a different meaning in the world of textiles. It could be said that it has a language of its own.

Many words, which have contributed to our international language of textiles, derive from traditional textiles produced in the developing world, such as muslin, batik, bandhana, calico, shawl, dungaree, khaki and seersucker. While terms like bunting, ribbon, denim, damask, corduroy, duck, plush, shoddy, paisley, stuff and gingham have come from countries across Europe where textile production was an important part of the local economy.

The history of textiles reveals that specialised trades and industry required particular types of fabric, often contributing to the manufacture other products, like cheese cloth or butter muslin. Trade names or chemical names have been given to specialised fibres, fabrics, dyes and finishes and are now often used in addition to or instead of traditional terms. The consumer is now fully informed of the fibre content of a cloth or clothing and words like as polyester or nylon or Tencel or Lycra or acetate appear regularly on garment labels. In recent years the use of natural fibres in textiles has increased and in addition to wool, cotton, silk, sisal or coir we now see words like hemp, organic, bast, ramie or sunn.

Whatever the source of the word, as consumers we have become more familiar with the fibre content and finish of the cloths we purchase. Mercerized, stone-washed, dry-clean only, crease-resistant, do not wash, guaranteed to bleed, brushed, dye-fast, fire-proof, Sanforized, are common enough phrases we see on labels. Trademarks too have provided us with additional information about a particular fabric and, in a way guarantee our purchase, such as the Woolmark on pure wool cloths or the Orb mark on Harris Tweed.

The design and development of new fabrics has, over the centuries, provided consumers with new words. The invention of a machine for weaving complex patterns by Monsieur Jacquard, for example, gave designers enormous scope. The development of new dyestuffs has given us brighter, more permanent colours. While dyeing and printing techniques develop at a rapid rate.

by Martin Hardingham ©