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Textile vocabulary to become a fashion expert

Do you love fashion but sometimes get lost in all the words ? Or have you ever gone shopping and wondered what “viscose” is ? Well you have found the perfect article ! Here is a guide which will help you understand the basics of fabrics, materials, weaving, knitting and so on : a necessary step to become an expert at knowing what your clothes are made of.

The main thing that you need to note — and that we will explain — is the difference between all of the following words : fibre, fabric, structure, weaving and knitting.


The very first step of garment creation is fibre : everything comes from this raw material. It can have its origin in natural, vegetal resources or can also be synthetically created, since the 1940’s.

Fibres are thin filaments that are then spun : fibre spinning is the action of twisting the strands together to form yarn (or thread). We wrote an article about fashion tools evolutions : the first spinning wheels were invented in India between 500 and 1000 AD.

Since nothing speaks more than examples, I will give you one. Cotton is actually a fibre, not a fabric (even if most people think it is, through misuse of language) : it grows in fields and is then harvested in the form of seeds. Cotton gins are machines that separate seeds from the fibres that they contain. After this step, the cotton fibres are spun thanks to a spinning machine which creates cotton yarn.

Once the fibres are spun to create yarn, it can be transformed to make fabric.

Cotton spinning machine (source : gildancorp.com)


The step following the state of fibre is fabric : fabrics are textiles. They are the step right before garment making. Now there are different types of fabrics, and most importantly, different ways to name them : this is why everything is so confusing. Some are named by the fibre that they are made of (such as cotton, mentioned above) and others are called by the way they are structured.

Structure of the fabric is an important notion to grasp. Structure is the way of entangling the thread to make the textile. There are two notorious ways to make fabric : weaving and knitting.

  • WEAVING (“tissage” in French)

Weaving is the action of criss-crossing the threads in order to make fabric. By “criss-cross” we mean that there are lines of vertical threads, called warp (“chaîne” in French) and lines of horizontal threads, called weft (“trame” in French). The horizontal threads alternate between going over and under the vertical threads. For this, the best is to use a loom (“métier à tisser” in French) : a machine which holds the warp in place and weaves the weft around.

Woven fabrics have a perpendicular texture if you look close and are not very stretchable.

  • KNITTING (“tricotage” in French)

Knitting is a fabric structure which involves running the threads parallel to one another (instead of perpendicular as for weaving). The threads are called bights (“boucle” in French) and form loops, which makes woven fabrics very stretchy.

Note that the word “knit” comes from “knot” since all of the repeated loops create rows of tiny knots.

In order to fully understand the difference between weaving and knitting, here is an illustration which displays these 2 ways of running the threads.

The difference between weaving (A) and knitting (B) (source : advances.sciencemag.org)


Now that you have read about the different steps of textile creation, going from fibre to fabric, here is a list of common materials and their origins. This can really be of use since it is difficult to know if a fabric is named after its fibre or after its structure.

  • Cashmere : fibre obtained from the wool of cashmere goats.
  • Chiffon (“mousseline” in French) : category of woven fabrics, mostly thin and sheer. Chiffon can be made of silk, cotton, nylon or polyester fibres.
  • Cotton : now you know, cotton is a fibre.
  • Crepe : way of weaving the fabric. It has a crisp effect and the fibres can be silk, wool or any synthetic.
  • Denim : woven fabric in which the weft passes under 2 or more warp threads, which gives it this thickness. It is made of cotton fibres.
  • Jersey : very common way of knitting fabrics. Regularly used with cotton, wool or synthetic fibres.
  • Lace : way of knitting in various shapes to obtain fine details and patterns. It is usually made with linen, silk or cotton fibres.
  • Linen : fibre coming from flax plants.
  • Lycra (also known as spandex) : synthetic fibre.
  • Nylon : synthetic fibre.
  • Polyester : fibre, which is synthetically made from mostly fossil fuels and sometimes organic sources.
  • Rayon : purified cellulose fibre, coming from wood or other agricultural products. It is also called artificial silk since the fibres are natural but it needs chemical intervention.
  • Satin : woven fabric in which the weft ignores (meaning it does not go under) three or more warp threads, which gives it this soft effect.
  • Silk : natural fibre which can be found in some insect cocoons.
  • Twill : way of weaving thread, making the weft go over more than one warp thread. Depending on how many warp threads it goes over, the twill can be thicker.
  • Velvet : woven on a loom with 2 thicknesses at the same time. The 2 pieces are then cut which creates this tufted, thick effect. It can be made from either natural or synthetic fibres.
  • Viscose : type of rayon fabric composed of natural fibre but chemically made.
  • Wool : natural fibre obtained from animal fur.

We hope that this article interested and helped you : you are now on your way to becoming a fashion expert !

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