Fabrics - The Victorian Era Variety

Fabrics, the Victorian era variety, can be confusing, if you are not an expert in the field. While researching Victorian era embroidery, needlework, and crafts, I continually came across fabrics I had never heard of. Now, in all honesty, I am not a seamstress or have use fabrics extensively in my sewing days. I used the normal things you'd find at any fabric store today with patterns for little girl and doll clothes. The instructions I found in my Victorian research were often quite foreign to me and I would have to stop what I was doing and find information on it so I could understand the project description better.


Since it took time away from what I was initially doing, I decided to make a "cheat sheet" of the Victorian era fabrics I found. That way I could quickly look it up, if needed. I thought this list might be of help (or interest) to you.

Here is what I have:

Please note: As I had many sources for this information, I have noted the information taken from a source dated 1892 with ♦ and the information from a 1902 source with ♦♦. Just for fun, I included the price of the material (if known).

A - B | C - D | E -G  | H - K | L - O | P - S  | T -Z

A - B

Albatross Cotton - Albatross cloth is a fabric made in imitation of a worsted fabric of the same name. It has a fleecy surface. The name is taken from the bird whose downy breast the finish of the fabric resembles. The warp is usually 28s cotton, the filling 36s cotton. It is a plain weave. Filling and warp count 48 picks per inch. The goods are finished by being burled, sheared, washed, singed, dyed, rinsed, dried, and pressed, care being taken not to press too hard. Sometimes singeing is omitted. Albatross cloth is generally in white, black, or solid colors. It is not often printed. It is light in weight, and is used for dress goods. ♦

Art Satin - Art Satin was a cotton fabric, in white only, having a satin finished surface. It was very pretty made into table squares, tidies, centerpieces, dresser scarves and toilet sets, as the soft finish made a good background for silk embroidery. It was forty inches wide, and could be had for 75 cents per yard. ♦♦

Awning - A cotton cloth used as a cover to shelter from sunrays. ♦

Banner Silk - Banner Silk was a twilled silk, made in two widths, namely, forty-four and seventy-two inches. It was designed especially for society banners, but was also used for door and window draperies when expense is no object. Priced per yard, $8.00 and $10.00. ♦♦

Bargarren Art Cloth - Bargarren Art Cloth was a fabric designed especially for "Darned" embroidery. It was made in four styles, each one having a mesh of different size and shape. The surface was honeycombed by means of the thread which was raised to form the mesh. This thread was very heavy and the weave firm, so that the largest sized embroidery linen threads could easily be darned under it. The fabric was made in pure white, cream white and colors, and was first woven eighty-eight inches wide and then shrunken to seventy-two inches, so there was no trouble with shrinkage after an article was made up. For bedspreads, dresser scarves, toilet sets, portieres and table covers there was no material that offered such possibilities for economical embroideries, as large surfaces can be covered with darned and outline work at little expense, The price varied from $1.25 to $1.60 per yard. ♦♦

Basket Silk - Basket Silk was a silk-faced material, fifty inches wide. It came in white, ecru, old rose and gray. It was woven with basket effect on the right surface; the mesh was about as pronounced as that on medium coarse huck toweling. Basket silk was fifty inches wide, and could be had for $3.00 per yard. ♦♦

Batiste - Batiste is of French origin, and is a light, transparent cloth, made from a fine quality of combed cotton yarn. There is a gradual variation in quality ranging from a comparatively coarse to a very fine fabric. The variety of qualities will suggest some idea of the utility of the fabric. Its uses are even more varied than are the qualities. The finer grades are used for dress goods and all kinds of lingerie for summer wear, etc., while the cheaper grades are used for linings in washable and non-washable shirtwaists. Batiste is woven in the gray, that is, with yarn direct from the spinning frame, with the exception that the warp yarn is well sized, in order to stand better the strain to which it is subjected during the weaving process. ♦

Bedford Cord - Bedford Cord is one of the most popular types of fabrics, the distinguishing effect being a line or cord running lengthwise of the cloth, the cord being more or less prominent. The cloth is made of cotton, or sometimes of worsted. The face effect of the Bedford cord is generally plain. Occasionally twill-faced cords are used. The cords vary in width from about one twentieth to one quarter of an inch. To get extra weight without altering the appearance of the face, extra warp yarns, termed wadding ends, are inserted between the face weave and the filling, floating at the back of the rib. When these wadding ends are coarse, they give a pronounced rounded appearance to the cord. They run from 88 to 156 picks to an inch. ♦

Bolting Silk - Bolting Silk was a fine, transparent, gauze-like material; made of finest white silk and very strong. Millers used it for bolting a certain brand of flour, hence its name. It was made in different widths, from eighteen to forty inches wide, and was a popular fabric for dainty articles for the toilet table, for doyleys, drapes, shams, curtains, and tea cloths lined with silk It could be washed, and was beautiful embroidered in either pure white or colors. Price ranged from 75 cents to $3.00 per yard. ♦♦

Bolton Sheeting - This material was a coarse, heavily twilled cotton fabric, two yards wide. It derived its name from the English town where it was first manufactured. It was sometimes called workhouse sheeting, from the fact that it is used for sheets and pillowslips in English workhouses. It was very effective when embroidered in colors with either silk or linen threads, and was much used for fancy bedspreads and dresser sets, beside portieres and sofa covers. It was cheap, costing but 50 cents a yard for the best quality, and it was a full two yards wide. ♦♦

Bourrette - Bourrette was a light weight, single cloth fabric, with two-ply cotton warp and wool or a combination of cotton and shoddy filling, made with the plain weave and in appearance a semi-rough-faced woolen fabric with fancy effects in twist scattered about it. It is used principally for ladies’ fall suitings. ♦

Buckram - Buckram is derived from Bokhara. It may be described as a coarse, glue-sized fabric, and is made of cotton, hemp, linen, or cotton and hair (coarse) yarns, usually from 10s to 25s. Made of a double cloth warp, 22s cotton, 34 picks to the inch, for the face or top fabric 1/12’s; weight from loom 2.22 ozs. per yard. Bottom fabric 1/12’s cotton; filling 1/16’s cotton; 12 picks to the inch. Weight per yard, 1.8 ounces. These fabrics depend a great deal on the finishing. The men’s wear requires less sizing on account of the hair it contains. The goods are piece dyed. Buckram is used principally for stiffening garments, and to give them shape or form. It is placed between the lining and the surface cloth of the garment in particular parts, such as the lapels, etc. It is used in the millinery trade, and is made into hats. Millinery buckram is sized two or three times. ♦


C - D

Calico takes its name from Calicut, a city in India, where cloth was first printed. The majority of inexpensive cotton fabrics are constructed on the one up, one down system, or plain weave. Calico is no exception to this rule. The printed designs on calicoes may be somewhat elaborate or they may be simple geometrical figures. In order, however, to comply with the true principles of art, such fabrics as calicoes should have but simple geometrical figures for their ornamental features.

New styles and combinations of colors are produced every month and faster and lighter color printed each season. Most of the designs for calicoes and cotton cloth printing are made in Paris. At present the steam styles are most prominent; they are the fastest and lightest to be obtained. Calico is a printed cloth, the printing being done by a printing machine which has a rotating impression cylinder on which the design has been stamped or cut out. The cloth in passing through the machine comes in contact with the impression cylinder. The cylinder revolving in a color trough takes up the color and leaves the impression of the design on the cloth. Calicoes may be seen in almost any color. The printing machine is capable of printing several colors in one design.

Calicoes, however, are usually in two colors, that is, one color for ground and the other for figure. The ground color in most cases is affected by dyeing the cloth in some solid color. After the cloth is dyed the design is printed on it. The cloth, after it comes from the loom, is singed and bleached, then sheared and brushed to take away all the lint, and then sent to the dye house. The first process there is to boil it, after which it is immersed in the dye tub.

Calicoes are usually given what may be termed a “cheap cotton dye.” By “cheap cotton dye” is meant that the colors are not fast, but will run or fade when subjected to water. After the fabric is dyed, it is given to the printer, who ornaments the face of the cloth with some geometrical design; then it is practically ready for the merchant. After printing, the cloth is dried and steamed to fix the color, afterwards soaped, washed, finished, and folded. The printing machine turns out about 400 to 800 fifty-yard pieces a day. Calico is used for inexpensive dresses, shirtwaists, wrappers, etc. ♦

Cambric - Cambric is a heavy, glazed cotton fabric with a smooth finish. It was first made in Cambrai, France. It has a plain weave and a width of thirty-six inches. Cambrics are dyed in a jig machine. After dyeing they are run through a mangle containing the sizing substance, then dried, dampened, and run through a calender machine. The glossy effect is obtained in this last finishing process. Cambric is used for shirtwaists, dress goods, etc. The finer grades are made from hard twisted cotton of good quality. ♦

Canvas - The term “canvas” is applied to heavy, plain weave cloths made with ply cotton yarn. They are used for mailbags, covering for boats, etc. ♦

Chambray - Chambray is a staple fabric of many years standing, being next in rank among cotton goods after the better grade of gingham. Chambray is a light-weight single cloth fabric that is always woven with a plain weave, and always has a white selvedge. In effect it is a cloth having but one color in the warp, and woven with a white filling, this combination producing a solid color effect, the white filling reducing any harshness of warp color in the cloth. It is composed of one warp and one filling, either all cotton, cotton and silk, or all silk. It is twenty-seven to thirty inches in width and single 30s cotton warp to single 60s silk, the count of yarn being governed by the weight per yard desired. The weight per finished yard is two to three and one-half ounces. Good colors for the warp are navy blue, dark brown, lavender, black, Nile green, etc. When made of cotton warp and filling the fabric receives a regular gingham finish. The loom width can be restored by tentering or running the goods over a machine fitted underneath with a series of coils of steam pipe. The top of this machine is fitted with an endless chain with a row of steel needles standing erect upon its face. Chains are adjusted to the width desired, and as the machine runs, both selvedges are caught by the needles and the cloth stretched to the required width. ♦

Cheese Cloth - This is a thin cotton fabric of light weight and low counts of yarn, which ranks among the cheapest in cotton goods. It is used for innumerable purposes. The bleached fabric is used for wrapping cheese and butter after they are pressed. It is also much in demand for bunting for festival occasions, light curtains, masquerade dresses, etc. When used for bunting, draperies, and the like it is usually in colors, red, blue, cream, and yellow seeming to have the greatest demand. The weave is one and one or plain weave. ♦

Chiné - Sometimes applied to glacé silk, or cotton two-toned effects. The name is French, meaning woven so as to have a mottled effect. ♦

Chintz - Printed cotton cloth, with large, many-colored designs, used for furniture covering. The Hindoo wears it as a body covering. Chintz is the Hindoo word meaning variegated. ♦

Colored Art Linen - This fabric was a recent weave, and from the beauty and durability of the colors was destined to enter largely into the field of decorative work. Art linen was fifty inches wide, and was made in all the beautiful art shades, such as dead-leaf brown, old rose, gray blue, golden brown, leaf green, ecru, nasturtium, orange and gray. It was used for covering furniture, portieres, curtains, cushion covers and table spreads, and lended itself to the lights and shades of embroidery silks with beautiful effect. Priced per yard, $1.50. ♦♦

Concordia Canvas was a thick and heavy cotton material in cream white, with a honeycombed surface; it could be purchased in lengths for chair backs and was designed for darning; the pattern being darned in under the honeycomb with rope silk, the effect was that of filmy lace thrown over the colored design. Priced per yard, 50 cents. ♦♦

Cotton Flannel - Cotton Flannel is napped cotton flannel. It was made first for trade in Canton, China. ♦

Crash - A plain fabric for outing suits, towels, etc. ♦

Crêpe - A fine, thin fabric of open texture made of cotton. Sometimes spelled crape.♦

Crepon - Large designs in figured crêpe. The name applies to the crispiness of the finish and is from the French word crêper, to make crisp. ♦

Cretonne - Heavy cotton cloth printed in large designs, for drapery and furniture use. Cretonne was a Frenchman who first made the cloth. ♦

Crinoline - Crinoline is a fabric composed of cotton warp, horsehair filling, or all cotton yarns. It is sold in varying widths, and is used by tailors and dressmakers in stiffening clothing. It is a cheap cloth of low texture and simple construction, the distinguishing feature being the stiff finish with either a dull or highly glazed face on the cloth. ♦

Damask - A cloth of silk and cotton, silk and linen, silk and wool, or all linen in flowered or geometrical designs for drapery or table covering. The weaves used are mostly twills and sateens. It takes its name from Damascus, where it was first made. ♦

Denim - This is a strong fabric usually made with a two up and one down twill. It is used for overalls, furniture covering, and floor covering. ♦

Devonshire Art Cloth - This was a beautiful linen fabric made of the natural flax, that is, not dyed, but came in the beautiful flax color. It was made in squares or checks of different sizes. It is a firm, closely woven fabric, and was found to be very artistic for centers to cushions, table covers, wall panels, chair covers or sideboard scarves. It was two yards wide and cost $3.00 per yard. ♦♦

Diaper - A figured cotton or linen fabric, which gets its name from the Greek diapron, meaning figured. It is generally of good quality as it is subject to excessive washing. ♦

Dimity - A light-weight cotton fabric, the distinguishing feature of which is the cords or ribs running warpwise through the cloth, and produced by doubling the warp threads in either heddle or reed in sufficient quantity to form the rib desired. The name is from a Greek word meaning two-threaded. Dimity is a ladies’ summer dress fabric, and is made of regular cotton yarn, from 1/60’s to the finest counts in both warp and filling. It is made in both white and colors, solid white being used in the most expensive grades. Colors are often printed upon the face of the fabric after it has been woven in the white. ♦

Domet - This cloth is napped similar to a cotton flannel. It is used for shirts, pajamas, etc., and made with bright colored stripes and check patterns. The name is from domestic, home made. ♦

Double-faced Sateen -  a very heavy goods, plain satin surface on both sides. As its name indicates, it was reversible; thus, one side will be a deep old blue, while the reverse side will be a pale old blue overcast with a silvery sheen, but both blues would be of the same line of color. Where handsome portieres or table covers were desired there could be no more beautiful fabric. No linings were ever used with this sateen. It was fifty inches wide, and could be had for $3.50 per yard. ♦♦

Drill - A cotton fabric of medium weight generally made with the two up and one down twill. It is extensively used for shoe linings. ♦

Duck - Duck is a heavy single cloth fabric made of coarse two-ply yarn and of a plain weave. It derives its name from its resemblance to a duck’s skin. It is of a lighter weight than canvas. In finishing duck is taken from the loom and washed and sized, then dried and pressed. If a fancy solid color is desired the goods are dyed in the piece after the first washing. Duck is used in the manufacture of sails, tents, car curtains, and for any purpose requiring a good water-tight fabric, which will withstand rough usage. Duck has a stiff hard feel, and excellent wearing qualities. The lighter weights are used for ladies’ shirtwaist suits, men’s white trousers, etc. ♦


E -G

Egyptian Cloth - a white, wash cotton goods, quite fine and sheer, somewhat resembling cheese cloth, but very much handsomer. It was used for summer drapery, bedroom sets and sash curtains. It was a lovely material for outlining or painting. Priced per yard, 50 cents. ♦♦

Eolienne - is the name applied to a fine dress fabric characterized by having the filling of a much coarser count than the warp, thus producing a corded effect across the breadth of the goods. This class of goods is made up of a raw silk warp and either cotton or worsted filling, with the warp ends per inch greatly in excess of picks per inch. The goods are made up in gray, then dyed in the piece in any color the trade desires. The darker shades find most favor for fall and winter use, while the lighter shades are preferred for summer wear. The width is from twenty-seven to fifty inches, and the price per yard varies from 85 cents to $1.25. ♦

Etamine - An etamine is a thin, glossy fabric used principally for women’s dress goods. Being a common and popular material for summer wear, it is usually made as a piece-dyed fabric. A good reason for making it piece-dyed is that this method is much cheaper than if the yarn is dyed previous to the weaving. Etamines were originally made with worsted yarns, which of course are more expensive; however, if a good quality of cotton is used, there is little difference in appearance between worsted and cotton etamine. The difference is chiefly in the wearing quality, worsted being more durable. The principal characteristic of an etamine is a crisp, glossy, and open structure. ♦

Felt - a heavy cloth without any weave, and with a perfectly smooth surface, alike on both sides. It was a full two yards wide, and came in all colors. Priced per yard, $1.00. ♦

Flannelette - Flannelette is a narrow, light-weight fabric composed of all cotton yarn, the filling being soft spun to permit of the raising of a very slight nap on the back of the goods. The cloth is woven with bleached yarn (warp and filling), the color effects being afterwards printed upon the face of the goods by the printing machine. Flannelette is made with simple one or two colored stripe patterns, either black and white or indigo blue and white, and in imitation of a Jacquard pattern. The finished fabrics are sold by the retailer at from eight cents to twelve and one-half cents per yard, are twenty-seven inches wide, and are used very extensively in the manufacture of ladies’ wrappers, kimonos, etc., for house wear. ♦

Frieze - a beautiful English-looking material, very rough as to surface and thick as to texture; it was used for floor cloths, table cloths, some kinds of upholstering and rugs. It was to be decorated with large, bold design worked out with linen threads in rope, couching and art cord sizes, and if the piece is small, or expense is no object, silk could be introduced with beautiful effect. Priced per yard, $2.50. ♦♦

Fustian - A corded fabric made on the order of corduroy and used in England for trouserings, etc. First made at Fustat, a town on the Nile, near Cairo. Velveteen and cordings in the lower, coarser grades were sometimes called Fustian. ♦

Galatea Cloth - Galatea cloth has been somewhat in demand in recent years by women requiring serviceable and neat-appearing cotton fabrics at a medium price. It is usually finished twenty-seven inches wide and retails at fourteen cents to twenty cents per yard. It is shown in plain colors as well as in figures, and in dotted and striped designs on white and colored grounds. The patterns are obtained by printing. Some manufacturers have found that they can take a standard type of fabric and extend its use by varying the process of finishing. The base of the cloth—that is, the fabric previous to dyeing or printing or bleaching—is nothing more than an ordinary 5-end warp sateen of fair quality. ♦

Gauze - A veiling net, made in Gaza in Palestine. ♦

Gingham - Gingham is a single cloth composed entirely of cotton, and always woven with a plain weave. It is yarn-dyed in stripes or checks and was originally of Indian make. It is the most widely known fabric on the market and is made in various grades, having from fifty to seventy-six ends per inch in the reed, and of 1/26’s to 1/40’s cotton yarns in both warp and filling. It is a wash fabric, made in both check and plaid patterns into which an almost unlimited variety of color combinations are introduced. Ginghams are made with from two colors, warp and filling, to eight colors in warp and six in filling. Ginghams are used most commonly in the manufacture of ladies’ and children’s summer dresses and aprons. ♦

Gobelin Cloth - a pure white cotton fabric, eighteen inches wide. It had a decided twill, amounting almost to a rib, crosswise of the material. Priced per yard, 50 cents. This was a popular fabric for toilet sets, cushion covers, table mats and centers for table covers. ♦♦


H - K

Hollywood Drapery - a cotton fabric, made in cream, white and colors. Cream, white and some colors were made two yards wide, while a few colors came only fifty-four inches wide. The price varied from $1.25 to $1.75 per yard, according to width and color. The weave was very close and firm, and the surface presented an almost invisible basket effect. It was a very desirable material for table covers, plain spreads, portieres, bed spreads, toilet sets and cushion covers. It was beautiful embroidered with linen thread in conventional style, and as it needed no lining was an economical material for portieres especially. ♦♦

Huckaback - Huckaback, commonly called huck toweling, was a linen material in pure white and cream white, having threads slightly raised on the surface forming a honeycomb mesh. The mesh was large or small, close together or far apart, according to the fine or coarse quality of the huck. This fabric was usually decorated with outline in stem stitch, and background darned with silk or linen threads. The widths varied from sixteen to forty inches, and priced from 25 cents to $1.25 per yard. ♦♦

India Silk - a thin, plain woven silk, much used for draperies, puffs, linings and trimmings for fancy articles. It was from twenty-seven to thirty-six inches wide, and could be had for from 60 to 75 cents per yard. It was very dainty embroidered in outline stitch only. ♦♦

Italian Cloth - a light, glossy fabric made from cotton and worsted, cotton and wool, cotton and mohair, and all cotton. It is used for linings for the heavier styles of ladies’ dresses, also for underskirts, fancy pillow backs, etc. The cloth is woven in the gray undyed yarns. In the finer grades the warp is sized so as to facilitate the weaving process. ♦

Jaconet - A thin cotton fabric, heavier than cambric. If properly made one side is glazed. Derived from the French word jaconas. ♦

Khaki - Twilled cotton cloth of a brown dust color, first used for men’s clothing in India. The word khaki is Indian for earth, or dust-colored. ♦


L - O

Lawn - Lawn is a light-weight single cloth wash fabric, weighing from one and one fourth to two and one fourth ounces per yard, and in widths from thirty-six to forty inches finished. It is composed of all cotton yarns (bleached) from 1/40’s to 1/100’s, and is always woven with a plain weave, one up, one down. The name is from Laon, a place near Rheims, France, where lawn was extensively made. Plain lawn is made of solid white or bleached yarn in both warp and filling. The fancier grades, or those having color effects, are produced by printing vines, floral stripes, small flowers, etc., in bright colors in scattered effects on the face of the goods. The patterns are always printed, never woven. Lawn, when finished, should have a soft, smooth feel. Therefore the finishing process includes brushing, very light starching or sizing, then calendering or pressing. Lawns have to be handled carefully in the bleaching process, starched with an ordinary starch mangle (the sizing containing a little blueing), finished on the Stenter machine, and dried with hot air. Lawns are often tinted light shades of blue, pink, cream, pearl, green, and other light tints, with the direct colors added to the starch. It is used principally in the manufacture of ladies’ and children’s summer dresses, sash curtains, etc. ♦

Linen — Bleached Linen - Bleached Linen, of a fineness suitable for shirt fronts, was suited for doyleys, center cloths, pillow shams, toilet sets, sideboard sets and guest towels, when something very nice was desired. This kind of linen could be had in widths from twenty-four to thirty-six inches, and for various prices, according to quality, from 60 cents to $1.00 per yard being the usual price. ♦♦

Linen Bolton Sheeting - a heavy linen fabric woven in imitation of the cotton article of that name. It was nearly as heavy as duck or canvas, which it closely resembled. It was used for the same articles as the cotton bolton; it was, of course, more expensive, costing about $1.30 per yard. It was two yards wide. ♦♦

Linen — Butchers' Linen was a very coarse linen, partly bleached, full bleached or unbleached. It was made in various widths, though the forty-inch weave was the one more commonly employed, as it cut to better advantage in making up articles. It could be used for decorative needlework, though it is not so nice as the domestic linen. The forty-inch width usually sold for 30 cents per yard. ♦♦

Linen Crash, was used for kitchen towels, was a material that offered a particularly pleasing ground for embroidery done in crewels, tapestry wools or linen embroidery threads, and could be purchased in various widths, from sixteen to thirty inches, and for 10 to 25 cents per yard.♦♦

Linen — Domestic Linen was a firm fabric with a very light twill, and was made in widths from sixteen to eighty inches. Domestic linen was used for all the purposes for which the finer qualities were employed, and was especially suited for bedspreads, pillow shams, dresser scarves and toilet sets that are to be embroidered with either silk or linen threads. Priced per yard, from 20 cents to $1.50. ♦♦

Lingerie - This relates to all sorts of ladies’ and children’s undergarments, such as skirts, underskirts, infants’ short dresses, chemises, night robes, drawers, corset covers, etc. ♦

Linon - a fine, closely woven plain fabric, well known for its excellent wearing and washing qualities. It is made from combed cotton yarns of long-stapled stocks to resemble as closely as possible fine linen fabrics. The cloth structure is firmly made in the loom. ♦

Long Cloth - a fine cotton fabric of superior quality, made with a fine grade of cotton yarn of medium twist. Originally the fabric was manufactured in England, and later imitated in the United States. The fabric is used for infants’ long dresses, from which it derives its name, and for lingerie. Long cloth to some extent resembles batiste, fine muslins, India linen, and cambric. It is distinguished from these fabrics by the closeness of its weave, and when finished the fabric possesses a whiter appearance, due to the closeness of the weave and the soft twist of the yarn. It is not used as a dress fabric, chiefly because of its finished appearance, which is similar in all respects to fabrics which we have been accustomed to see used solely for lingerie, nightgowns, etc. ♦

Madras - a light-weight single cloth fabric, composed of all cotton or cotton and silk, and has excellent wearing qualities. It was at first a light-colored checked or striped plain-faced cotton-silk fabric, made in Madras, India, for sailors’ head-dress. It is twenty-seven inches wide, and is made of varying grades, weighing from two to three ounces per yard, and is used at all seasons of the year. It is used by ladies for summer skirts, shirtwaists, suits, etc., and by men in shirts. It is known by the white and colored narrow-stripe warp effects, and is made of cotton yarns ranging from 1/26 to 1/80 warp and filling, and from 50 to 100 or more ends per inch. The utility of madras for nearly all classes of people permits the greatest scope in creating both harmonious and contrasting color and weave combinations. ♦

Mail Cloth - a very heavy silk-faced fabric, fifty inches wide. It had a small bird's-eye weave on the right surface and requires no lining. It came in all the art shades, such as Indian red, maize yellow, sage green, dead-leaf brown, old blue, ecru and cream. It was a beautiful background for heavy embroidery with rope silk, couching silk and art cord. Priced per yard, $3.00. ♦♦

Moreen - Heavy mohair, cotton, or silk and cotton cloth, with worsted or moire face. The making of moreen is interesting. The undyed cloth is placed in a trough in as many layers as will take the finish. This finish is imparted to the cloth by placing between the layers sheets of manila paper; the contents of the trough are then saturated with water; a heavy weighted roller is then passed over the wetted paper and cloth, the movement of the roller giving the cloth a watered face. It can then be dyed and refinished. The design or marking of moreen is different on every piece. Moreen was at first made for upholstery and drapery use. It was found to give a rustling sound similar to silk, so was taken up for underskirts. The name is from the French moire, meaning watering. ♦

Morris Cloth - was a beautiful, soft diagonal twill goods, two yards wide. It came in all the art tones, among which may be mentioned silver green, sage green, apple green and apple red. It could be trimmed with bands of harmonizing or contrasting shades of the same, and decorated with embroidered designs in couching and rope silks. This fabric was sold for $3.00 per yard. ♦♦

Mull - A soft cotton muslin of fine quality, made first in India, later in Switzerland. The name in Hindoo is mal, meaning soft, pliable. ♦Mummy. A plain weave of flax or linen yarn. Originally the winding cloth of the Egyptian mummified dead. ♦

Muslin - A fine cotton cloth of plain weave originally made in Mosul, a city on the banks of the Tigris, in Asia. ♦

Nainsook Nainsook - a light cotton fabric utilized for various purposes, such as infants’ clothes, women’s dress goods, lingerie, half curtains, etc. The striped and plaid nainsook are used for the same purposes. When the fabric is required for lingerie and infants’ clothes the English fabric is selected because of its softness. When intended for dress or curtain fabric, the French-finished fabric is chosen. The latter finish consists of slightly stiffening and calendering the cloth. The fabric may be distinguished from fine lawns, fine batiste, and fine cambric by the fact that it has not as firm construction or as much body, and the finish is not as smooth or as stiff, but inclines to softness, as the fabric has not the body to retain the finishing material. ♦

Organdie - An organdie may be defined as a fine, translucent muslin used exclusively for dress goods. The fabric is made in a variety of qualities as regards the counts of yarn used, and in a variety of widths ranging from eighteen to sixty inches. The plain organdie is popular in pure white, although considerable quantities are dyed in the solid colors, pale blue, pink, etc., while the figured organdies are usually bleached pure white, then printed with small floral designs. The printed design is in from two to four colors, and in delicate shades in conformity with the material. Organdie considered in relation to cost as wearing material is rather expensive. The reason for this is that it has a finish peculiar to itself, so that when washed it does not have the same appearance as before. It loses its crisp feeling altogether. ♦

Osnaburg - A coarse cloth of flax and tow, made in America of cotton, in checks or plaids, and used for furniture covering and mattress making. The town of Osnaburg, in Germany, made the fabric first. ♦

P - S

Percale - Percale is a closely woven fabric made with good quality cotton yarn. The finer qualities are used for handkerchiefs, aprons, etc., and when used for these purposes are not printed, but bleached after the fabric comes from the loom. It is chiefly used for dress fabrics, and when used for this purpose is generally printed on one side with geometrical figures, generally black, although other colors may be seen. ♦

Percaline - Percaline is a highly finished and dressed percale. The first process to which the cloth is subjected is to boil it off, that is, to soak it in boiling water so as to relieve it from foreign matter that it may have gathered during the weaving, and at the same time to prepare it for dyeing. After dyeing it is sized to stiffen it, and also to increase the gloss on the cloth. After sizing it is ready for the calender. In order to give it the highest gloss the cloth is doubled lengthwise or the pieces are put together back to back, and as it passes through the rolls it is wet by steam, the rolls being well heated and tightly set together. Percaline is used chiefly for feminine wearing apparel, principally for linings, petticoats, etc. These purposes require that the cloth shall be solid color, the darker colors being preferred, as blue, green, and black. Sometimes it is seen in lighter shades of brown and tan. The most attention is given to the finishing process. ♦

Piqué - Piqué is a heavy cotton material woven in corded or figured effects. The goods are used for such purposes as ladies’ tailor-made suits, vestings, shirt fronts, cravats, bedspreads, and the like. It was originally woven in diamond-shaped designs to imitate quilting. The name is French for quilting. The plainest and most common fabrics of piqué are those in which the pattern consists of straight cords extending across the cloth in the direction of the weft. In the construction of these fabrics, both a face and back warp are required, and the cords are produced by all the back warp threads being raised at intervals of six, eight, or more picks over two or more picks of the face cloth, which has a tendency to draw down on the surface of the fabric. The goods are always woven white and no colors are ever used. The face warp threads are generally finer than the back warp threads, and are in the proportion of two threads for the face and one thread for the back. On the heavier and better grades of piqué coarse picks called wadding are used to increase the weight, and also to give more prominence to the cord effect. They are introduced between the face and back cloths. In the lightest and cheapest grades neither any wadding nor back picks are used. In this case the back warp threads float on the back of the fabric except when raising over the face picks to form the cord. In the figured piqué the binding of the back warp threads into the face cloth is not done in straight lines as in plain piqué, but the binding points are introduced so as to form figures. These fabrics are woven in the white, and the figures are purely the result of binding the face and back cloths together. ♦

Plumetis - Sheer cotton or woolen cloth having raised dots or figures in relief on plain ground. The design shows a feathery effect, as in embroidery tambour. The name is French for this kind of embroidery, and is derived from plume, French for feather. ♦Poplin. Poplin or popeline is a name given to a class of goods distinguished by a rib or cord effect running width way of the piece. It referred originally to a fabric having a silk warp and a figure of wool filling heavier than the warp. At the present time it refers more to a ribbed fabric than to one made from any particular combination of materials. Cotton poplin is usually made with a plain weave, the rep effect being obtained either by using a fine warp as compared with the filling, or a large number of ends as compared with picks per inch on both. Irish poplin is a light-weight variety of poplin, sometimes called single poplin, and is celebrated for its uniformly fine and excellent wearing qualities. It is principally made in Dublin. ♦

Rep - This fabric has a surface of a cord-like appearance. The name is probably a corrupted form of the word "rib". It is used in making shirtwaists and skirts. ♦

Russian Crash - was a fine woven linen fabric, about eighteen inches wide, in natural linen color-a pure gray. It was a beautiful background for outlined embroidery or Roman cut work. Priced per yard, 50 cents. ♦♦

Russian Tapestry - a very heavy, all-silk material, woven with a broken twill crosswise of the fabric, and presents a crepy effect which lit up wonderfully, showing several different shades of its own color. It was woven fifty inches wide, and was very beautiful for portieres, cushions, table add bed covers and piano covers. Priced per yard, $5.50. ♦♦

Sateen - a satin-faced material with a wool back. It came fifty-four inches wide and cost $2.50 per yard. It was used for table scarves and covers, portieres and panels. ♦♦Sateen. Twilled cotton cloth of light weight, finished to imitate silk satin. There are two kinds, viz., warp sateen and filling sateen. ♦

Satin Damask - a beautiful heavy linen, with smooth, satin finished surface. It was made in pure white, in various widths, from sixteen to seventy-two inches, and cost from 60 cents to $3.00 per yard. It was used for nice table linen, lunch sets, fruit sets, doyleys napkins, center cloth, tray cloth and table mats. ♦♦

Satin - offers a beautiful background for all kinds of silk embroidery. Priced per yard, from 60 cents to $1.25, according to quality.♦♦ Width, eighteen to twenty-seven inches. ♦

Scrim - a strainer-like fabric that was a very useful and pretty material with which to furnish a bedroom; spread, pillow scarf, dresser drape, curtains, tidies, etc., should be en suite, decorated throughout in a harmonious design. This material took outline effectively. It was made in various widths, and costs from 15 cents to $1.00 per yard. ♦♦

The name is from scrimp, referring to economy in weaving. ♦

Silesia - a light-weight single cloth fabric, having a rather high texture, and weighing about three ounces per yard. It is composed of all cotton yarn, and is used principally as a lining for ladies’ and men’s clothing. Silesia is woven of yarn in the gray state, and is dyed in the piece in such colors as black, dark blue, brown, drab, slate, steel, etc. An important feature is the highly glazed or polished face of the goods, which is due to the action of the heated roller in the calendering machine upon the sizing. ♦

Silks - Silks, plain and ribbed, were used as a background for decorative needlework, and for articles that were not exposed to much usage and consequently that would not need frequent cleaning. They would be found both serviceable and elegant. Width, from eighteen to thirty-two inches. Priced from 75 cents to $1.75. ♦♦

Souffle - The largest designs of crepon show a raised or puffed appearance. Souffle is from the French and means puffed. ♦

Swiss - From Switzerland, where the plain Swiss net and figured cambric is a specialty in the St. Gall district. ♦

T - Z

Tape - Tape is a narrow fabric composed either of cotton or linen yarns in warp and filling, and usually made with a point or broken twill weave, the break in the weave occurring in the center of the tape, and the twill lines running in a right- and left-hand direction. It is used as a trimming in the manufacture of clothing, also as a binding in innumerable cases, and is sold by the roll, each roll containing a certain number of yards. It is made of all bleached and of regular yarns about 1/26’s to 1/30’s and 1/40’s cotton. ♦

Tarletan - an open mesh of coarse cotton, used mostly in fruit packing, sometimes for dress and drapery. The name is from tarlantanna, Milanese for “coarse weave of linen and wool”. ♦

Terry Cloth or Turkish Toweling - a cotton pile fabric. It is woven in such a way as to permit the forming of a series of loops on each side of the cloth in regular order. After leaving the loom each piece is laid separately in the bleaching kier. Then the goods are dried on a tenter frame, given a light starching to add weight, run through a rubber rolled mangle and again dried on a tenter frame. This cloth is used in the manufacture of towels, Turkish bath robes, etc. Turkish toweling is the original terry. The name is from the French tirer, to draw or pull. ♦

The colors most in demand in this fabric are rich and delicate shades of blue, rose, green, linen, tan, lavender, and bright red; for prominent hair-line effects black, navy blue, dark green, royal blue, and cherry red. Good fast color is necessary as it is a wash fabric. If inferior colors are used, they will surely spread during the finishing processes, and will cause a clouded stripe where a distinct one was intended. ♦

Turkish Crepe - This fabric was a white, wash goods, particularly suitable for picture and easel drapes, curtains and bed draperies. It was soft and creamy, with a fine crepe effect, which was retained after washing. Priced per yard, 50 cents. ♦♦

Upholsterers' Plush and Satin - These materials closely resemble the ordinary fabrics of the same name, but were usually a heavier quality. Widths were fifty-four and seventy-two inches. Priced at $10.00, $12.00 and $15.00 per yard, for best qualities. ♦♦

Velvets and Plushes - both much used for handsome pieces of embroidery, and cost, according to quality, from 75 cents to $2.25 per yard. Width, eighteen to thirty-two inches. ♦♦

Zephyr Gingham - the finest grade of gingham made and is a light-weight cotton fabric, composed of 1/40’s to 1/60’s cotton warp and filling yarns. It is woven with either the plain weave or a small all-over dobby effect. It is made in attractive patterns by using good fast colors in warp and filling, and as a cloth has excellent wearing qualities.♦


The above list are fabrics most commonly used for embroidery work, but it is by no means a complete list, as there are the canvases used in cross-stitch, the lawns, muslins, merinos and flannel used for articles of wearing apparel, the serges, velours and brocaded silks of infinite variety that are used for furniture covers, that need no description here as they are familiar to all. Then there are sail-cloth and fancy bed-ticking, Turkish toweling and cricketing flannel, all of which find a place on the list of fabrics for artistic needle-work, and are used for any purpose seeming appropriate.

The information notated with a single ♦ was taken from A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods by George S. Cole, Dated 1892.



Vintage embroidery fabric can be found but at a high cost. Some of the above fabrics can easily be found in the fabric store. Others may be there but now are called by a different name. At this point and time, I do not know fabric as well as I would like. As I come across information on what fabric can be used in place of others now not available, I will add it to the above list. If you are knowledgeable about fabrics and would like to share your information, please contact me and I'll get the information posted. As always, you will be credited with the information provide. Anyone want to become a published author? Now's your chance!

I hope this information about vintage embroidery fabrics helps you determine which fabric is the best to use when you decide to produce your own Victorian pieces. Don't forget to share your completed projects to inspire (and awe) the rest of us!


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