Whats in a fabric’s name?

When making or designing with fabrics you need to be aware of what they are made of, what construction they are and how this impacts on the qualities of the fabric.

The basics (it is a bit more complex than this but you’ll get the jist):

  • The raw material could be from: an animal, a plant or manmade
  • Fibres are taken from the source i.e. from sheep we take wool and from the cotton plant we take cotton.
  • The fibres are then twisted into yarns (like long pieces of string)
  • The yarns are then constructed into a fabric: it could be woven, knitted or felted

The key point to remember is this, when you say ‘I want a cotton fabric’, you are describing what fibre you want the fabric to be made from.

I’m going to choose cotton fibre as an example.

A fibre such as cotton can be made into a variety of different fabrics. Below I have listed some fabrics that will commonly be made of the cotton fibre:

  • Canvas
  • Calico
  • Chambray
  • Cheesecloth
  • Chintz
  • Corduroy
  • Denim
  • Flannel
  • Gingham
  • Lawn
  • Muslin
  • Poplin
  • Ticking
  • Towelling
  • Wincyette

The cotton fibre has it’s own inherent qualities. Each of the fabrics I have listed above has it’s own qualities. The fabric’s qualities are due to a combination of different factors: the fibre chosen, the yarn, the construction and the finishing.

A Cotton Wincyette is soft and warm, due to the soft nature of the cotton and the brushed finish to the fabric. It has a plain weave construction.

In comparison a Cotton Denim is densly woven in a twill-weave construction which gives the fabric strength, durability and an easy to care for nature.

‘I want a canvas fabric’ but what type of fibre do you want it made from?

Canvas Construction: Tightly woven plain weave

Making it a heavy duty, hard wearing fabric construction

Two types of canvas: Duck and plain. Duck is more tightly woven

Uses: painting canvas, sails, tents, shoes and handbags

Cotton Canvas vs Hemp Canvas

Cotton Canvas
Hemp Canvas






Cotton fibres are long , fluffy, soft fibrous hairs that cover the cotton plant’s seed pods (like cotton wool balls!). They have an absorbant quality which makes them breathable and comfortable to wear. It’s natural softness is nice next to the skin. The fibres have a natural twist which makes them suitable for a strong yarn.

Hemp fibres come from the Cannibis Sativa Sativa plant. It is strong and coarse. Due to these natural qualities fabrics made from Hemp are long lasting. It naturally resists mould and UV light. The fibres hold their shape stopping garments from becoming out of shape.


100% Hemp canvas is suitable for industrial purposes due to it’s strength and durability whereas 100% cotton canvas is more suited to clothing due to it’s softer nature.

What about blending two fibres together? You will often see fabrics described like this for example:

‘80% Bamboo / 20% Polyester’ or ‘70% Bamboo / 30% Cotton’

By blending two fibres together you get the advantages of both of the fibres. So if we blend together Hemp and Cotton and make into a canvas fabric you will get a fabric that is:

Durable, strong, soft, absorbant, hard wearing and maintains it’s shape.

When mixing fibres it’s the balance of the % that determines which qualities you get more or less of from each fibre.

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