Quickie Textile Guide
(Print out and take with you to the Fabric Store )

Become a good consumer and learn how to read the information at the end of the fabric bolt. It will tell you fiber content, care instructions, and sometimes weave structure. Feel the fabric, scrunch it up in your hand.
Fiber Names of Fabrics Uses of Fabric Notes


Cotton is a common cheap fiber these days. But if you are concerned about staying cool, then linen is a better choice. Cotton pant weight twills can be a good choice for kid's or boyez clothes.

Muslin - very light weight and loose weave Undergarments
  • Avoid Poly-cotton blends like the you would avoid the tax collector of the Sheriff of Nottingham!
  • Man-made fibers, such as polyester and nylon, are much more flammable and far less able to help you to stay cool. So even if you aren't all that interested in authenticity, there are very good "modern" reasons to stick to natural fibers. Check the end of the bolt to find out the fiber content of the fabric.
  • Polyester will melt when put over a flame. Who wants to be around fires in a fabric that can become a molten second skin in a matter of seconds?
Calico, Sheeting - light weight plain weave, often brightly printed, Muslin and Sheeting are often used interchangeably. Undergarments, lining, interlining
Broadcloth - medium weight plain weave Tunics, shirts, pants
Canvas, Duck, or Sailcloth- heavy weight plain or twill weave Pants, support in corsets
Twill or Denim - while twill does not always mean heavy weight fabric, denim is usually quite heavy and tough (7-10 oz.). It's good economical compromise for boyez pants. Or any other extremely hard working garments. Pants, support in corsets, sturdy outwear, kid's clothes (nigh indestructible)
Linen (Flax, Bast) Linen - Most linen is a plain weave, differing weights and hands  
  • A drop of water will run quickly along the fibers, but not with cotton.
  • Avoid Linen-Like like the Plague!
  • Make sure to check the information on the bolt of fabric. Some non-linen fabrics are called "linen." Always check!
  • The linen-rayon blends are generally cheaper than 100% linen. They are a good compromise if necessary. They have the added benefit of making the fabric less wrinkle prone.
Handkerchief linen - very light weight and tends to be expensive , sheer Undergarments
Batiste, Cambric, Lawn - less than 5 oz, tends to be sheer-ish (most often used for cotton fabrics these days, but historically these fabrics were linen.) Undergarments
5-10 oz Shirts, chemises (5-7oz), tunics, pants, lining, gowns
over 10 oz Lining, pants, gowns, support materials
Wool - a hair fiber Worsted - referred to as "yarn count numbers," the higher the number, the finer the wool. (Finer may not be best for garments under hard wear), strong and smooth fabric suited to frequent wear. Tunics, gowns, pants, tailored garments
  • Wool is warm when wet, but can be very cool in summer
  • Mill End Fabrics, Portland has a lovely thick wool perfect for coats in the the back of the store, buy by the pound.
  • Don't go over 30% polyester, if you do buy a blend. Always check the fiber content information at the end of the fabric bolt.
  • Gabardine can be made of many different fibers. It's a tough hardy fabric.
Woolen - term for a large range of fabrics, generally plain weave Tunics, gowns, pants, tailored garments
Flannel - lightly fulled/ or felted, soft smooth hand, tends to be "fuzzy" Tunics, gowns, pants, tailored garments
Tropical weight worsted- light weight, fairly open weave, use in summer garments. Will likely need to be lined (use linen or silk twill for the lining) Tunics, gowns, pants, tailored garments
Tweed - heavy weight, tough, often multi-colored fibers Cloaks, sturdy outer wear
Felt - made by mashing the wool fibers into a solid mass Hats, boots, yurts
Melton - coat weight, felted (fulled), thick heavy, perfect for the NW as it resists rain and all nasty weather. Cloaks, sturdy outer wear
Silk - most often from the cocoon of the Bombyx mori moth

measured in Momme (mm). The higher the mm, the heavier the fabric.


Silk names are schizophrenic. Take some time to learn about fiber and weave structure. You'll be happier if you do.


Raw silk, Pongee, Shantung - sometimes called wild or tussah, coarse and slubby. Considered poor quality in period. Undergarments, tunics, gowns, lining
  • The names of silk fabrics are tricky. Fabric stores often market man-made fabrics as "silky" or "shantung" or "satin." Fabric marketers play fast and loose with names of fabrics. Be sure to check fiber content. Basically, if it "feels" right, go for it.
  • Many silks are washable. A good rule of thumb is that MOST solid colors can be washed. It will change the texture, like any other fiber, but will save you bundles on dry cleaning. If it is taffeta, dupion, or similar fabrics, you might not want to wash them in order to retain the crisp feel of the fabric. Always test a small swatch.
  • Did you find a gorgeous fabric, but it's out of your price range? Consider getting a small amount to use as trim.
Thai silk - fine and slubby. Considered poor quality in period. Undergarments, lining
Dupioni, Noile, Spun silk - uneven weave with a soft hand. Considered poor quality in period. Undergarments, tunics, gowns, lining
China silk, Chiffon, Crepe de Chine - very soft hand, fragile, difficult to sew. these fabrics have different structures, but basically are naughty fabrics to sew. Undergarment, veils
Satin - has a floating weft thread, lustrous, sometimes with a creped back (not sure how period crepe back is) Undergarments, tunics, gowns, veils, lining
Velvet - often has a silk ground fabric with a rayon pile (the fibers poking up) Tunics, gowns, outerwear
Upholstery brocades and other fancy schmancy fabrics These are VERY rarely in natural fabrics. But they are often the only alternative to the extremely expensive period-correct fabrics if your are doing Late medieval or Renaissance. There are some things to look out for. Some of the upholstery fabrics have a rubber backing or have fiberglass content, neither of which will be good to your peaches and cream complexion. Upholstery fabrics do not have the same labeling requirements as apparel fabric. So choose wisely.

Credits: Many thanks go out to the folks on the h-costume list serv that commented on and corrected this guide.