Garment and Fabric Terminology: A Primer

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Wondering the difference between stain resistance and stain repellent?  Wash and Wear and Washable?   A Performance Fabric and Smart Fabric?  You’ve heard the terms, but do you know what they mean?  With all the options available to today’s uniform customer, it can be difficult to keep the terminology straight.

To help you navigate these murky waters and to assist in the purchasing process, we offer this industry glossary of the most commonly used terms in the business.  You might want to save this for your next visit with your uniform supplier.

Basic Terminology:

Absorbency – The ability of a fabric to take in moisture. Absorbency is a very important property, which affects many other characteristics such as skin comfort, static build-up, shrinkage, stain removal, water repellency, and wrinkle recovery.

Anti-Bacterial (Anti-Microbial) – A fabric that has been chemically treated or a fiber that is created by incorporating the anti-bacterial chemical agent into the fiber formula, making the finished fiber or fabric resistant to, or inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms.

Anti-Static – Can be either a fiber or fabric that does not allow the build-up of static electricity to occur when the fiber or fabric experiences friction.

Breathability – The movement of water or water vapor from one side of the fabric to the other, caused by wicking, chemical, or electrostatic action. Also known as moisture transport.

Colorfastness – A term used to describe a dyed fabric’s ability to resist fading due to washing, exposure to sunlight, and other environmental conditions.

Comfort Stretch – The term given to the freedom of movement experienced in the wearing of a garment that contains spandex, or has stretch engineered into a yarn through mechanical stretch construction

Elasticity – The ability of a fiber or fabric to return to its original length, shape, or size immediately after the removal of stress.

Lycra – A man-made elastane fiber that can be mixed with natural or other man-made fibers.  Never used alone, but always blended with other fibers, it has unique stretch and recovery properties. Lycra adds comfort, fit, shape retention, durability and freedom of movement. This is achieved due to the unique properties of the fiber, which can be stretched up to seven times its initial length before springing back to the original position once tension is released.

Flame Resistant – Fabrics treated with special chemical agents or finishes to make them resistant to burning. Today many fabrics achieve this property by using fibers that have this property built directly into the polymer. A fabric is considered flame resistant if it passes federal specifications for specific end-uses.

Flame Retardant – A chemical applied to a fabric, or incorporated into the fiber at the time of production, which significantly reduces a fabric’s flammability.

Hand – The way the fabric feels when it is touched. Terms like softness, crispness, dryness, silkiness are all terms that describe the hand of the fabric.

High Visability Fabrics – Fabrics that contain fluorescent materials in order to make the wearer visible in dim and dark lights. These fabrics have the ability to reflect on-coming lights, which cause them to glow in the dark.

Performance Fabrics – Fabrics made for a variety of end-use applications, which provide functional qualitites, such as moisture management, UV protection, anti-microbial, thermo-regulation, and wind/water resistance

Repellency – The ability of a fabric to resist such things as wetting and staining by water, stains, soil, etc.

Resiliency – The ability of a fabric to spring back to its original shape after being twisted, crushed, wrinkled, or distorted in any way.

Resin – The name commonly applied to synthetic chemical compounds polymerized on the fabric or yarn to give wash-and-wear and durable press properties, crush resistance and hand to fabrics.

Resin-Treated – A finishing process associated with the application of synthetic chemical compounds to the fabric to provide wrinkle-resistance, wash-and-wear characteristics, or an improved hand.

Smart Textiles – Textiles that can sense and react to changes in the environment, such as changes from mechanical, thermal, chemical, magnetic and other sources.

Soil Release –  A finish that has the purpose of increasing the absorbency of a fabric on durable press blends. The finish allows the stain to leave the fabric faster, increases the wicking action for improved comfort, and therefore imparts greater ease in cleaning.  Some soil release finishes also provide resistance to soiling as well as ease of soil removal.

Stain Repellent – The ability of a fabric to resist wetting and staining by water.

Stain Resistance – A fiber or fabric property of resisting spots and stains

Water Repellent – A term applied to fabrics that have been treated with a finish which causes them to shed water, but are still air-permeable.

Water Resistant – A degree by which water is able to penetrate a fabric. Not to be confused with water-repellent. However, the terms are often used interchangeably.

Wickability – The ability of a fiber or a fabric to disperse moisture and allow it to pass through to the surface of the fabric, so that evaporation can take place.

Wicking – Dispersing or spreading of moisture or liquid through a given area by capillary action in a material.

Washable – Materials that will not fade or shrink during washing or laundering. Labels should be read by the consumer to assure proper results. Do not confuse with “wash-and-wear”.

Wash-and-Wear – Ability of a garment to be washed by hand or in a washing machine and require little or no ironing.

Fabric Terminology:

Fiber – The basic entity, either natural or manufactured, which is twisted into yarns, and then used in the production of a fabric.

Filament – A manufactured fiber of indefinite length (continuous), extruded from the spinneret during the fiber production process.

Spinning – This final operation in the production of a natural yarn, consists of the drawing, twisting, and the winding of the newly spun yarn onto a device such as a bobbin, spindle, cop, tube, cheese, etc.

Knitting (Warp) – A type of knitting in which the yarns generally run lengthwise in the fabric. The yarns are prepared as warps on beams.

Knitting (Weft) – A type of knitting, in which one continuous thread runs crosswise in the fabric making all of the loops in one course. Weft knitting types are circular and flat knitting.

Weaving – The process of forming a fabric on a loom by interlacing the warp (lengthwise yarns) and the filling (crosswise yarns) perpendicular to each other. The three basic weaves are Plain, Twill, and Satin. All other weaves, no matter how intricate, employ one or more of these basic weaves in their composition. Variations on the basic weaves make a variety of different fabric surfaces and fabric strengths.

Pick – A filling yarn that runs crosswise between sleeves in woven goods. The pick intersects with the warp (or lengthwise yarn) to form a woven cloth.

Pill – A tangled ball of fibers that appears on the surface of a fabric, as a result of wear or continued friction or rubbing on the surface of the fabric.

Piping – A narrow tape used to bind seams, or used for decoration

Bonding – The technique of permanently joining together two fabrics or layers of fabrics together by a bonding agent.into one package. The bonding of fibers in a single layer of material is called a web.

Brushing – A finishing process for knit or woven fabrics in which brushes or other  devices are used on a loosely constructed fabric to permit the fibers in the yarns to be raised to create a nap on fabrics or create a novelty surface texture.

Yarns, Knits and Weaves: 

Blend – A term applied to a yarn or a fabric that is made up of more than one fiber. In blended yarns, two or more different types of staple fibers are twisted or spun together to form the yarn. Examples of a typical blended yarn or fabric is polyester/cotton.

Stretch Yarns – Continuous filament synthetic yarns that have been altered through special treatments or modification to give them elasticity. Techniques include: twisting and untwisting, use of air jets, stuffer boxes, knife blades, crimping, heat setting, curling, steaming, or looping. Use of these yarns gives fabrics a degree of elasticity and comfort.

Textured Yarns – The yarns that result after undergoing the texturizing process, which can create crimping, looping, and otherwise modify the filament yarn for the purpose of increasing cover, abrasion resistance, insulation, warmth resilience, or moisture absorption, and to provide a different surface texture.

Spun Yarn – A yarn made by taking a group of short staple fibers, which have been cut from the longer continuous filament fibers, and then twisting these short staple fibers together to form a single yarn, which is then used for weaving or knitting fabrics

Double Knit – A weft knit fabric in which two layers of loops are formed that cannot be separated. A double knit machine, which has two complete sets of needles, is required for this construction.

Double Weave – A woven fabric construction made by interlacing two or more sets of warp yarns with two or more sets of filling yarns. The most common double weave fabrics are made using a total of either four or five sets of yarns.

Twill Weave – A basic weave in which the fabrics are constructed by interlacing warp and filling yarns in a progressive alternation which creates a diagonal effect on the face, or right side, of the fabric. In some twill weave fabrics, the diagonal effect may also be seen clearly on the back side of the fabric.

Pile Weave – A type of decorative weave in which a pile is formed by additional warp or filling yarns interlaced in such a way that loops are formed on the surface or face of the fabric. The loops may be left uncut, or they may be cut to expose yarn ends and produce cut pile fabric.

Basket Weave – A variation of the plain weave construction, formed by treating two or more warp yarns and/or two or more filling yarns as one unit in the weaving process. Yarns in a basket weave are laid into the woven construction flat, and maintain a parallel relationship. Both balanced and unbalanced basket weave fabrics can be produced. Examples of basket weave construction includes monk cloth and oxford cloth.

Herringbone – A variation on the twill weave construction in which the twill is reversed, or broken, at regular intervals, producing a zig-zag effect

Pile Fabric – A fabric in which certain yarns project from a foundation texture and form a pile on the surface. Pile yarns may be cut or uncut in the fabric. Corduroy and velveteen are examples of cut filling pile fabrics.

Pile Knit – A type of knit construction which utilizes a special yarn or a sliver that is interlooped into a standard knit base. This construction is used in the formation of imitation fur fabrics, in special liners for cold weather apparel such as jackets and coats, and in some floor coverings. While any basic knit stitch may be used for the base of pile knits, the most common is the jersey stitch.

Worsted Fabric – A tightly woven fabric made by using only long staple, combed wool or wool-blend yarns. The fabric has a hard, smooth surface. Gabardine is an example of a worsted fabric.

Woven Fabric – Fabrics composed of two sets of yarns. One set of yarns, the warp, runs along the length of the fabric. The other set of yarns, the fill or weft, is perpendicular to the warp. Woven fabrics are held together by weaving the warp and the fill yarns over and under each other.

Fabrics and Blends:

Wool – Usually associated with fiber or fabric made from the fleece of sheep or lamb. However, the term “wool” can also apply to all animal hair fibers, including the hair of the Cashmere or Angora goat or the specialty hair fibers of the camel, alpaca, llama, or vicuna.

Rayon – A manufactured fiber composed of regenerated cellulose, derived from wood pulp, cotton linters, or other vegetable matter. Today, various names for rayon fibers are taken from different manufacturing processes.

Poplin – A fabric made using a rib variation of the plain weave. The construction is characterized by having a slight ridge effect in one direction, usually the filling. Poplin used to be associated with casual clothing, but as the “world of work” has become more relaxed, this fabric has developed into a staple of men’s wardrobes, being used frequently in casual trousers.

Polyester – A manufactured fiber introduced in the early 1950s, and is second only to cotton in worldwide use. Polyester has high strength (although somewhat lower than nylon), excellent resiliency, and high abrasion resistance. Low absorbency allows the fiber to dry quickly.

Oxford – A fine, soft, lightweight woven cotton or blended with manufactured fibers in a 2 x 1 basket weave variation of the plain weave construction. The fabric is used primarily in shirtings.

Nylon – Produced in 1938, the first completely synthetic fiber developed. Known for its high strength and excellent resilience, nylon has superior abrasion resistance and high flexibility.

Mesh – A type of fabric characterized by its net-like open appearance, and the spaces between the yarns. Mesh is available in a variety of constructions including wovens, knits, laces, or crocheted fabrics.

Jacquard – Woven fabrics manufactured by using the Jacquard attachment on the loom. This attachment provides versatility in designs and permits individual control of each of the warp yarns. Thus, fabrics of almost any type or complexity can be made. Brocade and damask are types of jacquard woven fabrics.

Hemp – A coarse, durable fiber obtained from the inner bark of the hemp plant. Used primarily in twines and cordages, and most recently apparel.

Gabardine – A tightly woven, twilled, worsted fabric with a slight diagonal line on the right side. Wool gabardine is known as a year-round fabric for business suiting. Polyester, cotton, rayon, and various blends are also used in making gabardine.

Chambray – A plain woven fabric that can be made from cotton, silk, or manufactured fibers, but is most commonly cotton. It incorporates a colored warp (often blue) and white filling yarns

Canvas – Cotton, linen, or synthetic fabric made with a basic plain weave in heavy and firm weight yarns for industrial or heavy duty purposes. Also referred to as “duck”, although the term “canvas” usually relates to the heavier, coarser constructions

Broadcloth – A plain weave tightly woven fabric, characterized by a slight ridge effect in one direction, usually the filling. The most common broadcloth is made from cotton or cotton/polyester blends.

Serge – A fabric with a smooth hand that is created by a two-up, two-down twill weave

Garment Components: 

Buttonhole (eyelet) – Formed by a contoured patch of zig-zag stitching, followed by a cut—a portion of which is circular. Eyelet buttonholes are usually used on heavy fabrics and/or with large buttons.

Buttonhole (straight) – Formed by two pairs of straight, parallel rows of zigzag stitching, followed by a single, straight knife cut. Each end of the row of stitching is secured by a bartack.

Lapel – The part of a garment that is turned back in the front; the front fold on a shirt that is a continuation of the collar.

Sleeve Length – The sleeves measured from the center of the neckline in the back to the end of the sleeve or cuff.

Sleeve Tacking – Stitches which attach the sleeve to the lining along the sleeve inseams and elbow seams.

Sleeve Vent – A finished slit or opening in the sleeve. Vents are usually secured by snaps or buttons at the base of the cuff.

Collar (Banded) – The visible or panel portion of the collar is cut separately and attached to the neckband portion. This is normal dress shirt construction.

Collar (convertible) – The panel or visible portion of the collar and the neckband portion are cut as one piece, but folded once along the length to produce the appearance of a banded collar.

Collar (one piece) – A collar constructed from a single piece of fabric with the center fold forming the outer edge.

Collar (two-piece) – A collar formed by joining two identical pieces, inverting and sometimes topstitching along the folded edges.

Cuff (lined) – A cuff with interlining placed between the two pieces of body fabric.

Cuff (one-piece) – A two-ply cuff formed by folding over a single piece of fabric, usually with a lining in between.

Cuff (two-piece) – A cuff in which two identical pieces of fabric, usually with a lining in between, are joined by a seam along the edge, then turned and sometimes topstitched near the folded edges.

Inseam – The distance from the bottom of a trouser leg to the crotch. The measurement is taken along the inside leg seam that joins the front and the back leg panels.

Outseam – The distance from the bottom of the trouser leg to the top of the pant at the waist. The measurement is taken along the outside leg seam that joins the front and back leg panels, and includes the width of the waistband.

Waistband (one-piece) – A single thickness of fabric that is doubled and stitched to the top of a pant.

Waistband (Two-piece) – When two identical pieces of fabric are placed back-to-back at the top of a pant, raw edges turned inside, and joined with two widely spaced rows of stitching. the pant body is inserted between and along one edge.

Pocket (patch) – A pocket attached to the outside of the garment and constructed of self-fabric.

Pocket (rule) – A patch pocket attached on the outseam, halfway betweeen the hip and the knee of the garment; usually found on coveralls.

Pocket (serged) – A pocket formed by joining two pieces of fabric and joining the edges with safety-stitching.

Pocket Facing – A piece of shell (outer) material super-imposed on the top of the pocket material at its opening to conceal the lining.