The next in our series on Cloth is a guide to weaves and to designs.
As with the A-Z this is meant as a reference tool, which we will link to as we publish more detailed pieces about trousers, jackets or overcoats.
When we describe the benefits of gabardine for trousers, for instance, and how its tight weave creates a cloth that is particularly good at holding its shape, we will link to this page for an explanation of that weave.
Or when we recommend cloths for business suits, and suggest that a little surface detail can be attractive – such as birdseye, pick-and-pick or end-on-end – we will link back here for details and illustrations.
Readers can also use this page to browse these different kinds of technical benefits, or aesthetic designs in cloth.
We have spent a while pulling together technical sketches for the different variations, as well as pictures of the cloths themselves, but there is still the occasional gap we will fill in later. All images should be expandable by clicking on them, in order to see more detail.
Weaves, designs and finishes
There are really only a small number of weaves – in most definitions, three.
- Plain weave
Everything else that we describe as a weave is actually:
- A design, where the yarn colours and sequence in one of these three basic weaves are varied to achieve a particular pattern
- A different construction, where the weave’s density of warp or weft, or type of yarn, are varied to achieve an effect
- Or a secondary weave, where one of the basic weaves is varied in some way; such as hopsack, which is merely a double plain weave
Below the three weaves are explained and illustrated, followed in each case by designs, varied constructions, and secondary weaves that spring from them.
We have included pictures of each, as well as technical sketches or plans where available.
A plain weave is the most basic type of weaving.
Each horizontal weft thread is interlaced with each vertical warp thread by going over the first and under the second, over the third and so on.
Because of such rigorous interlacing the plain weave is the most solid construction. The fabric can be very light and airy without sacrificing stability.
1.1 Plain weave designs
A design using a 1a1b arrangement of yarn colours on the warp and 1a1b on the weft.
The same sequence is used to obtain a pick-and-pick design on a twill weave.
1.2 Plain weave constructions
Based on a plain weave, the original seersucker effect was obtained by using two different kinds of yarn in the warp, with one having a different twist, yarn count or containing different fibres.
During the finishing process this yarn would shrink more or less than the other, creating the wavy effect down each alternate stripe.
Nowadays seersuckers made using these techniques are rare, as the difficulty of controlling the shrinkage makes them more expensive and less reliable. It is more usual for one type of yarn to contain elastane and the other pure cotton.
Popeline is the gabardine of the plain weaves.
As with gabardine, the warp density is almost double the weft density.
It is not a common construction for suiting cloths, being more often used in shirtings.
1.3 Plain weaves – secondary weaves
Hopsack is a modification of a plain weave in which two threads in the warp are followed by two threads in weft.
This creates the appearance of small cubes.
This type of weave is very popular in jacketings, but can sometimes be seen in suitings and outerwear.
A rib weave is a form of enlarged plain weave.
The rib can be in the warp or weft, but is more common in the weft.
The effect is similar to a faille or bedford cord, but the ribs are obtained purely through the weave.
The most common is the 2-by-2 twill, where two warp threads go over and under two weft threads at a time.
3-by-3 twills, and sometimes even 4-by-4, can also be found.
Twill fabrics offer great versatility and drape, which makes them excellent choices all year round.
A houndstooth design is based on a 2-by-2 twill, with a 4-and-4 sequence of colour for both warp and weft.
(Four yarns of the light colour and four of the dark colour).
Pick and pick / sharkskin
It starts from a 2-by-2 twill and has a yarn sequence of 1 light then 1 dark in both the warp and the weft.
The same effect is possible starting from an hopsack weave.
Solaro is a classic design based on a 2-by-1 twill with complimentary colours in the warp and weft.
It is normally woven as a herringbone, as pictured, which is itself a weave variation on a twill.
The classic solaro has a light brown warp and a red weft. The colour contrast of the two gives it an iridescent quality.
The terms Prince-of-Wales check and glen (originally Glenurquhart) check are used largely interchangeably to describe a tight checked pattern.
Both, however, originally referred to something specific: glen check to that used by the Countess of Seafield at the beginning of the 19th century for her gamekeepers, and Prince-of-Wales check to the pattern developed by Edward VII when he was the Prince, inspired by the Seafield check.
The latter was later popularised by his grandson, the Duke of Windsor.
Either way, it is a twill design comprising varying sizes of checks, often with an overcheck in a contrasting colour.
2.2 Twill constructions
Gabardine is based on a 2-by-2 or 2-by-1 twill, with a warp double the density of the weft.
This creates diagonal stripes on the face of the cloth.
The construction of the cloth is very tight, so it is often used for trousers.
2.3 Twill – secondary weaves
A 2-by-1 twill is a twill where one vertical warp thread goes over two but under only one horizontal weft thread.
It is also known as a prunelle.
A common characteristic is that the face of the fabric looks different from the back, especially if different shades are used in warp and weft.
Here, the twill weave is modified so the diagonal structure changes its direction after a consistent number of warp threads.
The result is a zig-zag effect.
This looks a little bit like the skeleton of a herring, hence the name.
A complex twill, as can be seen by the development of the twill pattern in the technical drawing.
It creates a cloth with great body and drape, and so is often used for trousers, as well as overcoats.
Bell hopsack is another example of a rather complicated secondary weave.
Although based on a twill, this also has similarities to a hopsack in its appearance.
It is usually reserved for jacketings as a result.
However, to obtain the round “eye” in the cloth, the sequence of colours is also fundamental.
Without it, the eye wouldn’t be circular but square, which wouldn’t produce the same avian effect.
This creates a very smooth face, and a very rough back.
Normally satins are heavier than plain weaves or twills, but they have a soft handle and excellent drape.
3.3 Satin – secondary weaves
Satins are most significant for their secondary weaves, rather than for designs or variations in construction/yarn. The differences in the appearance of the cloth, however, are very subtle.
Barathea is a variation on satin usually used for evening wear.
As you can see from the technical drawing, the weft (left to right) is passing over fewer warp yarns than a plain satin, and goes under more.
It allows two warp yarns to appear on the face, and goes over one and three, alternately.
The other best-known variation on satin, with single warp yarns showing above the left in a diagonal direction.
Also at greater remove from satin, and more similar to other weaves, given the weft threads do not pass over more than one yarn at a time.
4 Designs for any weave
Many cloth designs can be applied on different weaves, and therefore don’t fall into the categorisation above.
A stripe is a stripe whether you find it on a plain weave, a 2-by-2 twill or a satin – although some of these designs do suit some weaves more than others.
These designs include: