Textile Terms

Appliqué: Fabric shapes are attached to another, larger piece of fabric either with glue or stitching.



Brocade: Non-structural (supplementary) horizontal (weft) yarns are inserted into the structural (ground) weave to create the pattern. The supplementary wefts often float on the reverse when not employed in the pattern on the face of the fabric.


Chinese Knot: Individual knots are created by winding the thread around the emerging embroidery needle before it re-enters the fabric in almost the same place. Also known as the Peking (Beijing) knot, it closely resembles the French knot.


Couching: A decorative thread is held to the surface of the cloth with small stitches at right angles to the laid thread. This technique is used particularly for metallic thread, as pulling it through the fabric would strip off the metallic foil covering the core of silk thread.


Damask: A self-patterned weave in which the design is created by varying weave structure in the pattern area; for example, a plain weave (tabby) design on a satin weave ground. Differences in the light-reflective qualities of the two weave structures makes the pattern weave stand out from the ground weave.


Gauze: A weave structure characterized by the crossing of adjacent warps (vertical yarns) creating a loop-like passage through which the weft thread passes, resulting in a light, open-weave fabric. There are many variations.


Kesi: The Chinese term for slit-tapestry woven in silk. The weft yarns remain in the design area where they are required, rather than extending across the width of the textile. Where adjacent color areas meet, the weft threads for each area turn back around adjacent, parallel warps, leaving small slits in the fabric.


Metal Threads: Gold or silver foil is applied to paper and then cut into long narrow strips (lamella), which can be used flat or twisted around a core of silk or cotton thread.


Peacock Feather ThreadsThe filaments of peacock feathers are sliced in half along their length and wound around a core thread of silk or cotton to form a thread. The threads thus formed were used in brocades and kesi as well as in embroidery, where they were couched to the fabric.


Satin: A weave in which the weft repeatedly passes under several warps, then crosses over one warp causing the warp (the vertical element) to ‘float” on the face of the cloth. This creates a textile with a shiny, highly reflective surface.


Tabby/Plain Weave: The most basic weave structure created from the weft threads passing over and under alternate warps sequentially across the width of the fabric. On the return passage of the weft, this over-under-over order is reversed to under-over-under creating a smooth fabric.


Sources: Asian Civilisations Museum, Power Dressing: Textiles for Rulers and Priests from the Chris Hall Collection, 2006 and Dorothy K. Burnham, Warp and Weft, 1980. Photographs of tabby/plain weave and satin weave by Rob Collins; gauze weave image by Dr. Zhao Feng; all other images courtesy of Asian Civilisations Museum.