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In the Tudor and Stuart period there were four main types of fibre available from which to make woven fabric: wool, silk, linen and cotton. All were natural, two from animal and two from vegetable sources.


Making Fabric

It has long been recognised that the ability to depict different types of fabrics is a key skill for painters.

Philips Angel wrote in 1642 that an artist should:

‘... make a proper distinction between silk, velvet, wool and linen stuffs ... a painter worthy of praise should be able to render this variety in the most pleasing way for all eyes with his brushwork, distinguishing between harsh, rough clothiness and smooth, satiny evenness’.

The appearance and feel of a fabric is influenced by the raw materials used to produce threads, the way the threads have been woven together, the way the fabric has been dyed, and the way its surface has been decorated.


Different types of material are produced depending on how the threads are woven together. On woven fabrics the threads running vertically are known as the warp threads and the threads running from side to side are the weft threads.

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Plain or tabby weave
Each weft thread goes over one warp then under the next.

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Twill weave
Each weft thread goes over one or more warp threads then under two or more. The weave pattern is offset resulting in a distinctive diagonal pattern.

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Satin weave
Each weft thread is passed over multiple warps then under one. This results in a smooth-surfaced fabric that shows mostly floating weft threads on one side and mostly floating warps on the other.

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Velvet weave
Extra weft threads are raised up from the surface of the fabric during weaving to create tiny loops. The loops can then be left (uncut velvet) or cut (cut velvet). Velvets can be woven with loops of different sizes to create velvets with different heights of pile.

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Damask weave
Variations in weave are used to create the pattern rather than different coloured threads. Damasks are reversible, that is they display inverse patterns on each side of the fabric.

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Brocade weave
Additional supplementary weft threads are used to add a pattern above the ground fabric.


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