GG Knows – A Dictionary of Textile Terms

Meet GG, one of the beloved founders of Chicago Canvas & Supply. Although she’s no longer with us, her vast knowledge of industry terminology lives on in this textile dictionary! Each month, we’ll pull from GG’s personal collection of terms—don’t miss out by subscribing to our blog over on the right-hand side of this webpage.

Ready to learn something new? Let’s get started!

GG KNOWS Diffusion Material

Diffusion fabrics soften and diffuse lights for film, television, theatres and photo shoots. Choosing the right fabric will determine the amount of light diffused. Scrims, poly silk and theatrical gauze are a few great suggestions.

The most relatable diffusion experience is standing under an overcast sky. Essentially, there is no direct sunlight under an overcast sky, so all light is then diffused. Guess Mother Nature must have studied in the big theatre lighting department!

GG KNOWS Gaffer’s Tape

Ask any photographer about their must-have tools and they’ll definitely list “gaffer’s tape” as one of them. Step foot on any movie set, and it won’t be long until you’re hearing someone ask for The Gaffer.

The most common use is to hold down cords to prevent tripping. It’s also used to hold things together, cap a lens or hang a backdrop. Why not use duct tape, you ask? Simple. Duct tape leaves a residue when removed that Gaffer’s Tape doesn’t! It’s a staple tool for creatives that could have so many beneficial uses.

Hey, maybe our next contest should be providing GG with a creative list of different Gaffer’s Tape uses. Interesting!


Fall is the perfect time to talk about fleece! Who doesn’t have that perfect piece of fleece clothing they love snuggling into? Fleece was originally referred to in the Medieval and Renaissance eras as the wool fleeced from sheep. In the late 1900’s, an American company invented fleece as we know it today–a highly napped fabric known for its softness and warmth. Fleece can be 100% polyester, cotton or a blend. Interestingly, Time Magazine named fleece, “one of the hundred great things in the 20th century” back in 1999. Wow! We all should have a new respect for our sweatshirts.

GG KNOWS Laminated Fabrics

In our world, “vinyl laminated polyester” comes to mind when you think of “laminated fabrics”. This is where two sheets of vinyl are laminated together with a polyester scrim embedded between the sheets.  The high-strength polyester scrim is used for reinforcement, making the fabric rip-resistant.  Laminated fabrics are sometimes called “bonded fabrics”.  Awe.

GG KNOWS Primed Canvas

First off, “primed canvas” and “gesso on canvas” mean the same thing.  The purpose of gesso (primer) on canvas is two-fold.  Number one, gesso protects the canvas from chemicals that might damage it and cause it to rot over time.  Second, gesso creates a matte surface for the paint to stick onto, rather than sinking into the raw fibers and bleeding (creating that fuzzy edge.)

Trying to paint a straight edge on unprimed canvas? No can-do.  Save some time and avoid the extra work by getting pre-primed canvas instead!

GG KNOWS Velcro 

Back in 1948, a Swiss Engineer named George De Mestral thought about why burred plants clung to his jacket after a walk in the fields.  Out came the microscope and, after much experimenting and years of work, Mestral invented Velcro!

Velcro is a nylon material made of 2 strips – referred to as “male and female” or “hook and loop”.  When the matching sides are pressed against each other, they meld together forming a strong bond. But just as easy as the two strips can be pushed together, they can also be easily pulled apart, making it super convenient for a TON of projects. Today, velcro comes in variety: widths, colors and sew-on/self-adhesive.

While Velcro is a registered name, most people use it to refer to the fabric in general (think: Kleenex). So familiar is the word, that it’s become common to use as a verb: “Did you velcro that?”; “Don’t be velcroed to my hip!”.


Guess what ladies and gents?  Denim was around over 300 years before Levi Strauss brought it to folks at the gold rush in 1853. In the 1500’s in Genoa, Italy the fabric was woven for it’s strength and adopted by sailors.  The exact city was Nimes. From Nimes in Italian is de Nimes.

Denim is a cotton twill fabric constructed of twisted yarns that form a diagonal line and is super sturdy.  I think that the blue color goes back to those sailors in Italy.  While originally used by workers, movie stars in the 50’s started wearing Jeans (a word made popular by Levi Strauss).

Think James Dean, Elvis Presley, John Wayne.  Along came the hippies in the 70’s and as they say “the rest is history🌎”.

If you plan to make denim a staple in your arts and crafts closet, remember fabric care! Be kind to your denim and your denim will be kind to you.

GG KNOWS Napping

Small fibers project from the cloth causing a softer and smoother surface. This process increases the durability of the fabric and covers those minute areas between the base weave. The perfect examples of napped fabrics are commando cloth and duvetyn. Others include flannel, chenille, fleece and terry cloth. And by the way, the napped fibers are often referred to as a pile! Stay tuned (if you’re not already napping) to see what GG knows about pile fabric.


You for sure know the obvious definition of a “drape”, but we also use this term to describe how a fabric hangs. The drape of a fabric is affected by the fibers used in weaving it, and various finishes applied to it, such as dying/coating and using water-resistant treatments. We have many theater fabrics that have a great drape (like muslin and velour) and recommend shying away from others are tooooooooo stiff (like commando cloth and canvas).

GG KNOWS Ticking

This fabric first became recognized for its use in covering mattresses, as slipcovers and for upholstery. Ticking is 100% cotton, a durable twill weave, and always in stripes. Originally, ticking was only available in natural with blue stripes. Today, natural ticking is available with at least 8 colors for the stripes. These days, you’ll see ticking in home decor, apparel and craft projects. Imagine some ticking slipcovers with solid colored accents. Wow…..dreamy!

GG KNOWS Greige Goods

You’ll probably only hear this textile term (pronounced “gray” goods) by a true fabric connoisseur—it’s almost like a secret code. Greige goods are any unfinished woven or knitted fabric that you’re planning to dye or apply flame retardancy or any other treatment to.

By the way, the word “greige” is so unique, that every time you type it, you’ll get a spell check error. Come on, Webster, get with the program!

GG KNOWS Cheese Cloth

Originally, this loose plain weave cotton fabric (often compared to gauze) was used for pressing cheese. When the 70s came–and you flower children will remember this–cheese cloth started appearing in clothing in a variety of patterns and colors. It’s also a budget-friendly choice for scenery designers in theaters and movies to use for texture and eerie environments. Can you say “cheese cloth”? Take a selfie!


Cut Size refers to the size of a tarp or fabric before sewing of seams and hems. As an example, for a 6’ x 8’ Cut Size tarp, the material will start at 6’ x 8’. After sewing, it will finish approximately 5’6” x 7’6”. Generally, you will lose 6-9” per dimension depending on the size of the piece and the number of seams needed to fabricate the piece. 3” of fabric is needed to make a hem, plus the additional material is needed to sew the panels together.

For more information on cut size vs. finish size, check out this helpful blog post:

GG KNOWS Finish Size

Finish Size refers to the size of a tarpaulin or fabric after sewing (hem) has been completed. This means that if the Finish Size is specified when ordering, the extra fabric that is necessary to create hems and seams has already been accounted for and the actual end product will be 6’ x 8’. As such, a 6’ x 8’ Finish Size tarp will finish at 6’ x 8’ after sewing is completed. In other words, the material will start larger, approximately 6’6” x 8’8” and then after the hems and seams are made, the piece will be 6’ x 8’ when completed.

For more information on finish size vs. cut size, check out this helpful blog post:

GG KNOWS Cycloramas

Cyclorama (also referred to as a “cyc”) is a large curtain that’s positioned at the back of a theatre stage. Made of canvas, muslin or scrim, cycs are used to create special effects, including the illusion of a sky, open space, and/or distance. First used in 19th century German theaters, cycloramas continue to be used today. Cycs are hung at 0% fullness (flat with no pleats) and, when possible, stretched on the sides and weighted on the bottom to create a flat and even surface for projections or paintings. As seams tend to interrupt the smooth surface of the cyclorama, it is usually constructed from extra-wide material, which makes our fabrics ideal.

GG KNOWS Fabric Weight

You can’t get away from discussions about weight these days–even in terms of your fabric.
Fabric weight describes the mass, or how much a fabric weighs, for a given area or length. Most fabric are referred to as ounces per square yard. As a reminder: a square yard is 3′ x 3′. But you knew that, right?

GG KNOWS Running Yard

A “running yard” is the width of the fabric by every 3 feet. When you purchase fabric, request the width and number of consecutive (running) yards. A typical phrase for vendors of fabric is “price per running yard.” Simple and easy to do your math.

GG KNOWS Monk’s Cloth

Monk’s Cloth is an even basket weave fabric.  Monk’s cloth is used in Swedish weaving often called Huck Embroidery.  Since this cloth is 100% cotton, it will definitely shrink when washed. WARNING: Be sure to pre shrink fabric before you start your project.
Monk’s Cloth is available in many beautiful colors.  You can use yarns and threads to embroider or stitch beautiful images and don’t hesitate to also use Monk’s Cloth to decorate borders on blankets, pillows, clothing and pictures.

GG KNOWS Sharkstooth Scrim

Sharkstooth Scrim is unique mostly to theatres. Sharkstooth scrim allows differed lighting effects depending on front or back light. I have tried to find the origin of this term. A sharkstooth is black and maybe this was the first color this was woven in? I googled all over the place and couldn’t find much. If any of you have more information on why the name sharkstooth, please email me. GG wants to know!


GG KNOWS Colorfast

Colorfast refers to a color that does not shift hues, fade or bleed when exposed to certain conditions. Conditions may be sunlight, washing or rubbing against other surfaces. Be sure to test your fabric choice especially if the fabric is touching another surface. Headache avoided.


GG KNOWS Selvedge Edge

Selvedge Edge is the self edge of any woven fabric.  In a perfect world, a “tuck selvedge” is preferred as this is a smooth edge.  Some looms create a “fringe” selvedge and has short threads along the edge. Either way, a selvedge edge will not fray.  This can be very important depending on your project and can save on sewing time and costs. Only hem a selvedge edge if there is a secondary reason!!!



Muslin is a very handy, dandy fabric.  Muslin is a firm, medium to heavy weight plain weave cotton fabric made in a variety of qualities.  Muslin is used in the theatre by quilters, painters, crafters and so many more.  What’s really exciting is the very, very wide seamless widths available.  I would love to see the loom that can weave 33′ seamless muslin. Think of 5 King size beds lined up…yikes.

For information on muslin fabric, check out this blog post:



GG KNOWS Grommets

Yes people, those metal holes in your tarp, your curtain, and lots of other items you purchase do have a name. We’ve heard you struggle to explain them every which way but simply said these are Grommets.

Grommets come in sets of 2 pieces – the grommet and the washer. There are choices of finishes such as brass, nickel and black coated brass. There is a universal numbering system and as the number gets higher (#1#2#3, etc) the inside diameter of the center hole increases.


GG KNOWS Commando Cloth

Commando Cloth is constructed just like duvetyn but from a heavier twill fabric. The matte finish and its high opacity make it ideal for blocking light.

A new fabric in the 1930s, this fabric was commonly used for dresses, suits and coats. Than theatres started using this fabric for theatre curtains and the rest is history. Also, Commando Cloth is available in widths of 118″. This is super handy – less seams or no seams. Yeah!


GG KNOWS Duvetyn

First let’s learn to pronounce this tongue twister?   Do ve teen. This is a twill fabric with a velvet like nap on 1 side. Usually woven from cotton and flame retardant, this fabric is an affordable solution for blocking light on stages, movie sets, events, run ways and photo studios.

I read that duvetyn was used on the original Star Trek to create galaxies. Glitter was sprinkled on the duvetyn and than cleverly lite. And in Raging Bull Hugh curtains of black duvetyn were hung all around the boxing ring to contain the artificial smoke. So interesting!


GG KNOWS Canvassing

This term is used in the theatre for covering the stage flat.  Canvas Duck (#12 Artist Duck) covers only the front of the frame and is not pulled around to the back as an artist would stretch a frame.

There is a lengthy procedure that we will cover in a separate blog. Most important use the right fabric  – a sturdy canvas is the optimum choice.   And guess what- many theatre companies repaint these flats several times for different productions.



A coarse fabric made of jute, hemp or cotton and at times called Gunny or Hessian Cloth.  German soldiers from the state of Hesse were called Hessians.  This coarse fabric became part of their uniform and thus adopted the name Hessian.

This eco-friendly, breathable fabric makes perfect sacks for shipping green tobacco and vegetables.  Same fabric, different name, gunny sacks are used for shipping coffee.  In World War II burlap was printed with a camouflage pattern and adhered on combat helmets.  In the Great Depression, farmers re-purposed this fabric to sew clothing.  Not great for long term on the skin!  Ouch.
Today, sand bags for both theater and emergency flooding, masks in films, texture on scenery, home decorating, craft projects and in furniture use are just some of burlaps many uses.  Chicago Canvas & Supply carries burlap in lots of new qualities, patterns and colors.


GG KNOWS Broadcloth

A lustrous cotton or cotton and polyester, this fabric is used for shirts, blouse and dresses.  The smooth, velvety feel makes this an ideal choice for costumes.

Why “broadcloth“?  Most shirt fabrics are woven in widths of 29.”  Since this cloth is woven in widths exceeding 29″, it was obvious to call it BROADcloth.  OK Sherlock.


GG KNOWS Tarpaulins

Going back, tarpaulins were only treated canvas.  Now tarpaulins are manufactured from vinyls,  polyethylenes and nylons.  No matter what the material all tarpaulins are coated to serve as a protection against inclement weather.  Most have grommets to allow securing the tarpaulin.  Here is something interesting- the hat a sailor often wears in a storm is called a tarpaulin.


GG KNOWS Pile Fabric

When yarns project from the foundation, we have a pile fabric such as velour.  A technique of weaving forms a pile or loop on the face of the fabric.  Small blades slit the loop which becomes the pile.  Brilliant.



Quack, quack, quack.  OK I just had to get that out of the way.
Ducks are closely woven materials and are non directional.  The family of ducks best know are number ducks, ounce ducks and army duck.  What makes each unique are the weights and number of yarns either woven in pairs or  individually.
Number Duck” canvas is ideal for artistic painting and industrial uses. Here is a hint- as the numbers get lower (i.e. #12-10-8) the canvas gets heavier.



Since we named our company Chicago Canvas & Supply, obviously we are very serious about canvas in all forms! Canvas is a cotton fabric with an even weave that comes in various weights. A single filled duck canvas is our go to fabric for dropcloths, tarpaulins and colored canvas.


GG KNOWS Textiles

There is an endless list of textile terms. I once read there were 18,000 textile terms but that was a few decades ago and new ones are constantly popping up! A textile is made of fibers that are woven, knitted or pressed. Other terms often used will be cloth or fabric.

9 thoughts on “GG Knows – A Dictionary of Textile Terms

  1. virginia crowley says:

    I saw on a dyi show that you can use canvas drop cloth to make slip covers for couchs. They didnt say what brand or type to use. any suggustions.

    • Candice Gilliatt says:

      For slip covers, we would recommend our Medium Weight 8 oz drop cloths:
      Since these are 100% cotton, dropcloths should be washed and dried therefore pre shrinking the material prior to cutting slip overs Keep in mind runners (i.e. 4 x 12, 4 x 15…..) will be seamless whereas Dropcloths (9×12, 12 x 15….) will have seams. Your project will have a beautiful, natural look. If in the mood, you can paint a design on the canvas for more fun!

  2. Bill Erwin says:

    I need to replace our canvas curtains on our cabin screen porch. The dimensions are 40′ by 5′. I will need to cut it in pieces to allow for a door and shorter lengths so the curtain can be rolled up. What weight canvas should I use? What is duck canvas? Is one better than the other? Will this canvas shrink? Is it waterproof? What is my best value? Thank you.

  3. Kay Kochmann-Henkes says:

    Dear CCS:
    I thought for spring i’d like to replace my curtains with canvas. my plan is to have a nautical look and use grommets with white cotton rope to hang them to poles. Would it be best to buy canvas tarps and sew together, or buy canvas? I’m operating on the cheap side. either way ther will be vertical seams, right? i’d be hanging 84″Long x 12′ widths. therses a sale now for 9×12 drp cloths. what should I do?

  4. Joe Janicke says:

    I am trying to find out what these terms mean; “single filled” and “triple filled” ? This is for natural cotton duck.
    I have not been able to see what you call color “gold” in cotton duck. Please show me.
    Thanks, Joe

  5. Joe Janicke says:

    Please add this question to my previous inquiry.
    Can you supply a cut piece of Number 8 cotton duck, color gold, that has been pre shrunk ?
    Thanks, Joe

    • Chicago Canvas says:

      Thanks for your comment, Joe.

      Single fill ducks are identified by their ounce weight (the approximate weight per square yard). For example, 10 oz. duck is approximately 10 ounces per square yard. 1 square yard is 36″ x 36”.

      Single fill ducks differ from numbered ducks in that there is only 1 yarn in the weft. Numbered ducks will have 2 yarns making it stiffer & stronger.

      Named Numbered Ducks for the “#” like weave structure which is known as “double fill” or “plied yarn”. Numbered ducks are identified by the “#” sign in front of a number from 1 to 12. This plied yarn weave makes for a tighter and stronger weave construction over single fill ducks and are used for more rugged outdoor or industrial applications.

      Hope that helps!

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