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A list of costume and clothing specific terms, and their meanings.


A gastropod mollusc whose shell is lined with mother of pearl, which has a greyish colour and is used for buttons and jewellery.

À Disposition

Printed or woven decoration of a fabric specifically designed to fit flounces or narrower trimming on a dress; the design is more elaborate than the main dress fabric and complements it.


An ornamental metal tag on the end of a ribbon or other hanging trimming; in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries such ribbons were used for tying pieces of clothing together.


A fabric using the wool of the Alpaca goat in the weft; the warp was silk and later, cotton. It has quite a springy texture and it was invented by Sir Titus Salt in 1838.


This was a collodion positive, an early form of photograph The image was developed on the glass plate which was mounted on a black background, covered with another piece of glass and sealed into a frame. It was technically a negative, so the clear parts looked black against the black ground; this also meant that the image was laterally reversed like a reflection in a mirror. It was first developed in 1852 and superseded in the 1860s by prints on paper.


Small pieces of fabric sewn on to form part of a design.

Ayrshire work

A style of whitework developed in Ayrshire in the early 19th century; white cotton embroidery on fine white cotton lawn or muslin, often with small areas of openwork.


(Footwear) A strip covering the seam joining the quarters at the back of a shoe or boot.

(Waistcoat) A waist adjustment consisting of a pair of straps sewn on to the back of a waistcoat at waist level meeting at the centre back, with a buckle on the end of one strap through which the end of the other is fastened. From the later nineteenth century they were usually sewn into each side seam.


See Bone/Boned/Boning


A deep falling collar attached round the neck edge of a low-necked dress.


Pieces of dried reed used for stiffening stays and corsets, and the tabs at the back of waistcoats.


The direction of a fabric which is at an angle between the warp and weft.

Block printed

Decoration made by applying dyes to fabric using wooden blocks with a pattern carved into one surface; each colour requires a separate block with that part of the pattern specific to it. Fine detail is made by inset strips of metal, or tiny pin heads to give a dotted texture creating half-tone effects.

Blonde lace

Bobbin lace made of natural cream or ivory silk thread; it was also sometimes made in black silk and then called black blonde.

Bobbin lace

Threads wound on bobbins are woven round pins marking out a design on a pillow; it is sometimes referred to as pillow lace.


Strips of whalebone, or baleen, cut from plates of a horny substance which grows in the upper jaw of certain whales; the strips are encased in fabric channels on garments, to stiffen them.

Book muslin

A coarse muslin with a hard finish.



            Horizontal: A straight-edged narrow border along the edge of the ends of a long shawl or scarf.

            Inner horizontal: A straight-edged narrow border at the top of the main border.

            Main: A deep border at the ends of a long shawl.

            Vertical: A straight-edged narrow border on the sides of a long shawl, sometimes sewn on.


Two pleats facing opposite directions with their folds at the back brought together.


Part of a hat or bonnet which has one edge attached to the lower edge of the crown and the other one projecting out from the head, forming a ring or part of a ring round the head.


A fabric, often silk, with a plain coloured ground and a pattern of contrasting coloured extra wefts producing a slightly raised effect. Brocade is now often used to describe any woven-patterned fabric.

Brush braid

A braid sewn round the hem of a skirt to protect it from wear; it is a very dense fringe of short stiff silk fibres, usually about ¼" deep, attached to a flat braid heading which was sewn on the inside edge of the hem with the 'brush' showing below the fabric edge.

Brussels appliqué bobbin lace

The design is in bobbin lace, appliquéd on to machine-made net


A strong linen fabric of plain open weave, stiffened with flour paste, china clay and glue.


A flat narrow piece of whalebone or wood, usually, inserted down a pocket inside the centre front of stays and corsets to keep them rigid. In the 19th century busks of steel were introduced, consisting of two pieces which clipped together enabling the corset to be opened in the front, as well as the laced-up back, which made dressing easier.


Plain cotton fabric, usually white.


A heavily glazed worsted fabric, in various weaves.


A cape covering the front and back bodice but not the arms; frills at the shoulders might extend over the top of the sleeves.


A silk with the pattern formed by the warp.

Carrickmacross lace

An Irish lace; the design is made of pieces of muslin appliquéd on to machine-made net.

Cartridge pleating

Gathering made by small running stitches pulling fabric into tightly packed parallel folds.


1. Metal wire, similar to purl, but made from flat metal strip and faceted.

2. A pattern made by the crossing of vertical and horizontal stripes.

Chemical lace

Lace made by machine embroidery on chemically treated fabric which is then dissolved away, leaving the embroidery.


A fill-in for an open-necked bodice in muslin or fine cotton, with a collar round the neck. Typically it comprises front and back panels, joined at the shoulders but not the sides and open at the front. Evening chemisettes were made to appear as a border inside a low neckline and usually had a back opening.


A thread with a velvety pile. (French for caterpillar).


Fabric, usually silk taffeta, where the warp has been printed before weaving. When the warp is put in the loom and woven, the threads shift slightly giving blurred edges to the printed pattern. In the 18th century these fabrics were called Clouded silks in England. See also Warp-printing.


A very thin plain-woven silk that is semi-transparent.


A piece of fabric sewn on, to finish off the neck of a garment. Sometimes this extends down the front opening.

Cord quilting

A technique where cords are placed between two layers of fabric, which are stitched together each side of the cords, making a raised pattern on the surface of the cotton.

Cotton lisle

Cotton yarn twisted in a way to make it stronger, and used for making stockings.

Cotton piqué

Another name for Marcella.

Couched / Couching

Embroidery done with thick thread, cord or narrow braid, laid out in a design and oversewn to the ground with stitches in a finer thread at intervals.


A stout twill weave cotton fabric, used for corsets


The original English spelling of crepe; from the 19th century now mostly used to described mourning fabric.


Fabric woven with threads of opposite twists in the warp and weft; the resulting tension produces a matt surface.

Crepe weave

Fabric woven with the weft intersecting the warp in a random pattern, producing the effect of crepe.

Crêpe de Chine

Fine silk crepe.


French for horsehair; this was woven into strips used for making hats and bonnets, and also for decoration. Also woven with cotton to make a stiff fabric (crinoline) used for petticoats. In the 20th century it was made of synthetic fibres, and more recently, nylon.


See Crin. The term crinoline is often used to describe dresses of the 1860s, but it actually means the fabric woven with horsehair.


The top of a fringe where groups of threads are knotted on to the heading, and half the strands from one group are knotted together with half the strands from the next but one group, forming a lattice.


The part of a hat or bonnet which sits on the head.


A short frill attached to the lower back edge of the crown of a bonnet, covering the neck.  Also called a bavolet.

Cut Velvet

See Velvet.

Cutwork embroidery

Embroidery where tiny pieces of the base fabric have been cut away and the edges over-stitched, as part of the design.


A fabric, usually a single colour, using two different weave structures, usually satin and sateen. Where the ground is in satin weave on the front, it appears as a sateen on the back; the figure is in sateen, which appears as satin on the back. The weaves catch the light differently so the pattern shows as a contrast of textures and the fabric is reversible. It is often all silk, but can be in other fibres, and is sometimes a combination of two different ones.


A lace-up shoe where the latchets are an extension of the quarters and are stitched on top of the vamp.


Also called Paste or Strass; a hard vitreous composition used for making artificial gems.


A mantle with the sleeve cut all in one with the side panel, the lower edge hanging loose.


A garment where the front panels overlap to the extent that, when the buttons are fastened, they are to one side of the centre and there is a corresponding row of decorative buttons on the opposite side of the centre front.


A very narrow braid or cord threaded through a channel in fabric, to gather it in.

Drawn-thread work

An embroidery technique where threads are drawn out from the ground to form a more open-weave fabric.


Strands of rubber wrapped with thread, forming strips of various widths, which are thus stretchy.


A pale brownish cream, the colour of unbleached linen (from the French word for raw).

Exotic flower / foliage

Stylised flowers and foliage not found in nature.


A round hole for laces to pass through, neatened by stitching, and later by metal rings. Thomas Rogers patented a metal eyelet machine in 1823.


A woollen fabric which has been finished in such a way that the surface is completely smooth.


A piece, usually fabric, sewn on to the inside front edge, or hem, of a garment to neaten and strengthen it.


Threads or gimp, worked in a figure of eight pattern or similar, bridging a gap between two pieces of fabric.


A soft silk fabric with a slight transverse rib.


1.The part of a collar which is folded over; sometimes it is part of the stand, whose inner edge is sewn round the neck, and sometimes it is a separate piece sewn to the stand.

2. A square flap of fabric covering the front opening of breeches or trousers; it is fastened by buttons at the top corners.


A way of stitching together two pieces of fabric: the folded edge of one piece is placed over the other, and oversewn on to it.


Fabric made from wool or fur compacted by a process involving beating and washing.


The centre of a shawl which is plain.

Figured silk

Silk with a small woven pattern, usually geometric and often in a self colour.


A thread made of a narrow strip of metal wound round a core of silk.

Floss silk

Silk thread which is untwisted and has a glossy appearance; used for embroidery.

Fly front

An arrangement of the buttonholes on an inside flap of fabric under the front edge, so that they are concealed by the front edge of the garment, and the buttons are not visible when done up.


The front sections of a waistcoat.

Fringe gate

The narrow section on the ends of a shawl, outside the pattern, which has its edge frayed to form the fringe. They had increasingly decorative woven patterns through the 19th century.


A curly version of filé.


A term used for many types of heavy cotton or cotton and linen fabrics. It often has a raised surface.


(Shawl) A band of pattern, often echoing the main border on a smaller scale, inside the inner and vertical borders.


A thin, semi-transparent fabric, usually silk, with an open weave.


A fine sheer crepe usually made of silk or rayon.


A thin cord or wire covered with silk, cotton or worsted threads, wound round it.

Glazed cotton

Cotton treated with wax, starch or resin, and passed through heated rollers, which give the cotton a glossy finish.


The process of fluting or crimping fabric by a heated goffering iron.


Cut in wedge shaped pieces; a gored skirt panel is wide at the hem and narrow at the top, so not needing gathers or pleats to reduce the fullness.


A colour between grey and beige.


A fabric with the weft thicker than the warp, which creates transverse ribs.


A small piece of fabric, triangular or diamond-shaped, inserted into a seam, to allow more movement, or to make the garment larger.

Hatter’s plush

A silk velvet with a long pile that lies flat, and can be brushed to achieve a very shiny surface.

Heel breast

The front surface of the heel facing the arch of the foot


In the context of hat-making, this is the basic domed shape in felt or straw which a milliner or hatmaker then fashions into the desired style.


Originally this was a heavy rough wool, but now the term has come to be used for a fabric which has two warp threads and two weft threads worked together in a plain weave.


A fabric, usually silk or cotton, where the warp threads have been bound very tightly in parts so that when they are dyed the colour doesn’t penetrate that area leaving it in its undyed state. When the fabric is woven, the threads shift a little giving blurred edges to the coloured areas of the pattern.


A piece of fabric between the outer fabric and the lining of a garment, which adds body or stiffens that section of the garment.


A mechanical method of weaving patterned fabric by using a succession of cards with punched holes for automatic selection of the cords controlling the warp threads, replacing the work of a boy sitting on a drawloom. It was invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1802.


Coated with any varnish which gives a hard black gloss.


A machine knitted fabric, originally wool, but later cotton, silk or synthetic fibres.


A hard compact from of lignite which can be polished and carved; now usually black glass.


A region in northern India where shawls were traditionally made using yarn from the fleece of native cashmere goats.


A raw fine short-stapled cotton used for stuffing.

Knock-on heel

A heel which has been made separately and joined on to an otherwise finished shoe.


The lower part of a step collar, formed by the folded back facing at the top of the front panel and joined to the front edges of the collar. The collar and the lapel can be cut as one piece as a step-roll collar.


Strips, usually lace, hanging from the sides of a headdress.


A wooden shape over which the upper is moulded.  Bespoke shoes might use lasts carved to the shape of the customer's feet, but ready-made shoes would use standard lasts made for each style of shoe.


The part of the upper over the instep with eyelets for closing with shoelaces, usually over a tongue.

Leghorn straw

Livorno (Leghorn) was the port of export for Italian straw.This was a particular kind of wheat, cut green and bleached; the plaited strips are sewn together edge to edge.


A weaving technique where pairs of warp threads are twisted round weft threads, holding them in position and allowing gauzy fabrics to be more stable.

Lille bobbin lace

Bobbin lace made in Lille, Northern France.

Linen buttons

Buttons made of linen or cotton stretched over a flattened metal ring; the thread attaching them to a garment can be sewn through the centre. They sometimes have metal eyelets in the centre for the stitching. They were used for underwear that would be laundered, and sometimes they would get a little distorted in the process.

Louis heel

A heel where the sole extends down over the breast, the front of the heel.

Luton straw

The districts round Luton, Bedfordshire, produced varieties of straw particularly suitable for hats. The stalks were used whole or split using a specialised instrument.

Maltese lace

Bobbin lace made in Malta, usually in cream or black silk, and usually incorporating the maltese cross in its design.


See Marseilles cloth.

Marseilles cloth

A technique developed in the eighteenth century to weave fabric resembling quilting. Marseilles was famous for its hand-quilting so, not wanting to detract from this industry, the French called the new invention matelassé. In England it was called Marseilles cloth, later anglicised to marcella; this was often used for men's evening dress waistcoats in the 20th century.


See Marseilles cloth.

Midlands bobbin lace

Bobbin lace made in an area North of London, including Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.


The joining of two borders at right-angles so that the joint bisects the angle.


A fabric with a weft rib, folded double and passed through heated rollers, causing the ribs to slip about and be flattened unevenly, creating a watered effect which reflects light in different ways.


A piece of fabric laid on the inside of the main fabric, the two layers being worked as one; this makes the main fabric firmer.

Mourning crape

Black crepe crimped and treated to look dull; also occasionally made in white.


Fine cotton fabric, usually semi-transparent

Naturalistic flower

A flower design of a recognisable species.


A machine-made mesh, often cotton, but sometimes silk (tulle), and man-made fibres in the 20th century.


An open fabric made by knotting threads in different patterns.

Nicholls dress clip

A hook and eye fastening; a flexible extension on the hook part closes it over the eye and prevents it from slipping out. First patented in 1875 by Thomas Thorns, 19 Nicholl Square, City, London, and described as a Dress Holder.


An embroidery technique where small holes are made in the fabric; larger areas are filled with various kinds of decorative stitching.


A fine translucent cotton muslin, treated to make it stiff.


A fine translucent plain weave silk, fairly stiff.


A transverse corded fabric where the warp passes over a much thicker weft, with one or two rows of flat plain weave between each rib.


A lace-up shoe or boot where the latchets are an extension of the quarters and are stitched under the vamp.


The town in Scotland where shawls were woven ‘in imitation of the Indian’. It came to dominate the market in the 19th century to the extent that the typical pine motif has become known as ‘paisley’

Pagoda sleeve

A sleeve which flares out to a wide end; the outer side is longer than the inner side.


A hard vitreous composition used for making artificial gems.

Patent leather

In the late 18th century this was leather covered in layers of varnish in imitation of Japanese lacquer work. In the 19th century this treatment changed to an oil-based dressing, to achieve the shiny finish.


A short cape with long ends in the front.


A short overskirt sewn round the waist of a bodice and usually only a few inches deep; sometimes an extension of the bodice.


A thick corded ribbon used for trimming and binding edges, and also for waistbands, particularly those on the inside of bodices.


An edging formed of very tiny loops, on lace and ribbons.

Pieced / Piecing

A piece of fabric added to a panel of a garment to fill a space where that panel is not quite the size required. When the pattern pieces are laid on the fabric and overlap, one panel would be missing a bit, and so a small piece is sewn in to make the panel the right size. This was often done to minimise the amount of expensive fabric needed for the garment.


The ends of fibres which project upwards from a woven fabric, forming a smooth surface.

Pine motif

A drop shape with a curved top, the typical motif used on shawls; in India it is called a buta, meaning flower, boteh being the western adaptation of the word. See also Paisley.


Very narrow folds, often 1mm wide, stitched down.


A narrow strip of fabric folded lengthways and inserted into a seam or put on an edge. It has a narrow cord lying inside the fold, which sits on top of the seam, or on the edge, as a finish.


A short lengthways opening at the top of a skirt, with a fold of fabric sewn to the underside of the edge, to which fasteners can be sewn. In the middle years of the 20th century this type of opening was also found in the side seams of a dress and fastened by press studs or a zip.

Plain weave

The simplest form of weaving where single warp and weft threads pass over and under each other. It can be made with any fibre.


A fabric with a pile deeper than velvet, made of cotton, silk, or wool, sometimes with goat hair.


Having several different colours together making a pattern.

Princess dress

A dress with no waist seam, the bodice and skirt panels cut as one, shaped into the waist and flaring out below. This style appeared in the 1860s and became very popular in the late 1870s.


The Public Records Office.

Pulled-thread work

An embroidery technique where threads of a woven fabric are pulled together to form decorative holes.


Metal wire, usually silver or silver gilt, wound into a coil and used in small sections as decoration.


The sides of the upper of a shoe which join the vamp at the front and are seamed together at the back. They are so-called becase in a pair of shoes there are four of them.


A layer of wadding, cotton or wool, is placed between two pieces of fabric, with stitching to hold it all together. The simplest stitching formed a diamond pattern, but more elaborate designs were often used.


A fibre made from cellulose to make artificial silk.


The top section of the front edge of the front panels turned back to show the facing on the inside surface.


Bands of fabric, usually about 2" or 3" wide, over the edges of the side front panels of a bodice, and sometimes the skirt. These are often formed of the edge of the gown folded over.

Roll collar

A collar formed of a section of the facing at the top of the front edge of the forepart folded open and extending round the back of the neck with a centre back seam. Sometimes called a shawl collar.


A strip of rolled fabric looking like a thin cord.

Russia braid

A braid made of two narrow cords bound together with thin threads in a way that the end of one cord can be pulled out to make the braid curve, so that it can be applied to fabric to make designs.


A weave producing a fabric whose face is made of closely packed weft threads, looking similar to satin; it is usually cotton.


A weave producing a fabric whose face is made of closely packed warp threads; the weft is hardly visible and holds the fabric together from the back. It is often silk, or silk warp and cotton weft, the silk face making a glossy fabric, but it can be cotton, wool or a man-made fibre.


A narrow shawl which is at least three times as long as its width.


A pattern in the same colour, or a trimming using the same fabric as the main item.


The edge of a woven fabric where the weft threads turn round to go back through the warp. It is often formed of different coloured and stronger warp threads, and usually in a different weave from the main fabric.


A fabric with a long pile.


A spot textured silk fabric with a pebbled surface resembling sharkskin.


The part of a button sticking down on its underside with a hole for sewing it to a garment; it was a metal loop or formed of the same material as the button.

Shawl collar

See Roll collar.

Shot silk

Silk taffeta woven with contrasting colours in the warp and weft, which shows differently in different lights. Also called changeable silk.


A glazed linen, later also cotton, usually dark brown, and originally from Silesia, a state in Germany.

Silver gilt

Silver which has been plated with gold.


A garment where the front panels overlap in the centre just enough for buttonholes on the edge of one side to fasten on to buttons on the edge of the other other side.


Small lumps in spun thread which stick out from the surface of woven fabric.


Embroidery in a honeycomb pattern which holds together tiny pleats in a slightly flexible way, whilst giving fullness to the fabric below..


A small piece of metal, usually round, with a hole in the middle, which is sewn on to fabric as decoration. From the late nineteenth century it was increasingly called a sequin.


Decorative stitches in silk thread to cover or reinforce points of darts etc.; they are usually triangles of various sorts on tailored garments, and on corsets they take various forms on the ends of bone channels.


(Footwear) A piece of fabric or leather covering the insole inside a shoe.

Stacked heel

A heel made of layers of leather stacked up, sometimes matching the colour of the shoe or boot, and sometimes contrasting with it.

Stand collar

A collar formed of a straight, or slightly shaped, piece of fabric standing up from the neck; Stand can also refer to the upright part of a collar with a fall attached to the top edge.

Step collar

A collar formed of the folded back edge of the front panel showing the facing, which becomes a lapel, joined onto a separate piece of fabric forming the collar which goes round the back of the neck; this produces a notch or step where the pieces join.

Step-roll collar

A collar which is an extension of the front facing, with a notch in the edge, where a seam would be that joined a separate lapel and collar.


A separate triangular panel filling in the space between the fronts of the bodice of an open gown, with the pointed end at the waist; it was usually decorated, and had tabs at the sides to pin under the robings on the front edges of the gown.


The dried stems of certain cereal plants.


Ribbons hanging freely from a hat or bonnet.


(Headwear) Ribbons (or strips of fabric) sewn each side of the lower edge of a bonnet or hat, to tie it on.


An ornamental festoon of flowers or drapery, or a representation of this.


A plain weave silk fabric, where single warp and weft threads pass over and under each other; this is now also made from synthetic fibres.

Tambour embroidery

Tambour is French for drum, and fabric stretched on an embroidery frame is reminiscent of this. Tambour work is a term specifically used to describe embroidery done with a hooked needle pushed through the stretched fabric and pulling up thread from underneath, in loops, forming a chain stitch on the top of the fabric.


A thin open weave muslin, much stiffened.


(Footwear) The centre of the front edge of the vamp of a shoe resting on the instep.


Binding sections of warp threads very tightly so that when they are dyed the colour doesn’t penetrate that area, leaving it in its undyed state. This can also be done with sections of a piece of fabric.


(Footwear) An extension of the vamp over the instep, usually under shoe-laces or straps.


A woman’s hat with no brim.


Silk net.


A heavy twill weave wool, often rough in texture.


A fabric where the weft threads pass over one and under two warp threads, in a staggered succession; the proportions can vary. This produces a diagonal rib effect on the fabric, and can be made with any fibre.

Uncut velvet

See Velvet.


The part of a shoe covering the top of a foot, consisting of the vamp, quarters and lining.


The front part of the upper of a shoe covering the toes and part of the instep


A series of large points forming a border.

Vegetable ivory

The inside of the tagua nut from certain South American palm trees, and used for buttons from the late nineteenth century until plastic became common.


A pile fabric with a second warp which passes over thin rods during weaving, forming loops. The loops then either cut leaving the threads sticking up as tufts (cut velvet), or left as loops (uncut velvet).


Embroidery of wiggly lines as an overall pattern.

Voided velvet

A fabric with the ground in velvet and the pattern in a flat weave. This can be reversed with the ground woven as a flat fabric in a satin, a twill or a plain weave, and a pattern woven in velvet.


A more robust form of muslin.


Unspun wool or cotton used to bulk out quilting, or provide other padding.

Waffle piqué

A type of marcella where the pattern forms distinct squares which give more of a texture.


(Footwear) The narrowest part of the sole under the arch of the foot.


The threads which run the length of the fabric.

Warp frame lace

The warp frame was a development of the stocking frame in the 1770s, and produced a lace that was essentially knitted.


Fabric, usually silk taffeta, where the warp has been printed before weaving. When the warp is put in the loom and woven, the threads shift slightly giving blurred edges to the printed pattern. See also Chiné

Watered silk

See Moiré.


The threads which run transversely from side to side of the fabric.

Welted pockets

A welt is a narrow strip of fabric put on the top edge of a pocket, or used as a binding.


See Baleen and Bone/Boned/Boning


White cotton embroidery on white cotton or muslin; it evolved from 18th century Dresden work which was made in imitation of lace. Whitework was also produced in India for export to the European market.

Woven on

The border is woven as part of a shawl.


A panel across the shoulders of a garment, joining the front and back panels; also a curved panel round the top of a skirt.