Glossary of terms used on this site

Worshipful Company of Weavers

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A leaf fibre from the raphia spp. palm.  grown in Tropical America and Madagascar.  Used in the manufacture of decorative household items, ropes and in the garden.


A strong soft bast fibre, usually about 800mm or more in length, obtained from the stems of various species of the genus Boehmeria nivea (L.) of the Urticaceae nettle family. Ramie is sold in various forms: China grass (sometimes bleached), Ribbons (complete stem), de-gummed fibre, tops, roving or yarn.  Used in the production of clothing fabrics, furnishing fabrics, netting, canvas, rope and string.  Can be blended with other fibres and spun into knitting yarn.  Cultivated in China, India, Philippines, and Brazil.

raw silk

Continuous filaments of silk, with no twist, which have been reeled from cocoons but as yet, unprocessed and still containing sericin.


Rayon (viscose rayon) is the oldest of all the man-made fibres and was originally produced by dissolving nitro-cellulose into a solution which could be extruded through a nozzle and made into a filament. The process was patented by Count du Chardonnet in 1884, whose recipe was similar to that of producing gun-cotton and was too dangerous. Towards the end of the 19th century further experiments were carried out to make artificial silk by the cuprammonium process. This process was much safer. Then, in 1892, the viscose process was patented by C.F.Cross and his partners. The first filaments of viscose rayon were made in England in 1904 by Samuel Courtauld and Company, silk weavers. Rayon is made from cellulose and the highest yield of high-grade cellulose is from Scandinavian and Canadian Spruce and South African Eucalyptus. Viscose can be used in filament form or as staple fibre.

reactive dyes

Can be used on all types of fibre and can produce a wide range of colours. They are called reactive dyes because they react with the fibre molecules to form a covalent dye/fibre bond. A great deal of experimentation went into the development of reactive dyes. The first reactive dyes were marketed by ICI in 1955 under the brand name Procion, which was developed by Professor Ratee and Dr Stephens.


The reed determines the arrangement or spacing of the warp threads across the width of the fabric. When the weft is placed into the fell of the cloth the reed beats it into position evenly. Usually made of thin metal strips bonded at equal distances between baulks. In order to seperate the metal strips evenly, they are spaced by smooth string which is wound round each baulk. Traditionally, the baulks are usually covered with pitch and then paper to hold the string and metal strips in place. In some countries reeds made from slivers of bamboo, or reed, are still produced and used by handloom weavers. See batten, fell and fly shuttle.


The term used to determine the weight of cocoons in kilograms to reel 1kg of raw silk.


A narrow fabric of varying widths, having selvedge edges.  Traditionally made in silk but more commonly can be made from cotton or man-made fibres. Derived from the Old French word riban (modern French: ruban).  See narrow fabrics.


An alternative method of retting whole stems which rets the outer part of the plant stem. Known as ribboning, it produces strips of fibre containing bast. A simple ribboner is the bicycle ribboner.  The Alvan Blanch ribboner is based on an existing small-scale rice thresher.

Advantages of ribboning:

  • Less water required for retting
  • Valuable plant nutrients are returned to the soil
  • Less weight of material to transport

Disadvantages of ribboning:

  • Additional labour required for green stem stripping by hand
  • Mechanical ribboning requires high capital outlay for ribboners
  • Retting fibre from ribbons tends to be inferior to fibre from retted whole stems
ring spinning

A continuous mechanical spinning process which is mostly used in the cotton industry and in spinning most short staple fibres in a wide range of counts.  With the expansion of the domestic, cottage based industry of textile production and the further development of factory systems in the late eighteenth century, for the mass-production of textiles, came several spinning inventions. See jenny and mule.  The ring spinning process was developed in the United States of America in 1828 but was not immediately adopted in Britain or elsewhere in the world.  The simple principle of ring spinning is similar to cap spinning except that the yarn is guided onto the spinning bobbin by a ring and traveller arrangement rather than the edge of the cap.  Although ring spinning is still very popular in the spinning industry it has reached its peak of development and has now been superseded by new spinning methods, such as rotor spinning.  


A strong, thick cord produced by twisting, braiding or cabled vegetable fibre or man-made fibre or filament rope yarn.

rotor spinning

A continuous supply of fibres either in the form of a sliver or straight from the cotton opening unit is sucked down a fibre delivery tube and into the rapidly rotating rotor. The fibre is peeled, at speed, from the grove in the rotor, through the trumpet, through the yarn tube and at the same time twisted, then through the take off rollers and wound onto a package. In comparison with ring spun yarns, for instance, rotor spun cotton yarns are:

  • More uniform in appearance
  • Less variable in strength
  • not as strong
  • more extensible
  • bulkier
  • more absorbent
  • more abrasion resistant

The name of the process and the product. The final stage in fibre preparation before spinning. The roving is drawn out from the sliver. Since the roving has no strength at this stage, a slight twist is inserted into the roving to hold the fibres together in a thin rope about ΒΌ" (5mm) in diameter.