The Parts of a Towel – Fiberologies 101 Lesson 1
Welcome to Fiberologies 101! This introductory course covers everything you need to know when shopping for towels.
In this four-part series, you’ll learn all the elements that make a great towel, along with some common towel terminology. If you’ve ever wondered what towel terms like “GSM”, “low twist”, or “Supima cotton” really mean then this is the course for you. By the end, you’ll be able to identify common towel styles, construction, and fibers like a pro!
Lesson 1 – Parts of a towel
Welcome to Lesson 1! In this lesson, you’ll learn how to identify the five primary parts that make up a towel, and learn what each part does and why it exists.
The five parts of a towel
A woven towel typically consists of five main parts: the pile area, the selvage, the beginning and end parts, the borders, and the fringes. Let’s take a look at each of these parts and see how they affect the appearance and performance of a towel.
The anatomy of a towel
When you reach for a towel and grab something plush, crisp, soft, or wet, that part you’re grabbing is most likely the pile area. Towels are woven fabrics, and the style of weave in the pile area determines a towel’s quality. You’ll often hear the phrase GSM (grams per square meter) used to describe a towel. This measure of weight and quality is most affected by what’s happening in the pile area.
The way yarns are woven in the pile area also determines how the towel looks. If you close your eyes and picture a towel, you’ll most likely imagine a fluffy one with repeated “terry loops”. But terry loops aren’t the only effective weave. Some other popular towel weaves are waffle, gauze, lattice, and ribbing. We’ll take a closer look at weaves in Lesson 3 on types of towel fabric.
The weave style, combined with the choice of yarn, gives a towel its unique characteristics. Depending on the intended use of the towel, the pile area can be designed to have different properties: it may absorb liquids better, dry more quickly, or repel dirt.
Examples of towel selvages (thinner border) and end parts
The selvage runs along the entire length of a towel on either side, helping to reinforce the towel edges. It’s made with a simple weave, and then folded over and sewn along the length to form a seal.
Most products use a single thread to create this seal, but some higher-quality towels use two threads to make a tighter and longer-lasting seal. Typically between ¼” and ⅛” wide, the selvage often goes unnoticed, but it’s a critical element that prevents a towel from unraveling.
Beginning and end parts
The beginning and end parts seal and secure the top and bottom of a towel. This is where towel designers can be a bit more creative! Varying in size and appearance, these top and bottom edges are generally wider than the selvage and can feature unique patterns or weaves that complement the design of the pile area.
While it’s nice to have a design or accent on the towel edge, larger beginning and end parts result in a smaller usable pile area.
Towels aligned using the border
Not all towels have a border, but it’s common on bath towels. A towel border serves several purposes:
- It helps prevent unraveling and fraying.
- It provides an area for decoration or a place to put branding.
- It provides an easy way for stacked towels to be matched quickly.
A border will often use a different texture or color from the pile area, and can sometimes feature intricate patterns.
Common fringe designs
A towel’s fringe is the decorative embellishment you sometimes see on the ends of a towel. Fringes began as an ornamental feature as part of the bridal ceremony in traditional Turkish weddings. To make the towels more festive, the yarn was allowed to continue at the end of the towel and was twisted into tassels, instead of the traditional method of using a fold to close the edges.
Fringes can have different appearances, ranging from thick, twisted bundles of yarn in tassels to thin and regular strands. While they offer a unique look, towels with complex fringes need special care to keep the fringes from tangling or unraveling.
Lesson 1 recap
Congratulations! You’ve just completed Fiberologies 101 Lesson 1. You now know that the pile area is the star of the towel, which establishes its overall look and feel, while the other elements play supporting roles in helping to keep a towel from unraveling while adding some additional flair and style.
Next time you find yourself wrapped up in your bath towel, why not take a closer look and see if you can use your new knowledge to identify the five different parts?
If you enjoyed learning about the different parts of a towel and want to learn more, join us again in Lesson 2 – What are towels made of?
You can also drop us a question in the comments if there's anything more you'd like to know! We'll be happy to help.
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