Types of Towel Fabric – Fiberologies 101 Lesson 3
Welcome to Fiberologies 101! This introductory course covers everything you need to know when shopping for towels.
Wondering about the difference between Egyptian and Turkish cotton? We've got you covered. What about the meaning of GSM or low twist? That's here too. By the end of the course, you'll be able to identify the main towel styles, constructions, and fibers like a pro!Fiberologies 101 course outline:
Lesson 1 - The parts of a towel
Lesson 2 - What are towels made of?
Lesson 3 - Types of towel fabric (this lesson)
Lesson 4 - How to judge a towel
Lesson 3 - Types of towel fabric
Welcome to Lesson 3! In Lesson 2, we covered the raw materials that go into towels. Now you’re going to learn how those raw towel materials are used in the different towel fabrics you see in the store, and understand which fabric makes the best towel material for your needs.
Despite what you may think, not all towels are built the same. Towels are woven fabrics, and the way a towel is woven (its weave) affects its look, feel, and performance.
So let’s get to it, with a closer look at some of the most common towel weaves and how they affect the final product.
Common weave types
Below you can see the five most common types of towel weave: terry, waffle, gauze, damask, and herringbone. We’ll look at each type in turn, but before you start, see if you can spot any of your favorite towels in this line-up.
Common towel weave types
Terry is a loop pile fabric made specifically to absorb liquids. It’s constructed with uncut yarn loops on either one or both sides of the fabric.
Terry is the most commonly used fabric in towel making. The loops in the fabric are what make it more absorbent than, say, a flat cotton towel. These loops range in length depending on the purpose of the towel. In high-quality fabrics, the loops are woven closely together and are firmly constructed, while in lower-quality fabrics the loops are woven less closely, and may be easily caught or pulled. Loop piles can shed, but terry towels don’t need ironing.
When to look for terry
Terry towels with long piles make great bath towels. They’re highly absorbent and provide that satisfying plush feel when you grab them after a shower or wash. Terry towels with shorter piles (and even ribs) make great kitchen towels to replace paper waste, as they still provide good absorption but are less likely to get snagged on something while you're using them.
You can easily spot a waffle weave fabric thanks to its unique three-dimensional grid structure. These towels are lightweight, have a pleasant feel, and offer good absorbency.
Waffle towels are woven using a special method that creates a regular grid of square cells with raised edges. The unique structure of waffle fabrics gives them increased surface area, which means they absorb better. This bigger surface area comes without a significant increase in towel weight, which means waffle towels can still air dry quickly.
When to look for waffle
Waffle weave can create different sizes of cell depending on the type of towel. For bath or hand towels, look for larger cell sizes for faster drying. For kitchen towels, go for a tighter cell structure to provide extra grit for scrubbing off dirt.
A gauze weave creates a lightweight, airy fabric whose yarn is woven into a regular open mesh structure. If you’re not sure what that means, think of cheesecloth, which is a type of gauze. A gauze towel uses the same weave pattern, but with a tighter thread spacing.
Gauze weaves appear in different densities, ranging from a loose and open weave to a tighter, stronger, semi-transparent construction. Because of their net-like structure, gauze weaves are often used on one side of a towel and paired with a thicker fabric on the other. Gauze is soft and smooth to the touch, and can dry quickly as its open structure allows extra air to flow into the fabric.
When to go for gauze
Gauze is the best towel material for a face towel or a baby towel, as it has a soft and gentle texture. When layered, it can also make an excellent kitchen towel. It tends to be easier to clean than other fabrics because of the open weave: dirt will just slide through the towel, or stay loose instead of being absorbed into the threads. Gauze is good for gently cleaning oil and dirt buildup from your face. The smooth surface is also not as susceptible to threading as a terry cloth towel.
If you can imagine the traditional looking baroque flowers on guest towels, you're thinking of damask. A damask towel has a pattern on it that’s formed by switching between two weaving structures. The pattern is seen in the exact reverse on the back of the fabric.
Created using a special jacquard loom, damask weaves are decorative and can range from simple geometric designs to ornate organic patterns. The actual weave doesn’t enhance the towel’s performance, but the pattern it creates is more durable than a printed design.
When to choose damask
A damask towel is a great place to start if you’re looking to impress your friends and family with a stylish guest towel. These towels may not function as well as some of the other weave types, but look great in social media posts with their bright color contrasts and complex patterns. If you'd prefer a more functional guest towel, go for gauze or quality terry.
Herringbone is a specific kind of twill weave. Twill weaves are generally used for products that need to withstand heavy wear, which means that herringbone towels are super durable.
Twill weaves are created by “floating” a portion of yarn and crossing over two or more perpendicular yarns. This produces a diagonal line pattern that gives the fabric strength and durability. The herringbone pattern is mostly used for aesthetic reasons, and towel makers often use different color yarns to bring out the pattern on the fabric.
When to go for herringbone
Herringbone is a classic pattern that looks great in many situations. Its strength makes it a good weave for kitchen towels or beach towels. Look for fringed Turkish towels with a herringbone weave for the next time you head to the beach.
Terry, waffle, gauze, damask, and herringbone are the most common weave types used in commercial towel making, but it doesn't stop there!
With the rising popularity of paper towel alternatives, fabrics usually reserved for clothing are starting to be used as towels. Two examples are flannel—a fabric that’s woven and then tufted or napped, which gives the threads a looser, softer feel—and birdseye—a soft and absorbent material typically woven using two contrasting colors which form a diamond pattern.
Lesson 3 recap
And that’s Lesson 3! You now have just one more lesson to go to complete Fiberologies 101. You can now confidently identify different towel weaves and understand how each weave combined with the different fibers affects the feel and performance of a towel. This is the key to finding the best towel material for the job—which is something we care about at Fiberologies!
Enjoyed learning about the different fabrics used in towel production but still want to learn more? Feel free to recap Lesson 1 or Lesson 2, or continue to Lesson 4 – How to judge a towel.
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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