Cotton is the world’s most popular natural textile and the second most worn fabric overall after polyester. The fluffy stuff is so in demand that the world’s top two producers, India and China, both supply over 6 million tonnes every year to meet global demand.
Yet, for a material so widely used, cotton is a nuanced textile. There are many different types of cotton plant, which produce cottons of varying quality and sustainability. Cotton can also be woven in particular ways to create distinctive fabrics that are known under different names. In a way ‘cotton’ is more of a family of fabrics and not just a single thing.
It’s complicated. But in this post we’re going to look at four of the most popular types of cotton knits and weaves. First, here’s the overview:
Different types of cotton fabric: an overview
- Jersey: a smooth knit with an attractive drape
- Pique: a double weave with a waffle-like structure
- French Terry: a knit with a looped back and smooth surface
- Oxford: a weave with lustrous surface and semi-formal appearance.
Note: you can also take a look at our previous post on the different varieties of cotton, from different plants, if you’d like to know more about that side of things.
- Type: knit
- Developed: 15th century Jersey
- Found in: T-shirts, underwear, and draped garments, like dresses
First of all, let’s take a look at jersey, which is one of the most common types of cotton fabric. This is because it’s the fabric typically used to make the T-shirt, which is the most popular clothing item in the world, with around 2 billion tees sold each year.
The history of the fabric is not fully known but the fabric definitely originated in Jersey, in the Channel Islands, where it was first used to make garments for Mediaeval fishermen. From those isolated beginnings it became globally popular in the 20th century due to its stretchiness, breathability, and attractive drape.
Its smooth appearance comes from its plain stitch, with all loops leading in the same direction. These days jersey does come in quite a few varieties, though, such as interlock jersey and double jersey.
- Type: double weave
- Developed: 18th century Britain
- Found in: polo shirts and high-end Tuxedos
Onwards to pique knit, which is double woven fabric that’s most commonly made from cotton. The interlocking pattern the weave creates is perhaps best described as waffle-like, which you can see closer-up below.
The raised, geometric look that’s created by pique knit gives its garments a slightly more sophisticated look than the smooth finish of other fabrics - like the jersey we’ve just mentioned. This style still remains sporty and casual though, which is why it’s the trademark fabric used to make polo shirts. That being said, high-end pique fabric is also used to make luxurious items such as Tuxedos and bow-ties. So it’s also a fabric with some aristocratic associations.
Here at SANVT we use pique fabric in the classic way, to make our perfect polo shirts. The type of cotton we use is 100% certified organic cotton, although remember that, widely speaking, lots of different types of cotton can be applied to make the final pique fabric. So, as always, check the label!
Note this fabric is also known in some places as Marcella.
- Type: knit
- Developed: 18th century France
- Found in: sweatshirts, robes, and towels
You may be unsurprised to learn that French Terry originates in France, in the 1800s where the fabric was developed as an innovation, using two warp threads instead of one. Nobody named Terry was involved though, and in fact ‘Terry’ is just a derivation of the french verb ‘Tirer’, which means to pull - and reflects how the fabric was made.
Today, this cotton knit fabric is known for its characteristic loops on the inside and smooth appearance on the outside, which resembles the look of jersey fabric. The final fabric is super soft, breathable, flexible, and absorbent - while also being durable. Another advantage is that French Terry is fairly wrinkle-resistant due to the textured back and smooth surface.
At SANVT, our hoodies and sweatshirts are made from an innovative French Terry loopback cotton fabric. This is made from 100% cotton.
- Type: weave
- Developed: 19th century Scotland
- Found in: shirts
Oxford has its origins a little further down the line than the other fabrics featured, in a weaving mill in 19th century Scotland. The fabric as we know it was created when two yarns were woven into each other, like a basket weave. The result was a fabric that’s firm, durable, and also breathable - with a smooth, slightly lustrous appearance.
Overall, Oxford looks a bit more formal than other cotton fabrics. This is why the fabric was embraced by the elite at British universities, like Oxford of course, and got its name from there. The popularity then spread outwards and today Oxford is one of the most popular cotton fabrics globally.
Today’s Oxford fabric still has the same characteristics: smooth, breathable, and a bit lustrous but the dotted effect in the texture gives it a slightly less formal appearance than other fine fabrics used to make shirts. As such, it’s a fabric that’s versatile and more ‘smart casual’ than formal.
Interested in knowing more about cotton?
So that’s just some of the different types of cotton fabric but if you’d like to become even more of a cotton expert then take a look at some of our other blog posts below. These posts go into even more detail about a surprisingly complex material.
Read the articles: