If you like soft t-shirts, breathable bed sheets, or comfy quilts, chances are pretty good that you love cotton fabric! People have used cotton for thousands of years because of its soft and comfortable nature. So, what exactly is cotton fabric?
Cotton fabric contains cellulose fibers derived from the soft fluffy boll of the cotton plant. During the manufacturing process, these fibers undergo washing, sorting, and twisting into yarns before they get dyed and woven into fabric. Popular types of cotton cloth include muslin, jersey knit, canvas, and corduroy.
In this article, you will find out where cotton comes from. You will get an overview of the 23 most popular types of cotton cloth. Finally, you will discover tips on what kinds of cotton fabric work best for dresses and other garments.
- 23 Different Types of Cotton Fabric
- 1. Short, Long, and Extra-Long Staple Cotton
- 2. Batiste
- 3. Broadcloth
- 4. Broderie Anglaise
- 5. Brushed Cotton
- 6. Calico
- 7. Canvas
- 8. Corduroy
- 9. Chenille
- 10. Chintz
- 11. Denim
- 12. Egyptian Cotton
- 13. Gauze
- 14. Gingham
- 15. Jersey Knit
- 16. Lawn
- 17. Muslin
- 18. Oxford
- 19. Pima Cotton
- 20. Poplin
- 21. Supima Cotton
- 22. Quilting Cotton
- 23. Sea Island Cotton
- Which Type of Cotton is Best for T-Shirts?
- What are Heavyweight Cotton Types?
- Best Cotton Fabric for Dresses
- What is the Softest Cotton Fabric?
- Lightweight Cotton Fabric Types
- What is Premium Cotton Fabric?
23 Different Types of Cotton Fabric
This guide will clue you about the top 23 types of cotton fabrics, including each material’s characteristics and common uses. Cotton makes such excellent fabric that you can find in many different styles, textures, and weights.
Though some forms of cotton cloth can look extremely different from others, all varieties come from cotton plants. These plants grow a fuzzy white fluff around their seeds, called the boll.
When harvested and sorted away from the seeds, the boll eventually becomes soft, fluffy fibers spun into fine yarns or threads. Different types of fabric will use varying weights or thicknesses of these yarns, but they all come from variations of the same plant!
After this, every cotton cloth will use a distinct weaving pattern to combine the threads into a piece of fabric. The construction of the yarns can make extremely different types of cloth, ranging from heavy canvas to light-as-air gauze!
|Cotton Type||Best for|
|Short Staple Cotton||Every day use such as t-shirts fabric, bedding, and towels.|
|Long Staple Cotton||Luxury items such as expensive bedding.|
|Extra-Long Staple Cotton||Luxury items such as expensive bedding and premium-quality t-shirts.|
|Batiste||Lightweight clothing such as button-down shirts, dresses, and skirts.|
|Broadcloth||Heavier clothing such as slacks and jackets, or for home goods such as curtains and upholstery.|
|Broderie Anglaise||Adding a decorative eyelet element to dresses, skirts, and home decor.|
|Brushed Cotton||Light but warm clothing and bed sheets.|
|Calico||Outdoor gear such as boat sails, shoes, hats, and protective clothing.|
|Canvas||Outdoor gear like sails and furniture, shoes, and|
|Corduroy||Cold-weather clothing such as jackets, pants, and suits.|
|Chenille||Warm, cozy items like sweaters, blankets, throws, and pillows.|
|Chintz||Upholstery, flowery structured dresses, or home decor.|
|Denim||Jeans, jackets, and button-down shirts.|
|Egyptian Cotton||Luxury bedding like sheets, or high-quality t-shirts.|
|Gauze||Bandages, layered summery dresses, or baby blankets.|
|Gingham||Cheerfully checked dresses or button-down shirts.|
|Jersey Knit||T-shirts, maxi dresses, and leggings.|
|Lawn||Lightweight clothing like dresses, skirts, and summer shirts.|
|Muslin||Sewing mock-ups of clothing to practice, or plain, undyed clothing.|
|Oxford||Stylized dress shirts with a midweight fabric using blue and white threads, and a plain white collar.|
|Pima||Luxury bedding, super-soft tees, and bespoke dress shirts.|
|Poplin||Midweight garments like heavier shirts, trench coats, jackets, and skirts.|
|Supima||Ultra-luxurious and pricey clothes like bespoke shirts as well as high-end bed sheets.|
|Quilting||Sewing quilts in any color, print, or pattern imaginable.|
|Sea Island||Ultra-luxurious and pricey clothes like bespoke shirts as well as high-end bed sheets.|
1. Short, Long, and Extra-Long Staple CottonThe biggest overarching distinction between types of cotton fabric comes from the species of cotton plant that provides the fibers. These different species have bolls that grow differing lengths of fibers or staples.
Longer cotton fibers twist together to make finer and more durable threads. This, in turn, creates an even more luxurious and soft fabric. Of course, regular short-staple cotton feels soft, but the longer staples create a luxury version of the fabric.
The most commonly used plant type is Upland Cotton or Gossypium hirsutum. This type of plant has tiny fibers, or staples, that measure only an eighth of an inch. Upland cotton gets classified as a short-staple because of this. Over 90% of the clothing and household items made of cotton around the world typically contain short-staple cotton.
Long staple varieties include authentic Egyptian cotton grown along the Nile River. The longer fibers, or staples, have more chances to link onto the other fibers twisted together in each yarn. This makes very long, durable, soft threads.
Extra-long staple cotton comes from a plant technically known as Gossypium barbadense that does not grow as easily as the short-staple variety. This super-special variety makes up less than 2% of cotton production globally but supplies the fibers for luxury fabrics like Pima and Supima cotton.
Almost every other fabric type in this list uses Upland cotton unless otherwise specified. But the distinction is very important to understand, as you will see when you read about luxury cotton and learn how to ensure you get an authentic version of these pricey goods!
2. BatisteBatiste has a lightweight and semi-sheer appearance. It features a plain-weave structure using mercerized threads. Plainweave means the fabric uses a basic over-under weaving pattern for its threads. Mercerization describes the special technique manufacturers use to treat the fabric threads with alkali to give the material a shiny shimmer.
Batiste has a long history as a popular lightweight clothing textile. Like many old materials, it used linen fabric derived from flax plants in its early days. Then, after England began importing cotton in the 1600s, manufacturers switched to using cotton fibers to create an even softer material.
Batiste looks and feels pretty much like cambric and has a different name because it developed in France instead of in England like Cambric fabric.
You can find batiste in clothing such as lingerie, dresses, and blouses. Sometimes it also gets used for bed sheets and handkerchiefs.
3. BroadclothBroadcloth has a medium weight, hefty feel and excellent durability. This type of cotton fabric features a dense and tightly packed plain weave that creates a smooth, thick material. The cloth gets its name because it uses extra-wide looms to create 45 or even 60-inch sections of fabric.
Originally, broadcloth contained wool and featured prominently in items like soldier’s uniforms and gentlemen’s coats. The woolen version of broadcloth used extra-wide looms so that the wool could then soak and shrink down into a smaller, denser version that provided extra protection from the elements.
Today, you will find broadcloth used for curtains, upholstery, and quilting projects. It can also make excellent clothing like structured dresses and dress shirts. It makes high-quality dress shirts because its extra-dense weave has little texture and can feel comfortable for people with sensitive skin!
4. Broderie AnglaiseBroderie Anglaise technically describes a method of embroidery that uses white threads around round cut-outs in a piece of material. French craftsman called this technique “English embroidery” because it became popular in England in the 19th century. Today, the term is used most often to refer to a lace-like white material decorated with eyelet cutouts and embroidered designs made in white thread.
This material remains popular in dresses, skirts, tablecloths, and other decorative items. You will often find this eyelet material used as the sleeves or as a border on a skirt, for example.
5. Brushed CottonBrushed cotton has one of the softest surfaces of any fabric in the world, created by a unique method of brushing the finished cloth with metal bristles. Most types of fabric receive a final treatment that removes any lint or fuzz from the surface, leaving a smooth texture behind.
Brushed cotton does not remove any surface fuzz. Instead, stiff metal brushes scrape across the surface of the newly woven material, lifting out tiny fragments of the fibers and creating a velvety-smooth fuzz over the material.
You can find this type of cotton in some luxury bedding. It often costs more as it uses extra equipment and requires more processing than other forms of material.
6. CalicoCalico uses unbleached and unsifted cotton fibers that still have an ivory tinge and may even contain flecks of cotton seeds in the threads. This type of less-finished fabric has a relatively loose plain-weave structure and typically presents a natural, somewhat rugged appearance. The name “calico” comes from the Indian city of Kozhikode where the fabric originates.
While calico traditionally features a plain, undyed appearance, you can also find it dyed in all kinds of patterns today. These often have a folksy, rural American theme to them and use colors like deep red, ivory, and navy blue.
Undyed calico remains popular for “making a muslin” or a “toile,” two terms for stitching a mock-up of a garment before sewing the real thing. It also has a huge range of decorative and clothing uses because it costs less than many other types of more processed cloth.
7. CanvasCanvas is one of the most sturdy and durable types of cotton fabric, featuring a plain weave structure made out of thick, closely woven threads. Many forms of canvas use two-ply yarns that twist together two smaller yarns to create very thick, durable threads.
Today, you can also find many types of canvas made from polyester or other synthetic materials.
You can find canvas used in boat sails, shoes, outdoor furniture, the background for paintings, and even in some types of protective clothing like jackets.
8. CorduroyCorduroy offers one of the warmest types of cotton cloth, with fuzzy raised ribs on its surface. Corduroy uses a twill weave structure, meaning that the yarns within the cloth run in a diagonal pattern instead of in a square over-under pattern. Corduroy can come in many different thicknesses, or wales, as well.
Corduroy with thin, closely spaced ribs has a fine wale, and you may see this lighter fabric used in shirts. Corduroy with a wide wale has larger ribs spaced farther apart and typically has a heavier weight. This type of sturdier, warmer fabric works well for pants and jackets.
9. ChenilleChenille contains one of the unique forms of cotton manufacturing, made by creating fuzzy, caterpillar-like yarns. The word “chenille” means caterpillar in French! Chenille yarns form when short lengths of yarn get sandwiched between two longer core yarns, and the whole sandwich twists together.
When woven into cloth, the yarns form loops before weaving into a piece of cloth, which ultimately makes a thick, fuzzy pile on the fabric. Chenille feels like a super-soft sweater. You can find this fabric used in blankets and throws, shawls, and sweaters. Chenille material does typically require dry cleaning to protect its soft, fluffy piles, though.
10. ChintzChintz cotton cloth famously features large floral or geometric designs printed onto a specially woven cotton textile. The weave features thin, twisted warp threads crossing over and under thicker weft threads. This unique weaving method creates a slightly burnished type of fabric, and manufacturers often highlight this shininess by adding a finishing glaze on top of the material.
Chintz fabric has Victorian, overly ornate designs because of its stylized prints, but it remains popular for upholstery, pillowcases, and curtains. Chintz and other kinds of polished cotton do see some popular use in clothing like stylized dresses, but these typically require drycleaning to protect the glazed finish.
11. DenimDenim fabric has a twill weave structure made by combing white and blue cotton yarns in a diagonal, ribbed pattern. You can think of denim as jeans fabric, as traditional blue jeans all use denim. This sturdy, slightly stretchy form of cotton is one of the most popular types of cloth ever invented.
Denim comes in many different weights and can feature various blends, such as adding a fraction of elastic to the weave to make stretch jeans. It can also come dyed in different colors or burnished with various finishes, such as tumbling with pumice stones to create a softened, faded appearance.
Popular uses for denim include jeans, jackets, hats, and even sneakers.
12. Egyptian CottonAuthentic Egyptian Cotton grows in one place only: along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt. This unique environment offers heat and moisture, allowing the plants to grow special bolls holding long, thin staples.
True Egyptian cotton must also use a special production process featuring handpicking instead of machine picking. Machine-picked cotton tends to have lots of fractured fibers. Gentle hand-picking keeps all the long staples intact so they can twist together into fine, durable yarns.
Because it requires such special care and has such limited production, true Egyptian cotton can cost quite a lot. You will find this cloth used primarily in luxury bedding.
Gauze fabric has an extremely open weave featuring pairs of weft yarns that cross each other each time they crisscross the warp thread. This means that even though gauze has lots of obvious holes in it, the fabric has a pretty good tensile strength as well. If you hold up a strip of gauze, you can see straight through it, but it still provides excellent absorbency for tasks like bandaging wounds.
You can also sometimes find this open-weave cotton material used as layers in dresses, skirts, or baby blankets.
Gingham fabric uses yarns dyed in two colors to create a bold checked pattern, like a tablecloth or Dorothy’s blue and white dress in the Wizard of Oz. This distinctive pattern of cotton fabric uses blue or red checks most often, but you can find it in cheerful yellow, green, or various other colors today.
Popular uses for gingham include button-down shirts, dresses, swimsuit cover-ups, scarves, and home decors like tablecloths and kitchen curtains.
15. Jersey Knit
Jersey knit is the quintessential t-shirt fabric, made by knitting loops of cotton yarns together on a special loom instead of weaving them. In contrast to other kinds of knit cloth, Jersey knit uses a single set of needles that place all the loops facing in the same erection on the fabric’s surface.
Aside from denim, jersey knit may rank as the most popular form of cotton cloth ever invented. Coco Chanel made the first iteration of jersey knit famous in the early 20th century. Then the rise of the t-shirt in the 1950s drove jersey knit to extreme, intense popularity that has never faded away.
This fabric has a soft texture and an excellent stretch because of its looped yarn structure. It is often used in t-shirts of all shapes and sizes, but it can also star in maxi dresses, cardigans, leggings, and even jackets or coats.
Lawn is another type of cotton cloth that uses a plain weave structure but with combed, extra-fine yarns. This fine weave makes a semi-transparent material. This creates a lightweight and somewhat silky type of summery cloth perfect for dresses and blouses.
Lawn fabric usually goes through a bleaching and dyeing process that uses printed designs in various colors and patterns. Traditional lawn often features small, intricate floral patterns, but you can find pretty much any design these days!
Muslin is a type of plain-weave cotton fabric that has a loose structure and often comes in a lightweight form. This plain fabric can use bleached or unbleached yarns. Muslin comes in four standard varieties:
- Super-lightweight gauze muslin
- Silky mull
- Swiss muslin featuring raised designs
- Sheeting used for clothing and homewares
Muslin is similar to calico and is often used to create mock-ups of a garment as a trial run. However, muslin uses finer threads and does not usually have a coarse, durable texture like calico.
Oxford cloth is a medium-weight shirting fabric made by plain weaving blue and white threads together. This type of fabric creates sturdy button-down shirts that often have a stylized plain white collar and cuffs.
The sturdy nature of this type of cotton has given it growing popularity for use in curtains, pillowcases, and other home goods as well.
19. Pima Cotton
Pima cotton has a special status as a luxury fabric because it comes from a special cotton plant known as Gossypium barbadense. This type features long, silky staples that can twine together to form fine and silky yarns. Pima cotton is one of the very few types of cotton cloth that gets categorized as an extra-long staple, or ELS, fabric.
Because of its long, strong staples, this material has an extremely soft texture and excellent durability. It resists pilling because its fibers have more surface area to cling to each other, rather than breaking free and sticking out of the fabric.
You can find this ELS fabric used in expensive clothing like silky-feeling t-shirts or expensive dress shirts. One of its most popular uses is in high-quality bedding such as sheets.
Poplin has raised ribs across a sturdy plain-weave structure. A long time ago, its distinctive ribbed surface came from crossing silk threads with wool threads. Today, most poplin uses 100% cotton featuring yarns with different thicknesses to get the classic ribbed surface.
Most poplin comes in a lightweight variety that feels thin and cooling against your skin. It makes excellent summer clothing like button-down shirts, dresses, or skirts.
21. Supima Cotton
Supima cotton ranks as one of the rarest forms of cotton in the world, making up less than 1% of all cotton fabric sold globally. This ultra-luxurious variety comes from American-grown ELS fibers. It has a special license requiring anyone claiming to sell it to verify that the entire product contains nothing but this special type of fibers.
Technically, Pima and Supima cotton come from the same plant. The key difference is that Supima cotton has to come from certified US manufacturers, giving you a solid guarantee that you only get high-quality cloth. Unfortunately, many “Pima” and “Egyptian” products tend to fluff out their cotton with cheaper upland fibers.
22. Quilting Cotton
Quilting cotton has a basic basketweave or plain weave structure using sturdy mid-weight yarns to create a fabric with a good body. Quilting cotton comes printed in every design imaginable, from Star Wars characters to floral or geometric shapes. This fabric does not drape well but does offer good, crisp edges for intricate quilted shapes.
23. Sea Island Cotton
Sea Island cotton also ranks among the absolute most rare types of cotton in the world. Some manufacturers state that it makes up less than .05% of all the cotton sold in the world each year! Sea Island Cotton also comes from the rare type of plant called Gossypium barbadense, but this version grows in select tropical climates that give its extra-long staples a long, lustrous quality.
Sea Island Cotton mostly grows in the Caribbean today and has a reputation for high tensile strength, extreme softness, and a silky texture. It comes with a high price tag because of its extreme rarity. You can find it used in things like bespoke shirts or luxury bedding.
One thing to note about Sea Island Cotton is that you may find it difficult to verify that a product contains only pure ELS staples. Many unscrupulous manufacturers will blend in cheaper upland fibers and slap a “Sea Island Cotton” label onto a product!
Which Type of Cotton is Best for T-Shirts?The best type of cotton fabric for t-shirts is jersey knit, which uses interlocked loops of thread to form a stretchy, soft, durable material.
You can find a wide range of jersey knit t-shirt fabric weights, though. Lightweight tees may use jersey knit with a 3oz per square yard weight, midweight tees feature fabric with a 5 oz per square yard weight, and heavyweight tees may use jersey knit weighing in at over 6 oz per square yard.
You will also want to consider the type of cotton fibers used in the jersey knit. Over 90% of all cotton tees sold will contain upland, short-staple cotton. While nothing is wrong with this, you can also seek more luxurious tees that offer jersey knit made out of long or extra-long staple cotton. These tees will typically advertise as containing Pima or Supima cotton.
Finally, you can also consider a blended fabric. Many t-shirt brands offer shirts that blend cotton, modal, polyester, or other types of fabric fibers together. This can add additional characteristics to the cotton and give the shirt a special drape, softness, or durability.
What are Heavyweight Cotton Types?
Heavyweight cotton types include denim, extra-thick jersey knit, canvas, and corduroy. Most textile experts define a heavyweight material as weighing 12 oz or more per square yard. This type of material feels thick in your hand and almost always uses yarns with a large diameter to create the heftier fabric.
In some cases, cotton chenille or flannel can also fall into the heavyweight category.
Best Cotton Fabric for DressesThe best cotton fabric for dresses includes many types of light and midweight cotton fabrics, such as lawn, poplin, gingham, and Broderie Anglaise. One of the reasons so many types of cotton can make good dresses is the breathability of this fabric. Cotton fibers have a porous nature, allowing air to flow freely through the material. This will keep you cool in hot weather! Another reason cotton can work so well for dresses is its excellent drape. This is especially true for lightweight cloth such as lawn and gauze.
Of course, maxi dresses also almost always feature a lightweight version of jersey knit, another popular cotton fabric!
What is the Softest Cotton Fabric?
Pima, Supima, Egyptian, and Sea Cotton all claim the title of softest cotton fabric in the world. While you may find it difficult to choose between these luxury materials, you can count on all of them offering a supremely soft and silky texture!
The bottom line is that any type of long or extra-long staple cotton will always offer the softest hand or feel.
In terms of the fabric construction, fabric types like brushed and chenille cotton feel extra soft because of the raised fibers on the material’s surface.
Lightweight Cotton Fabric Types
Lightweight cotton fabric types cover a wide range of materials such as gauze, batiste, lawn, muslin, and gingham. Lightweight materials can range in weight from less than 4 oz per square yard to as much as 6 oz per square yard.
Lightweight materials have a good drape because of their fine, narrow yarns. This allows the fabric to conform to your shape or hang easily in ruffles and gathers. Lightweight fabric also works well for summer clothing because it offers an airy and breathable feel.
What is Premium Cotton Fabric?
Premium cotton fabric is a term applied to extra-long staple cotton that comes from the plant type Gossypium barbadense. Supima, Pima, and Sea Cotton all come from this particular kind of plant, though each variety grows in different parts of the world.
In some cases, Egyptian cotton also ranks as premium, so long as you verify that it comes from the banks of the Nile River and does not contain corrupting lesser fabric fibers.
Different types of cotton fabric serve as comfortable clothing, cozy home goods, or even boating and sporting aids. Cotton has a uniquely soft and breathable quality that makes it perfect for a great variety of different uses. The key differences in types of cotton come from the kind of cotton plant used and also the construction of the cloth.
The main kinds of cotton used in cloth include short staple, long staple, and extra-long staple varieties. Popular forms of cotton fabric include jersey knit, denim, corduroy, muslin, gauze, and canvas.
What is your favorite type of cotton cloth? What kind of clothing do you like to use it for? Leave a comment below to let us know!