What is Chenille

Chenille is a type of fabric that feels very soft to the touch. It is often used for clothing, blankets, throws and even upholstery. It is a warm, cozy fabric that can appear to have a very attractive soft sheen.


According to WiseGeek chenille is the French word for caterpillar. It is called chenille because like a caterpillar, the individual yarns are round, soft and fuzzy. The original technique for making chenille was developed in France, but patented later in Scotland. It was popularized in the United States in the 1930s for use as bedspreads, pillows, and other decorative household items. In the 1970s, when mechanization for creating chenille was substantially improved, it became more popular for clothing.


Chenille is not made out of one particular type of material, but can be made from a variety of both synthetic and natural fibers. It is most often found in cotton, but rayon and acrylic are common to use for chenille also. The process of making chenille is placing very short lengths of yarn, referred to as pile, in between longer tightly woven pieces of yarn and then twisting the yarns together. As a result of this process the ends of the pile stand at right angles to the yarn giving it its soft feel and unique look. 


This is a delicate material that requires precise care. In most cases chenille should be dry cleaned, but it can also be hand washed or washed on the delicate cycle. Chenille should not be dried in the drier. Instead, lay it flat to dry. Drying it in the drier may cause it to shrink and hanging it to dry will make it stretch and loose its shape. This is especially important for clothing, but dry cleaning will also ease long term wear and tear on blankets and other items.


If you don’t mind the extra care, add a chenille blanket to your bed for soft, luxurious  warmth, or keep a throw on your couch to cuddle up with. Chenille is both an attractive, yet comfortable material that is fun to include around the house and in your wardrobe. What are your favorite chenille items?

Photo “ArtFibers chenille sweater” courtesy of Lisa Dusseault

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