I was reading Patricia Leigh Brown's interesting article on hemp cultivation in California in Monday's New York Times--all about the idiotic anti-marijuana prejudices that prevent this perfectly useful crop from being grown legally--when I came across a new-to-me etymology: the relationship between "canvas" (the fabric) and "cannabis" (the Latin word for "hemp" as well as the hifalutin term for pot).
That sent me down a pleasant little rabbit hole of fabric names and their derivations. Here are some of my favorites.
Muslin, the plain-woven cotton fabric, comes from al-Mawsil, the Arabic pronunciation of Mosul, the city in Iraq that's in the news these days more for its materiel than for its material.
Denim derives from serge de Nimes--serge fabric (a type of twill) from the town of Nimes, France.
Calico, another humble cotton fabric (usually printed), was named for Calicut, the traditional capital of northern Kerala, India.
Chenille, the fuzzy-bumpy fabric of so many bathrobes, is the French word for "caterpillar"; it came to French from Latin canicula, or "little dog" (following the same logic as our term "woolly bear" for caterpillar).
Gingham, the familiar stuff of checkered shirts and tablecloths, comes from Malay genggang.
Seersucker was called shirshakar in Urdu; it means "milk and sugar," and describes the fabric's alternating smooth-and-raised texture.
Mohair has nothing to do with the hair of the mo; it was originally mukhayyar--Arabic for "choice."
And the trademark Viyella, a luxurious wool-and-cotton blend, is an approximate pronunciation of the fabric's place of origin: Via Gellia in Derbyshire, England.