Learn the Basics

What is Satin? A Fashion Lover’s Guide to Satin Fabric

what is satin

Satin Definition

So, what is Satin and how is it made? First and foremost, it is not a raw material. It is a type of weave with a complex structure. Made by floating several warp yarns across the weft before going under 1 weft thread, and beginning the cycle again. Having fewer interlaces leads to the smooth, lustrous surface we all know and love.

Unlike a Twill weave, where the weft intersections move to the next parallel warp on the following row, Satin weave structures move the weft intersection across at least 1 warp thread before beginning the cycle again.

Fig A is a basic 5 end, 4/1 satin weave, warp float facing. Notice how the warp floats over 4 wefts, goes under 1, over 4, under 1, over 4, under 1 etc. A satin weave will always be: Over X, Under 1. It’s this reason why the front is smooth and the reverse of a the fabric is matte and dull, because that’s where the weft threads are predominant. The step number here is 1 – on the next row, the weft intersection has moved 1 warp across.

satin weave warp float
Fig A; basic 4/1 satin weave, warp-float facing

Fig B is an 8 end, 7/1 satin weave, warp float facing. The step number here is 2 – on the next row, the weft intersection has moved 2 warps along.

satin weave warp float step 2
Fig B; warp-float facing 7/1 satin weave, step number 2

What is Satin Made of?

It depends if you’re a purist or not. If you’re producing a satin weave using filament fibers such as silk, nylon or polyester, then your resulting fabric is a Satin. However, there’s some definitions that insist a Satin fabric can only be made from silk. Now it can get a little confusing…

Satin vs Sateen – What is the Difference?

If you’re using cotton, which is a short-staple yarn, for your satin weave, the fabric you produce is Sateen. Many people often mistakenly use Sateen to describe what is Satin, not knowing that the difference lies in the yarns you use. Satin weaves are predominantly warp float facing, whereas Sateen is weft float facing – see Fig C.

cotton sateen weave
Fig C; weft-float facing sateen weave

What is the Difference Between Silk & Satin?

duchess satin
Duchess Satin

As mentioned before, Satin is a type of weave and not a material. Silk, however, is a raw material produced by silk worms that is used to make fabric. You can use silk to make Satin, as the word Satin is merely referring to the type of weave structure. Silk Satin fabric is a more expensive type of Satin, so if you’re looking to mass produce clothing or furnishings at an affordable rate, you can make Satin using polyester, nylon, rayon, or wool. Despite what you may think, Silk Satin will still have the matte, dull reverse typical of any Satin fabric.

Its Origins…

The word ‘Satin’ actually comes from ‘Zaitun’, the Arabic name for the Chinese port Quanzhou, where this weave first originated over 2,000 years ago. At the time, the cultivation of silk was widespread, so even peasant women used silk to master the craft of satin weaving, and silk clothing was not restricted to upper classes. However, China’s closely guarded satin secret eventually spread across Asia and further west.

In the 12th century, Italy became the first western country to produce satin, and by the 14th century, it became available all throughout Europe and brought to America by English settlers. However, using silk made the fabric costly so it was reserved for aristocracy, the church and upper classes.

What is Satin Used For?

lucent satin
Lucent Satin

Historically, satin was a desired fabric for upholstery, with the French king Louis XIV using it to cover his ornate furniture in the Palace of Versailles near Paris. It was not commonly used for dressmaking until the 1800s, but soon became sought after for a luxury, ‘one time only’ evening gown amongst women of upper and working classes. The 19th century also saw satin adorn the nude bodies of fashionable Parisian women in the form of sexy lingerie. Once attributed to prostitutes in the French capital, it experienced normalization through journalism and advertising, which promoted the notion that luxurious underwear is important.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and satin is a widely available fabric that’s mainly used for apparel, upholstery and bedding. And what’s important is that it’s still retained its association with luxury. Some common uses for satin fabric include, but are not limited to; evening gowns, shirts, corsets, underwear, inner lining, wedding dresses, loungewear, hats, ties and sheets.

Its Advantages

  • Luxury feel and aesthetic
  • Floaty drape
  • Versatile
  • Smooth, lustrous surface

Its Disadvantages

  • Frays easily
  • Prone to snagging
  • Tricky to sew
  • High maintenance

Different Types of Satin

monroe satin
Monroe Satin
  1. Antique: heavy fabric with a dull luster. Woven with uneven slub yarns.
    Uses: Upholstery e.g. curtains.
  2. Baronet: Most lustrous satin weave. Rayon warp and cotton weft. Often found in bright colors.
    Uses: Decorative fabric, cushions etc.
  3. Charmeuse: Highly lustrous face, very dull reverse. Quite clingy with soft draping. Hard twist yarn
    warp and crepe yarn weft.
    Uses: Dressmaking.
  4. Crepe-back: Reversible fabric in that each side has either the satin weave or crepe weave visible.
    Uses: Dressmaking.
  5. Duchess: Heavy, stiff, low luster satin. Holds its shape well. Dyed in solid colors.
    Uses: Bridal wear.
  6. Lucent: Shiny, high luster, shimmering double faced sateen. Slippy surface.
    Uses: Clothes and bags linings, fashion accessories.
  7. Messaline: Light, soft satin. Normally made from rayon or silk. 250+ ends per inch. High luster.
    Uses: Dressmaking.
  8. Monroe: Medium weight, sateen faced weave. Lovely drape. Tight weave holds in warmth.
    Uses: Accessories, bags, bridal accessories.
  9. Panne: Super high luster due to heated roller pressure. Stiff finish. Normally made from silk.
    Uses: Dressmaking, evening wear.
  10. Slipper: Lightweight with matte surface, cotton reverse.
    Uses: Craftwork, dressmaking.

Why not try the look and feel of different satin fabrics? Explore different types of satin and over 100 other fabrics in your own swatch pack.

fabric swatch

4 comments

  • Hi
    Thanks for an informative article.

    Please can you provide information on pure silk fabric.

    • Hi Sakhina! We’re glad you found the article informative. We’ve got tons of new fabrics coming up for 2020, pure silk will definitely be added to the list!

  • Back in 1958 I had a wedding dress of heavy dull satin with a silver thread on it (not in it)
    What type of Satin would you call this? I later remodelled it in a beautiful evening gown.
    Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Joan, that sounds like a Duchesse Satin! Ribbed silk and Duchesse satin were the most common wedding dress fabrics around the 1950s. 🙂

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