Glossary: Silk Satin

Silk satin is a fabric made from silk, a natural fiber produced by silkworms. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Silk Fiber. Silk is the fiber traditionally associated with the term “satin,” though strictly speaking “satin” is a weave rather than a specific fabric. Satins have also historically been available in wool and sometimes cotton, though cotton is more commonly available in sateen than satin. Satin is type of weave with long floating yarns which produce a shiny surface; sateen is a variant of that weave. Note that light, drapey fabrics such as silk charmeuse are different from traditional, true satins, despite being of a type of satin weave. “Duchess satin” or “silk duchesse” are modern textiles which generally seem to be closest to historical satins, however some duchess satin has a synthetic or rayon component, which gives it different properties from 100% silk satin. Synthetic satins and rayon satins are very different from silk satin.

Definitions of satin, especially silk satin, from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

On the topic of “Weaves” on page 16, it states that “Satin is both a weave structure and the name of a fabric. Satin weaves are much like twill weaves. However, the warp yarns float over from four to as many as twelve weft yarns, and the offset of each successive pick is different, so that no diagonal ridge is formed. Sateen is like satin, except that the weft yarn forms the float, rather than the warp. Sateen is generally woven with cotton. Satin weaves are less durable than other weaves, because the long floats of yarn are easily abraded, and they also tend to pick up and hold dirt. For this reason, and because of the elegant luster that the satin weave creates, these fabrics tend to be used for more formal purposes–evening clothes, or high quality table linen.”

On page 45, under the heading “satin,” along with a swatch of figured satin, the text states that “satin is both a weave structure and the name of a fabric. The satin weave can be used with any fiber. Figured, or ‘flowered,’ satin (also called ‘damask’) is woven with complex designs, in small to large scale, generally in a single color. The play of light across the monochrome woven pattern brings out the design, which is reversible. Reversibility had advantages: it was considered economical to invest in a figured satin, because a garment made from such a fabric could be taken apart, turned, and reconstructed to make the garment last an extra long time. Both plain satins and figured satins have been woven for centuries, but in the early 1800s, the invention of the jacquard mechanism made these fabrics much easier to produce.”

  • Butterick Publishing Company, The. Vogue Sewing. Revised edition. New York: The Butterick Publishing Company, 2000.

Page 41: “Satin weave has a characteristic luxurious shine. The surface is composed of floats, or warp yarns, which may pass over many filling yarns before being caught under one. The surface yarns, usually of filament fibers, intersect cross threads at points randomly spaced so the smooth texture appears unbroken. A variation called sateen has similar surface floats, but they run in the filling direction and are usually of a spun staple yarn.”

On page 179, “satin” is defined as “thick, close textured silk fabric with the warp threads completely covering the weft threads,thus producing a glossy surface.” Further types of satin, including thinner varieties, are also defined on the same page, including “satinet,” which is “thin or imitation satin.”

On pages 339-340, “satin” is defined in several quotes from historical sources, similar to previous definitions listed on this page. It is also clarified, on page 340, that “The warp threads are ordinarily much finer than the weft threads and more numerous to the square inch so that they conceal the weft and make an unbroken, smooth, and lustrous surface.”

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Updated January 10, 2012

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