Organza is a fabric made from silk, a natural fiber produced by silkworms. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Silk Fiber. Organza is commonly available today in synthetic fibers imitating silk, but it can also still be found in silk, in a range of weights and qualities. Essentially, organza is a name for sheer, plain-woven silk (or synthetic imitations) with a very crisp hand. Organza is not a term I have encountered in historical (pre-twentieth century) sources, though I have not researched it specifically.
“Gauze,” “tissue,” and “organdy” are all terms which may or may not be able to be accurately applied to organza-like fabrics in historical use; my research has thus far found conflicting reports about each of these terms. Further investigation is needed.
Silk organza has many applications for twentieth century vintage and modern use, both as a fashion fabric and for use in couture and tailoring construction for facings, linings, and interlinings. It is also popular for curtains, though synthetic and sometimes rayon or acetate versions are generally more common.
Definitions of organza and other crisp, sheer silks from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:
- Bassett, Lynne Zacek. Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850: A Workbook of Swatches and Information. Formerly titled Textiles for Clothing of the Early Republic. Arlington, Virginia: Q Graphics Production Company, Product division of Sally Queen & Associates, 2001.
Under the heading “silk” on page 13, there is a fabric sample which could be described as organza; it is sheer and very crisp, in this case with slightly thicker, darker threads woven through occasionally to create a textured stripe. On page 14, it is stated that “The sample shown here is appropriate for a fancy dress fabric, especially for the first two decades of the nineteenth century.” A specific period term for that type of silk is not offered.
On page 40, under the heading “mourning,” there is a swatch of what I would describe as a matte (fairly low-luster) black silk organza; in the text is is described as a “black silk organdy.”
- Butterick Publishing Company, The. Vogue Sewing. Revised edition. New York: The Butterick Publishing Company, 2000.
On page 42, it is stated that “Pattern weaves are the glory of the weaver’s art. Delicate traditional coverlet designs can be created on a simple loom by an intricate order of threading. Other pattern weaves, such as crisp piqués, filmy curtain gauze, and patterns of flowers and scrolls in rich, deep brocades owe their existence to more complex variations on the loom.” Further, it states that “Leno weaves are used most effectively in lacy, open fabrics. A special attachment twists the warp yarns around each other in a figure eight as the filling passes through, imparting stability to fabrics with widely spaced yarns.”
- Marsh, Heidi, Compiled by. Styles and So Forth of the Era of the Hoop; with Glossary. Greenville, California: Heidi Marsh, 1994.
On page 177, “gauze” is defined as “from ‘Gaza;’ very thin, light, transparent silk fabric.” Also on page 177, “grenadine” is defined as “thin, gauze-like fabric of wool or silk, plain or figured” and “grenadine barege” as “thin, gauze fabric.” On page 178, “ninon” is defined as “sheer, plain weave fabric, a little heavier than chiffon, woven from various yarns.” On page 179, “organdy” is defined as “fine thin muslin, plain or figured, often stiffened, used for dresses.” On page 180, “silk tissue” is defined as “fine, transparent silk fabric.” Also on page 180, “tissue” is defined as “fine, light, gauzy fabric, sometimes used for veils.”
- Montgomery, Florence. Textiles in America 1650-1870: A Dictionary based on original documents, prints and paintings, commercial records, American merchants’ papers, shopkeepers’ advertisements, and pattern books with original swatches of cloth. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007.
There is no definition for organza, which is not surprising, because it seems to be a fairly modern term. On page 312, “organdy” is defined as “A fine, sheer cotton fabric of plain weave; a thin, transparent, wiry muslin that can be dyed, printed, or white.”
On page 246, “gauze” is defined as “A thin, light, transparent fabric woven in a crossed-warp technique. By extension, any sheer, open fabric.” On page 247, “gossamer” is defined as “A rich silk gauze, nearly as open as common gauze, but at least four times as thick and strong. It was used for veils and dresses. On page 248, “grenadine” is defined as “an open silk or wilk and wool textile used for dresses. Braun-Ronsdorf called it a lightweight fabric of a silk / wool mixture, plain or figured, similar to barege, while Peuchet, circa 1800, called it a superfine barracan.” Note that in several places in this book, “gauze” is referred to as being a weave, synonymous with leno weave.
The definition of “tissue” on pages 366-367 are very different from those in Marsh’s glossary (see above), and relate to decorative and ecclesiastical use. On page 366 it is stated that “The weaves often included silver and gold threads. Technically tissue was made with two sets of warp threads and at least two sets of shafts, and with one or more pattern wefts controlled by the figure harness on a drawloom.”
- “Silk” on Wikipedia (Remember to read critically!)
- “The Prewash” by Sarai at The Coletterie
- “Fabric Series: Silk” by Caitlin at The Coletterie
- “This Girl’s Tips & Tricks on Working With Silk” by Sunni at The Cupcake Goddess
- A thread about “silks” for mid-19th century use at The Sewing Academy
- “Tips on Sewing With Silk” by Tasia at Sewaholic
- “All Organza Is Not Created Equal” by Gertie at Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing
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