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What Is Satin Fabric? A Guide to the Types, Characteristics, and Uses for Satin

Written by MasterClass

Jun 18, 2019 • 6 min read

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Satin is more than just a soft, shiny fabric often used for fancy dresses. A satin weave can comprise many types of fabrics, and its uses number beyond bridesmaid dresses and gowns. Satin refers to the weave, not the textile, and most fabric characterized as satin has a soft, shiny finish that can be seen anywhere from evening bags to upholstery.

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What Is Satin?

Satin is one of the three major textile weaves, along plain weave and twill. The satin weave creates a fabric that is shiny, soft, and elastic with a beautiful drape. Satin fabric is characterized by a soft, lustrous surface on one side, with a duller surface on the other side. This is a result of the satin weaving technique, and there are many variations on what defines a satin weave.

What Are the Origins of Satin?

Satin dates back to the medieval China, where it was made exclusively with silk. The weave originated in the Chinese port city of Quanzhou, which was called Zaitun in medieval Arabic, hence the name satin today. The fabric and weaving techniques were both passed along the Silk Road and came to be widely produced across the Middle East. Italy was the first Western country to produce satin in the twelfth century, and it became popular across Europe in the fourteenth century. In fact, much of the furniture in the Palace of Versaille is satin upholstery.

What Is a Satin Weave?

Satin weave is characterized by four or more weft threads going over one warp thread, or the opposite: four or more warp threads going over a weft thread. In weaving, the warp thread or threads are held stationary on the loom, and the weft thread or threads are woven over and under the warps.

What Are the Different Satin Weaves?

Satin is woven from long, continuous fibers, and satin is defined by the length of the filament, not the fiber used. Originally, satin was made using silk, which is a long, continuous thread pulled from a silkworms cocoon. Modern satin can also be made from polyester and rayon, both of which can be manufactured to form long filaments.

There are several different kinds of satin weaves:.

  • 4 harness satin weave. In the 4/1 satin weave, the weft thread goes over three warp threads and then under one. This is more elastic and has more stretch than a plain weave, in which the warp and weft threads cross over at a 1/1 ratio.
  • 5 harness satin weave. This is nearly the same as the 4 harness variety, except the weft thread goes over four warp threads and then under one.
  • 8 harness satin weave. This is the most flexible form of satin, and to achieve this weave, the weft thread goes over seven warp threads and then under one.

What Are the Characteristics of Satin?

Satin weaves are more flexible than plain weave fabrics, and satin is generally known for its lustrous finish and beautiful drape. Here are some characteristics of satin.

  • Shiny front. Satin weaves create a shiny, soft right side of the fabric and a dull back due to the organization of the warp and weft threads. Satin feels soft and very luxurious.
  • Beautiful drape. Due to the concentration of fibers and the pliability of the fabric, satin weaves create a soft and easy drape that makes them ideal for evening wear and curtains.
  • Durable. Since satin uses long filament fibers which are woven in a very taut fashion, the resulting material is stronger than many plain weave fabrics.
  • Wrinkle-resistant. Satin doesn’t wrinkle as easily as other fabrics, and thicker satins are less prone to wrinkles.

However, satin also has some downsides, such as:

  • Snags easily. The threads can get easily caught in a satin weave, which leaves to unappealing snags.
  • Difficult to work with. Since satin is soft and slippery, it can be unforgiving in the sewing process.

What Are the Different Types of Satin?

There are several different types of satin, and they vary based on what fibers are used in the weave and which type of satin weave is used. Here are a few examples of satin weaves:

  • Antique satin. Antique satin uses unevenly spun yarns as the weft threads, and is woven in the 5 harness or 8 harness fashion.
  • Baronet satin. This form of satin uses rayon warp threads and cotton weft threads, and it is considered extremely lustrous.
  • Charmeuse. Charmeuse satin, from the French word for “charmer”, is very lightweight with an easy drape, and it has the traditional characteristics of satin with a shiny front and a dull back.
  • Crepe back satin. Crepe back satin is reversible, where one side has the lustrous, satin finish and the reverse side has a crepe texture.
  • Duchess satin. Duchess satin is a heavy fabric. It’s stiffer and has less luster than standard satin, and it is usually dyed solid colors and used for dresses.
  • Messaline. This form of satin is very lightweight and has a high shine, and it’s usually woven from rayon or silk.
  • Polysatin. This is an abbreviation for satin woven from polyester threads.
  • Slipper satin. This satin is tightly woven, medium-weight fabric that is used for accessories, shoes, and clothing.

How Is Satin Used?

Satin has a variety of uses from interior decorating to fashion thanks to the many ways the weave is used, and here are a few of the most popular uses.

  • Dresses. Satin is a staple for evening gowns and wedding dresses because of its beautiful drape and lustrous feel.
  • Upholstery. One of satin’s earliest uses in Europe was for decorative furniture in the Palace of Versailles, and satin is still used for pillow coverings, chairs, and other types of cushioned furniture.
  • Bed sheets. Since the weave is flexible and soft, satin is often used for bed linens.
  • Footwear. From ballet slippers to designer heels, satin is a choice fabric for shoe designers.
  • Fashion accessories. Evening bags and clutches are often made from satin.

What Is the Difference Between Satin and Sateen?

Sateen is fabric made using short staple fibers in the satin weave pattern. Staple fibers are short fibers rather than long continuous fibers like silk, which are called filament fibers. For example, cotton makes short fibers that, when woven in the same way as satin, form a cotton sateen.

What Is the Difference Between Satin and Silk?

Silk is the name of the fiber, and satin is the name of the textile weave. Therefore silk fibers can be used to form satin, but silk fibers can also be woven in other patterns which would not be considered satin. Satin, on the other hand, can be made from any long filament fibers, not just silk. Learn more about silk fabric with our guide here.

Fabric Care Guide: How Do You Care for Satin?

Washing and caring for satin depends mainly on the type of satin. Satins made from synthetic fibers and sateens made from cotton can be washed at home, whereas satin made from silk needs to be dry cleaned. When washing your satin items at home, there are some general guidelines:

  • Wash by hand or on the delicate cycle in cold water with a gentle detergent.
  • Do not hang dry satin or wring satin dry, as satin can lose shape easily so do not wring the item.
  • Do not put satin in the dryer. Instead, lay flat to dry on a clean towel.

Learn more about fashion design in Marc Jacobs’s MasterClass.