Design, Photography, & Fashion

What Is Taffeta Fabric? How Taffeta Is Made and the Characteristics of Taffeta Fabric

Written by MasterClass

Jun 14, 2019 • 4 min read

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Taffeta is the ultimate fabric for special occasions, forming iconic ball gowns and evening wear used frequently by iconic designers like Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. The crisp, shiny fabric, made from silk, polyester, or nylon, creates beautiful silhouettes and is considered an ideal fabrics for creating high fashion looks.

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What Is Taffeta?

Taffeta is a crisp, plain-woven fabric made most often from silk, but it can also be woven with polyester, nylon, acetate, or other synthetic fibers. Taffeta fabric typically has a lustrous, shiny appearance. Taffeta can vary in weight from light to medium and in levels of sheerness, depending on the type of fiber used and the tightness of the weave.

Taffeta was first produced in the Middle East in the twelfth century, and the word taffeta comes from the Persian word “taftah” meaning “crisp, woven.”

How Is Taffeta Made?

Taffeta is made using the plain-weave technique, which has a single weft thread going over and under a single warp thread, creating a checkerboard pattern. What makes taffeta unique is that the threads are twisted as they are woven, which creates the stiffness and structure of the resulting fabric.

Taffeta was originally made from silk, but in the twentieth century, manufacturers began weaving taffeta out of semi-synthetic fibers like rayon and synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester, and acetate. Polyester taffeta is the most popular type of taffeta today, as it is inexpensive and mimics silk well.

What Are the Characteristics of Taffeta?

Taffeta is considered a high-end fabric, with a beautiful, smooth surface and unique characteristics.

  • Crisp. Taffeta fabric is crisp and holds it shape well as a result of the tightly twisted yarns woven together in a plain weave fashion.
  • Sheen. Taffeta has a lustrous shine that is unique to the fabric and comes from the innate qualities of silk or polyester.
  • Smooth. Taffeta fabric also has a smooth surface, and piece-dyed taffeta in particular is especially soft.
  • Sound. Taffeta, especially yarn-dyed taffeta, makes a rustling sound called “scroop” (combination of scrape and woop) when it rubs together.

What Are the Advantages of Taffeta?

  • Luxurious. Taffeta is a shimmery, crisp fabric has created many iconic looks. The shimmer comes from the type of fiber used to make taffeta, such as silk or rayon.
  • Pliable. Taffeta is a stiff fabric that can create a beautiful, structural silhouette. Taffeta also doesn’t lose its shape over time.
  • Doesn’t pill. Taffeta fabric doesn’t pill and maintains its smooth surface.

What Are the Disadvantages of Taffeta?

  • Hard to work with. The material is slippery and can be hard to maneuver with a sewing machine. To make taffeta a little bit easier to work with, try pre-washing the fabric to make it softer and use a sharp needle.
  • Expensive. Silk taffeta can be very expensive because of the cost of silk. However, polyester taffeta is much more affordable.
  • Stiff. Taffeta doesn’t have much stretch to so it’s not ideal for items where flexibility is needed.
  • Snags easily. Since the fibers are so fine and delicate, the fabric can snag easily and create pulls.

How Is Taffeta Used?

Taffeta is a red carpet staple, but it’s also used often in costumes and home decor.

  • Home decor. The heavier, stiffer forms of taffeta create beautiful, flowing window curtains. Taffeta is also sometimes used for wallpaper.
  • Evening gowns. Taffeta really shines when used for dressmaking. From evening dresses to wedding dresses to prom dresses, taffeta is a staple of fashion thanks to its lustrous appearance and the beautiful shapes the texture creates.
  • Corsets. Taffeta is also frequently used for undergarments like corsets, where the stiff fabric is needed to hold in the waistline and create a silhouette.
  • Linings. Piece-dyed silk taffeta is great for lining jackets, as the fabric is both decorative and soft to touch.
  • Parachutes. Piece-dyed silk taffeta was used for creating parachutes in World War II.

6 Different Types of Taffeta

  1. Shot silk taffeta. This is a type of silk taffeta where the warp and the weft threads are different colors, which creates a beautiful iridescent effect.
  2. Warp-printed taffeta. This type of silk taffeta has the warp threads printed before weaving, which creates a pastel pattern of varied colors. It was very popular in France in the eighteenth century.
  3. Paper taffeta. Paper taffeta is an extremely thin, lightweight form of taffeta that has a paper-like consistency.
  4. Antique taffeta. Antique taffeta is woven from unevenly spun yarns, which leads to slight bumps in the material from the inconsistencies.
  5. Faille taffeta. This type of made from staple fibers, which are are short-length fibers like cotton or wool.
  6. Stretch-taffeta. Stretch taffeta is a type of fabric that incorporates spandex into the weave for added stretch and flexibility.

Fabric Care Guide: How Do You Care for Taffeta?

Taffeta should be dry cleaned or hand-washed with cold water. Silk taffeta always needs to be dry-cleaned; however, taffeta made from synthetic fibers can be washed at home. Here are some guidelines for washing synthetic taffeta:

  • Wash with cold water. Hot water can cause dyes to bleed.
  • Use gentle detergent.
  • Do not wring or twist garment to avoid damaging the fabric and ruining the shape.
  • Hang to dry in a well-ventilated area not in direct sunlight.
  • Use a low-heat iron if needed.

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