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Fabric Friday: Satin weave and satin

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Workshops - specialty vintage topics' started by denisebrain, Aug 13, 2021.

  1. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Satin is one of the basic weaves, along with plain and twill. The warp yarns in a satin weave cover the weft yarns as much as possible (less common is the opposite where weft covers warp). This creates a lustrous surface. The pattern is most often 4/1 but can also be 7/1 or 11/1. In these patterns, warp yarns float over weft yarns in numbers of 4 to 1, 7 to 1 and 11 to 1, and the interlacings do not occur in rows, giving the most uninterrupted gloss possible.

    Here's the anatomy of a 4/1 satin weave. See how four weft yarns are crossed by a warp yarn? And how the weft crossings are staggered?
    Here is a close up of silk satin:


    And of course we all know the look of satin from this type of glossiness:

    So satin is the name of one of the basic weaves, but it is also a fabric made in this weave.

    Judging from looking around eBay and Etsy, a number people seem to conflate satin and silk, saying something like it is silk because it is satin. This is an understandable mistake, with silk being a smooth fiber and the original and most attractive fiber for satin, and satin having a silky feel.

    Staple and filament fibers
    Of the two fiber types, staple and filament, filament is the long one, often measuring hundreds of yards in length. Silk is the only natural filament fiber, but manufactured fibers always start as very long fibers and can be cut as needed. Filament fibers make smooth, strong yarns, the kind necessary for satin.

    Filaments made of manufactured fibers such as acetate and rayon can make a satin, and, because they are less expensive than silk, have often been used. A great majority of lower- to mid-priced vintage garments made of satin are not silk.

    Remember a few weeks back when I suggested that you start with a suspicion about the fiber before doing a thread-burn test? If you have a higher-end vintage item that is satin, you might start by suspecting it to be silk. The average satin prom dress from the 50s? Start with the suspicion that it's manufactured fiber (often acetate or rayon).

    There are a number of types of satin, and not all of them have made their way into the Fabric Resource (yet!).

    Here is duchesse satin close up. It is a heavy and luxurious very lustrous satin made of fine filament yarns in a tight satin weave. Originally always silk, duchesse can be rayon, polyester or acetate.


    Uses: Evening gowns, bridal

    One great place to find examples of garments with their fabrics properly named is in museum collections. Look up "duchesse satin" in The Met collection and you find this Irving Penn photo of a Christian Lacroix dress (1995). You can just feel the weight and luxury of this fabric!—

    Screen Shot 2021-08-13 at 11.01.50 AM.png

    The V&A is also a great resource. A search for duchesse satin in their collections came up with this Norman Hartnell dress that Queen Elizabeth wore for a state visit to Paris in 1957—


    You can not just suspect, but be sure that this example of duchesse is silk fiber because of the dress's importance.

    Another satin fabric type is crepe-back satin. Lustrous on one side and with a crepe texture on the other, this light to medium weight fabric is called crepe-back satin when its glossy side is its face, and satin-back crepe when the dull side is the face. It can be called crepe satin or satin crepe as well. Sometimes the contrasting sides of the fabric are both used on the outside of a garment. Characteristically silk, it can be made of rayon or manufactured filament fibers.

    Uses: Blouses, dresses, evening gowns, lining

    When I find crepe-back satin used for a vintage garment, that item most often has dated from the 1920s or 1930s. It is a wonderfully substantial and fine fabric.

    This close up of rayon crepe-back satin shows the satin face on the left, the crepe reverse on the right, with the selvage in the middle.


    Crepe-back satin gives a good opportunity to say that looking at the reverse of fabrics (if at all possible in a garment) is a very good practice. The reverse often is the giveaway as to the fabric type, sometimes in combination with the face.

    This is an example of a 1930s dress made of silk crepe-back satin using both sides of the fabric. It was sold by RP vintage.

    Screen Shot 2021-08-13 at 12.11.21 PM.png

    Another small issue with satin is the spelling: Satan does not get its spelling corrected by spell checkers, and pretty vintage ‘satan’ dresses show up regularly on eBay and Etsy! :horny:

    Questions and comments please!
  2. NylonNostalgia

    NylonNostalgia VFG Member

    Fab article, Maggie - thank you! Messaline satin is also definitely worth a sub-mention as the most desirable of lingerie satins.
  3. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Oh, I had to look that one up Emma— "Named after Messalina, third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius." I will add it to my list to add to the FR. Thank you!
  4. Vinclothes

    Vinclothes Alumni +

    I have encountered so many vintage lovers that can't seem to grasp that satin fabric is made from something. Satin is so lovely I can understand the feeling that it must have been bestowed by the gods.
    By approaching satin as a type of weave-the way fabric is put together with threads (fibers) - may help with understanding that satin can be made of silk, rayon, cotton (and more) fibers.
    Excellent as always.
  5. Vintagiality

    Vintagiality VFG Treasurer

    While I get the concept, can’t say that I do.
    In some places it seems to cross less, in others more. Plus, how do you actually see this in the fabric even if you understand it in theory. Do you guys actually count that somehow?
    That said, I do think I have no trouble recognizing satin though not the fiber it’s made of.
    And then I get confused by sateen. I know it’s lustrous and made of cotton so if satin is a weave and cotton is the fiber, then isn’t sateen just cotton satin? Sounds like not since the weave isn’t straight but also diagonal. But then isn’t that twill?
  6. NylonNostalgia

    NylonNostalgia VFG Member

    You are absolutely right - it isn't an exact science at all. I work in the undie industry and putting it under the lens usually doesn't establish anything, or much. Either it matches the control samples or it doesn't - that's a 'touchy feely' thing - and if it doesn't then we send the whole lot back to where it came from...
  7. NylonNostalgia

    NylonNostalgia VFG Member

    He invaded Britain in AD 43. Horrible man. We were doing okay until he turned up, forcing us to accept clean water, underfloor heating, law and order, wine, nice fabrics, theatres, proper roads, apples, pears and peas, fine pottery, flushing toilets, sanitation, mosaics and nice architecture etc etc
  8. claireshaeffer

    claireshaeffer VFG Member

    Great article as usual, Maggie

    The manufactured fibers in the fifties for ball gowns were generally rayon and acetate, not the synthetics.
    denisebrain likes this.
  9. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Emma :hysterical:

    Does this diagram help you see it better? It really feels like an optical illusion! :wacko: Gray (warp) crosses 4 blues?

    People may wonder if it is necessary to understand a weave like this or see it in this microscopic way. I'd say that although you don't have to see the exact number of warp yarns over weft yarns, it is pretty fundamental to understanding why fabrics are the way they are. If you have a lot of warp yarns on the surface, you get a smooth surface (and an easily snagged surface!).

    Great! And all this detail on the weave just tells you why it is the way it is.

    Thanks for mentioning that Victoria.

    The name sateen means the diminutive of satin, which is traditionally made of silk, while sateen is made of cotton, sometimes a cotton blend. It is constructed in a tight satin weave with float threads that cross the face diagonally—sort of a satin/twill hybrid. Already lustrous and smooth by virtue of its weave, the best sateen is made of combed cotton and mercerized and can be very glossy. It can be printed, often with flowers, or plain.


    Let me see if I can come up with a comparison of satin, sateen and twill weaves.
    Vintagiality likes this.
  10. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    OK, here is this. I see this uses the name "percale" for plain weave. Percale is a plain weave fabric, but it sometimes comes up as the name for plain weave.

    Screen Shot 2021-08-13 at 3.28.00 PM.png
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2021
    Vinclothes and Vintagiality like this.
  11. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President


    This is another diagram I found of sateen. Maybe one of you wise people can confirm my suspicion that it can be right-hand or left-hand.

    Just to make things more confusing :rolleyes: all fabrics can be sewn (although not necessarily as well or as attractively) with the warp yarns going horizontally and the weft going vertically; in other words, at right angles to the way it was made on a loom.

    Here is the sateen photo from above turned to better show the weave as it was made. I feel like I have often seen sateen turned so that the long floats are vertical.

    Vintagiality likes this.
  12. Vintagiality

    Vintagiality VFG Treasurer

    OK but I thought twill was diagonal. This is crossing at right angles.
    Yes! I can definitely see the four here
    Float!!! flagemoti
    Now what is that? I thought they are either warp or weft. Is the float the weft?
  13. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Oh, I love this question! Twill is made with the yarns crossing at right angles. All of these basic weaves have that in common. It's just that the pattern of the crossing yarns creates the different looks and characteristics. Here is another 2/2 (balanced) twill diagram. Each pair of crossings is one off from the one before, creating the stair step look you see here, and the diagonal line in the finished fabric.

    Screen Shot 2021-08-13 at 4.12.02 PM.png

    Floats are the parts of yarns that go over, i.e., float over, other yarns without interweaving. The luster of satin is caused by these floats on the surface of the weave.
    Vinclothes likes this.
  14. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you, Maggie! I finally bought a fabric swatch book - that even has different types of satin (silk and synthetic) for comparison on one page.
  15. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Is this a commercially available book Karin? If so, what is it please?
  16. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

    This one: https://www.amazon.com/-/de/dp/1780672330?ref=exp_vintagefashionguild_dp_vv_d
    This is from 2014 but still available, there's a new issue coming out this November, so the "old" one is available for a little less. I figured that was an argument to buy it! Of course it focuses on modern fabrics and it does have it's limitations, but it's a start.
    And which reminds me I have a 1951 issue of American Fabrics magazine here, which has lots of interesting fabric swatches... especially when it comes to those rayons and rayon blends!
    denisebrain likes this.
  17. Rue_de_la_Paix

    Rue_de_la_Paix VFG Member

    This is all so interesting as it gets into the depth of the weaves. To make it even more complicated, Scalamandre once made some wonderful fabrics that they labeled cotton satin which were meant for upholstery use. They also made cotton sateen fabrics at this same time. Some labeled cotton satin and some cotton sateen. The cotton sateens were lighter in weight than the cotton satins. I still have a few samples from the 1970s from my decorator friend who passed on.

    I always think of cotton sateens as more lightweight. The terminology gets confusing!

    I often see cotton sateen used in Victorian garment linings. Usually of a low grade.

    Are the close up photos taken under a microscope? Sure looks it.

    Thank you again, Maggie.
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  18. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Barbara, there are cotton satins—not that I've seen them in person. Apparently cotton can be used for a satin weave as well as sateen. On the photos, no, these are just close ups.
  19. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Those American Fabrics are incredible, aren't they Karin? Bit by bit I've managed to collect 21 of them.
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  20. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

    Oh Maggie, that makes me a little jealous :hysterical:. I have Spring 1951 with those gorgeous paisleys, and that actually was a Secret Santa gift from... can't remember who :BAGUSE::duh2:! But I looked last night on Etsy and found one that wasn't crazy priced and decided to buy it. Of course they're heavy to ship too, but there's a lot to learn, and the ads are fantastic. I will have to keep my eyes out!
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