I had always thought that satin was a particular type of fabric like silk or cotton, so I was quite surprised to find that satin can be made from any long staple fibre such as silk, wool or some manmade fibres like nylon or polyester. If it is made from a short staple fibre such as cotton or rayon then it’s called sateen. It’s all do so with the way that the fabric is woven.
The method of weaving that makes satin different from a basic fabric is that a plain fabric is woven by having the threads in each direction (the warp and the weft) going one over and one under. You can see this quite clearly in a loosely woven fabric. The satin weave is four over and one under, meaning that there are less interlacings of the threads. This makes the fabric look more glossy and gives it a smoother surface.
Uses of satin
The obvious way to recognise satin is the fact that it is glossy on the right side and dull on the wrong side. It is still considered to be a luxury fabric, used a lot in wedding dresses and underwear, although it is strong enough to be used in sports wear. We all know how lovely satin feels against the skin, making satin bed sheets a real luxury.
The very aspect that makes satin look luxurious (the way that it is woven) is also the reason that satin can be quite difficult to work with – the fabric slides against itself when you are sewing seams and it frays almost instantly. I find that I have to sew anything satin as soon as I have cut it to reduce the fraying.
Originally satin was made from silk only which made it very expensive and not available to most of the population. As with silk, it was first made in China in the 12th century. The port city known as Zayton from where it was shipped gave it the name satin. While I tend to use satin in crazy patchwork or in applique work, it’s amazing how many uses satin has: as well as evening or bridal wear, it can be seen used in products from ballet shoes to furnishings and many things in between.