We know satin by its sheen. It’s a fancy, flamboyant fabric that’s a favorite for costumes and formal wear. But what is satin made of? What gives it its unique appearance? Is it easy to work with? Grab your measuring tape. We’re going to tell you all about it.
What is Satin Made Of?
Fabric naming conventions can be frustrating. Some fabrics, like cotton, take their names from the fibers used to create them. Others, like viscose, are named for a process. Linen and twill are named for the way their fibers are arranged during weaving. And satin? What is satin fabric?
Satin, like linen and twill, is a type of weave. Satin weave is one of the fundamental weave types. Satin weave means an alternating pattern of four or more weft yarns over one warp yarn, followed by one weft yarn floating over four or more warp yarns. It looks like this:
This pattern produces satin’s unmistakable appearance: one side that’s very smooth and shiny, and the other side, which is dull.
There are different variations on the satin weave pattern, including four-harness, five-harness, and eight-harness satin. These refer to the number of fill (or weft) yarns that float over the warp: four, five, and eight, respectively.
You can weave just about any fiber using the satin weave pattern. However, it’s only true satin if those fibers are continuous filament fibers, such as silk, polyester, or nylon.
Some consider only silk satin to be “true” satin. However, you’ll find fabrics labeled as satin that are made from other continuous filament fibers, as well.
Characteristics of Satin
The first thing that may come to your mind is that satin is shiny. But there’s more to it than that.
Satin’s unique weave means that it drapes beautifully, skimming the body in all the right ways. This is why it’s a favorite for bridal dresses, prom dresses, and other formal gowns.
Some types of fabric have a gorgeous drape, but don’t hold a shape well. As a result, they’re not appropriate for structured garments. Satin, on the other hand, is the best of both worlds. It can be used for both flowing and structured parts of garments.
Satin may be beautiful, but its tight weave and long filaments also make it tough.
Thicker satin fabrics are quite wrinkle resistant. Even lighter satins are less prone to wrinkling than some other fabrics.
Prone to Snagging
Unfortunately the weave type makes satin prone to snagging. Threads can get caught easily, and once a snag happens, it can ruin the entire garment.
Challenging to Work With
Because satin is so slippery, sewing satin can be very difficult indeed.
What’s the Difference Between Satin and Sateen?
So, if continuous filament fibers woven in the satin pattern make satin, what do you call satin-weave fabric made from other fibers?
We’re glad you asked that.
Short staple spun fibers like cotton, when woven in the satin pattern, produce a slightly different fabric called sateen. The weave gives sateen the same characteristics: smooth and shiny on one side and dull on the other. But the fiber length and content makes the final fabric slightly different. 
Manufacturers may process sateen fabric in different ways to make it resemble satin more closely. They may mercerize it, for example, bathing it in a caustic substance to increase sheen and strength. They may also calender the fabric. Calendering means pressing the fabric between high-pressure rollers at a high temperature. [2, 3]
Satin vs. Sateen
Satin and sateen may look similar, and may involve similar processes, but there are a few important differences.
- Satin’s fiber content often makes it more expensive than sateen.
- Satin tends to be shinier than sateen.
- Sateen, being made most often from cotton, is more breathable than satin.
- Sateen is machine washable; satin is not.
- Sateen can be more easily bleached, printed, and dyed.
- Sateen is also generally easier to work with.
Silk vs. Satin
What is the difference between silk and satin?
Silk and satin are both luxury fabrics. They’re both soft to the touch, and both can be pricey. But there are some important differences.
First and most importantly, silk is a fiber spun by silkworms, to form their cocoons. Satin, as you now know, is a weave type.
Silk fibers can be woven using the satin weave. In fact, many purists will only recognize satin woven from silk fibers as actual satin. But for most of us, the definition of satin also includes other fabrics woven from continuous filament fibers. And, of course, silk fibers can be woven into different fabrics, using a variety of weave types.
Are There Different Types of Satin?
Absolutely. Let’s break it down.
By Fiber Content
As we said, most people define satin fabric as fabric made from continuous filament fibers such as silk, polyester, and nylon, woven using a satin weave technique. You might also encounter these terms.
Baronet satin is an extremely lustrous and luxurious type of satin. It uses rayon filaments for its warp threads, and cotton fibers for its weft threads.
Polysatin is another name for satin woven from polyester filaments.
By Weave Type
As we mentioned, there are different types of satin weave.
Four-harness satin weave is made by floating four weft threads over a single warp thread, as in this illustration.
Five-harness satin weave floats five weft threads over a single warp thread.
Eight-harness satin weave, as you might guess, has eight weft threads floating over the warp thread.
Some varieties of satin distinguish themselves by their weight.
Charmeuse satin is extremely lightweight. It’s a favorite for lingerie and blouses. Generally charmeuse is made from silk or polyester fibers. The weave is also slightly different. Instead of multiple weft fibers floating over a warp, charmeuse is woven by floating four warp fibers over a single weft fiber.
Messaline is another lightweight satin. It’s also very, very shiny. Generally messaline is woven from rayon or silk filaments.
Slipper satin is a medium weight fabric. As the name suggests, its primary use is shoes and slippers, though you’ll also find it in clothing and accessories.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, duchess satin is a heavy, stiff fabric. It’s generally less shiny than standard satin, and comes in solid colors.
How Easy is Satin to Sew?
Yes, well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Unfortunately, this elegant, durable, wonderfully draping fabric happens to be extremely difficult to sew. This is because the quality that we love so much — that sheen — also makes satin very, very slippery. Fortunately there are some tips and tricks that can make sewing satin a bit easier.
How to Sew Satin
It may seem daunting, but if you follow a few simple rules, it’s not that hard. You might consider making a muslin (also called a toile) — that is, a practice garment out of cheaper fabric, to work out the bugs before diving right in with your expensive satin.
Once you have the details sorted…
Mind the Grain
When laying out your pattern pieces, be super careful of the grain of your satin. It matters! Why? Because the light will hit your fabric differently, depending on how you cut it. If pieces are cut with the grain going in different directions, the color will be inconsistent across the garment, and it will ruin the garment’s appearance.
So, if you’re cutting your pieces on the bias, cut them all on the bias. If you’re cutting pieces on the straight grain, cut them all on the straight grain.
Careful With the Pins
Pins will leave large, visible holes in satin. So only pin within the seam allowance.
Pin tracing paper to the bottom of your fabric before you cut your pieces. This will keep your slippery satin in place while you cut. When you do cut, cut the tracing paper, too.
Mark with tailor’s chalk rather than a washable marker. Satin isn’t machine washable, remember? Also, try to avoid marking on the right side of the fabric.
Cut and Rest
Because satin likes to slide about, only cut in single layers, or you will end up with different sized pieces, no matter how careful you are. Also, use sharp scissors.
Allow your pattern pieces to “rest” into place after cutting.
A Generous Seam Allowance
Satin is prone to fraying, unfortunately. Using a wide seam allowance will allow you to trim away frayed edges. It will also help to keep your seam edges from being chewed up by your sewing machine.
Start Off on the Right Foot
A walking foot is a big help when sewing slippery fabrics. It can help your layers to stay together while moving through the machine. It can also help to reduce the chance of puckering around the stitches.
Choose the Right Needle
Selecting the right needle is essential. Use a new, very sharp needle to avoid snagging. Also, change your needle frequently.
And the Right Thread
Use natural thread when sewing with natural fibers, and synthetic thread when sewing with synthetic fabrics.
For an extra measure of protection, hand-baste your seams before sewing them. This will give you another chance to get everything just right before committing to the final sew.
Mind the Tension
Too much tension is bad for you…and for your project! But increasing and decreasing tension in the right places can increase your chances for success.
First, lower the tension of your upper thread. Next, increase the tension of the fabric itself by holding it taut as it moves through the machine.
Speaking of stitching, use short stitches to minimize slipping and movement. Also consider stabilizing your fabric by using a soft stabilizer on the seam allowance and stitch line. Alternatively, you could use paper to stabilize the fabric, then tear it away when you’re finished.
Finish Your Seams
Remember how satin likes to fray? Finishing your seams can help.
Pinking your edges with pinking shears can make them less vulnerable to fraying.
You could also finish with a zigzag stitch or by serging off your seam edges.
Whew! That sounds like a lot of work! It certainly can be. On the other hand, if you do it right, there’s nothing, nothing like an elegant satin item.
How to Care for Satin Fabric
For such a durable, wrinkle resistant fabric, satin needs a lot of special care. Most types are not machine washable. Satin is subject to snagging and fraying. And heat and water damage can be a huge problem.
But there are ways to keep your satin looking its best.
How to Wash Satin
First and foremostly, always follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. If the label says “dry clean only,” then to the dry cleaner that item goes.
Many types of satin are not machine washable. But if yours is, then wash it in cold water and on the delicate cycle. You can also hand wash your satin in cold water. Be sure to use a detergent that’s specially made for delicate fabrics.
Please note: by “hand washing,” we mean soaking, not scrubbing. Let your satin soak in the sudsy water for three to five minutes, then rinse with cool, clean water.
How to Dry Satin
For the love of fabric, don’t twist, wring, squeeze, or (horror!) toss it in the dryer!
Instead, use the “jelly roll” method.
First, lay down a thick, clean, dry towel.
Next, lay your item flat on the towel.
Now, roll the towel up like a roulade.
Finally (and gently!) squeeze out the excess moisture.
Lay it flat on another clean, dry towel to dry out.
How to Iron Satin
Ironing satin presents two concerns: water damage and heat damage.
Have you ever seen water-damaged satin? Believe me, you don’t want to. So to avoid this while ironing, do not use the steam setting.
Also, use the heat setting appropriate to the fiber content. So, for silk satin, use the silk setting. For nylon, rayon, or polyester satins, use the lower, synthetic setting.
Also, for an added measure of protection, press on the wrong side of the fabric whenever possible.
Getting Started With Satin
The term satin describes a variety of fabrics woven from continuous filament fibers, using one of the satin weave techniques. It may be a synthetic fabric or a natural fiber fabric. Fabric woven with a satin technique but made from a short-staple fiber like cotton is called sateen.
Sewing with satin (and caring for it afterward) can be a lot of work. On the other hand, if you do it right, the rewards will be more than worth it.
Do you enjoy working with satin? Do you have any impressive successes (or disasters!) that you’d like to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
- Rilon | What Is the Difference Between Filament and Staple Fibers? | https://rilonfibers.com/blog/difference-between-filament-and-staple-fibers
- Various | Mercerization | https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemistry/mercerization
- Mazharul Islam Kiron | Introduction of Calendering Finishing – Working Process of Calendering Finishing | https://textilelearner.blogspot.com/2012/02/introduction-of-calendering-finishing.html