Satin is a type of textile weave that makes a glossy fabric. Though this method is most classically used with silk thread, it can also be used with other materials like polyester, acetate, nylon, and rayon. There are several different variations on this weave, notably sateen. Despite the fact that it's a method for making fabric, the term "satin" is also used as a descriptor to refer to specific types of fabric.
A Specific Pattern
To be considered a true satin, a fabric must be woven in a very specific manner. The material must have at least four threads brought to the surface of the fabric to "float" over a single thread running perpendicularly to them. The threads on the top are called warp strands, which run vertically, while the one on the bottom is called a weft strand, which runs horizontally. This process is called floating, and allows large portions of thread to reflect light, which makes the fabric shiny and glossy on one side. Some types, called double-faced satins, are made to be shiny on both sides by using two sets of warp strands.
Fabrics made with this weave can vary in terms of texture and appearance according to the type of thread used and variations in the weave pattern. For instance, a fabric made with a mixture of silk and rayon is sometimes called duchesse. There are also several materials that are made with one weave or material on the back and another on the front, including Canton satin, which has a crepe weave on the back, and slipper satin, which has cotton on the back. There is also ciré satin, which is treated with a coating of wax to make it extremely shiny. This process also makes it stiff, which makes it good for use in ribbons.
Another common variation is charmeuse, which is made with one warp strand passing over at least three weft strands. A few other variations on the weave are sateen and satinet. Sateen is woven similarly, but has the opposite set of threads on top — satin has the warp threads floating, but sateen has the weft threads floating. It is also more commonly made from cotton or rayon than from silk. Satinet is a very thin material that's usually made of inferior materials, usually cotton or synthetic threads.
These fabrics are used to make a wide variety of materials, but are most commonly found in formal dresses, bedding, and lingerie. Satin-weave fabrics made with synthetic fibers can also be used to back other things like wool crepe and velvet, eliminating the need for a slip, camisole, or undershirt. Additionally, people use these fabrics for formal shoes and slippers. In this case, the fabric is sometimes dyed to match the rest of an outfit, particularly for a prom or wedding. Variations on the fabric are also used on ballet shoes.
Compared to Other Weaves
Satin is one of the three main types of weaves in textile making, which also includes plain and twill weaves. A plain weave consists of warp and weft threads alternatively overlapping and going under each other, while a twill weave floats at least three warp threads per weft. Though its construction makes this fabric the smoothest and most durable of all three, it is also the most likely to shrink if treated improperly, and it stretches very little. It also resists wrinkling and generally drapes the best of any of the weaves. The extent to which any of these properties are present in a fabric depends on the tightness of the weave, and sometimes on the materials used.
The safest bet when cleaning these fabrics is to dry clean them, particularly those made with very fine materials or lots of floating threads. Less delicate items can usually be hand washed in cold water with a gentle detergent, though it's important not to wring them out to dry, since this can misshape them. There are products available specifically for cleaning satin shoes as well, though for light staining a damp cotton ball followed up by a dry cloth can often work.