Wedding receptions and high-end banquets often feature satin tablecloths because of the glossy sheen they provide. One is shown here under a damask topper and matching bow accenting the satin chair cover.

Satin products have long been associated with formality and romance. However, there is often some confusion as to what satin really is. Satin isn’t a composite material. It is actually a woven fabric made from silk or other synthetic fibers. There are also several variations of satin that are used in a variety of products. Bed sheets, garments, shoes, and satin tablecloths and napkins are all very highly sought after because of the high gloss and sheen typical in most satin.

Satin was First Produced in China

Like most silk products (and, indeed, a great many fine materials), satin was first produced in China. This is where the silk worms used to obtain the silk fibers are indigenous. When the Italians began exploring the further reaches of the known world in the 12th century they hit the trading jackpot when they discovered all of the products that could be obtained in the Far East. Among the most sought after of these products was silk. Satin and other products made from silk prompted the creation of a permanent trading route between China and the rest of Europe. Two centuries later, satin had become the staple fabric for wealthy Europeans. Nobility, Clergy, and even Royalty donned satin garments and used satin sheets, tablecloths, and slippers.

The Weaving Process

The signature shine of satin is created through the weaving process. During the upstroke of the weave some of the threads are “floated” to the surface. The result allows for some of the fibers to set in a way that reflects light. This is what gives satin its glossy appearance. The process is very tedious so it is not uncommon for certain satin products to shine only on one side. In the case of tablecloths this is inconsequential. One simply has to spread a satin tablecloth with the shiny side up and the dull side down. If you are using this type of satin for sewing your own products you must be aware of which side is glossy and which side is dull so that you can adjust your pattern accordingly. In most cases you will want your shiny side to face out. However, satin is also used very effectively as a lining. Beyond the shiny appearance of satin is its soft smooth texture. Heavy garments made from rougher material such as wool or velvet are often produced with satin linings. This allows for the benefits of a heavy outer fabric with the smooth feel of something more sheer on the inside.

Not Only Silk

While satin is traditionally made from silk, the high cost of silk has motivated manufacturers to search for other composite materials to use in the production of satin. Rayon, polyester, and nylon are now commonly used to make satin. While satin made from these synthetic materials is less expensive, the highest quality satin is still made from pure silk. Silk satin will best highlight all of its desirable qualities. However, silk is extremely expensive. So, if you have any doubt about what composite your satin is made from, you may be able to find out based on the price. The more expensive satin products are probably made with silk.

A Variety of Satin Weaves

Aside from the variations in satin composite materials there are also many different types of satin used for a variety of different things. The specific qualities and applications vary with each different type of satin weave. For instance, “slipper satin,” as the name suggests, is used most commonly in footwear. The special shoes used by ballet dancers are made from slipper satin. It is also a very popular medium for formal footwear worn as an accessory to prom dresses and bridal gowns. The most common type of satin used in apparel is known as “duchess satin.” The name is inspired by the type of dress that is usually made from this material. Formal gowns, as worn by royalty in a ballroom setting, are commonly made from duchess satin. Duchess satin is quite substantial. It is also quite stiff compared to other types of satin and is only glossy on one side. “Satin Jacquard” (also sometimes known as “satin faconne”) derives its name from the type of loom that it is made by. The jacquard loom was the first loom that could weave fabric with patterns by using a semi-automated punch card system similar to the earliest computers. Jacquard or faconne satin features interwoven patterns rather than a solid design. This makes it the perfect medium for table settings. Jacquard satin is used to make attractive tablecloths, runners, and napkins. Compared to duchess satin, jacquard satin is generally more flexible as it is woven more loosely. “Delustered satin” is made without floating the threads during the weaving process. As a result, there is no reflective surface so delustered satin lacks the sheen of most other forms of satin. Also, it has the same finish on both sides so, unlike many typical versions, delustered satin is double-faced. Many formal dinner napkins are made from a type of satin called “sateen” or “satinet.” Both of these are extremely thin and pliable, making them a good choice for cloth. However, satinet is usually made from silk while sateen is usually made from synthetic fibers like rayon or nylon.

Satin Use in Formal Dining

A great deal of high-quality dining settings are produced from satin. Because of its expense and its fine nature, tablecloths and napkins made from satin are usually seen in the most formal of contexts. Weddings and high-end banquets often feature satin table settings because of the glossy sheen they provide. Moreover, because many formal gowns are made from duchess satin, the use of satin table settings at weddings creates a consistent motif. The luster of satin in formal settings provides an ethereal ambience that can make such an event extremely memorable. Furthermore, its appealing texture makes it a luxurious medium for clothing and especially bed sheets. Because it is usually made from silk, satin is very breathable and smooth. Therefore, satin bed sheets can provide the epitome of comfort. And, while satin made from silk may be on the expensive side, the aesthetic and tactile benefits of the fabric usually make it worth every penny.