What are the different types of silk for wedding dresses?

The silk terms are all so confusing? How to compare one design with another? Melbourne designer helps you understand one apple from another...

Are there different types of silk?

Started shopping for a wedding gown and you can’t seem to be able to compare one design with another because the fabrics all look similar, but the sales staff are talking about different things?  And isn’t silk that shiny stuff?  There’s only one type right?  Not really … lets explain the different types of silk that we use as simply as we possibly can…

But firstly….

What is silk?

Silk is actually a type of thread.  It is made from the cocoon of the silk worm.  The cocoon is unwound and woven/knitted into cloth.  Silk is a protein fibre, just like your hair.  Anything that can be done to hair can be done to silk.  The overall characteristics of silk are a beautiful lustre (a sort of sheen), a lovely texture against your skin, strength, fineness and lots of usability.

Those fine silk threads (yarn) can be woven or knitted into a variety of cloths (fabrics).

NOTE: The following terms are types of weaves/knits that can be made from many types of yarn, including polyester, cotton, nylon etc.  So, please check with the sales staff “is this crepe satin silk??”.

The most common types of weaves of silk in the bridal industry are:

The finest: Chiffon

I’ll start with the finest is chiffon!  This is one of my favourites.  Do you remember in kindy/preschool when you wove strips of paper together, one over, one under?  Well if you can imagine doing this with really fine silk threads with fine gaps between the threads, then you have a lovely, fine light weight chiffon.  Very floaty and smooth to the touch.  This makes wonderful overlays without adding any weight.  Just lovely!

Lightest crepe: Georgette

Next we have georgette.  Heading back to kindy/preschool, do you remember playing with crepe paper?  Georgette is a crepe weave (same sort of texture), but again in a very fine thread (yarn).  This creates a light weight crepe, so it has less sheen that a chiffon, is quite floaty, drapey and delicious.  This also makes wonderful overlays.

Fine but firm: Organza

Another fine silk is organza.  Again a fine yarn (thread) is utilised here, and again in a lightweight, but this one is very stiff.  This is great when used to create volume or structured gowns.  It can have a lovely sheen to it.  This can also be used as light weight structure to a gown as it will hold it’s shape.

Mid weight crepe: Crepe de chine

Crepe de chine (rhymes with scrape d sheen) is a crepe design which is a mid weight (heavier than a georgette, but lighter than the heavier crepe satin).  Similar to the georgette is matt crepe both sides.  This should not be used for structure or high stress uses.  For a light weight matt design, this is a great option.

NOTE:  SATIN is a weave with lots of long floaty bits in the top of the weave so it has a sheen.

Light weight with shine: Light weight satin

Light weight satin’s can be of a crepe base (so sort of floppy) or with a plain base so they hold their shape a little more.  Light weight satins are only shiny on one side.  These can create a light weight gown, or are often used as a lining.

Crepe with shine: Crepe satin (or Satin back crepe)

Crepe satin can be light weight through to quite heavy.  The heavier versions make a lovely slinky shapely satin gown.  They can hug the human form beautifully (especially if bias cut).  This can be used on either side, with the satin traditionally the back side.  If you’re after a matt gown, the crepe side would be the outer. This is also known as charmeuse.

Shine and stiff: Duchess satin

Duchess satin known in France as Peau de Soie, is quite a stiff fabric and is used to create gowns with a firm shape.  They have a very shiny side.  We use these for our corsetry as it is a robust fabric.

Shine and firm: Queen satin

Queen satin is the same weight as the duchess and crepe satin, but has a softer touch than the duchess and is used to create beautiful gowns with firm shapes (full skirts, or cocktail length) or draped styles.

Stretchy: Jersey

Jersey is a knitted fabric.  It’s the same process as making a t-shirt fabric, but in silk this is fine with a light sheen.  Particularly great for figure hugging dresses.

Fine mesh: Tulle

There are some beautiful silk tulles available for outer layers and veils.  They are very very soft and nice to the touch.  This is one of the most expensive silk fabrics.

These are the fabrics we use, but there are plenty more silk terms out there.  I’ll go through a few more terms which we don’t tend to use, but you may have heard about whilst shopping…

Mumme (pronounced mommy) is the traditional Japanese way to measure the weight of silk.  One silk momme (mm) is equivalent to 4.33 grams per square metre of fabric.  So 6 mm is a very light weight fabric and 45mm is a very heavy weight.  Lots of manufacturers now use grams.

Habotai – a light weight plain weave, often used in lingerie, and sometimes bridal linings (although I find it doesn’t tend to have enough of the slippery satin slink over the skin and it too light for my liking).

Damask or Brocade – a heavy woven fabric (similar in weight to the duchess and queen satins) with a design created in the weave with some shiny as part of the cloth (similar to fine dining table cloths).

Dupion – is a tight plain weave (mid weight) which is woven using to different coloured yarns (threads) which gives a luminous appearance.  Often called Shot or Shantung silk, this can create an amazing gown, particularly if your into colour.

Gabardine – is a Twill weave (which means it has the slight ridges that you find in denim jeans).  It tends to be firm, but has quite a nice drape (fall).

Raw silk – is woven from slightly less process yarn and therefore has a slubby (chunky bits) in line with the weave.  Usually mid weight.

Velvet – is woven similar to carpet and the fibres are brushed to create a soft smooth appearance.  Many silk velvets are the combination of rayon/viscose or cotton and silk.

Gauze – is a very light weight open weave which is quite limp.  It’s the same weave as a cotton gauze.

Broadcloth – a mid weight silk with a dull finish.  Often used to make tailored silk outfits.

Paj and Pongee – (pronounced pond gee) is a light weight silk plain weave fabric, often with a rough texture.

ps  If you’d like more details, ask below and we’ll do our best.

This beautiful photography is by Lemonade Lane, stories of sweet, sweet life.