Is it silk or satin?

What's the difference between silk and satin? Is there even a difference? Can fabric be both silk and satin?
Wedding designer Mussared silk satin gown.

Is it silk or satin?

What’s the difference between silk and satin?  Is there even a difference?  Can fabric be both silk and satin?  Reading Fifty Shades of Grey (I’m a hopeless romantic so I’ve been there too), Christian says to Ana that she should be in

silks or satins’

He could have said a ‘silk satin’, or ‘satins’, or ‘silk’, but SILK and SATIN are two different things.

It’s equivalent to saying ‘chocolates or truffles’. Silk is the chocolate bit, what the fabric is actually made of. And Satin is the truffle bit, it is the type of fabric, that can be made of solid chocolate, or truffle, or mousse. Have I confused you yet? I’ll break it down further…

Silk is a type of fibre. Silk is a thread (yarn) created when a silk worm cocoon is unwound. It is therefore a naturally occurring fibre and is protein (animal) based.  Basically anything you can do to your hair, you can do to silk.

There are lots of other fibres used to make fabrics. Such as wool, cotton, linen, flax, hemp, bamboo, rayon (viscose, polynosic, modal, cupromonium), lyocell (tencel), but to name a few natural ones.

And synthetic fibres (mostly from petroleum) including polyester, nylon (polyamide), acrylic, elastomeric (spandex, lycra) and acetate.

And some other specialty fibres that NAASA use like kevlar and nomax.

So, what is satin? Satin is a weave. In your early school days you may have woven some paper together, one over, one under, one over, one under. That is a plain weave. As the unders and overs are varied, different weaves are achieved. So.. two over, two under, two over, two under varied between rows, creates a twill weave (when in indigo is commonly known as denim).

A satin weave has more long threads on the top of the weave and less on the underside. When made from a shiny fibre such a silk, polyester or nylon, creates a shiny fabric. In essence a satin is simply a shiny fabric. The base of the weave can be in line (such as to create a duchess or queen satin) or can be of a crepe structure to be softer in drape (such as a crepe satin or heavy crepe).

Does that help?

A silk fabric is made from the cocoon of a silk worm and can be woven or knitted into a large variety of weaves (including satin).

A satin fabric a shiny fabric that can be made from any shiny fibre (including silk).

SO, if you have a shiny fabric, it may be a silk satin, or a polyester satin, or a nylon satin or…

If you have an item that states 100% silk or pure silk, it may be a satin weave, or a plain weave, or a taffeta, or a glorious range of other weaves, chiffon, organza, georgette, crepe, to name but a few.

But, why does it even matter?

Silk has some unique properties which both feel stunning and create lovely effects. Silk has a natural lustre that is not too shiny. Silk presses (irons) beautifully. And in my opinion is the perfect fibre against the skin and for the outer for all special occasions.

Other synthetic fibres can create a lovely effect from a distance, but when compared to the same weave in a silk are vastly inferior. Polyester and nylon are the most common fibres as a cheaper substitute to silk, and yet, as they are made from petroleum are like wearing a plastic bag! Compared to silk, they are definitely a poor cousin.

Be careful if you’re seeking a wedding gown because most designers use a satin lining that is not silk. It really is not that much more expensive to have a gown lined in silk. The inside is important because the lining is what a bride feels most on their wedding day. In the Golden Years of Hollywood all gowns were lined in silk because the actors moved differently. Now you know the difference, you will not be fooled if a designer says to you that the lining is “the best satin available”. And, you can ask how much extra would it be to have a silk satin lining?

So how can you tell if the fabric you have is silk? We do a burn test.  More on that another day.  x

ps this superb title photography is by Darin Collinson.