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To understand all differences between silk and satin. And nomore be misled.

I see, with the questions that I receive, that many mix up satin and silk, whereas a nylon/poly satin can cost incomparably cheaper than a “genuine” silk satin (see last paragraph). This post explains you all the subtilities of satin.

What is the difference between silk and satin?

Very simple: the silk is a material, and the satin is a way to weave. So, you can find satins of silk, cotton, wool, polyester, nylon, … or mixed fibers. And under the satin word, you will find high-end fabrics, and very low end.

The satin weave gives a shiny aspect on one side; there are also different ways to get it (see below).

On the contrary, it you take a rather lustrous yarn (silk, nylon, mercerized cotton), and weave in another way than satin (i.e. plain weave or twill), the result will be matter than satin. And this explains why, for a given material, you can find rather lustrous or rather matt fabrics. Or also why, for instance, the silk of a ball gown shines more than a silk carré scarf (twill weave).

Why can we be misled?

You will regularly see items (fabric, accessory, garment, …) sold with with “satin” as a composition, what is a non-sense, since satin is not a material. In such a case, the word “satin” is used for the aura of quality, to suggest that it is in silk, and probably avoid to mention the genuine composition (artificial fiber like polyester or nylon).

Why does the satin weave make the fabric more lustrous?

There are 3 families of weave: plain, twill and satin. The difference between them is about how the yarns get crossed.

  1. Plain weave / canvas: it is the most simple (schematically criss cross). It has several variants that you know: batist, taffeta, oxford, georgette, voile, percale, poplin, faille, flannel, muslin, etc.
  2. Twill: easy to recognize with its diagonal lines; schematically, it’s 2 above and 1 below, with a lag between lines, what create the visual effect of diagonals. Here, we have the jeans (Denim) or the silk Carré scarves.
  3. The satin, where the yarn passes over several others, like shown below.
Sergé / Twill

Consequently, since there are fewer crossings of yarns on the superior side, it’s smoother. And it’s smoother, it better reflects the light. Also, since there are fewer crossings, the yarns are less tied together, what makes the fabric more fragile.

Why the silk satin is more lustrous than the cotton satin?

3 main reaons:

  • the silk is naturally shimmering, when the cotton is rather matt. To give cotton more lustre -and ease its dye- it is chemically treated (that’s mercerising), but this does not fill the gap vs silk.
  • silk is more solid than cotton or viscose; so, when weaving, it’s possible to go ove more yarns.
  • cotton, like wool, is wavy. What does not help to reflect the light.
  • silk is an homogeneous filament, very long. Cotton, that’s very small staples, that are somehow agglomerated together to make a yarn. So, as a result, the latter is less smooth, more shaggy.

Indeed, a goog way to figure it out is to look at the picture below, with, from top to bottom and under microscope: polyester, cotton, and silk.

Are there different satin weaves?


  • traditionnally, the weft goes over 3, 4, or 7 warps. But it can also be different. The guiding principle is that, if the weft yarn passes over more and more warp yarns, the fabric becomes more and more fragile.
  • there are regular and irregular satins (ie the interlacing points are regular, or not).
  • traditionally, the satin is smooth on on side, and duller on the other. But it’s also possible to get a shiny aspect on both sides (double faced satin of Lyon). Or smoother, or brushed.
  • It is possible to use yarns of differents qualities for weft and warp. Or different colors. Or different materials. This enables to generate texture or color effects (for instance, a blue silk with a green shimmer.
  • The floating yarn is traditionally the weft. But it can also be the weft floating over the yarn. This is the following paragraph.
  • Finally, like often for fabrics, with a denser weave (ie higher number of yarns per cm or inch), the quality -and then the cost- is higher.

All those variants lead to different fabrics, namely in terms of texture, drape, shine.

What is the difference between weft satin and warp satin?

The warp yarns are lengthwise and tense on the weaving machine. And the weft yarn will pass over / below the warp yarn.

In the case of satin, what is wanted, is that the weft yarn somehow becomes invisible to get a smooth surface. This is the traditional satin. And since the warp is tense, the resulting texture is smooth and neat.

But it’s also possible to get the weft floating on warp. This way of weaving is the one used for cotton or viscose (namely because the yarn is less solid and smooth than silk). In this case also, it is not feasible to pass over ore than 4 yarns.

Satin Chaîne
Satin de Trame
Is satin more expensive?

No. More expensive than what, by the way? In absolute terms, the cost difference between a plain weave, a twill weave or  a satin weave is very marginal in the final price. Satin is a basic weave. And more than the weave, the cost drivers are the material (cotton, silk, poly, ….), the thickness of the fabric, the thread count, the logistics, the margins of the stakeholders, etc.

What to keep in mind?

Satin is a weave and silk is a material. Don’t buy satin without precisely knowing the material, and even, question the reliability of a website proposing items in satin without any other precision about the material. It is very easy to find a polyester / nylon fabric that costs less than 3 Euros per meter. On the opposite, find a silk satin that costs less than30 Euros per meter is a challenge. And here, I talk about low cost, to give a scale. In upmarket, for plain colours, polyester are over 30 Euros … like silk satins much above the 100.

2 thoughts on “To understand all differences between silk and satin. And nomore be misled.

  1. Sandy Higginbotham says:

    Thanks you, for such an easy to understand and SEE article. The visuals make all the difference!

    1. Sandy, thank you very much for your kind words. Since the topic is a bit technical, and English not my native language, I even more appreciate. Best wishes

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