The History of Satin Fabric

by Tucker Cummings

Satin is a luxurious fabric that has been prized for centuries. Over the years, it has been used been used for beautiful clothing, bedding, wedding gowns, ballet shoes, lingerie, and even the lining for athletic uniforms. The history of satin stretches from the Far East to the modern western world.

What is Satin?

Satin is a type of fabric prized for a smooth, buttery-soft texture. The front of the fabric is smooth and glossy, whereas the back of the fabric is dull and matte. Originally formed by weaving silk fibers, modern satins may be made of silk fibers, polyester, or rayon. Sateen, a similar fabric, is made from cotton fibers.

Origins in China

The term satin originated in the Middle Ages, and was first used to describe a luxurious, heavy type of silk also known as samite. The word satin comes from the name of a Chinese port town: Zaitun. Zaitun is now known by the name Quanzhou. Chinese textile artists have long created beautiful satin used in robes.

Role in Trading

Satin was one of many exotic items traded between China, the Arab World, and Western Europe during the Middle Ages, fostering increased flow of commerce and information between these areas. The fabric was first made available in Italy during the 12th century. By the 14th century, the fabric was widely available throughout Europe, but due to its cost it was most often worn by royalty.

Historical Uses

Satin was used to cover fine furniture, such as the ornate furniture at Versailles and many Victorian pieces. The fabric has been highly prized for clothing worn by royalty and high ranking members of the Catholic church. Satin has been used by ballerinas for many years for ballet slippers and pointe shoes.

Modern Uses and Types of Satin

Satin is most commonly used now in lingerie, upholstery, bedding, formal wear, and lining for jackets. Types of satin include crepeback, which is made from crepe yarns, as well as antique-style satin, which is created by using "slubs" which are yarns with both thick and thin areas. Slipper satin is used for footwear, and Duchesse satin is a crisp kind of satin that is prized for use in wedding gowns and other formal wear.

References

About the Author

Tucker Cummings is a freelance writer based in New England. She holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of New Hampshire and is a member of the Association of Professional Business Writers. Cummings is also a food writer and curates the blog, Brave New Breakfast.