different silk fabrics

Silk fabric types

This A-Z guide to silk fabrics – from clothes-press – covers fabric properties, main uses in sewing and washing care instructions.

Silks are generally luxurious, light- to medium-weight fabrics with a shiny, lustrous finish. They tend to be used to make smart clothes, wedding dresses and evening wear. As silks are so expensive, there are many polyester versions available of the different kinds of fabrics – these are cheaper but harder to sew. Silk fabrics tend to be delicate and generally need hand washing or dry cleaning.

Main types of silk fabrics

  • Charmeuse – this is a satin-weave, lightweight silk fabric with a shiny right side and matt wrong side. It’s also sometimes made from rayon, viscose, polyester or blends. Charmeuse is soft and drapes well. It’s main uses are for blouses, delicate dresses and lingerie. Care: careful hand wash and cool iron on wrong side.
  • Chiffon – this ultra-lightweight plain-weave silk fabric is made from tightly twisted fibres and drapes well. It’s semi-transparent or sheer, and has a little bit of stretch and a slightly rough feel, though it’s smoother and more lustrous than georgette. Reduced-cost versions are made from polyester. Silk chiffon is generally used for blouses, lingerie and evening wear. It can be difficult to handle when sewing and hems are best sewn by hand or with an overlocker. French seams are often used for sheer fabrics like this to give a neat finish as they tend to show through to the right side. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash, hand wash or dry clean, cool iron without steam.
  • Crêpe-de-chine – this is a lightweight, plain-weave, smooth silk fabric which drapes well. It has a matt texture and muted lustre. It is used for making lingerie, blouses and evening wear. Care: dry clean and cool iron using a pressing cloth.
  • Devoré velvet – a luxurious, textured, lightweight silk fabric which is treated with an acid to burn away the nap to reveal a pattern. It’s mainly used for smart dresses and evening wear. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side without steam.
  • Dupion – also called doupioni and slub silk. A medium-weight, plain-weave silk  fabric which has a crisp texture. The fabric is tightly woven with different sized weft and warp threads which gives it a textured appearance and highly-lustrous surface. Its edges have a tendency to fray. Dupion is sometimes woven with different coloured warp and weft threads, giving an iridescent look called shot silk. Sometimes it’s woven in stripes, checks and other patterns. It’s generally used for posh dresses, jackets, evening wear and bridal wear. Care: dry clean, warm iron without steam.
  • Habutai – also called China silk. Plain-weave, glossy silk fabric which is woven in both light- and medium-weight versions. Traditionally habutai was woven in Japan, but most now comes from China. The fabric is soft with a lustrous finish, and is used for dresses, lingerie, blouses, jackets, scarves and linings. Care: hand wash or dry clean, cool iron.
  • Georgette – also called crêpe Georgette. This is a lightweight, loosely woven sheer fabric made from highly twisted yarns. It has a crinkled surface and is manufactured in plain and patterned versions. It’s sometimes made from polyester rather than silk. Main uses are for blouses, dresses and evening wear. Care: dry clean, warm iron without steam.
  • Organza – very fine, sheer plain-weave silk fabric with a sheen. It’s woven from highly twisted threads which make it very strong. Though lightweight, the fabric is crisp and is often used for trims, collars, facings and fabric flowers as well as for evening and bridal wear. It can be difficult to sew because it’s so lightweight – one option for hemlines is to roll and hand sew the hem. Seams should be finished neatly as they’ll show through the right side: French seams are often used. Care: hand wash or dry clean, cool iron.
  • Shantung – also called tussah silk. This is a medium-weight, plain-weave silk fabric which is woven from irregular threads and so has a rough texture. It’s similar to dupion but is a lighter weight and more irregular. It’s mostly used for shirts, dresses and trousers. Care: dry clean, cool iron on wrong side without steam.
  • Silk-cotton mix – a soft, lightweight fabric which has a cotton weave combined with the lustre and drape of silk. It’s often used to make blouses and dresses. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash, hand wash or dry clean, warm iron on wrong side.
  • Silk crêpe-backed satin – a light- to medium-weight fabric which is reversible as it has a satin face and a crêpe back. It’s sometimes made from rayon or polyester instead of silk. Crêpe-backed satin drapes well and is often used for dresses, blouses and lingerie. Care: careful hand wash and cool iron on wrong side using a pressing cloth.
  • Silk jersey – a light- to medium-weight knitted fabric which is stretchy, soft and fluid, with a silky sheen. It drapes well and is slinky and wrinkle-resistant. It’s good for garments in contact with skin as it wicks away moisture while remaining breathable. Silk jersey is mainly used for making luxurious dresses, tops and t-shirts as well as thermal underwear and base layers. Care: gentle 30°C machine wash or hand wash.
  • Silk-linen mix – medium-weight fabric which is shiny and dense. The silk softens the crispness of the linen and adds extra sheen. Used mainly for posh suits, skirts, dresses and trousers. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side.
  • Silk satin – this satin-weave fabric is woven in a variety of different weights and has a smooth, glossy surface on the right side and a dull surface on the wrong side. It’s often striped and is generally used for dresses, jackets and evening wear. Cheaper versions of this fabric are made from synthetic fibres. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash, hand wash or dry clean, warm iron on wrong side using a pressing cloth and no steam.
  • Silk-wool mix – medium-weight soft fabric which combines the softness of wool with the sheen and lustre of silk. Mainly used to make posh suits and jackets. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side using a pressing cloth.
  • Taffeta – a smooth, crisp, plain-weave silk fabric which creases easily and makes a rustling sound when worn in motion. This light- to medium-weight fabric has a finely ribbed surface texture and a lustrous finish. Shot silk taffeta is woven with different coloured warp and weft threads which produces an iridescent appearance. Cheaper versions of taffeta are also produced from acetate and polyester. Taffeta’s main uses are for dresses, jackets, bridal and evening wear. This fabric can be a little tricky to sew as you need to handle it as little as possible and it doesn’t ease well. You can also only stitch it once – any removed stitches will leave holes in the fabric. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side without steam.
  • Velvet – a medium- to heavy-weight silk fabric with a soft, luxurious feel. It’s made with short thread loops that are cut to form a dense pile or nap which lies in one direction. Cheaper velvets are also manufactured from cotton, rayon and synthetic fibres. The colour of velvet can look different depending on which way up the fabric is, so you need to take this into account when cutting out pattern pieces. Stitch velvet with a fine needle, preferably in the direction of the nap. You can only stitch it once as any removed stitches may leave holes. Iron velvet as little as possible during making up. Care: dry clean. Avoid ironing if possible (hang up in a steamy bathroom instead) – if you must iron it, place the fabric upside down on a pile of towels and iron gently with a warm iron on the wrong side to avoid crushing the pile.
  • Washed silk – a light- to medium-weight fabric which drapes well. It’s been washed in fabric softeners to make it soft and slightly faded in appearance, and is used mostly for shirts and dresses. Care: dry clean, warm iron on wrong side without steam.

Note on washing instructions

I’ve included general care instructions for each fabric but please check any information that comes with the fabric you’re buying. Alternatively, test a sample to check that the general recommendations given here are right for your specific fabric. The temperatures given are the maximum suggested for each fabric – obviously you can do lower temperature washes if you prefer. Fabrics made from natural fibres can shrink quite a bit (sometimes 10%) when you first wash them, so do make sure you buy enough fabric to allow for this and pre-wash it before sewing.

Where to find more detailed information on fabric types

Online resources

  • Google images – I find this is the best place to get a quick idea of what any of the fabrics look like

Books for more in-depth information

  • The Sewing Book – of all the general sewing books I’ve read, I think this one has the best guide to fabric with excellent photos

Read more on clothes-press

Photo by LoggaWiggler

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Blake December 14, 2018 at 7:20 pm

I am a fashion design student and have found your site very very helpful in finding my way through the confounding amount of information and choice of fabrics available.
Thanks for making it so clear

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Stephanie June 28, 2019 at 5:25 pm

You’re very welcome – I’m pleased that people are finding the information useful.

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Gill Reed December 30, 2018 at 8:08 am

What a perfect website. It has allowed me to identify 3 different bolts of silk which I have had for more years than I can remember. Now I am able to choose a suitable dress pattern for the fabric for a posh mum’s garment for daughter’s wedding. Thankyou.

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Stephanie June 28, 2019 at 5:24 pm

Thank you for your lovely comment! Glad you’ve found the information useful.

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jehan February 8, 2019 at 3:06 pm

Hello
I am trying to find a silk fabric that is matte and does not have sheen. and is light weight and drapes and is thinner and breezy by nature. Do you know what this silk fabric may be called? I cannot figure it out online because the photos are not so clear.
Thank you!

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Stephanie June 28, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Hi, Sounds like crêpe-de-chine might fit with what you’re looking for or possibly a lightweight washed silk. All the best, Steph

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Judy Condliffe May 26, 2020 at 3:43 pm

what a great article. I’ve been making masks. Got a suggestion to use silk for the hot summer. Your info was exactly what I needed.
Thanks, Judy

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Stephanie June 7, 2020 at 10:50 am

Thanks Judy! Glad you found it useful.

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Molwantwa June 4, 2020 at 10:22 pm

I am looking for a silk fabric which is stretchy..A Silk fabric that i can use to make Swimwear..
Please help
Thank you

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Stephanie June 7, 2020 at 10:49 am

Sorry, I don’t think that silk would be suitable for swimwear as it’s generally a very delicate fabric which doesn’t do all that well in water. I’ve not come across any stretchy silks so I think you’d probably have to use a synthetic fabric such as nylon or polyester with lycra/spandex for stretch. Maybe have a look at this seamwork article on swimwear fabric?

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Leah July 3, 2020 at 6:38 pm

I would like to know what’s the meaning of Twill Silk? Is that a different kind of Silk or just a different way processed? I see on Shawls that there’s some that are 100% Silk, and some are Twill Silk. The Twill felt a little more stiff than the 100% Silk. Please explain.

Thank You

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Leah July 3, 2020 at 6:55 pm

Also I would like to know if usually when they state a fabric as 100% Silk is that referred to Satin Silk. Satin Silk is usually more slippery than the Twill Silk.

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Stephanie July 19, 2020 at 3:31 pm

Hi Leah,

Both twill and satin generally refer to the way that the fabric is woven rather than what it’s made of. A twill weave is made by passing the weft thread over one or more warp threads then under two or more warp threads and produces a stepped diagonal pattern. A satin weave floats weft threads over the warp thread to create a glossy surface. It’s hard to describe in a comment but the links will take you to Wikipedia and you can see pictures of them there. You can get twill fabrics made of wool, cotton and synthetics as well as silk. Satin fabrics tend to be made from silk, cotton or synthetics to get the smooth, slippery surface. You’re right that satin silk would be more slippery than twill silk due to its glossy surface.

More expensive silk fabrics will be 100% silk but cheaper fabrics described as silks might actually be made from synthetic fibres like rayon or polyester: I’ve seen them called ‘polyester silk’ or ‘polyester satin’ for example. So ‘satin silk’ could be pure silk or a synthetic fibre… you’d need to look for a label telling you that the fabric is 100% silk to know what it’s made of.

Hope this all makes sense!

Steph

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Mary Ann Falciani July 8, 2020 at 1:11 am

Can you use silk charmeuse for a dust ruffle. Is it heavy enough?

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Stephanie July 19, 2020 at 3:10 pm

I don’t think that I’d use silk charmeuse for a dust ruffle myself as it’s quite lightweight… seems like it would be too delicate and hard to launder.

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Anna July 22, 2020 at 2:58 pm

Thank you for your very informative website. I am knitting a jacket with Aran weight wool and want to line it with silk. My best knowledge of silk is haboti which I have used for silk painting. Do you think this will be suitable or do I need something with a bit more weight to it? I would be very grateful for your opinion and any suggestion you could make.

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Stephanie September 20, 2020 at 11:15 am

Hi Anna,

Sorry for the slow reply. I’ve not lined any woollen garments with silk myself, but I would probably stick with habutai as you suggest. It is used for linings and would drape well which would be compatible with your knitted fabric… I’d avoid the stiffer silk fabrics like dupion.

Steph

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Julie September 16, 2020 at 7:27 am

You don’t mention knitted silk jersey. I’ve been researching for wicking fabric that isn’t sweaty and silk jersey might be the answer for quality hiking clothing as it will also have some stretch as Molwanta was looking for earlier. It is out there, mainly in white for bridal wear which is a bit impractical on a muddy trek. I’ve just bought some online but not yet delivered so I will see if it’s suitable for my purpose, even if not it sounds like it will be lovely to wear!
Julie

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Stephanie September 20, 2020 at 11:43 am

Hi Julie,

Thanks for your comment. I’d forgotten about the existence of silk jersey so I’ll look up the details and add it to the list! Good luck with your hiking clothing project. Thinking about it, the silk jersey should be OK as it’s used to make thermal base layers so I guess it’s pretty tough fabric. I know what you mean about white though… not a great shade for a walking trip!

Steph

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Graham September 18, 2020 at 7:56 pm

I’m looking for a silk that I can use to line book covers. The weave must be tight enough for the pva glue not to bleed through. Could you suggest something?

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Stephanie September 20, 2020 at 12:09 pm

Hi Graham,

Hmmm… tricky question. I think that your best options are habutai, satin, taffeta or dupion as they all have a fairly tight weave. They all look different though – different amounts of sheen/gloss, slubbyness of the weave, crispness – so it depends what effect you want to produce. How thick can the fabric to be? Habutai and taffeta are light-weight but dupion tends to be a bit heavier. Satin comes in a variety of different weights. I suspect you’d get PVA glue bleeding through the lighter-weight fabrics though. You could think about bonding silk habutai to a light-weight, non-woven, iron-on interfacing though you wouldn’t want to use too hot an iron on the silk. I think you’ll probably have to experiment with a few fabrics… many online dressmaking stores offer a swatch service, so you could order some different samples and try glueing them before buying a larger piece of silk.

Sorry, some rather random thoughts but hope that helps!

Steph

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Renata Rasp October 17, 2020 at 12:26 am

Hi Stephanie,

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and making this site available. I was wondering if you might recommend the type of silk I should purchase for making hand painted/dyed silk rainbow scarves, wands, ribbon streamers for dress up for children. I’m looking for the type of silk that will fly in the wind, is shiny on both sides, and takes dye well. Can you help?

Thank you!
Renata Rasp

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Stephanie October 17, 2020 at 9:44 am

Hi Renata, I think that that habutai (sometimes spelt habotai) is probably the most suitable. It’s shiny and has a good drape so would flutter nicely in the wind. Habutai is one of the fabrics often sold for silk painting so I think it would be suitable for dyeing as well. Hope that helps and all the best, Stephanie

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