Insights & Inspiration

The Difference Between Satin and Sateen

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By The DLS Team 2016-01-05

As anyone who has ever been shopping for bed sheets can tell you, the difference between satin and sateen can be murky unless you are accustomed to working closely with the fabric. Has this ever happened to you? When I was just a beginner I remember being struck by how close in feel and appearance the two were. If you are considering creating something with either of these, it might be worth your while to refresh yourself on the difference between the two, especially in upkeep and durability.

The first thing to remember is that “satin” and “sateen” do not refer to the fiber; they refer to the weave of the fabric. The unique weaving pattern shared by both fabrics is four threads over and one thread under (as opposed to the traditional one over, one under that you might be accustomed to). This maximizes the visible threads on the top side of the fabric, giving it that trademark luxurious and elegant softness and shine. Likewise, the other side of the fabric has a dull appearance, establishing a decided “right side.”

Though the weave is very similar, as is the appearance and texture, however, satin and sateen are made from different fibers. Originally, satin was made from 100% silk thread. Indeed, the higher quality satin still is. For durability, maximum shine, and cost effectiveness, however, satin is now also made from nylon or polyester – frequently a blend of all three. While satin made from synthetic fibers tends not to breathe so easily as natural silk, the effect of the fabric is very much the same.

Sateen, on the other hand, is made entirely from cotton (sometimes rayon). Isn’t it amazing that cotton can be that smooth and shiny? Typically, the cotton used is carded, combed, or mercerized to assist with the characteristic “silkiness.”

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Choosing 

Depending on your project, you might find that one serves the life of your project over another. Satin is very popularly used in garments – everything from baseball jackets to lingerie! If you have any little aspiring ballerinas in your inner circle, their dreamy pink pointe shoes will be covered in satin. It is also ideal for fine furniture upholstery. Satin is timeless elegance and soft luxuriousness.

Sateen, being made of cotton, is (as you might have guessed) a more durable and tough material. If you are sewing something that will require a little more wear and tear, this might be the way to go. This is the reason it is frequently used for things like bedding and draperies.

A significant difference in the upkeep of the two fabrics is that sateen is machine washable. Satin may be machine washable, depending on the blend of fibers, but frequently has to be dry-cleaned or hand-washed.

Finally, consider any color alterations you might wish to make to the fabric. Sateen can be bleached, dyed, or printed with great consistency. Satin can be dyed in some cases, but this will again depend on the blend, and requires a slightly more laborious process.

So that’s the skinny. Just remember, whichever fabric you end up using for your project, remember to label it properly with its care instructions so its new owners can enjoy the fabric as much as you do.