Have you ever been shopping for new bedsheets, only to find yourself stuck deciding between options labeled “satin” and “sateen”? It’s a bit confusing, right? Some may even think that one is a misprint. Both fabrics look very similar. They feel very similar. So, it begs the question: what is the difference between satin and sateen?
It’s All in the Weave
Many people’s first inclination is that these two similar sounding names refer to the actual fiber being used in the fabric. While they do use different fibers, satin and sateen are not actually fibers themselves – they’re a style of weave. Or at least they used to be…
Traditionally, fabric was (and still is) created by weaving fibers in a “one over, one under” fashion. Equal threads on either side of the fabric. This is why – apart from the seams – your cotton t-shirts look the same on the inside as they do on the outside. The cotton t-shirt fabric is evenly balanced.
When satin first took off during the Middle Ages, it was manufactured from silk yarn using a special “four over, one under” style. The result? The four-thread side was incredibly soft, and boasted a luxurious shine, while the other side was much more muted and dull. This is why satin has a decidedly “right” side of the fabric, meaning if you flipped a satin shirt inside out, you’d see a noticeable difference from the other side.
Eventually, this satin-style weave was adapted to cotton yarn, and the resulting fabric (which shares similar features to satin) was dubbed – you guessed it – Sateen.
Today, Satin Has Many Meanings
As mentioned, satin was traditionally woven from fine silk thread. The only problem with this is that silk can be incredibly expensive. And so, when satin styles took off on everything from jackets and dresses, to ballet flats and bedsheets of the Disco Era, manufacturers needed to find a way to keep costs down.
Enter synthetic fabrics…
Manufacturers learned that they could get a (somewhat) similar look and feel of traditional silk satin fabrics by substituting in synthetic fabrics such as polyester. As the popularity of the “satin look” continued to grow, so did the use of these synthetics.
Today, there is so much synthetic satin in the marketplace, that the actual term “satin” has become a convoluted one at best. Most often, “satin” labeled products are actually a polyester-based fabric made to look like the traditional satin silk weaves. Meaning that unless you really read the label, or understand when, where, and how that piece of fabric was manufactured, you might not even know what you’re dealing with.
Now, on the flip side of all of this is sateen. Since sateen is made using 100% cotton yarns, it’s easy to tell what you’re dealing with. It’s all cotton, all the time.
Which One Is Better?
While there is no true “better” in the case of satin and sateen, the differences in the underlying fiber can make one much more suitable than the other in certain instances.
Satin is often the go-to for garments, being used in everything from ballet shoes to baseball jackets. The brilliance of satin’s shine makes it the perfect way to create pieces that you really want to stand out. But this brilliance does come at a cost, as satin is much less durable than its sateen counterparts. Since most modern satin is made from synthetic fibers, satin clothing and sheets are much more prone to wear and tear, and often cannot be machine washed, meaning everything has to be cleaned by hand. They also require more upkeep and have a shorter lifespan due to this limited durability.
Sateen on the other hand, features a similar luminous shine and incredible softness as satin, but with all the underlying benefits of cotton – the world’s most natural fabric. With a cotton base, sateen fabric is much more durable, and will last a lot longer than satin – with the added bonus of more often than not being machine washable. That is why for items such as bedsheets, sateen is the clear-cut winner.
One final noticeable difference between the two is what goes into processing the fabrics. Like any cotton material, sateen can be processed with minimal treatments and chemicals (this is especially true for sateen products made from organic cotton). Silk on the other hand is a bit more difficult to process and is quite laborious to treat and dye. This is why satin products often come with a higher price tag as compared to similar sateen products.
Makes Sense, But Back to My Bedsheets…
As you might have guessed, due to its superior durability, ease of care, and minimal treatment in processing, White Terry is a fan of sateen when it comes to bedsheets. In fact, all of the luxury sheet sets and pillow cases we craft are made from 100% organic cotton sateen. Meaning that our sheets have a sheen and buttery softness, but are cotton through and through, and can still be thrown right into the washing machine…the best of both worlds!
Hopefully this helps you solve the mystery of satin v. sateen. The next time you find yourself shopping for bed sheets, ballet shoes, or anything else in-between, be sure to remember these differences between the two. While they can often seem nearly identical, there is a lot going on underneath the surface that can and should affect your choice in fabric.
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