This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Satin. A silken fabric of high luster, used chiefly as a dress material, but also for innumerable minor purposes. When satin first appeared in trade it was called round the shores of the Mediterranean "a ceytuni." The term slipped through early Italian lips into "zetani"; coming westward this name, in its turn, dropped its "i" and smoothed itself into "satin." So, also, it is called in France; while in Italy it now goes by the name of "raso," denoting a smooth surface, and the Spaniards keep up its first designation. Satin is said by some to have been first made in China, though this is open to doubt. It is certain they were known in England as early as the thirteenth century, and probably in France and Spain prior to that time under other designations. For a long period they were very little used, probably on account of their rarity, and it was not until the fifteenth century that they became common. It is evident that the high price they bore must necessarily have precluded them from general use, as instances of the payment of $27 for a coat of Persian satin are quite common. The general color of these early satins was red, the mention of black satin by one writer being recorded as a notable fact. Proof of the increased production of satin in the fifteenth century is afforded by its sale to certain classes of people being forbidden by numerous laws. By one of these the use of satin and damask was confined to esquires and yeomen of the kings' household; to gentlemen having posessions of the yearly value of $200, and to persons of higher rank. As time went on the industry of manufacturing satin was established in England, at the town of Spitalfields, by French refugees, and the fabric became so cheap and plentiful that the prohibitory laws were abolished. After this time satin became so common in all countries as not to need especial mention.
Coming to the point as to what satin really is, it may be said, in brief, that it is a twill of a peculiar description. The high luster of the surface is due partly to the quality of the silk used, partly by dressing with hot rollers, but mainly by the manner of weaving. There has been printed an account of a romantic discovery of the manner of making satin, which is so entirely incorrect as to be all romance without even a foundation of fact:
"The word ' satin,' which in the original was applied to all silk staffs in general, has since the last century, been used to designate only tissues which present a lustered surface. The discovery of this particular brilliant stuff was accidental. Octavio Main, a silk weaver finding business very dull, and not knowing what to invent to give a new impulse to the trade, was one day pacing to and fro before his loom. Every time he passed the machine, with no definite object in view, he pulled little threads from the warp and put them into his mouth, which soon after he sprit out. Later on he found the little ball of silk on the floor of his workshop, and was attracted by the brilliant appearance of the threads. He repeated the experiment, and by using certain mucilaginous preparations succeeded in giving satin to the world."
All silks were not originally known as satins. Satin does not depend for its glossiness on any previous preparation of the warp, but upon its peculiar manner of weaving, and afterwards upon a dressing given by rolling the fabric over heated cylinders. The circumstance above related is applicable to Taffeta (which see). In the weaving of most silk fabrics, the warp and weft intersect each other every alternate time, as in plain weaving or every third or fourth time as in twill weaving, in regular order, but in satin it is the fine silk warp only that appears on the surface of the fabric. The weft is completely hidden. Instead of the warp passing under the weft every other time, it passes over 8 (10, 12 or 16, according as may be desired) wefts, then under one and over eight more, and so on, but the warps in passing over the wefts do not interweave at regular intervals (which would produce a twill), but at irregular intervals, thus producing an even, close and smooth surface, which is capable of reflecting the rays of light very entire. It is thus that the fabric acquires that luster and brilliancy which particularly distinguish it. The weft (or back) in ordinary qualities is cotton or linen, while the best goods, such as satin de Lyon, are all silk. When first taken out of the loom satin is somewhat flossy, and is " dressed" by being rolled in heated metal cylinders, which operation imparts to them a more brilliant luster and also removes the floss. In some of the older families of this country are preserved a few specimens of early attempts at making satin goods from home-raised silk. A comparison of those relics with the products of the present day brings the great improvements made in weaving into clearer light. The thread which makes the surface of satin is now more thoroughly tied down than formerly. In the best goods it no longer " floats " when the fingers are drawn across it. A solidity and eveness have been conferred on the fabric which renders it at once more compact and durable. A good quality of satin wears exceedingly well, but it cannot be cleaned or dyed satisfactorily, as it is liable to become frayed. [See Silk, Brocade]