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What is Charmeuse?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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Charmeuse is a luxury fabric made from silk with a satin finish. It has a floating appearance that drapes very well, especially for formal wear. The fabric is also extremely lightweight, and it has a glossy appearance and extremely soft texture. Fabric stores that offer luxury or novelty fabrics typically stock this material, and many department stores carry garments made from it. The fabric does need to be handled with care, since it is very fragile.

In a satin weave, the fabric is woven in such a way that, from the front, only the warp threads show. Many weft threads are also skipped in the weaving, creating long, smooth lines of warp threads. As a result, the front of a satin weave textile is glossy and very smooth, while the backing is matte, and slightly rough. The look of satin is highly prized for dressy garments, since it flows well on the body and catches light in stunning patterns.

To make charmeuse, silk is extracted from silk worms and then woven using a satin weaving technique. The fabric is difficult to work with, since the right side of the fabric is so slippery. In addition, it shows pin holes, so garments cannot simply be pinned for sewing. The fabric can also be scuffed or marked easily, and the long warp threads can sometimes be pulled loose, creating loops and catches in the fabric. When handled well, however, charmeuse makes stunning garments.

As a general rule, this fabric can be hand-washed with cold water and gentle soaps. It should be laid out flat or hung to dry, although clotheslined garments should not be attached with clothespins, since they will leave marks. Charmeuse should also not be twisted or contorted while it is wet, because it may set permanent wrinkles in the fabric. If a garment made from this material does not include care directions, some consumers prefer to dry clean it, since that is unlikely to shrink, warp, or discolor the garment.

Sometimes, cotton may be blended with silk to make this fabric, creating a semi-lustrous satin that is not quite so glossy. This mixed textile is easier to care for and work with, and it is often used in bedding and drapes. Depending on the manufacturer, the percentages of each may be clearly listed on the garment or bulk textile. Cotton charmeuse is also used as a garment lining, since is extremely soft against the skin, without the cool slipperiness of pure silk. The cotton also promotes moisture wicking and fabric breathability.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon340894 — On Jul 06, 2013

I am looking at a prom dress made from charmeuse. Is this a good idea or not? Considering I will be dancing and probably sweating all night in the dress. Any opinions?

By anon243606 — On Jan 28, 2012

I purchased a polyester satin stretch charmeuse dress. It says not to dry clean or wash, just spot clean. If I dance in it, it will need to be washed. Is it hand washable?

By anon181110 — On May 28, 2011

you can cut the fabric with pinking sheers. That will prevent some fraying but typically, it will fray some anyway.

Chiffon and charmeuse will look great if you match the colors as closely as possible, or go for complete opposites (solid sleeves on print fabric, black fabric with white sleeves -- go along those lines).

Burning a strand of the fabric will tell the content: silk will burn, poly will melt.

By anon174211 — On May 09, 2011

How can you cut the fabric in a way to where it won't fray?

By anon169376 — On Apr 21, 2011

Is it OK to pair silk charmeuse with chiffon? I'm making a dress made of silk charmeuse, and wanted the sleeves on the dress to be made of chiffon. Thanks!

By anon152934 — On Feb 15, 2011

@ anon135233: Try doing a burn test on a small thread of the pillowcase (see online to explain how). Synthetic fibers burn differently than organics.

By anon135233 — On Dec 17, 2010

I ordered 100 percent silk pillowcases online. They arrived and it says silk charmeuse. How can I tell if it is the real silk or the polyester look alike?

By anon47242 — On Oct 02, 2009

Fantastic description. Now on to crepe de chinelles and the like!

By anon13435 — On May 27, 2008

how do you pronounce it?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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