Originating from the Persian word tafta, meaning ‘twisted or woven’, it is historically a tight plain weave producing a stiff and crisp fabric present in Europe and Asia since medieval times – tabby from Iraq. Originally only woven from silk, it is now available in acetate and silk blends too.

Taffeta handles well and has a light-catching sheen due to its silky fibres, creating an elaborate drape with a forever changing look and a slight rustle when it moves. Taffeta makes elegant and luxurious curtaining, covers, and bed hangings, tablecloths and cushions, dressing tables and lampshades. It looks especially good unlined with the light shining through. However, as with all silks, it is unsuitable for everyday covers and upholstery as it will tear under pressure, and near windows it is vulnerable to fading and fraying under bright sunlight. So whilst the synthetic copies may feel less ‘authentic’ they are very useful.

Shot taffeta is especially wonderful for elegant rooms, both as curtaining and for the accessories. The weft and the warp of different colours or tones creates a new colour but as the light changes or the fabric moves, one or other of these colours comes to the fore. It’s the fabric that most resembles the effect that daylight has on any material -.the nuances and movement of light and shade, deep shadow and brilliance that are so hard to replicate. It looks fantastic gathered and draped for curtaining and drapery, bed curtains and coronas, frills, squashy cushions, anything with movement. The base colours can be close toned or completely opposite. It’s always interesting to look at the selvedges to see the often   very surprising , thread mixes.

Cotton taffeta is another interesting and beautiful cloth to use. When woven with the best, longest cotton yarn, it too has a good sheen and light-reflective quality; it is not as crisp as silk, but its softer drape and better washability makes it more appropriate for certain uses, such as bedcovers; it doesn’t fade with sun, making it suitable for curtaining.

Taffeta’s sub divisions are:

Faille: a firm fabric with a distinct horizontal rib, which stays where it’s put; good for medium-heavy drapes, swags and tails, tie backs, frilling and in 4 ply for upholstery.

Paper: a fine, plain weave fabric with a crisp, crackly finish

Ring: a fabric so fine it can be pulled through a ring

Shot: a plain weave with different coloured warps and wefts, which can be close in tone or completely opposite. It’s always interesting to check the selvedges to understand the–often very surprising–thread mixes. The result of this colour mix is a duller, powdery version of both yarns, which do also appear individually as the light changes and where it catches it. It looks fantastic gathered and draped, for curtaining, cushions, frills, squashy cushions, anything with fullness and movement, as the light picks up each nuance and tone and all degrees of shade.

Tissue: a very fine, tissue-like weave that is virtually transparent, with a slightly less open construction than a voile.

 Warp printed: a technical description of Chiné, a silk taffeta with floral motifs and ikat-like blurred details.

Weft printed: most ikat weaves, those that produce the characteristic blurred details and especially the two toned ones are technically weft printed tafettas.

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