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What is Charmeuse Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • October 30, 2020 • 7 min read

Fabric name Charmeuse
Fabric also known as Crepe-backed satin
Fabric composition Silk or synthetic fibers
Fabric possible thread count variations 12 to 30 momme
Fabric breathability High
Moisture-wicking abilities Medium
Heat retention abilities Low
Stretchability (give) Low
Prone to pilling/bubbling Low
Country where fabric was first produced China
Biggest exporting/producing country today China
Recommended washing temperatures Dry clean or cold
Commonly used in Pillowcases, sheets, dresses, pants, lingerie, negligees, slips, tank tops, evening wear, robes, handkerchiefs, ties

What is charmeuse fabric?

Charmeuse is a luxurious fabric with a shiny front and a dull back. This type of fabric is usually made with silk, but textile manufacturers also make charmeuse with polyester and rayon.

Named after the French word for a female charmer, charmeuse’s elegance makes this fabric ideal for women’s dresses and evening wear. Over the years, however, charmeuse has become more associated with bedding than it is with apparel.

Among the various types of silk textiles on the market, charmeuse has a relatively heavy weight, which makes it more insulative than other types of silk. Fabric manufacturers commonly use the momme as a unit of measurement for the thread count of silk, and charmeuse fabric has a momme between 12 and 30.

History of charmeuse

As a silk fabric, the history of charmeuse traces back to Ancient China. Archeological expeditions have discovered silk garments dating back to 3630 BC, but the art of sericulture (silk-making) was in its infancy at that time, and the earliest Chinese silk garments were relatively rudimentary.

It's unclear when fabrics similar to charmeuse were developed in the history of Chinese sericulture, but over the centuries, Chinese silk garments evolved considerably in fineness and beauty. Long reserved for royalty, average citizens in Ancient China were prohibited from wearing silk, and some sources indicate that a Chinese fabric similar to charmeuse received the designation “the fabric of emperors” due to its beauty and exclusivity.

At some point, Chinese traders brought charmeuse-like fabrics to the West, or Western textile manufacturers used Chinese yarn to make a new fabric. The exact historical origins of charmeuse remain shrouded in mystery, but based on its name alone, this fabric clearly became popular among the tailors and dressmakers of France.

Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, silk remained the most luxurious, opulent fabric in Europe, and of all the silk fabrics available to the European upper class and nobility, charmeuse was especially treasured due to its satin sheen and striking brilliance. Charmeuse remained popular in the West throughout the Enlightenment period, and historical records indicate that women used this fabric to celebrate the successful culmination of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

Charmeuse today

Silk charmeuse remains a reasonably popular material for classy garments and bedding. During the 20th century, however, American corporations developed a variety of different synthetic fabrics, and one of the explicit goals of this unprecedented textile innovation initiative was the replacement of silk, which is expensive and laborious to produce.

Unfortunately, neither polyester nor rayon (which corporations specifically marketed as a silk alternative) lived up to the expectations of their creators. While the touch of silk has an attractive quality that invites your skin in for more, something about the sensation of synthetic textiles simply feels off.

Neither rayon nor polyester are as soft and supple as genuine silk, and even worse, synthetic satin weaves do not capture the nearly luminescent qualities of genuine silk charmeuse. As a result, silk remains the dominant fiber for charmeuse production. Even though this fabric is reasonably popular within certain niche categories, silk production takes up an infinitesimal portion of the overall textile economy, and charmeuse is only one of many kinds of silk.

How is charmeuse fabric made?

The charmeuse production process begins with the harvesting of silk fibers. Silk workers derive these fibers from the cocoons of silkworms, which live out their life cycles on mulberry trees. Since silkworms are technically pests, using pesticides during silk production would be counterintuitive, and mulberry trees do not respond to chemical fertilizers.

To unravel silkworm cocoons, silk workers boil these moth metamorphosis chambers and then use brushes to find their loose ends. These loose ends are then placed through eyelets and attached to reels. Silk workers twist the ends of silk fibers together to produce continuous strings, which they then twist into yarn.

Once silk workers have harvested silkworm cocoons and rendered them into yarn, textile manufacturers can use this yarn to make silk charmeuse. Charmeuse is a type of satin weave, which means that it consists of four or more weft yarns floating on top of a single warp yarn. Due to this distinctive weave, satin fabric does not scatter as much light as other types of textiles, leading to a shiny appearance on one side of the fabric.

In most cases, textile manufacturers use industrial machinery to weave charmeuse fabric, but it’s still possible to weave this fabric by hand. Since satin weave is similar in complexity to twill or plain weave, high-tech computerized looms are not necessary to weave charmeuse.

The charmeuse weaving process remains the same in the case of synthetic charmeuse, but in sharp contrast to the conditions in silk production facilities, synthetic fibers like polyester are produced in factories using vats of caustic chemicals. In some cases, synthetic textile producers may reuse these chemicals, but they are commonly discarded.

How is charmeuse fabric used?

As the etymology of this fabric’s name suggests, charmeuse remains a popular product for elegant, charming women’s clothing. Evening wear, gowns, and other forms of dresses are at their most elegant when they’re made with charmeuse, and since this fabric is somewhat heavier than other types of silk, charmeuse garments are viable for formal events in any season. Charmeuse is also a popular material for women’s slips, negligees, and lingerie of all types.

In the arena of menswear, fashion designers sometimes use charmeuse to make ties and handkerchiefs. It’s also common to find charmeuse in the lining of men’s sports jackets, and designers sometimes use charmeuse to make men’s boxers and other forms of underwear.

Charmeuse has also become increasingly popular as a luxury bedding material. When used to make pillows and sheets, charmeuse combines smooth softness with shiny luster, which makes this fabric simultaneously comfortable and aesthetically appealing. More rarely, designers may use charmeuse as a material for drapery or furniture upholstery.

Where is charmeuse fabric produced?

China is the world’s largest producer of silk, and this East Asian manufacturing powerhouse is also the primary producer of synthetic textiles. Therefore, most of the world’s charmeuse originates in China.

How much does charmeuse fabric cost?

Among the various silk fabrics on the market, charmeuse is one of the most fiber-dense, so it is even costlier by the yard than chiffon and other lightweight silk fabrics. Silk is already one of the most expensive fabrics since modern technologies can only improve the efficiency of sericulture to a limited degree.

What different types of charmeuse fabric are there?

While all types of charmeuse fabric are alike in their shiny fronts and dull backs, there are a few different types of this textile that you should be aware of:

1. Standard charmeuse

Any type of satin silk fabric with a momme weight between 12 and 30 that has a shiny front side and a dull back is considered to be charmeuse. While some fabrics consisting of synthetic fibers closely approximate the attributes of charmeuse, there are no synthetic fabrics that perfectly replicate this silk textile’s unique attributes.

2. Stretch charmeuse

Stretch charmeuse is similar to standard charmeuse in practically every way, but this fabric also contains up to 5% elastane, which provides this fabric with a minor degree of stretchiness that can make charmeuse more comfortable.

3. Sand-washed charmeuse

Textile manufacturers subject this type of charmeuse to a post-production process that abrades its shiny side to slightly reduce its sheen. The resulting fabric remains subtly shiny while also becoming softer than normal charmeuse.

4. Synthetic charmeuse

Textile manufacturers have developed a variety of synthetic fabrics that loosely approximate the beneficial attributes of silk charmeuse. While it’s possible to weave synthetic fibers in the same satin pattern as genuine charmeuse, polyester, rayon, and other synthetic fabrics lack the softness and luster of silk charmeuse.

How does charmeuse fabric impact the environment?

The majority of charmeuse fabric is still made with silk, and this fabric has a negligible environmental impact. It’s certainly possible to engage in worker exploitation in the process of producing silk, which indirectly harms local ecosystems due to poverty. Silk production itself, however, is inherently sustainable since it does not involve the use of agrochemicals or the misuse of land.

Imitation charmeuse made from synthetic fibers, however, has a remarkably negative impact on the environment. The chemicals used to make rayon, for instance, a common silk alternative, enter the hydrosphere at the end of the rayon production process. The process of producing polyester is slightly less harmful to the environment, but both polyester and rayon contribute to microfiber pollution, and synthetic fibers are not biodegradable.

Recycled synthetic fibers have reduced environmental impact, but they still end up as non-biodegradable junk and water pollutants. Therefore, it is best to use silk charmeuse that is certified as genuine.

Charmeuse fabric certifications available

There are no specific certifications for charmeuse fabric, but Silk Mark certifies silk textiles. This Indian certifier ensures that the fabrics it certifies are genuine silk and not synthetic lookalikes.

Charmeuse fabric may also be eligible for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. This prestigious fabric certifier can provide certifications for organically cultivated silk, and it also provides certifications for certain recycled synthetic fibers. The Global Recycle Standard (GRS) is another example of an organization that certifies recycled synthetic fabrics.

Even if they are not eligible for GOTS or GRS certification, synthetic charmeuse materials like polyester and rayon may be eligible for International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification. This certifying agency ensures that synthetic materials meet basic quality and safety standards.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.