Taffeta is a type of fabric which was historically made from silk, but today can be made from many different fibers, including artificial fibers like nylon, and engineered fibers such as rayon. There are a number of uses for taffeta, ranging from lining windbreakers to making wedding gowns, and many people associate this fabric with luxury and high end garments. Many sewing stores carry taffeta, and it can also be ordered directly from fabric manufacturers.
The term “taffeta” comes from the Persian words for “twisted” and “woven,” which suggests that this fabric probably originated around this region, or that it was introduced to Europeans through Persia, a major stop along European and Asian trade routes. People have been familiar with taffeta for centuries, with documentations of the fabric being used in Medieval Europe. China, Japan, India, and Iran all have a history of taffeta production, originally on hand looms and eventually on modernized machine looms.
This fabric usually has a very tight weave, and the weave is plain. Taffeta is famous for being very stiff and crisp, generating rustling sounds when people move in it. Yarn-dyed fabric tends to be especially stiff, while piece-dyed garments are softer and more flexible. The fabric is also very soft and smooth to the touch, and it has a famously lustrous and glimmery appearance.
Silk taffeta, the finest version of this fabric, is used in specialty and designer garments such as gowns. Taffetas made from other fibers are utilized for a wide variety of garments, and they are especially popular as linings, because the taffeta can add insulation while helping the garment keep its shape. This fabric can also be used for applique and piecework.
Care directions for taffeta vary, depending on how it is used and which fibers are involved. With silk, it is usually best to dry clean only, and the fabric should not be spot treated. If a garment does become stained, it should be taken to a dry cleaner as soon as possible, and the stain should be shown to the cleaner's staff so that special care can be taken. If a garment is an antique, it may require special attention, preferably from a dry cleaner who specializes in vintage and antique garments, such as a dry cleaner who handles costume care. Nylon and rayon garments may be washable by machine, and they usually include tags which indicate the best options for fabric care.