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Know Your Materials

So hands up who knows their silk from their polyester; their lace from their tulle? We must confess to being a little lacking in knowledge in this area. Fear not, our lovely style blogger Mette from Freja Designer Dressmaking shares her wisdom. Read this and you’ll be whisked into a world of materials that will leave you dreaming of dresses.

Silk vs Polyester

“When you choose your dress, it is really handy to have some knowledge about materials. What else would you choose in that price range without any thorough research? Seriously… brides to be, it pays to just have a little bit of knowledge about materials, to let you know, not necessarily what is good and what is bad. It’s not that simple, but what do materials do when they are used in a dress.

So, one of the first mistakes is that anything “silky” is silk. That is not so. Silk is a beautiful fibre, spun by silkworms before they become butterflies; they have been farmed for thousands of years for their amazing ability to make a beautiful thread. There are a few “wild” butterflies, which still makes a silk thread with a different character to the farmed silk butterfly, such as Shantung, and Tussah.

Most wedding dresses today are made in polyester, be careful as some shops sell the polyester dresses under cover of being silky or spelling shantung in a different way, to confuse. There is absolutely nothing wrong with polyester wedding dresses, but I would like you to know what you are buying.

Watch the Weave

Along with the fibre that the fabric is made from, the weave also makes a difference. Satin is the weave, which makes a shiny smooth surface, you can get satin in wool, cotton, silk and polyester. In satin, we have both thick hard/stiff satins called Duchesse satins, and slinky satins, with different names such as crepe back satins, camisole silk, slipper silk. The Duchesse satin is much used in stiffer more formal gowns like 1940s gowns, and the softer ones are more like styles from the 20s, soft slinky, sitting close to the body. The silk satins are about 8 times the price of the polyesters.

One of the silks commonly used is Douppion silk; it has a “slub” a thicker thread which makes little knots and imperfections on the thread running horizontally. In this case, I hate the polyester version, and will not work in it, I feel it looks cheap.

Then we have all the sheers, most obvious is the chiffon, again, we can get that in both silk and polyester, many people can’t tell the difference between a chiffon and a georgette, they are both sheer, but a chiffon is smooth and a georgette is textured. Then there is organza. Organza is see through but stiff, allegedly the glue from the silk cocoon is what is giving the stiffness to the material. I love organza; I feel you can get the sheer with some kind of wispiness to it. It’s a lighter weight of the silk Ghazaar which has been out of fashion for ages but came back with a vengeance when Kate Middleton used it for her dress.

Taffeta to Tulle

Apart from those already mentioned, we have taffeta, which is a hard crisp plain weave shiny material, it has had a bad name for years due to Fergie’s wedding dress, and lots of people say it looks creased, I like it, I like the kind of crease, a bit like a piece of paper. A heavier version of taffeta is called Poult. It’s great for ruching and folding, like Ian Stuart wedding dresses.

Then we have the crepes. They are matte materials, with a texture. When the crepes are silk they are often called Marocain’s, and sometimes have a kind of peach skin or sand washed finish. Crepe always drapes and hangs softly. Wool crepe is lovely and occasionally used for wedding dresses.

Then there is tulle, literally just French for Netting, you know those, usually a stiffer version such as the big princess dresses, but you also get softer tulle’s like the ones designers like Jenny Peckham does heavy bead embroidery on, and designers like Claire Pettibone use with embroidery on top.

Love for Lace

Ohh and then the laces… where do we start? Most laces today are actually not true laces, but tulle with embroidery. You get an advantage as its usually cost efficient and can be made in wider widths than the traditional laces, so if you have a dress with wide panels, then often the lace will be embroidered tulle.
There is also Chantilly lace, which in my eyes is the most beautiful lace. Usually only comes in very narrow pieces, so more suitable for the bodices or straighter dresses.

Then Guipore, bigger heavier lace, this can also be made in different fibres, the more expensive ones are silk wool or viscose (viscose is a cellulose fibre, so in theory the same as a Kleenex tissue, and quite fragile when wet, but beautiful and shiny) guipore has been much in fashion from European fashion houses recently, and they are stunning.

Sometimes a dress has more than one lace on it; this kind of layering is very much in fashion at the moment. Usually, it’s with something like a fine Chantilly on the main part of the dress and then a heavier lace with scallop edges, (that curvy edge good quality lace makes) when it’s really good, the scallops have little fluttery bits called eyelashes, I love them! Sometimes laces are corded, that means a thicker thread, sometimes a shiny thread or a slightly darker thread goes round the design to emphasise the pattern, which is called a corded lace. Some laces have also designed stock on top and it gives a 3D kind of feel to the dress.

Occasionally a wedding dress is a “knitted” dress, which means instead of a woven dress, the thread has been knitted on a big machine, it’s also called jersey. They are usually silk or viscose dresses, such as Amanda Wakely and Alice Temperley.

Decide what’s important

I think you should think what is important to you. Clearly, in a wedding dress the labour makes up most of the price, so I think you should go for the most expensive material you can afford. If you are having a bespoke dress, it makes total sense to go for silk. I have some clients who come into the shop and say “I can’t see the difference between the silk and the polyester” well if that is the case, hold your money and go for polyester. In my eyes, the colours are a bit nicer in natural fibres compared to manmade fibres. I feel the colours are kinder and more natural. The manmade fibres are dyed with chemical dyes, and I feel that shows.

There is, as many of you will know a controversial side of silk production. Silk has been produced for thousands of years, and in the process of producing the silk, the silk worms die. That is obviously not great, and therefore Vegans tends to avoid silk. My opinion is that the impact on the environment is much less from silk production than to the traditional cotton production as a comparison.

My silks are all from the Far East and delivered through a “fair-trade” scheme, I am pleased the money goes back into the communities producing the silks. And I know the price is always a concern, but it would ruin my wedding day if I had not carried out the full research of where my dress came from. Many wedding dresses are produced under bad conditions in sweatshops around the world. So perhaps, before you place your order for your wedding dress, ask your supplier where it came from, and where was it produced.”

Love this. Who’s feeling inspired to ask their wedding dress supplier those all-important material questions? Alie x

Originally hailing from Denmark but having now made Edinburgh her home (it was love at first sight!), multi award-winning designer dressmaker Mette Baillie is the incredible talent behind Freja Designer Dressmaking.