Once you see some moiré fabric, you won’t forget it. It’s a plain-weave fabric which has been treated to give the surface of a fabric a wavy, watery look – which is why it has also been called watered silk. You’ll also see it called moiré taffeta by some retailers, as taffeta is often used as the base fabric. Some folks think the pattern looks a bit like wood-grain. It has a very smooth, lustrous finish.
It used to be made only from silk, but now you can find it made with cotton, rayon and acetate.
It’s available in an entire rainbow of solid colors and another of printed patterns – plaids, dots, you name it. It’s sometimes woven with the warp thread a different color than the weft, giving it a two-tone affect. I have some red-green moiré in my stash that’s dying to be made into something 19th-century-ish and Christmas-y.
The process to make moiré involves subjecting the fabric to heat and pressure from ribbed rollers which flatten some yarns but not others, in an irregular pattern. The fabric is not coated with anything to create the finish (that would be chintz). Various fabrics can be subjected to the moiré process, including poplin, taffeta, and ribbed satin.
It’s a fun fabric to use in 19th century costuming – the Victorians loved it – and in fantasy gear. Even though it’s often offered in single colors, the wavy surface really catches the eye. For that reason, it’s also popular with interior decorators for curtains and other items calling for large swathes of fabric. It’s showy, but not ostentatious. Moiré ribbon is a fun choice for costume trim.
Pricing varies according to fiber content. Decorator moiré can get pretty pricey – starting around $20/yd and up from there. I’ve seen lightweight moiré with a nylon/acetate content priced as low as $5/yd.
I’ve seen some online retailers selling what they call a bengaline moiré but I’m not sure what they’re getting at. It has a smooth finish (or a satin weave – can’t tell without swatching) but does not have the distinctive pattern of a moiré. No watery pattern? Not moiré.
Sewing and care depends on the component fibers, so be sure to make a note of that when buying it.