Eighteenth century, British taffeta gown. Eighteenth century, British taffeta gown. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK, acc. no. T.139 to B-1973.

Taffeta is a general term for a group of fabrics that are smooth, thin and shiny. They are made from a tabby weave (as opposed to satin cloth, which is a shiny fabric made from a satin weave). It normally has a finely ribbed effect created by the weft threads being heavier than the warp threads.

There are various opinions concerning the origins of the word taffeta. According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word originates from the Persian (Farsi) verb 'taftan', to twist, to spin. The earliest English use of this word, referring to a shiny textile, dates back to the early sixteenth century.

Over the centuries the term taffeta has been applied to a number of different fabrics, sometimes based on what they are made from (‘taffeta flannel’ [made from wool]; ‘taffeta coutil’ [silk and cotton]); on their appearance (‘tufted-taffeties’), and on other occasions on the place where they were made (‘Alamonde taffeta’ or ‘Lyons taffeta’). In the late nineteenth century, for example, the term taffeta was sometimes associated with watered silk (moiré), as well as a thick, shiny silk favoured for mourning clothing.


  • BURNHAM, Dorothy (1980). Warp and Weft: A Textile Terminology, Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, p. 144.
  • CAULFEILD, Sophia Frances Anne and Blanche C. Saward (1882), The Dictionary of Needlework, London: L. Upcott Gill, p. 468.
  • TORTORA, Phyllis G. and Ingrid JOHNSON (2014). The Fairchild Books: Dictionary of Textiles, 8th edition, London: Bloomsbury.
  • Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: 'Taffeta'


Last modified on Thursday, 24 March 2022 18:26
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