Chiffon, voile, and, indeed, several other types of fabrics share many of the same qualities- so much so, it can be tricky to know whether that mystery fabric you bought for the discount rather than by design is chiffon, voile, or something else entirely.
Fortunately, there are enough subtle differences between the two for you to work out which is which.
What is the difference between voile and chiffon? Chiffon is a diaphanous, extremally sheer, lightweight plain-woven sheer fabric made of S- and Z-twist crepe (high-twist) yarns. The twisted yarns produce a slightly puckered effect, which lends the fabric both some stretch and a slightly rougher feel than you might expect from such an ethereal, sheer material.
Originally made from silk, chiffon now comes in several varieties, including polyester and nylon. Thanks to its elegant, floaty appearance, it’s often used in evening wear or as an overlay on gowns; chiffon blouses, ribbons, scarves, and lingerie are also popular.
Voile, like chiffon, is a soft, sheer fabric with a floaty, transparent appearance. Typically, voile is made of 100% cotton or cotton blended with linen or polyester, which gives it a little more body and structure than chiffon. Despite its delicate appearance, voile is a robust, sturdy fabric that lends itself as equally well to home furnishing as it does to dressmaking.
Technically, chiffon and voile can both be used to make curtains. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to window treatments (or indeed, anything else) and if someone really wants chiffon curtains, you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t have too much trouble finding someone willing to sell them some.
That said, voile tends to be the fabric of choice for most homeware designers.
Like muslin and lace, voile is a light-penetrable sheer fabric that diffuses light while still offering some outward visibility, making it the perfect choice for homeowners who want to make the most of the natural light while still retaining a degree of privacy (for those willing to sacrifice a little of the former for more of the latter, there’s always the option to line or layer the individual pieces).
Voile’s natural tendency to fall into soft folds makes it great for scarf swags, while its robust, sturdy nature takes to being dyed exceptionally well (giving decorators no end of color options in the process).
While both heavy chiffon and chiffon voile have certain similarities, their unique qualities allow them to be used in a multitude of different ways… although judging which of the two is the better is a tricky, not to say subjective, topic.
When it comes to evening wear, heavy chiffon is the standout winner. It’s ethereal, lustrous appearance makes it the perfect choice for evening attire and bridal wear, while its ability to stand up to dyes makes it an equally great choice for blouses, ribbons, scarves, and lingerie.
The gorgeous drape of voile, meanwhile, makes it an excellent choice for drapes, as well as light, summer apparel. Like chiffon, voile can take almost any color dye you want to throw at it and can be surprisingly robust, despite its delicate appearance.
When it comes to practicality, voile just pips heavy chiffon to the post. While chiffon needs some extra careful handling to maintain its luster, cotton voile is relatively easy to maintain, requiring little by way of special treatment to stay in tip-top condition.
So, which is the best? The jury’s still out...
While chiffon may the most well know of its type, several other fabrics share many of its same qualities, with organza, organdy and georgette being a few of the most similar.
Organza is a thin, open-weave fabric, with a smooth flat finish and a robust nature. Although traditionally made of silk, it’s now just as often to be found in nylon or polyester, or even a combination of all three. The loose weave allows a sheer effect very similar to chiffon, while its luxurious finish makes it as equally popular in bridal attire and evening wear. Other than its use in fashion, it’s also frequently found around the home in window treatments and painted screens.
Originally made from silk, synthetic fibers like polyester are now commonly used in the production of georgette. While its weave is tight, the threads are thin enough to give it a slightly sheer appearance, and highly twisted enough to give the material a crinkled effect and a springy, bouncy texture. Despite its fragile appearance, georgette is very robust, and can hold up well to a myriad of applications (although evening wear and bridal wear tend to be its primary use).
Of all the cotton out there, organdy is the crispiest and sheerest. Made from a balanced plain weave, organdy comes in three variations. “Stiff” is, as the name suggests, the crispiest of the three, and tends to be used mainly in home textiles and loose attire. “Semi stiff” and “soft” finishes are also available, and tend to be used mostly for light, summer apparel.
Despite their apparent similarities, there are enough subtle differences between the fabrics to make each unique. Organza and organdy both tend to be stiffer than chiffon and have a more robust (not to mention matte) appearance (chiffon, on the other hand, has an almost ethereal shimmer and lightness). Georgette, meanwhile, is less transparent than chiffon, and lacks its lustrous quality.
The cost of chiffon can vary according to the material from which it’s made. Silk chiffon, as you’d expect, is the most expensive of the varieties, and can fetch anything between $10- $40 dollars per yard (with around $16 being the average). Polyester and nylon chiffon tend to be relatively inexpensive - expect to pay between $5 -$15 per yard, depending on quality and print.
Chiffon comes in several different varieties, and while some are suitable for long, hot days, others are a decided no-no.
As with most things with a high polyester count, polyester chiffon is not a particularly breathable fabric, and is best reserved for the colder days of winter.
Cotton chiffon has all the same breathable qualities of cotton. Combine that with its butter-soft touch, and it’s understandable why this type of chiffon tends to be the most popular variety when it comes to lightweight summer clothes and loungewear.
Silk chiffon is not known for its breathability and will not absorb moisture. Although it’s unquestionably beautiful, it may not be the best choice in warmer weather.
Tip: If you’re looking for a chiffon that can be worn in hotter weather without discomfort, cotton chiffon is the clear choice.
While chiffon doesn’t wrinkle quite so easily as silk, its delicate fabric can still crumble far quicker than certain other materials. While silk versions of the material are too delicate to be treated by anyone but a professional, it’s easy enough to remove the wrinkles from cotton and synthetic chiffon at home with either one of these two handy processes.
Close all bathroom windows, turn off the extractor fan, and lay the floor with towels.
Turn the shower on at the highest temperature, then leave to run for 10 minutes with the bathroom door closed.
Once the 10 minutes have passed, re-enter the bathroom (be prepared for a lot of steam as you do), and hang up your chiffon item. Leave it to hang in the bathroom (remembering to shut the door on your way out) for a further 15 minutes.
Using a clean, white towel, gently brush the garment up and down its length to smooth away any wrinkles.
Using the handwash setting on your washing machine, wash the chiffon in cool water.
Once the chiffon has finished washing (but before it dries), place it on the ironing board and pat it into its correct shape.
Cover the chiffon with a slightly damp towel (the dampness will stop the chiffon drying out and becoming more sensitive to the heat), leaving a small section exposed.
Set the iron to its gentlest setting (some irons even have a fabric setting specifically for chiffon) and cover the exposed section with a pressing cloth or thin towel.
Iron over the cloth in a vertical direction, using smooth, even strokes. Work from the center to the edge, and make regular pit stops to check on the progress of the wrinkles.
Repeat the same process for the remainder of the garment until all wrinkles have been removed.
In a battle between voile and tulle, there’s no clear winner. Each has very different properties, very different functions, and very different reasons to inspire loyalty.
For those looking for the ideal curtain material, voile may have the distinct advantage. Its soft folds hang beautifully, while its robust nature allows it to be dyed to match the color palette of near enough any living room.
Tulle’s net-like quality and availability in a vast array of different stiffnesses and weights, meanwhile, make it the superior choice for bridal veils or crinolines in a bouffant dress.
If you want to treat your window to some superlative drapes, opt for voile. If you want to come over all Ginger Rogers in a pink princess-ballgown, go for tulle.
Voile and tulle are two very different creatures. Yes, both are sheer, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive, but the similarities end there.
Unlike voile, which tends to fall in soft folds, tulle likes to get a little “flouncy” or “bouffant” when layered (which may explain its popularity in meringue-style wedding gowns).
Tulle tends to hold its own against wrinkles, while voile (especially the 100% cotton type) lacks elasticity and can wrinkle easily.
When it comes to handling and care, voile has the advantage: unlike tulle (or indeed chiffon or organdy), voile doesn’t slip under the needle when its sewn, and while it does require special handling to prevent shrinkage, it’s generally much easier to maintain.
We’ve seen how chiffon, tulle, and voile all share certain similarities (not to say differences), but what we haven’t yet discussed in too much detail is each fabric’s specific care requirements.
While poly- chiffon is quite low maintenance, silk and nylon chiffon require a degree more care. Chiffon tends to distort when wet, so never wet or wipe any accidental stains. Dry cleaning is generally required, although check the label beforehand to see if gentle hand-washing (whether by actual hand or with a washing machine’s hand wash setting) is acceptable.
Given its delicate nature, it’ll come as little surprise to learn tulle requires kid-glove treatment. When it comes to cleaning, stick to hand-washing only. Use cool water along with a mild detergent (detergents made for baby clothes tend to be best). Soak the tulle and rub gently away at any dirt with your hands. Don’t be tempted to brush, scrub or pummel, regardless of how dirty the tulle is. Once clean, rinse by dipping the tulle in and out of clean, cool water. Repeat until the water runs clear, before gently shaking the tulle to remove excess water. Leave to drip dry.
If you have a handwash cycle on your washing machine, you should be able to pop cotton voile into the washer without too much worry (although if you’re at all concerned, stick to handwashing the old-fashioned way). Once washed, gently stretch the voile to restore its proper form.
As voile can be prone to wrinkling, you may want to run an iron on a gentle heat over the fabric: if you do, avoid letting the iron come into direct contact with the voile by laying a press cloth in-between the fabric and iron.