Batiste is a fabric known for its smoothness, delicacy and light weight. Because of these characteristics, it's often used to line linen clothes as well as to make items such as baby outfits, lingerie and scarves. It drapes well, but also requires particular attention and care. Batiste should be washed on a gentle cycle without bleach, for example, and is easily snagged on the foot of a sewing machine. Premium batiste comes from Switzerland and England, according to Fabrics.net.
Batiste fabric is named for Jean Batiste, a thirteenth-century French linen weaver, and its popularity has endured for centuries. An August 20, 1911, article in The New York Times noted, "The favourite fabric of the day, if one can really be definite, is batiste or sheer linen ... This material is not only used for gowns which are dropped over black chiffon or coloured China silk, but for separate coats, for hats, for collars and cuffs, fichus, wide sashes with long ends, and often for slippers."
Batiste fabric can be woven from cotton, polyester, linen, silk or a blend of these, although most commonly it's made of cotton or a cotton/polyester blend, according to "Sew Any Fabric," by Claire B. Shaeffer and Nancy Zieman. It usually has been treated for improved strength and lustre by a process called mercerization, which involves dipping the fabric in sodium hydroxide under tension and then rinsing it clean. Mercerization makes the fibres swell, which makes the fabric stronger, shinier, more durable and more accepting of dyes, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Similarities to Lawn Organdy
Among other lightweight fabrics, batiste stands out because, even as thin as it is, it's opaque rather than transparent. Batiste is part of the lawn organdie fabric family, but batiste is more sheer, according to Fabrics.net. Batiste and lawn have nearly identical weave patterns, but batiste has more spacing between the yarns, which is responsible for its "wavy" look. This characteristic is further amplified by mercerization.
Batiste fabric is most often used for making a variety of clothing items and accessories, but it's well-suited for other purposes, too. Sheer or semi-sheer curtains are often made of batiste, as are christening gowns, baby blankets and comforters. A variation of the fabric called lining batiste is heavier than standard batiste, closer in opacity to semi-sheer lawn fabric, and ideal as an underliner, according to Silk Road Textile Merchants.
The price of batiste fabric varies depending on where it's from and whether it's blended with other fabrics. Batiste that isn't blended with polyester is considered finer (and therefore costs more). It's more prone to wrinkles, but easier to sew. Premium batiste fabric "is not without expense, but it lasts forever and a day," according to the 1911 New York Times article, "and it is probable that one can find all kinds of pieces of it put away among the possessions of another day."