Voile fabric is a lightweight plain-woven, dressy fabric that does not scratch the skin. With a sheer, opaque look, it is used to create volume under dresses, as a breathable summer skirt material, as veils and as window treatments. Voile is usually woven from cotton and is a very versatile yet inexpensive fabric.
The cotton plant has been around for at least 7,000 years, but was first spun by machinery around 1730 in England, according to "The History of Cotton." Today, cotton is the most widely used fibre in the world, and is "a leading cash crop in the U.S." Pronounced like the word "foil," voile comes from the French for "veil," and has been most commonly woven from cotton, at first by hand and later by machine, for centuries.
Voile can be recognised by several characteristics. First, it is always a semi-transparent, sheer material. Voile is a fabric woven loosely and in squares, which means that upon closer look you can see the cross-hatchings of the yarn much like you would see the criss-cross pattern on a screen window or door. Secondly, voile is very lightweight, which makes it flow and drape very easily. Lastly, voile is made mostly from cotton or wool, which makes it soft to the touch with a very smooth texture.
Voile, being a very versatile fabric, is used in a variety of ways. Most commonly, it is used in making a window sheer, a light, semi-transparent window covering that is sometimes layered with another, more opaque drapery to create a multidimensional window treatment. Voile is also used in women's clothing by itself in multiple layers to make it more opaque, or as a single layer on top of another type of material.
Voile fabric can become wrinkled easily if folded up or kept in a box or drawer for a period of time, so it is best to hang the material up when it is not in use. Since voile is generally a natural (not synthetic) textile, it can be machine-washed on a delicate cycle, but should be hung up to dry rather than dried in a conventional clothes dryer.
Voile fabric comes in an almost endless variety of patterns and colours at various fabric stores. Since it is generally made from cotton, voile is a fairly inexpensive material which is likely one of the reasons why it is a popular fabric for constructing window coverings. In 2010, voile ranged in price from about £1.20 per yard to about £6.40 per yard, depending on the quality, colour and pattern of each piece of material.