What is moire fabric?

Updated March 23, 2017

Moire is a treatment in which a fabric is given a pattern that has a "watered" look. In fact, silk that is manufactured with a moire pattern is often called watered silk. There are different ways to produce the effect, which is appreciated for its high lustre and eye-catching appearance.

Types of Fabric

Moire is most commonly thought of as a treatment for silk, but several other materials are also sometimes given a moire finish. These include cotton and wool, as well as rayon and other synthetic fabrics. The weave of the fabric must be ribbed or corded in order for the surface to "take" the moire treatment successfully.


Moire has been known since medieval times. In its origins, moire was always used on silk and was thought of as a sophisticated and highly prized type of fabric. There's little agreement about the derivation of the word, but Collins English Dictionary cites it as being derived from the French word for mohair.


The most common way to make a moire finish is to use a technique called calendering. This is done after the fabric is woven. The material is folded in half, moistened and then run through rollers with special ribbing or engraving. This is usually done under high temperature conditions. The differential pressure from the pattern on the rollers creates the wavering, watered effect by crushing some of the threads within the fabric. A different type of moire pattern can also be woven into the cloth by using a warp and weft of different colours, or achieved by printing with varying colours.


In personal fashion, moire is most often now used for silk taffeta evening wear and ballgowns. It's also frequently used for home furnishing fabrics, such as drapes and upholstery, usually in formal rooms. You may also see a moire fabric lining a jewellery box or a purse.


Moire fabrics usually have a good amount of body and may even be stiff, but great care should be taken in folding them as they can retain creases, and most cannot be steamed or ironed. Some also lose their special lustre if they get wet, so many items made with a moire pattern--especially silks and rayons--must be dry cleaned.

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