Fabulous fabrics for designer dresses

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Choosing the right wedding dress for the big day is never easy. You've no doubt browsed the bridal wear magazines and checked out all the latest fashions from the designer wedding dress websites.

You may even have decided on the perfect dress; it's style, colour and cut. You look forward to walking down the aisle, the centre of attention with all eyes focussed on you and your beautiful gown.

But what wedding dress fabric have you chosen? Will it be light or heavy, hot or cool? Does the fabric breathe? Will the dress be covered in wrinkles on the big day?

Choosing the right wedding dress fabric can be as important as choosing the right shape and colour. If you don't know your tulle from your batiste, this may be the place to start finding out.

Some knowledge of dress fabrics is essential to choosing the right one for your wedding day, whether it's an off-the-peg gown or the latest designer bridal wear creation.

Each fabric has its unique qualities and each can feel quite different as well as creating a distinct look. Some materials cling to the body while others fly away in wispy clouds; some feel crisp and light and others more soft and comforting.

And it's not just the gown itself, of course. There are base fabrics, overlays, veils, and other embellishments that can bring a wedding dress to life. Here are a few notes of some of the more common fabrics used by wedding dress designers.

BATISTE: Batiste is a soft, lightweight, translucent fabric with a delicate touch. Usually a little thicker than cotton, its natural, handmade look and feel make it ideal for vintage style wedding dresses. Plain batiste is a blend of cotton and wool while imperial batiste combines cotton and polyester.

BROCADE: One of the heavier dress fabrics, brocade, is a popular choice for winter weddings. Textured brocades have raised designs woven into the silk or satin cloth, sometimes in complementary colours. Gold or silver threads can give a rich, opulent look to any brocade wedding dress.

CHARMEUSE: Charmeuse is a soft, satin-type semi-lustrous fabric that feels softer to the touch. Although lightweight, this material hangs very gracefully and is often the material of choice for ball gown wedding dress designs. It's not cheap and it's easily marked so it needs careful handling. Some Charmeuse dresses may be blended with cotton to be more durable and affordable.

CHIFFON: Another silk-based lightweight fabric that drapes well, chiffon is often used for embellishments such as overskirts, shoulder wraps and sleeves. Often blended with rayon, this matte fabric has a delicate, sheer finish that lends itself to use with beads, sequins and crystals.

CREPE: A light, soft and slightly textured fabric, crepe is a favourite of wedding dress designers because it drapes so well and flatters any silhouette. The material comes in various flavours. Crepe Georgette has a matte, crinkled look while Crepe de Chine is more lustrous with tightly woven fibres twisted in opposite directions.

DAMASK: Similar to brocade with raised designs threaded into the weave, Damask is much lighter and a good choice for those who want a 'brocade look' in the summer months.

LACE: The open weave nature of lace makes it a popular transparent overlay for other more opaque fabrics. You will often find lace used for sleeves, on necklines, for veils or the delicate 'edging' of dresses. There are many varieties of lace including the French needlepoint Alencon Lace with floral designs on a sheer net ground; the handmade Chantilly Lace is soft and silky while Guipure Lace is cotton-threaded and densely patterned

ORGANZA: Not so much fabric as a type of weave, organza can be composed of many materials but it's usually a combination of a natural fabric such as silk and a synthetic one such a nylon. The weave tends to stiffen the material making it ideal for adding 'fullness' to wedding gowns. It feels much like chiffon, crisp and sheer but the slightly stiffer texture is great for skirts and dress overlays.

RAYON: Often called fashion silk, Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric that is a common alternative to silk. It is lightweight, smooth and breathable and so makes an ideal wedding dress material for the summer. Unfortunately, Rayon does wrinkle easily.

SATIN: One of the most popular fabrics for bridal gowns, satin has a smooth finish and a high sheen. There are many different flavours of satin each with its own characteristics. Peau de Soire has a more matte finish while Charmeuse (above) is softer to the touch. Duchesse is lighter and more comfortable to wear. Most satins tend to be heavy and easily creased but they do have that simmering depth that makes satin dresses look so special. Pure satin is very expensive so there are many satin blends with polyester or rayon that helps bring down the price.

SILK: Silk is the fabric of choice for many wedding dress designers and comes in a bewildering range of varieties. A relatively stiff silk, dupioni is lightly textured to the touch but with a warm sheen. The 'knobbled' texture means it's often mistaken for shantung silk, but shantung tends to be smoother. Shantung is also stain-resistant and durable so it's often used for full skirts and bodices. Georgette is grainier and more opaque and makes an excellent alternative to chiffon.

TAFFETA: Taffeta is a silk blend with synthetic materials that comes in many styles, each with its distinct flavour. Some, like shot taffeta, are shiny while tissue taffeta is smooth and semi-opaque. All taffetas are lightly woven and crisp that makes a characteristic 'swish' when it moves. It is often used on ball gown dresses but only sparingly.

TULLE: Tulle is a gauzy netting of silk, cotton, nylon or other fabric used mainly for skirts and veils. It's the stuff that ballerina tutus are made from and has a soft, gauze-like, wispy quality. There are as many tulle styles as there are wedding dresses but all give a luxurious, fine, sheer look.

VELVET: A soft, thick fabric that has a felt-like face, heavyweight velvet is the choice for winter wedding where the bride wants a smooth, luxurious look.

Every bride wishes to look her best when it comes to choosing a wedding gown so knowing something about fabrics is essential when it comes to making that choice.

The fabric choice can making bridal gowns of similar style, cut, and pattern look and feel very different. Some fabrics are so light and elastic they can feel like a second skin. Others can add luxury and elegance to any figure.

All eyes turn to the bride as she makes her way down the aisle at her wedding and the gown will get as much attention as the bride so it's important that she both looks good and feels good in a fabric that perfectly fits the occasion.

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