You can find sheer fabric in everything from wedding veils to window treatments. You might have a hard time picking the best type of material for you because you have so many options to choose from! If you find yourself floundering, you might need this complete list of 15 sheer fabric types and names to help you out!
Sheer fabrics have a transparent weave that lets a viewer see through its fine threads. Transparent fabric has many uses, including sheer blouses, veils, and window curtains. Popular fabrics include:
- Sheer Polyester
- Silk Organza
- Cotton Lawn
- Sheer Nylon
- Sheer Silk
In this article, you will learn about 15 common types of see-through fabric. You will also find out popular uses for see-through fabric. Finally, you will get tips on how to use see-through fabric yourself!
What is Sheer Fabric Called?
Different types of see-through fabric are called sheer, translucent, or transparent. Sometimes you will see these descriptions used interchangeably. Generally speaking, these terms classify any very fine, very thin fabric you can see through even a little.
In the world of fashion, sheer, translucent, and transparent all describe slightly different things.
Transparent refers to a material that allows light to pass through it that you can see through, even in a slightly cloudy way. This could encompass everything from clear acrylic plastic to a fine muslin you can hold up to your face and peer through.
Translucent has to do with whether or not light can pass through the material. For example, imagine making two different lampshades, one out of silk and the other out of leather. Light will pass through the silk but not through the leather!
You may see the term “sheer” thrown around a lot to indicate any see-through fabric. For example, you may refer to “curtain sheers” when you mean any see-through panel for your windows! That said, it does have a technical meaning as well.
Sheer fabric has a special denier or thickness. One denier equals the weight of a strand of silk. Most sheer fabrics fall between 3 and 15 denier.
As you can imagine, this means that sheer cloth feels almost whisper-thin in most cases! See-through fabric generally uses fine threads that produce a lightweight weave. Most of the time, sheer materials also technically have semi-transparent characteristics.
15 Sheer Fabric Types and Names
See-through fabric has a sheer, transparent quality and a fine, light weave. Popular types of sheer fabrics include chiffon, silk organza, organdy, georgette, gauze, lace, batiste, cotton lawn, voile, sheer nylon, sheer silk, sheer polyester, tulle, netting, and muslin.
All of these fabrics have some level of transparency. Materials made with silk tend to have a shimmery, soft sheen. Materials made with cotton often have the softest feel.
None of these sheer fabrics has a glass-like clarity, though. For totally clear material, you would need to find some type of acrylic sheeting.
1. ChiffonChiffon describes a kind of weaving that creates a light, fine, fabric that feels like puckered silk to the touch. This kind of weaving uses a standard plain weave. A plain weave just means the typical warp thread over weft thread at right angles.
In this case, though, every thread gets a special treatment called a crepe twist before the weaving beings. A clockwise twist creates what is known as an S-twist, and a counterclockwise twist creates a Z-twist. Twisting the threads in this manner gives the surface of the fabric tiny dips and rises that create a puckered feel.
Chiffon does qualify as a sheer fabric. If you look at it through a magnifying lens, it will look like a loose net! It also tends to look a little shimmery because of its slightly puckered surface.
Finally, all the twisted threads make chiffon super strong.
Is chiffon an expensive fabric? This depends on what material the manufacturer uses to create the chiffon weave. Historically, chiffon came from France and exclusively featured silk fibers.
Silk costs a lot to produce, so silk chiffon remains quite expensive today. On the other hand, modern textile science has advanced enough that manufacturers can also create the special chiffon weave using several other materials, such as nylon and polyester.
Chiffon has many, many popular uses, ranging from fancy prom dresses to decorative scarves. It has an excellent drape but can prove difficult to work with because of its slippery surface.
2. Silk OrganzaSilk organza stars in wedding dresses and other fancy attire. Its trademark characteristic is its fragile, lightweight texture and the tiny gaps between the threads. The best-quality organza contains more holes per square inch, while lower-quality types have fewer holes!
Of course, these “holes” consist of tiny spaces between threads in the weave. You couldn’t see them without the help of a magnifying glass!
Because of its fine weave, silk organza classifies as a sheer fabric. It has a shimmery, translucent appearance.
Silk organza, naturally, contains silk fibers. You can also find organza made from synthetics like polyester for a lower price.
Traditionally, silk organza came from China. Much of its manufacturing still takes place there.
To make organza, manufacturers twist long, fine silk fibers tightly. This creates yarns. The yarns then get an acid treatment that gives them a stiffer texture. Finally, a basic over-under weave pattern creates the fabric.
The extra stiffness gives this material a special body that can form artful, elegant silhouettes. This makes it popular for high fashion and formal gowns!
3. OrgandySometimes also called Swiss Organdy, organdy fabric had its heyday in the Victorian era. That said, it still sees some use today in things like petticoats and inner linings, as well as traditional first communion gowns.
This fabric usually features a plain over-under cotton weave, though it uses such fine threads that the cotton becomes almost transparent. Also, the key difference between organdy and plain cotton is that organdy always has a special finish to make it stiff.
The starchy finish makes this semi-transparent fabric crisp and stiff to the touch. You can use it like interfacing in sewing projects because of this.
You will sometimes see designers use multiple layers of organdy to create a full-bodied style. That said, organdy doesn’t turn up a lot in modern clothing. Synthetic organza really stole the market for a stiff, formal fabric, and organdy has fallen into more of a novelty category these days.
4. GeorgetteGeorgette fabric shares a lot of qualities with chiffon but is slightly less see-through. It belongs to the crepe family, like chiffon, and traditionally contains silk fibers. Of course, today, you can also find synthetic versions for a lower price!
Named for the French designer who invented it in the 20th century, this fabric features a crinkled, slightly matte finish. It holds dye well and often comes in many prints and patterns. Like chiffon, it gets its crinkled finish from using s-twist and z-twist yarns that give its surface that slightly puckered and crumpled look.
Georgette drapes well, which makes it a popular choice for dresses, blouses, and saris.
Today, you can find some different styles of georgette. Stretch georgette includes a blend of a stretchy fiber like spandex. Jacquard georgette uses a jacquard loom and gives the silk fabric a unique pattern.
5. GauzeGauze has an open weave with visible gaps between the threads. This material sometimes incorporates a Leno weaving technique that integrates filler threads between the regular over-under threads of the pattern.
You can find several different types of gauze, including silk, cotton, and linen. Cotton gauze is by far the most popular. It has many medical uses, such as wrapping wounds, and shows up in pretty much every first aid kit and doctor’s office you will ever see!
Cotton gauze has extreme durability and absorbency that make it perfect for medical tasks. It feels a bit rough to the touch but has almost total transparency if you hold it up to your eyes.
Silk gauze, while more rare today, has an incredibly thin, almost feather-light weave and has traditional uses in China and other parts of the world.
6. LaceLace fabric features delicate thread patterns in many different designs. Machine-made lace usually contains either cotton or synthetic fibers, but lace originally featured such exotic materials as silk or even silver threads!
You already know what lace looks like. You probably have lace curtains, your grandma’s lace tablecloth, or at least a lace hem on one of your dresses!
Depending on the fineness of the threads used and the finished design, lace usually has open gaps between threads that make it semi-transparent. Popular designs include flowers and geometric patterns.
Today, lace remains a little pricey even when made from synthetics because it requires complex manufacturing. It is popular for decorative features in clothing and home apparel.
Lace has quite a fraught history. Invented sometime around the 1500s, it required so much skill and so many hours to make that it was considered a precious and rare item. Various governments instituted controversial taxes on it throughout history because of this.
Needle lace and bobbin lace remain the two most popular versions of lace today, though modern manufacturers also use chemical treatments to create other types of lace. Hand-made lace remains more popular than machine-made lace because it allows for greater complexity.
For example, Kate Middleton’s wedding dress featured a massively complex type of hand-made lace!
7. BatisteBatiste almost exclusively contains cotton in a plain over-under weave. This fabric stands out from other semi-transparent kinds of cotton because its threads get special treatment in caustic alkali. This creates mercerized cotton, which makes the finished cloth slightly shiny.
Today, you don’t see a lot of batiste in common use. It shows up in handkerchiefs, lingerie, and some luxury bedding.
Like many historic fabrics, batiste originally used linen before cotton rose to prevalence around the world. It closely resembles cambric and falls in between organdy and cotton lawn in terms of crispness and thickness.
Batiste gets classified as partially sheer. It often has lacy or decorative edges when used in clothing today.
8. Cotton LawnCotton lawn uses combed cotton threads in a plain weave. It has a high thread count that creates a smooth, almost transparent fabric. You can find this lightweight fabric in dresses and other apparel often layered because of its semi-transparency.
If you’re wondering whether cotton is translucent or opaque, the answer lies in the weaving technique. For example, cotton knits have a soft, thick feel to them. Most t-shirts use this type of fabric. You usually can’t see through that kind of fabric.
On the other hand, plain weave cotton made with thin, fine threads can turn out almost as light and sheer as silk!
As you have no doubt noticed while reading this article, several types of cotton can have semi-transparent or sheer qualities. These include cotton lawn, organdy, voile, some kinds of muslin, and batiste.
9. VoileIn French, “voile” means veil. You can imagine how soft and sheer this fabric is just from the name!
Voile typically contains 100% cotton fibers in a plain weave. It uses a high thread count to create its trademark soft, semi-sheer quality.
This fabric sees a lot of use in summer clothing because it has great breathability. It also comes in a wide range of cute prints and designs like florals and polka dots.
Good-quality voile has a tight weave with a high thread count. The threads won’t easily separate if you run your finger over the surface of the cloth.
Voile is sheerer than cotton lawn but less transparent than batiste.
10. Sheer NylonIf you still refer to sheer stockings as “nylons,” you know exactly what sheer nylon fabric looks like! Sheer nylon is usually fully transparent and has a silky-smooth feel.
Nylon fabric comes from synthetic polymers. It requires a complex manufacturing process called polymerization that turns plastic into fine threads.
Invented during WWII to replace silk, nylon remains popular today for uses like sheer stockings, yoga pants, and other athletic apparel. For close-fitting garments, nylon often blends with something more stretchy like spandex.
The kind of sheer nylon used in pantyhose uses a knitting method with very fine threads. Many tiny loops create this sheer fabric.
11. Sheer SilkYou can find several different kinds of sheer silk. Georgette, chiffon, organza, voile, and even lace all traditionally use pure silk, though you often find them made of synthetics today.
When you see the term “sheer silk” it could mean silk woven in any of these styles. It could also mean silk gauze, using an open weave to create one of the lightest-weight fabrics ever made! Finally, many kinds of silk have some translucent qualities no matter how thick or thin the weave.
“Sheer silk” ultimately just means any weave made of silk that you can see through, even partially.
Sheer silk has a more luxurious quality than fabrics made out of synthetic materials. Though it does cost more, you can often find sheer silk luxury curtain panels. Many types of sheer silk also appear in clothing that drapes, flows, or has transparent layers.
12. Sheer PolyesterPolyester comes from petroleum by-products, but this versatile synthetic fabric can mimic almost any kind of textile! Because of this, you can find chiffon, organza, voile, and many other kinds of cloth made out of polyester. A whopping 60% of all retail clothing contains some polyester!
Most types of cloth get their characteristic appearance and feel from the style of weave, not just the kind of material used. This means that polyester can go through different manufacturing processes to look like satin, chiffon, or voile.
That said, “sheer polyester” usually refers to a type of chiffon used to make curtain sheers. You may also see these called “polyester sheers” or just “sheers.”
These transparent panels usually hang between the glass and the thicker, fancier drapes in your windows. Traditionally, they have a white or cream shade. Sheer polyester sees many popular use in clothing, but it also has long-lasting popularity in curtains!
13. TulleTulle, also known as bobbinet, uses threads twisted into small hexagons to create its trademark fragile-yet-strong net texture. It has hundreds of popular uses, including ballet tutus and bridal veils.
Tulle originated in France, where lacemakers made it by hand by twisting it on a series of bobbins. Like lace, it used silk thread, making it very expensive. Ballerinas in the 1800s brought this delicate, full-bodied fabric to greater popularity with the growing use of beautiful tutus.
In the 1950s, movie stars gave tulle more exposure to the general public with their puffy, full-skirted evening dresses. This led to a greater demand for the fabric and a search for cheaper ways to make it.
Today, a blend of synthetic fabrics like nylon make up the strong, flexible threads, and a machine creates the thousands of tiny hexagonal holes in the netting!
You can get tulle in a variety of fine or coarse styles of netting. They feature full transparency, though tulle comes in many different colors besides the traditional pure white of dance tuts and wedding veils!
14. NettingNetting describes a type of material that uses loops or knots to create the shape of the fabric. Technically, tulle is a kind of netting! Many other kinds of netting exist as well.
This open-weave fabric always contains visible gaps between the knots or loops of thread, making it fully transparent. It also has great breathability because it is so porous.
Netting has some fashion uses but also sees a lot of applications in the food and medical industries. Grocery stores use netting bags to hold produce like oranges, for example.
A knitted mesh weave offers a popular, light-but-strong material for laundry bags. Fine plastic-coated netting serves as mosquito protection in many parts of the world.
15. MuslinMuslin uses cotton threads in a loose, plain weave. This fabric comes in several different thicknesses. Depending on the type of muslin, it can have such a fine weave that it becomes sheer or such a thick weave that it looks coarse and solid.
Some types of muslin may use a blend of silk or viscose besides cotton fibers.
Swiss muslin, for example, is a special type of muslin with a sheer weave and fun raised polka-dots in the fabric!
Muslin originated in India, where artisans developed its creation to such an art form that it was worth its weight in gold in some places! Sadly, British colonial rule crushed the industry for many years.
Today, muslin remains popular for many uses. It is particularly well-known for “making a muslin” or making a mock-up of a fashion or sewing project to perfect the fit of a garment before sewing the real thing.
What to Do With Sheer Fabric
You can buy sheer garments to create a unique fashion statement or sew your own see-through items to add whimsy and class to your wardrobe or home.
You can buy any number of ready-made items made out of see-through fabric. From blouses to curtains to stockings to saris, these lovely sheer fabrics bring a touch of elegance to many different styles!
You can create a diaphanous appearance using chiffon or voile. Organza will give you an artfully shaped silhouette. Everyone from Walmart to name-brand designers uses some form of see-through fabric in their clothing lines!
If you want to sew with these delicate materials, though, you will have to overcome a few unique challenges. Check out these tips to make sewing sheer fabrics much easier!
- Try to pick a design without obvious interior elements like pleats. These will show through on the outside of the garment.
- Sandwich the fabric between two pieces of tissue paper for easier cutting.
- If possible, use fabric weights instead of pins to hold the fabric while you cut.
- Use a seam with a finished edge like a french seam or a Hong Kong seam to enclose raw edges that can easily fray.
- Use the right needle and thread. For example, silk does best with silk thread. Varying weights of cloth work better with thinner or thicker needles as well.
- Most of the time, using a shorter stitch length works best on sheer or slippery material.
- Try using a “stitch starter,” or a scrap of another fabric, at the start of your seam. This prevents the sheer fabric from balling up and getting jammed as you start sewing. You can then easily remove the starter scrap when you finish the seam!
Best Transparent Fabric for Clothing
Lots of clothing styles incorporate the use of transparent fabrics for a soft drape or boldly see-through look. Chiffon has the broadest use in this area, though you also see many voile and smattering of tulle.
Mass-produced retail clothing almost always uses synthetics like polyester to create these fabrics today. However, you can still buy high-end versions made of silk or other more expensive types of material.
Of course, the best sheer fabric for you depends on your style. If you like flowing, feminine styles, you may prefer clothing made of chiffon. If you prefer a bolder look with sharper lines and angles, you might choose formal wear made of organza.
Women’s blouses often use sheer chiffon or voile in many different prints and colors. Sometimes these blouses use bold transparency you can see right through. More often, though, blouses drape in such a way that they hint at sheerness without actually showing much.
Sheer polyester in colorful prints makes the popular type of see-through blouse these days. But you can also find specialty styles of sheer shirts like a Swiss muslin shirt or even shirts made out of netting!
Silk organza remains incredibly popular for formal wear because its stiffness allows it to accentuate body shapes, creating lovely silhouettes. Flowy, drapey fabrics like chiffon and voile also see a lot of use in formal and informal dresses.
Any flouncy summer dress with multiple draped layers probably uses either voile or chiffon, for example!
You don’t see sheer pants as often for obvious reasons. That said, see-through pants also make an interesting fashion statement when worn over a bottom layer, and you can find lace, organza, and sheer polyester pants if you like that look.
You can also find wide-legged 70s style pants made out of semi-transparent material to give you a bohemian style. These often come in various funky prints and designs, which makes them harder to see through.
See-through face masks have many uses, especially in deaf communities where lip-reading matters so much. If you want true window-like visibility, though, you typically use a plastic panel set into a cotton mask. No other fabric gives such full transparency while also offering protection.
Sheer fabrics don’t work super well for masking because they typically have very high breathability. This means they don’t block all the dangerous germs as regular cotton or polyester would.
See-through fabrics such as chiffon, voile, and tulle have thousands of popular uses. You can find these sheer materials in formal gowns and ballet tutus. Sheer fabric also creates elegant window treatments and traditional saris.
Today, most retail clothing uses cheaper synthetic materials like polyester to make sheer fabric. Most fabric styles depend on the structure of the weave. This means that a variety of different materials can still create lightweight, see-through fabrics.
What is your favorite style of see-through fabric? Leave a comment below to let us know!