Watered silk is a textile which has a moire pattern, a rippling illusory pattern created by lines which are superimposed on each other. The textile enjoyed immense popularity in the late 1800s, and appears in fashion now and again, especially in the field of formal wear. The name is a reference to the appearance of the pattern, rather than a stage in the manufacturing process. When well made, watered silk resembles a body of water with small waves trembling in a breeze. In a flowing gown or jacket, it can look stunning.
To make watered silk, woven silk cloth is calendered, or passed through giant rollers. The calendering process crushes the fibers of the silk. Silk which has been passed through rollers will have a rippling pattern which resembles a large series of water stains. The pattern is set by starching, and the resulting fabric can feel ridged or rough. The pattern can be damaged if it is crushed or mishandled, so watered silk garments should be handled and cleaned carefully.
The material is often used to make women's gowns, but it can also be seen in drapes, fabric wallpapers, and other ornamental textile features. Books may have moire endpapers, and moire with a tight grain is sometimes used to make ribbons and linings as well. Some silk painters work with watered silk, sometimes painting or dyeing the silk before calendering to create a disrupted pattern that looks like it is shifting underwater. The Arts and Crafts period saw a lot of this kind of painting, and examples of it can be found in some galleries.
In fashion, watered silk can be used to make flowing draped garments or tight bodices which showcase the figure of the wearer. Women wear the textile much more than men, in an assortment of patterns and colors. It may also be embroidered or beaded for extra effect, and each garment will look slightly different, due to the unique calendering process. Ribbons made of this material may be used to accent garments made with other materials, such as wool and velvet.
Many vintage gowns are made from watered silk, and numerous examples of craftsmanship with it can also be seen in textile museums. It can be difficult to work with as a sewer, since the pattern is abstract and the grain of the fabric can be difficult to find. Watered silk also tends to show pin holes, so the fabric must be pinned with care.