Bengaline [beng-guh-leen or beng-guh-leen] was first made of silk in Bengal
the French name of Bengaline (from Bengal). It
has distinctive crosswise ribs, which are rounded and raised, often due to the
use of course weft yarns and fine warp yarns. It is a lustrous, durable plain
weave fabric used for apparel, draperies, and ribbon. Grosgrain and Petersham
are bengaline made in ribbon widths. Bengaline may also be made of wool, rayon,
synthetics, and cotton.
The fabric became popular in the late nineteenth century here in the United States when the composition transitioned to the use of cotton and other less expensive fabrics for the weft yarns, with the warp continuing to be silk. In this combination the fabric still appears to be all silk, but is considerably less expensive.
I have a favorite bengaline skirt that (believe it or not) hubby bought for me a year or so ago. At the time I wasn’t familiar with the fabric but my first thought was, “this is grosgrain ribbon woven in a wider width”. My skirt is not silk but rather cotton fill with Rayon warp. Bengaline is known as a sturdy fabric that wears well, but mine is kind of a party skirt, so I don’t wear it all that often and durability is not the primary concern. As you can see, wrinkling is. I wore this skirt a few days ago, and it will need to be pressed before I can wear it again.
I have not sewn this fabric myself, but many sources suggest making buttonholes is difficult. Not surprising if you think about how easily grosgrain ribbon frays at the ends. Another consideration is the obvious crosswise rib in the fabric. Regardless of the application you will need to be aware of this and allow extra fabric to make sure everything lines up and is going in the same direction – much as you need to do for fabric that has an nap.
One odd fact: At the inquest in 1892, Lizzie Borden is reported to have said that she was wearing a dress made of bengaline silk on the morning she was accused of murdering her father and stepmother.