Damask fabric and brocade fabric both have a long history. For many centuries
damask and brocade fabrics were only used as an indication of status and as garments
kept especially for ceremonial events. The richly patterned fabric is the most glamorous of
clothing since it needs no further embellishment. Historically,
originally a technique woven in China and this technique spread to the
It is thought that the skill of making this beautiful style of
fabric travelled to Damascus, a city of Syria. Textile history suggests that the fabric was taken from Damascus into Europe by the Crusaders and this is how it gained the
Brocade has always been
associated with luxury and opulence.
It has been used
both for clothing and for
furnishings. Down the eras brocade has come in and out of fashion as style and house interiors
This green brocade
dress is available autumn 2006 from Marks and Spencer. The cream damask
dress is available for autumn winter 2006/7 from Wallis.
Damask and brocade are related
patterned fabrics in that they both exploit the play of light falling on the weave structure.
Long floats of warp and weft create pattern by subtle contrasts.
Damask is a woven fabric which is self patterned. In
simple terms it is a satin weave and the patterns has a reversible
positive/negative image. It relies on the play of light to give
dimension to the pattern which is subtle and rich at the same time. One side
of the damask cloth always has a darker face than the other.
The satin formation in a damask fabric creates areas of
motifs rather than one large expanse of lustrous sheen as seen in a regular
plain satin. The pattern is created when light falls on the damask fabric.
The light reflects off areas of visible arranged fabric warp threads which
look shiny against visible weft threads which look dull within the weave.
The Damask weave is created by allowing the warp yarn (flowing down), to float over
a greater number of weft yarns (flowing across), than in a basic satin fabric
weave. In addition the warp yarns used to make damask fabric,
are selected to be a very lustrous form of the yarn. Damask
fabrics use a silky lustrous warp of either silk, lustrous cotton, rayon,
polished linen yarns or modern high lustre polyester yarns.
During weaving the floating warp has to be caught down and
taken to the other side of the fabric making the weft become visible until
the warp yarn is brought through again. This creates fabric pattern which is
also reversible. The fabric usually uses a thicker matt yarn for
the weft and so the weft lines running across show up as pattern against the
smooth satin areas of the shinier warp yarns. Because many of the weft yarns
are also longer in the intricate pattern arrangement, they show up in the
reverse face pattern as long matt ridges. Some of the shorter wefts allow
for more subtle effects to be created as they create a play of lower key
shadow and light.
Damask weaves need to be made of a high number of threads
per inch to be sturdy. The number of threads per inch is called the count of
fabric. The higher the count the more compact the fabric and the less
likely loose threads will pull out and snag. Double damask weaves
produce the finest results, but the technique is more costly.
All woven fabrics are composed of warp threads which run
down the length of a fabric. Weft threads (often known as woof) are
woven in and between the warp threads. Using a thick needle threaded
with weft yarn, many readers will have made
this basic weave using a piece of craft card in school. Children learn
to weave a
yarn in an out of the warp threads wrapped around the card.
Left is a basic 1/1 weave.
A single weft thread passes over a single warp thread.
This diagram represents an 8 thread satin weave. The long
floats created mean the light that settles on the yarn is not so broken up
and scattered as
in a 1/1 weave. Light is reflected off the long float of yarn and
creates a smooth lustrous surface we call satin.
In Jacquard Damask fabrics the way the warp yarns and weft yarns
interlace is a more complex arrangement of satin threads and this same technique is used to create a
more ornate pattern.
This lovely cream
jacquard damask skirt is from Wallis and part of their autumn
winter 2006/7 collection. You can see how rich and complex the jacquard
pattern is, see how it flows and meanders into intertwined motifs.
In the making of early Jacquard fabrics punch cards were used to
align warp yarns in pattern arrangements that moved with every line of
first Jacquard loom was invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834). He was a
French weaver and was the the inventor of the Jacquard loom at the time of
the industrial revolution.
The punched cards Jacquard invented, had a series of holes which controlled the
pattern sequence perfectly. The most tedious and time consuming part
of the operation was creating new punched cards for every single new
pattern. The Jacquard loom helped to revolutionise lace
making and weaving. Even so it was still a very complex process to set up a
jacquard loom and there was much hostility by skilled weavers to this
mechanisation of the weaving industry.
You can see such old Jacquard
lace looms in action at Nottingham
Lace Museum at 3-5 High Pavement, The Lace Market,
Nottingham NG1 1HF, England UK.
You can also earn more about workers fear of mechanical inventions by
checking out terms like Chartists, Luddites and Rebecca Riots.
In the latter C20th such machines became computer
controlled using electronics in CAD (computer aided design)
systems. Complicated patterns and picture effects are made possible
by the computer programme instructing the loom to move the threads into new
Automatic design formation is easily achieved with modern
jacquard computer aided looms. Light, shade, and texture of any fabric
design is all dependant on how much warp or weft is
foremost. Because of this CAD machinery we are able to afford fabrics
that were once so costly, that historically only the very richest of people
could afford them.
Damask and brocade are both made on a jacquard loom.
Damask though is a flatter patterned fabric which is reversible. Brocade is
richer in texture and often uses several colours. Brocade designs look
best on the top face of the fabric surface. Because of this brocade
fabric is often used for very opulent dressy garments such as ecclesiastical
robes and evening wear. Brocade is only rarely reversible with most
designs looking best on the top face, but dressmakers sometimes use small
areas of the brocade fabric reverse to achieve understated effects for
toning bindings etc. It really does depend on the scale of the pattern too.
Today brocade can be made using any number of lustrous yarns
including man made yarns such as viscose rayon which can be made to appear almost
Chinese brocade is almost always woven with
silk yarns and with
typical meandering Chinese patterns of branches, cherry flowers, dragons and
Smaller brocade patterns with metal threads are often woven
on more basic looms, but as long narrow strips. Large scale intertwining
flamboyant floral and fleur-de-lis effects in both damask and brocade have
to be produced on the largest of looms the Jacquard loom.
Designers have recently looked to the past in order to revive one the most
loved of fabrics - brocade.
Manufacturers have produced a range of luxury
brocade fabrics using up to date computer aided design technology and modern yarns. These luscious materials
are a blend of old with new. Basically, modern yarns are used with an
old technique. The weaving technique is the same one that is used on
the sort of subtly patterned linen tablecloths (damask linen or even modern
poly/cotton damask) that you see in good restaurants.
Brocade is slightly different to damask. The principle
is much the same, but usually one highlight colour or several colours are
used to draw greater attention to the pattern. Often the colour will be a
toning, but darker contrast used to outline and create solid highlight areas
or it will be woven with a gold metallic thread.
thread or mixed use of various coloured threads produces a more textured
fabric surface which is raised in some areas and which has depth.
Because of the metal threads so often used some brocades can feel scratchy
and because the fabric is costly it is mostly used to make up outerwear
items that will be seen.
picture on the right, is of a jacket in creamy simple brocade fabric, one that I photographed when last in Zara.
The fabric in the Zara coat on the left is brocade, but shows use of coloured
metallic thread which throws up the pattern more.
Brocade and damask fabrics were shown in many designer shows
in 2005 and 2006. As you can see by autumn 2006 the use of brocade in
fashion reached new heights in mass produced goods.
Images all courtesy of Wallis/Arcadia and Marks & Spencer.
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