Cotton & Silk & Damask Oh My!

Woven cotton, quilter’s cotton, silk, dupione silk, damask, jacquard, chiffon, terry, batiste, corduroy, flannel, and on and on. It’s enough to drive a person crazy. Add these to all the stretch fabrics and you could get a headache trying to figure out what fabric to use where.

Today we are going to focus on 3 fabrics. Most people have no trouble telling the difference between cotton, silks or knits. The fabrics we get  confused about is jacquard, brocade and damask – what is the difference?

Oft times, the terms brocade, damask, and jacquard, get used interchangeably, which, to be fair is understandable – they’re all relatively similar. However, it can help to understand the difference between them and how they relate to one another.

Jacquard, brocade and damask – what is the difference?

Let’s start with jacquard. Jacquard is not only a type of fabric, but is also a clever Frenchman by the name of Joseph Marie Jacquard who in 1801 revolutionized textile production with his invention, the Jacquard loom.

jacquard tie

Though more often than not the Jacquard looms of today are computerized, the loom Jacquard originally developed was controlled by a chain of punched cards (think player piano) laced together into a continuous sequence, with the rows of holes on each card corresponding to one row of the design.


This new technique of weaving helped simplify the process of manufacturing fabric, especially when it came to complex patterns such as brocades and damasks.

Brocade is often defined as a lavish, highly decorative fabric that, due to the intricacy with which they are woven, can be on the higher end of the textile price range.


The word brocade comes from the Italian word broccato, which directly translates, to “embossed cloth”, a quality that is achieved due to the fact that brocades are woven by adding a supplementary weft to the weave, creating the illusion that sections have been embossed into the fabric, or embroidered on top of it.

brocade 1

Brocades can be set apart from damasks in that the back of a brocade will typically have groups of threads that have been trimmed away or left out of the weave and look more messy.

Damasks, on the other hand, are different from brocade in that their woven pattern is reversible, with the opposite side presenting itself like a film negative – it has the same pattern, but the colors are opposite as to what they are on the front.

damask 1The word damask comes from from Damascus (the current capital of Syria), where it was one of five basic weaving techniques used by Byzantine and Islamic cultures in the Middle Ages. The shorter weft patterns in damask allow for more subtle effects in the fabric to be created as it plays off of shadow and light. Damask weaves also contain a higher thread count than that of brocade, as they are woven with one warp yarn and one weft yarn.


So essentially, brocades and damasks, each with their own distinguishing qualities, both fall under the category of jacquard.

I hope this helps you to understand what you are looking at when browsing these fabrics. Each fabric is beautiful in it’s own right and the use can be interchangeable. In the 1800’s these fabrics were used to denote wealth because they were expensive. They adorned furniture, were used for draperies and even found in clothing. They were beautiful then and are still beautiful now, although not used as much as in the past.

In the future we will look at the other fabric’s differences and similarities. I just hope you will start looking at these fabrics in a new and unique way.

Until next time …. happy sewing.


Author: Sewing Scoupe

I'm a lady who has had a passion for sewing since I was a child. I love to quilt, to make sewing crafts and I LOVE to machine embroidery. Would love to hear from you about what you like to sew. Also hope to answer any questions you may have and would love suggestions for topics for my blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: