The most sumptuous cloth, a rich man’s textile. The brocade style of weaving has a long history as a technique of tribal weavings – for example in Guatemala Maya weavers create brocades on backstrap looms.
* European production dates from around the 9th when Byzantium( Istanbul), produced the silk brocades and brocatelles; brocade was one of the few luxury fabrics worn by nobility throughout China, Japan, Korea, Greece and Byzantium throughout the middle ages.
* It is time consuming to weave, and was originally made only of the best silk with gold and silver threads creating the pattern, hence incredibly costly and exclusive,traditionally commissioned by the Church and royalty.
* A true brocade has supplementary coloured weft threads introduced into the weave, but only where the pattern itself is placed, rather than weft to weft as is the case with every other patterned weave. The threads float on the back and are brought forward to the front to produce the typical and slightly raised pattern on the right side. Brocade is easy to identify and distinguish from any other weave, as there are cut ends around the edges of the pattern, presenting a distinctive appearance only on the back of the material, and can only be woven on a special draw loom.
* Today, brocades are made as specific wall and door hangings for churches, castles and châteaux, and by the metre for the rest of us who want the textile for simple draperies and upholstery. The rich, multi-coloured textile, traditionally woven from silk is now also woven with cotton, wool and in mixed fibres, and on a Jacquard loom. Traditional motifs such as cherubs, vases, ribbons and bunches of flowers are woven with multi-coloured yarns. In the most luxurious works, gold, silver, copper and other metal threads are still woven in to impart the design with an extra richness and dimension.
* Brocades drape well and can be used for curtains, traditional bed drapes, doors, loose covers and upholstery. Some are washable but most will need dry cleaning; if the fabric is in a heavy wear or log fire area, choose deeper colour mixes.
* Brocades can be use exclusively within the same room or combined with damasks and wools, to create the look and feel of the traditional English, French and Italian style furnishings typical of the countries’ grandest houses.
* To enjoy brocade without the grandeur and attendant pomp, and for a contemporary take, do use it, but sparingly: cover a single chair or cushion, bedcover, tablecloth, screen, blind or bedhead to accompany natural linens or wools simply made, hung or finished.
* Inexpensive fibres and poorly coloured brocades at the middle to bottom end have sometimes diminished the value and attractiveness of true brocade.
* When a traditional textile becomes less fashionable it’s time to re-think it–not to dismiss it, but to re-address it. It is in this way that great creations come back into fashion, particularly if they’ve previously been over-done.
* Tours in France was an early major silk and brocade producing centre in the 15C and 16C then in the early 17thC, Louis X1 sponsored silk and brocade production in which still keeps an untarnished reputation.
* Spitalfields in London was established by feeling Huegenots when the edict of Nantes was recinded in 1685. In England, Sudbury weavers Vanners have been make silk damask since 1740, Gainsborough since 1903 and Richard Humphries, suing old looms, since the 1980’s.