Damask is a type of woven fabric that uses two or more weave structures (commonly satins and twills) to create a contrast in texture. These fabrics are often woven in single colour to bring out the contrasting matte and sheen surfaces. And since a single colour pattern is woven into the cloth, the fabric is almost always reversible (other fabrics that use a variety of colours in a single fabric and are not reversible are called Brocades). Originally hand-woven and most often made in silk, Damasks have been the preferred choice of the affluent class and is associated with good taste and luxury. The fabric is used for rich furnishings – curtains, walls and upholstery – as well as clothing.
Damasks derive their name from the Damascus—in that period a large city active both in trading (as part of the Silk Route) and manufacturing. They, however, fired the European imagination only in the 14th century, when they began to be woven on draw looms in Italy and Spain.
The fabric was so highly valued that kingdoms went to astonishing lengths to get their hands on the weaving technique. For instance, Damask began to spread through Europe when weavers were kidnapped from Greece and put to work in Sicily. Soon, Damask fabrics gained popularity in France, the Netherlands and other European countries.
The beginning of the 19th century was a turning point for Damask weaving. The invention of the Jacquard loom in 1801 made the textile much more accessible to the masses. Weavers no longer had to rely on the cumbersome, painstaking process of hand-weaving to create the beautiful and intricate damask patterns. This meant that the textile could be made a lot faster and economically.
With today’s modern state-of-the-art Jacquard looms, Damask can be woven with great ease. The pattern is so timeless and has become so recognizable that it is used in all kinds of fabrics, for many different products. Damask is so versatile that it looks just as beautiful on curtains as it does on a dress. Many designers enjoy re-imagining this classic textile in modern, updated ways with eye-catching results.