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Everything to Know About Damask Fabric: History, Characteristics, Uses, and Care for Damask

Written by MasterClass

Jun 3, 2019 • 4 min read

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Patterns can be printed or embroidered on fabric, but for damask, the pattern is woven into the fabric using a jacquard-loom. This reversible fabric can be made from a variety of fibers, from silk to synthetic, and its uses date back to the early Middle Ages. Damask is a fixture of many homes, as its durable and decorative nature makes it great for upholstery and curtains.

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What Is Damask?

Damask is a reversible, jacquard-patterned fabric, meaning that the pattern is woven into the fabric, instead of printed on it. The fabric’s design is created through the weaving technique, which is a combination of two different weaving techniques—the design is woven using a satin weave, while the background is achieved through a plain, twill, or sateen weave. Damask is woven using only a single warp thread and a single weft thread. The patterns of damask can be either multi-colored or a single colored. Damasks can be made from a variety of different textiles, including silk, linen, cotton, wool, or synthetic fibers, like rayon.

What Is the History of Damask?

Damask originated in China around 300 B.C., but developed into a major weaving technique during the early Middle Ages. The production of damask in the Middle Ages centered around Byzantine and the Middle East. The fabric takes its name from the city of Damascus, which was an active trading port on the silk road. Early medieval damasks were usually hand-woven in silk.

Damask came to Europe for the first time in the fourteenth century, with the first records of the use of the word are in the mid-fourteenth century in French. Early European damasks were woven on Italian draw looms, which are looms with two harnesses that allow for the creation of patterns a standard loom cannot accommodate. Modern damasks are made using Jacquard looms, which are computerized power looms.

What Are the Characteristics of Damask Fabric?

Damask is a strong, tightly woven fabric, and there are many qualities that make it an ideal choice as a decorative textiles. Here are some of the characteristics of damask:

  • Patterned. Damask is defined by its pattern, created through a blend of weaving techniques.
  • Thick and heavy. The damask pattern is a very tight weave comprising several layers of threads, resulting in a thick textile.
  • Durable. The tight weave also makes damask incredibly strong and durable, making it great for clothing and items in the home that get regular wear, such as upholstered chairs and couches.
  • Reversible. Damask is also reversible—the pattern is reflected on both sides.
  • Lustrous. Damask is generally woven using the satin weave technique, giving the fabric a lustrous, shiny quality.

How Is Damask Used?

Damask is a versatile fabric with several uses, from clothing to home decoration. Here are some of the popular uses of damask:

  • Table linens. Damask is used for table sets, like napkins, table runners, and tablecloths. Damask is both decorative, durable, and able to withstand daily use.
  • Clothing. Damask is used for clothing items, like decorative jackets or evening gowns. While the thick fabric doesn’t possess the same drape as other lightweight fabrics, the sturdiness creates a structured silhouette.
  • Accessories. Damask is also popular for fashion accessories like scarves and handbags. The beautiful pattern and dense fabric creates an appealing look for statement items.
  • Home decor. Damask is a staple of home decor as a result of its attractive patterns. Damask’s durable nature makes it great for upholstery and curtains.
  • Wallpaper. Damask wallpaper is also very popular, but using the actual fabric is quite expensive and labor-intensive to attach to wall. Many damask wallpapers simply replicate the damask pattern, which looks great in homes due to the simple, repeating design.

What Is the Difference Between Damask and Brocade?

Damask and brocade are both patterned fabrics woven on Jacquard looms. Damask is also usually flatter than brocade, as brocade’s patterns are to appear embossed and raised. Because of the embossing, brocades are not reversible while damask is. Brocade’s patterns are usually multi-colored, while damask can be either single color or multi-colored. Damask patterns also usually have a shine to them, as the designs are usually woven using the satin weaving technique, while brocade often uses metallic threads to create a shine.

Fabric Care Guide: How Do You Care for Damask?

For damask, the care instructions depend on which fibers that comprise the material. Silk damask should always be dry cleaned, but cotton, linen, and synthetic damask can be hand-washed or put in the washing machine on a gentle cycle.

  • Make sure to check the care label before you begin.
  • If you are using the washing machine, it’s a good idea to put the damask in a mesh laundry bag to avoid snags.
  • Don’t use bleach on damask.
  • If you are washing a damask garment, like a blazer, you might want to dry clean to avoid ruining the internal structure of the piece. Even if the material can be hand-washed or put on the gentle cycle, you don’t want to risk ruining the item’s shape.

Learn more about fabrics and fashion design in Marc Jacobs’s MasterClass.