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What Is Jacquard Fabric?
Jacquard fabric is a textured fabric that has complex patterns woven into it, rather than printed, dyed, or embroidered on top. Jacquard weaving has its origins in sixth-century Italian brocade, and it remains one of the most popular types of fabric to this day.
Jacquard can be created from any material, since the fabric is defined by its weave, rather than the fiber it is woven from. You’ll see silk and cotton jacquard on high-end and traditional applications, while modern designers are integrating a wider variety of fibers, including linen and cotton blends.
What Is the Difference Between Jacquard, Brocade, and Damask Fabrics?
You may see jacquard used interchangeably with brocade or damask to describe textiles or garments. While these three terms are closely related, there are some key differences between them.
- Jacquard: this refers to any fabric that uses a jacquard loom to weave a pattern directly into the material.
- Brocade: while this style of fabric technically predates jacquard, today’s brocade is made using the jacquard loom. In modern usage, brocade refers to a particular style of jacquard that uses additional threads to create a raised pattern, resulting in an embossed or embroidered effect. Due to the technique used to make it, brocade fabrics are not reversible, and may appear rough or unfinished on the underside.
- Damask: another type of jacquard, damask uses a ground of one weave and designs of another weave to create a fabric with opposite patterns on each side. Unlike brocade, damask is reversible, and is often used for table linens.
The History of Jacquard
The name “jacquard” comes from the French creator, Joseph Marie Jacquard, who started his career in textiles in the late 1700s as a “draw boy” on a traditional brocade loom. Draw boys were children who were required to work six to eight hours a day, lifting half their body weight in weaving reeds at a time. The weaver would instruct the draw boy on which threads to lift and where to move them.
Due to the danger of draw boy work, Jacquard decided to find a better, less labor-intensive solution for creating brocade fabrics. The result was a machine that uses a series of punch cards, rather than a draw boy, to guide the loom, telling it which threads to raise at which times in order to create a jacquard weave.
While Jacquard didn’t know it when he invented his loom in 1804, this punch card design would go on to inform the development of early computers, as well as binary code.
How Is Jacquard Made?
While the origin of the fabric dates back centuries, modern fashion designers use electric looms to create modern jacquard weaves. First introduced in the 1980s, these looms make the formerly back-breaking and time-consuming process of creating jacquard fabric automated and fast, without endangering workers’ lives.
As a result, this formerly expensive fabric is now available to the masses in the form of bedspreads, couch covers, tablecloths—and, of course, beautiful and innovative clothing from leading designers like Marc Jacobs.
Examples of Jacquard in Fashion Design
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One prime example of a modern use of the jacquard fabric is Marc Jacobs’s pink and silver ruffled organza dress from his Spring/Summer 2017 collection, which he discusses in this video. Marc created this jacquard with organza because of the innate wiriness of organza, a quality he knew would help him determine the shape of the dress.
The jacquard for this dress is made from pink silk and a gingko leaf design woven in silver lurex, which is a type of metallic yarn. Marc chose this style of jacquard because he wanted to create something that was simultaneously very feminine and “a bit crazy,” he says. When the fabric arrived, Marc held it to a model and saw that its structure and weight would hold ruffles, and that the color would work well near the face. So, he decided to make it into a ruffly neckline. He and his team pleated the silk organza and ran fishing line through the ruffle to create large curls. Marc then gave the dress a lantern sleeve—a sleeve characterized by horizontal seams that create volume. This dress exemplifies how the fabric can dictate the design of the dress. The organza is not cut close to the body and drapes to give a transparent effect.
“There was something kind of feminine and weird, but also kind of trashy about it at the same time,” Marc says. “This is a good example of the fabric helping you to design the dress or dictating a little the design of the dress.”
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