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Jacquard Fabric, Explained
Jacquard fabric is a textured fabric that has complex patterns woven into it, rather than printed or embroidered on top. Jacquard weaving has its origins in 6th century Italian brocade and it remains one of the most popular types of fabric to this day.
Because jacquard is defined by the fact the design is woven, rather than the material it’s made from, it can be created with any material. You’ll see silk and cotton jacquard on the higher and more traditional end, but modern designers are integrating a wider variety of fibers as well, like linen damask and cotton blends.
The History of Jacquard
The name comes from the French creator, Joseph Marie Jacquard, who started his career in textiles in the late 1700s doing the dangerous of work a “draw boy” on a traditional brocade loom. Draw boys were children who required to work six to eight hours a day, lifting half their body weight in weaving reeds at a time. The weaver would tell the draw boy which threads to lift, directing them to physically move them. It was dangerous work and Jacquard decided to find a better solution to the problem of creating brocade fabrics.
His solution was a machine that uses a series of punch cards rather than a draw boy, eliminating the need for that job all together. The punch cards guide the loom, telling it which threads to raise at which times in order to create a jacquard weave. And Jacquard obviously didn’t know it when he invented his loom in 1804, but those same punch cards would go on to be used in the development of the very first computers. It’s believed that those same punch cards that directed threads were not only used in the very first computers, but also that they may be the origins of binary code.
While the origin of the fabric dates back centuries, modern fashion designers use this antique fabric in new and innovative ways.
Jacquard in Fashion Design
One great 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 specifically 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 to create this style jacquard because he wanted 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.”
The Modernized Process of Creating Jacquard
These days, jacquard weave is created on electric jacquard looms, which were first introduced in the 1980s. These looms make the formerly back-breaking and time-sucking process of creating beautiful brocade and jacquard fabric automated and fast, without endangering any workers lives. As a result, this formerly prohibitively expensive fabric is now available to the masses, in the form of everything from bedspreads to couch covers to shirts. And those same looms make it possible for designers like Marc Jacobs to bring us beautiful, innovative clothing, year after year.