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Brocade is a patterned, woven fabric. Unlike embroidered fabrics, the patterns in brocade are woven into the fabric. Brocade has a long history, and it has been used in various cultures. Traditionally reserved for ornamental garments, brocade is now more commonplace.



Brocade weaves vary widely in complexity, and the simplest brocade patterns simply consist of a single added color. Complex brocade patterns, on the other hand, can consist of a veritable kaleidoscope of multicolored threads.

As brocade and other silk fabrics became more well-known throughout the Eurasian continent, rivalling powers aimed to initialize their own silk industries to reduce their trade dependence on China. Records indicate that it was during the 6th century AD that intrepid monks from the Byzantine Empire successfully smuggled the secrets of sericulture (silk-making) out of China.

Almost overnight, Byzantium became a prodigious producer of silk fabric, and this empire, which spread throughout much of the Near East and Eastern and Southern Europe, focused heavily on producing brocade fabrics. As a result, Byzantium, not China, became the culture primarily associated with brocade production throughout the Middle Ages.

Byzantine brocade was the default apparel of the nobility throughout Europe and Central Asia, and China maintained its stronghold of brocade trade throughout East Asia. Brocade made in Byzantium often featured Christian iconography, and some brocaded Byzantine tapestries have been preserved to the present day.

Brocade fabric remained reasonably popular among the European nobility throughout the Late Middle Ages, and this textile enjoyed a major revival in Renaissance Italy. Italian weavers pushed the complexity of their brocade designs to the absolute limits, and proof of the beauty of Italian brocade remains preserved in Renaissance-era paintings.

With the invention of the Jacquard loom in the early 19th century, the production of brocade fabric became much more efficient, and this textile material began losing its association with nobility and the upper class. At the same time, the Jacquard loom made it possible to create more complex brocade patterns than ever before, and this fabric remains coveted for its rich ornamental beauty.

The use of brocade in apparel remains relatively rare, but this fabric is a common sight in modern upholstery and drapes. Brocade is also reasonably popular as a material for ceremonial Indian clothing, and vestments worn by priests commonly feature this fabric.

Brocade fabric consists of three yarns woven together. In addition to the mandatory warp and weft yarns, which compose the basic structure of any woven textile, brocade features a supplementary weft yarn that creates the patterns that characterize this ornamental fabric.

Traditionally, weavers made brocade fabric on conventional looms, which required painstaking effort and attention to detail. With the invention of the Jacquard loom, however, brocade production was dramatically simplified, and in almost every case, contemporary textile manufacturers weave brocade using computerized Jacquard looms.

Brocade can feature a wide variety of base materials. Silk is the traditional fiber used for brocade fabric manufacture, but during periods of reduced silk imports, Western brocade weavers made do with wool. As cotton imports from India became more common during the Enlightenment period, brocade weavers in Europe started using this versatile and inexpensive material as well.

In the modern era, synthetic fibers have become the darlings of the international textile industry due to their inexpensiveness and similarity to various natural fibers. As a result, some brocade fabrics now feature synthetic materials like polyester and rayon, but brocade purists still swear by making this fabric using silk.

Whichever material brocade weavers choose, the yarns used to make this fabric are invariably dyed before weaving. Dyeing a piece of brocade fabric after the weaving process would obscure its beautiful, multicolored pattern.

Today, brocade is more commonly used in decorations and homewares than it is used in apparel. For instance, curtains and drapes frequently feature brocade patterns, and heavy, silk drapes are almost always brocaded.

Beyond full coverings for pieces of furniture, brocade is also a fabric of choice for throw pillows. Regardless of the type of upholstery your couch features or the material you chose for your bed covers, a few brocaded, ornamental pillows lend a sophisticated ambiance to any setting.

While significantly less elegant in appearance, cotton brocade is much simpler to produce than silk brocade. In most cases, the patterning in cotton brocade is less complex than the patterns featured in silk brocade, and textile manufacturers commonly use cotton brocade to make casual garments.

This type of brocade fabric features a mixture of silk and cotton. As a result, it is reasonably stretchy, breathable, and soft while still featuring the durability and attractive sheen of silk. Himru (himroo) brocade is mostly produced and used in India.

While less common than cotton and silk brocade, synthetic brocade is one of the least expensive types of brocade to produce. However, brocade fabrics containing polyester or other synthetic fibers are less comfortable and can be harmful to workers and the environment.

Zari brocade traditionally featured threads of actual copper, silver, or gold. These days, however, this type of brocade more commonly features synthetic materials that approximate the appearance of these precious metals.

Among all the fibers used to make brocade, polyester and other synthetic textiles are by far the worst for the environment. Silk, cotton, and wool are all highly biodegradable, but synthetic textile fibers do not naturally degrade when released into the environment. Even worse, synthetic fabrics release tiny fibers with every washing that contribute to plastic pollution worldwide, and the production of synthetic textiles involves highly toxic chemicals that can harm workers and surrounding ecosystems.

There are no organizations that specifically certify brocade fabric, but various organizations certify the textile fibers used to make this ornamental fabric. Genuine silk fabrics are also eligible for Silk Mark certification, and wool fabrics may be eligible for certification from Woolmark.

Ancient brocade was made by hand on conventional looms. Although the process was tedious and time-consuming, brocade fabric only grew in popularity. By the 6th century AD, the Byzantines had smuggled silkworm eggs from China into their empire and begun producing silk brocade for the rest of the Western world.

In 1804, the invention of the Jacquard loom and the automation of patterning changed everything. With this loom, seamstresses could more efficiently produce brocade designs, and brocade gowns became incredibly popular during the Victorian era.

A beautifully preserved example of 18th-century French court dress, this lavish gown is fashioned of brocaded silk in a sprigged floral motif. Circa 1775. Collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In Guatemala, Maya artisans weave wonderfully intricate brocades by hand on backstrap looms. London-based Schumacher collaborator A Rum Fellow marries original contemporary designs with these traditional handcraft techniques to produce a collection of exquisite brocade panels. 041b061a72


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