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MATERIAL MATTERS - The Subtlety and Timelessness of Damask

MATERIAL MATTERS - The Subtlety and Timelessness of Damask

One of the most luxurious and expensive silk textiles that Chinese merchants packed into the caravans travelling along the Silk Road to Byzantium was damask. Before long a thriving damask weaving industry was established in the Syrian city of Damascus, from where the fabric gets its name. Bolts of damask became sought-after luxury items introduced to Europe by the crusaders. By the fourteenth century Italian and French weavers were making their own exquisite silk damasks, more intricately patterned than the original fabrics. You can see clothes fashioned from or slashed with damask adorning queens and kings and the very rich in portraits dating from the Renaissance.


Damask is a weaving technique in which contrasting warp and weft yarns – most commonly satin and twill variants – are used to create intricate patterns in the cloth. The different textures of the yarns reflect light differently, so the pattern shows as variations in tone. Traditionally monochromatic, sometimes the pattern is given further emphasis by using different warp and weft colours or contrasting types of threads, such as wool or mohair with silk. Because it is woven into the cloth, the pattern is reversible.



Hand weaving damask was a painstaking and complex process. When the Jacquard loom was invented in 1801, its system of card-controlled weaving revolutionised the production of damasks and increased the fabric’s popularity in both clothing and interiors. Now that looms are computerised, damasks can be produced even more easily and cheaply while retaining all their visual complexity.


Photo credit:   Ashley Hicks's home in the Albany, Piccadilly London. Designed by Ashley Hicks - as featured in Interiors: the Greatest Rooms of the Century 

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