What Is Damask Fabric And How Easy Is It To Work With?

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What is damask? The name may sound exotic, but in essence, damask is a fabric with designs woven into it in a very specific way. It’s an ancient technique that’s still popular today. Damask fabric is a favorite for high end garments, upholstery, and housewares. But it’s not just a pretty face. It’s also water resistant and quite strong. Want to know more? Let’s go.

What is Damask Fabric?

classic damask fabric pattern

Fabrics can take their name from any number of places. Some, like silk, are named after their component materials. Others, such as fleece, are named for what they used to be made of. Poplin takes its name from the person who used to wear it — the Pope — although today it describes fabric that’s woven in a certain way. And rayon describes a manufacturing technique.

Damask comes from the Arabic word dimashq, which many of us know as Damascus, the capital of today’s Syria. In the 12th century, the city of Damascus was a major trading centre along the Great Silk Route. It was here that European traders first encountered the fabric, though the technique used to produce it is much older than that. [1]

Damask Weaving

Damask is one of the five original weaving techniques of weavers in the Byzantine Empire and the Middle East. It became extremely popular in Europe, starting in the 14th century, though it had been popular in the Middle East and Byzantine Empire for centuries before.

The Damask weave combines two different variations on the satin weave structure pictured below:

Satin_weave_in_silk
Image of satin weave structure; public domain; via Wikimedia Commons.

Weavers create the design using warp-facing satin weave, where the horizontal warp fibers are floated over the vertical weft fibers. They create the background in a weft-facing sateen weave. In this weave, the vertical weft fibers float over the horizontal warp fibres.

Watch how it’s done here.

Damask Across Time

Early damask fabric was woven from silk, wool, or linen. Weavers used a single color, relying on the difference in weave to define the design. The result was a glossy pattern against a duller background. Later damasks used two colors: one for the warp threads and a different one for the weft threads.

The invention of the Jacquard device in 1804 revolutionized the production of decorative woven fabrics like damask. A Jacquard loom allows the operator to control individual weft threads.This, in turn, makes it faster and easier to weave intricate patterns such as those used for damasks and brocades. [2]

Here’s a Jacquard loom in action.

Today’s damasks are woven on computerized Jacquard looms. You can find modern damask fabrics made from both synthetic and natural materials.

How Is Damask Used?

Damask is luxurious and elegant. It’s also water-resistant and incredibly durable. These qualities make it a natural for home decor, and this is primarily where you will find it. Damask is a very popular material for:

  • Curtains
  • Upholstery
  • Rugs
  • Table linens
  • Bed linens
  • Throws
  • Light rugs

You’ll also find damask in apparel. Its stiffness makes it less suitable for everyday casual wear. However, you will encounter damask in:

  • Scarves
  • Evening wear
  • Jackets

Because certain damasks are extremely hard-wearing, you may also encounter damask accessories, such as:

  • Luggage
  • Handbags
  • Eyeglass holders
  • Phone holders
  • Wallets

In short, if your project requires a fabric that’s simultaneously attractive and durable, damask can be a good choice.

What is Damask Fabric Like?

Once you’ve seen or touched damask, you’ll never forget its unique combination of properties. What are these properties? Let’s have a look.

Patterned

One of the key features of damask fabric is its pattern. Though there is no specific “damask pattern,” many damask designs reflect this fabric’s Middle Eastern and Byzantine roots through repeating abstract floral or geometric designs.

Reflective

Damask patterns are created by using different weaving techniques for the background and the design. The different weaves reflect light differently. This makes the pattern stand out against the background. It also means that the fabric will look slightly different in different types of light.

Reversible

Because the designs that characterize damask fabric are woven into the fabric itself, you can see the designs on both sides of the fabric. Some damask fabrics are truly reversible, with the design showing clearly and attractively on both sides. With others, however, the designs may not appear as attractive on the reverse side.

Durable

Although a specific fabric’s durability can vary with its fibre content, most damask is highly durable. This comes down to its tight weave.

Damask upholstery fabric is very popular for its combination of exceptional durability and attractive appearance.

Thick and Heavy

Because damask is made using multiple layers of thread, it tends to be a thick, heavy fabric. This can, of course, vary with fiber content. A wool damask is a lot heavier, for example, than one made from polyester. But a polyester damask will still be thicker than plain weave polyester fabric.

Water Resistant

The tight weave of damask fabric makes liquid more likely to bead on the surface than to soak in. This is another reason that damask fabrics can be excellent for upholstery and table linens.

Easy to Sew

The tight weave used to create damask means that many damask fabrics are fray-resistant and easy to sew. This can vary, however, with the fibre content.

What Color is Damask?

“Damask” refers to a weaving technique rather than to a color. Damask fabric can have any color or combination of colors. Traditional damask used a single color, relying on different weaving techniques to make the damask pattern stand out from the background. Over time, multicolored damasks also emerged.

What’s the Difference Between Damask and Brocade?

At first glance, brocade and damask might appear similar. They’re both woven, for example. And they’re both woven on Jacquard looms. They both have raised designs, as well. But there are quite a few differences between the two. Here are the most important ones.

Color

Damask fabrics typically use a single color thread. Sometimes they may use two colors. Brocade patterns typically use many colors.

Texture

Damask patterns tend to be flatter than brocade patterns. Brocade patterns, on the other hand, are embossed and raised.

Reversibility

Damask fabric is reversible. Brocades are not reversible.

Shine

Damask’s visual effects are the result of contrasting weaving techniques, which catch the light differently. The shine in many brocade designs comes down to metallic threads woven into the design. 

The Pros and Cons of Damask

For the right project, damask can be the perfect fabric. But it’s not perfect for every project. Here are some of its upsides and pitfalls.

Pros

Damask is very versatile. Its stable nature lends itself to a variety of uses, including indoor and outdoor upholstery, housewares, table linens, curtains, light rugs, and even some types of garments.

This fabric’s reversibility means versatility in appearance as well as in function.

Damask is typically hard-wearing. This, of course, varies with the fiber content. 

Its beauty and unique appearance add a touch of elegance to whatever you’re creating.

The tight weave makes damask water repellent. This, too, can vary with fiber content.

Many damask fabrics are also quite easy to work with, as they resist fraying and unraveling. They also tend to hold their shape well. (Again, this varies depending on the fiber content).

Cons

Many damask fabrics are quite stiff. While this makes them excellent for upholstery, housewares, and outerwear, it’s generally not a great choice for everyday clothing. Again, the degree of stiffness will vary with fiber content.

Because designs are woven, individual threads may snag. This, in turn can compromise the design.

Like all linen, linen damask wrinkles easily, so treat it accordingly.

Because of its multi-layered weave, stains in damask can go deep and be very difficult to remove.

How to Sew Damask Fabric

Because damask is created using tight, contrasting weaves, sewing damask fabric should be easy, right? It’s true in many cases. However, different fiber compositions can present a variety of issues.

Tightly woven cotton and linen fibers resist unraveling and fraying and tend to hold their shape well. However, there are other fibers that you can use to create damask fabric that don’t hold their shape well. 

If you’re working with silk, polyester, or rayon, you might want to use a fabric stabilizer to help the fabric retain its shape during cutting and sewing.

Most types of damask are not stretchy. But some types of fiber will create a bit of stretch. If you’re working with a damask that has some stretch, make sure to use:

  • The correct sewing machine needle. A blunt needle works well with stretchy fabrics.
  • Polyester thread. It can stretch with your fabric.
  • A stretch stitch like a narrow zigzag stitch.

Caring for Damask

Few people would call damask delicate, but its unique qualities mean that it has some unique care needs. [3] Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any fabric. Aside from that, here are a few more tips to keep your damask looking stunning.

Dry Cleaning

If your item’s manufacturer specifies dry clean only, then only dry clean your item.

Pre-Washing

Damask’s double-layered weave means that stains can set in fast and be difficult to remove. So address any spill or stain immediately.

Do not soak a damask garment. Instead, spot clean with a hydrogen peroxide based stain remover. Do not use a bleach based remover, as it can damage the fibers.

Machine Washing

Check the manufacturer’s instructions. If your item is machine washable, wash it at the manufacturer’s recommended temperature, using a mild detergent.

Hand Washing

Some damasks, particularly linen and cotton, need to be hand washed.

Hand wash your damask in cool water, using a detergent that has neither bleach nor any chemical brightener. Avoid roughly scrubbing. 

Rinse your item in room temperature water.

Drying

If the garment label specifies that your item can be machine dried, then dry it until damp. Iron it dry to avoid wrinkles.

You can also line-dry your damask. Just make sure to dry it taut in order to avoid wrinkles.

Damask Unmasked

Damask is a hard-wearing, versatile fabric that blends different weaving techniques to create designs. Damask can be made using a variety of synthetic and natural fibers, but usually only employs one or two colors of thread.

Elegant and durable, damask fabrics are a natural for housewares, upholstery, table linens, curtains, and rugs. You might also find damask scarves, handbags, and outerwear.

Damask is typically easy to care for and easy to sew. Both of these qualities, however, depend on the fiber content.

What’s your favorite way to use damask? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

damask fabric care and sewing

REFERENCES

  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Silk Road | https://www.britannica.com/topic/Silk-Road-trade-route
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Jacquard loom | https://www.britannica.com/technology/Jacquard-loom
  3. Georg Jenson Damask | Wash & Care | https://www.georgjensen-damask.com/wash-and-care-damask.aspx

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