Oh boy, another HUGE term. Why? Because jacquard is a type of weaving, but the term has also come to mean the fabric produced by that weave.
By the way, if you’re a computer geek, look up jacquard looms. Some folks maintain they were the first computers. They revolutionized the textile industry back in the 18th century.
Jacquard weave is a satin weave which produces brocades, tapestry style fabric and damasks. The thing they all share in common is that their pattern is woven into the structure of the fabric. And those patterns are usually quite intricate and so significant they can be felt underhand. Run your fingers over a piece of brocade and you’ll see what I mean.
So, all brocades are jacquards, but not all jacquards are brocades. And what about damasks? Here’s a quick and dirty guide for telling them apart.
Damasks are middle and heavy weight fabrics, in plain or satin weave – so they might be shiny, semi-shiny or matte – and strictly speaking feature only single color. But the warp is usually a satin weave which produces a lustrous surface that contrasts the matte surface of the weft. . Large-scale floral motifs are very popular with damasks. Damask fabric is popular for upholstery and drapes as well as for clothing, so don’t neglect the upholstery section when you’re shopping.
Brocades may mimic the limited palette of damask but they’re usually multi-colored. They are traditionally heavier in weight than damasks, but I’ve found brocades in all ranges – from super flimsy polyester stuff in the inevitable plum-blossom pattern – to heavy weight material suitable for upholstery. Brocade patterns resemble embroidery more so than a damask. Metallic yarns are sometimes used, which you’ll never see in a damask.
Tapestry fabrics are a little easier to spot. As the name suggests, the fabric resembles the woven tapestries of old. They’re a plain weave, tightly woven with different colored weft threads producing the pattern.
Jacquards of all types are great for medieval, Renaissance and 18th century costuming. Do your research into what patterns and colors are appropriate for your chosen period. They’re also very popular in fantasy costuming – your Game of Thrones and high-falutin’ elves – because they’re all very luscious and rich looking. It’s also seeing a lot of use among the steampunk crowd, often as a contrast to All. That. Brown.
Jacquards can be challenging to sew. Look at them wrong and they’ll fray to hell and gone, but you can avoid the worst of that by using Fray-Check, or cutting your pieces with pinking shears or, if you have access to a serger, serging the raw edges of the fabric as soon as you’ve cut it.
Cost vary across a wide range because you can find jacquards out of pretty much any fiber you name. At one end of the scale, there’s the obligatory Asian-themed brocade made of pure polyester, guaranteed to fray like my temper at the end of a long day but only costing you about $8 yard at a chain fabric store. At the other end of things, you can find silk damasks for hundreds of dollars a yard.
As with any fabric with such a huge range of offerings, take the time to investigate your options and swatch as much as possible.
When cutting, be sure to use the “with nap” layout so that the motif(s) on the fabric all run in the same direction.
A nasty surprise that some jacquards have in store for you is what a sewing friend of mine calls “railroading”. Immediately adjacent to a stitched seam, you see the weft threads of your brocade – and it’s usually your cheapie brocade that’s doing this – pulling apart and looking like so many little railroad sleepers lying across your seam. Truth be told, we’re all still looking for a solution to that one. One school of thought suggests that you use as fine a needle and thread as you dare, and lengthen the stitch on your machine. Me? I just hope a viewer is too wowed by the garment to notice the issue…
Because jacquards come in a wide range of weights, be careful to match your needle to it. A universal needle might work just fine, but heavier jacquards will require something stronger and, as mentioned, a sharp needle might minimize some issues with cheaper brocades.