Silk Brocade: Timeless Luxury

 

Susana Aguirre

Silk brocade was once the fabric of choice for ancient Chinese rulers and European Renaissance nobility. Today, the fabric continues to enchant with its versatility and exceptional quality. New colors and designs in silk brocade allow fashion designers to use the fabric in new and exciting ways.

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Brocade fabric has a rich history that dates back to China's Song Dynasty, 960 to 1279 AD, a period known for the emergence of a unique silk brocade artistic style, referred to as ‘Song Brocade’. Brocade refers to Jacquard-woven fabric, commonly decorated in floral or Persian-like designs. The word comes from the Italian term broccato meaning embossed cloth. It is traditionally woven on a draw loom, using the supplementary weft technique (a supplementary weft is added to the base weft, which holds the warp threads in place), to produce the brocade design. This technique gives the illusion that the decoration is embroidered onto the fabric.

During the Middle Ages, brocade fabric was restricted to the noble classes in Asian Countries and ancient Greece, where it was a desirable fabric amongst the wealthiest Byzantines. It was this culture, too, which capitalized on the discovery of silkworms and silk fabric, becoming the central producer in the Western world of silk brocades, damasks, and other tapestry-like fabrics. 

The Late Middle Ages saw European nobility absorbed in activities of highs society that became perfect opportunities to exhibit luxurious fashion. Silk brocades from Italy, which more often than not included gilded threads, would be the fabric par excellence. Italian weavers began to create more intricately decorated silk fabrics, indicating advancements in silk-weaving looms. Garments in wool and silk became the fashionable choices during the Renaissance, while satin, velvet, and brocades were also only made available to wealthy and noble classes in accordance to sumptuary laws that dictated who could wear certain kinds of fabrics.