How to Care for Damask Linens and Clothes

Damask
Lai Morris/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Damask is a beautiful reversible fabric most often used today for linens, drapes, and upholstery; however, it can also be used for clothing like jackets and formal wear. The patterns of damask fabric are so popular that you can find them replicated in wallpaper and do-it-yourself stencil patterns.

How to Wash Damask Table Linens

As with any fabric, the care depends upon the fiber content. Some damask fabric can be successfully washed while others (silk fibers) may need to be dry cleaned. If you are not certain of the fiber content or the item does not have a care label, consult a laundry professional at your local dry cleaning before attempting to wash damask at home.

Most damask table linens are made of linen and cotton fibers and can be washed at home. Since much of the beauty comes from the long floating fibers, these fabrics should be hand washed or washed using the delicate cycle in the washer with cool water and a mild detergent. If using the delicate cycle in the washer, place the damask fabric in a mesh laundry bag to prevent the possibility of snags.

Avoid harsh detergents and chlorine bleach that can weaken delicate fibers. If you have damask fabrics that have yellowed, the safest way to whiten and brighten them is to use oxygen-based bleach. Mix a solution of warm water and the oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach are brand names). Follow the package directions as to how much product to use per gallon of water. Add the damask and allow it to soak for at least two hours, overnight is best. Rinse well and gently dry. Oxygen bleach is slow-working but very gentle and to safe to use on all types of fibers except silk and wool.

Always pretreat any specific stains like oil or candle wax following stain removal tips before washing. The damask table linens can be tumbled dry on a medium low heat. Always remove the linens while slightly damp for easier ironing.

How to Care for Damask Garments

For damask garments, always follow the care label for cleaning. While the fiber content may allow home washing, the garment may have inner structure like linings or interfacings that can be destroyed or distorted if washed and require dry cleaning.

Damask garments made from silk or wool fibers should be hand washed or dry cleaned following care label directions.

How to Iron Damask Fabrics

  • Always use a pressing cloth between the iron and the damask fabric to prevent snagging of the looser, floating threads.
  • Press first on the wrong side to prevent flattening of the floating threads and do only small touch up on the other side.
  • Do not create sharp creases on napkins to prevent broken threads.

How to Store Damask Linens

The floating fibers on damask can easily snag on rough surfaces and vintage damask fibers can break. When storing damask linens, store flat, or gently roll to prevent harsh creases. 

For damask garments, hang or create soft folds with acid-free tissue paper before storing.

What is Damask and How is It Made?

Damask is a woven fabric originally made from silk thread. Damask is woven with a single warp and weft yarn with the warp-faced pattern in a satin weave with floating threads and the weft-faced background in a sateen weave. The weaving technique produces a reversible fabric with an elaborate glossy pattern against a matte background. Originally, the term damask referred only to the silk patterned fabric. Today the term damask refers to the style of weaving even if the fabric is made from another fiber.

The weaving of damask is one of the oldest weaving techniques known to man. The name, damask, comes from the Arabic language and is a derivation of the name of the city of Damascus where it was woven from single color silk threads in the early Middle Ages. 

As the technique of damask weaving moved throughout Europe, several colors and metallic threads were added. Weavers began to weave damask fabric in wool and linen, as well as, silk. The patterns may have a botanical theme, feature animals or landscape scenes, or simply be geometric in design. While Damascus remained a well-known center for the production of damask; Italy soon became famous as well for the manufacture of damask.

Around 1900 with the invention of the Jacquard loom that used punch cards to automatically create the designs; damask become more accessible to consumers. Today's damask is woven on a jacquard-weave loom with computer controlled designs and can be made of linensilkcottonwool or even synthetic fibers. The weave produces long threads that catch and reflect light. Damask is still an expensive fabric to produce because the dense weave requires a large amount of fibers per square inch.

When purchasing damask fabric by yard for a project, you should measure carefully if the pattern repeat is important to the final look. The yardage should be bought from a single bolt of fabric so that the color and weave will match exactly.