Looking for an elegant fabric for an evening outfit or accessory? You might just decide on brocade. The fabric is almost always thick and features a weave with floating threads to create a lustrous surface and sheen. Many brocade fabrics have different background weaves and often showcase an elaborately embroidered surface weave. Brocades are not reversible like a damask weave often used for a tablecloth fabric. The back of brocade fabric can be smooth or show cut threads almost like a fringe.
What Is Brocade Fabric?
Brocade is a woven fabric that has a raised design—often using gold or silver threads. Brocade fabric is typically woven in intricate designs by hand.
You may find fabrics labeled as Imperial Brocade. These feature the historic gold or silver threads woven throughout or used to embellish a design. Heavy brocade fabrics used for upholstery are called Brocatelle. Velvet brocade features a lush cut surface like plain velvet with a raised pattern and a woven background.
How to Clean Brocade Fabrics
First, it is essential to read the garment or accessory label for fiber content and care instructions. Depending on the type of fibers used in weaving, some brocades can be hand-washed, while others must be professionally dry cleaned. Because of the weaving method used to create the intricate patterns, brocade fabric often shrinks when wet. Dry cleaning is always the preferred cleaning method, especially for lined or expensive items.
If hand-washing is suggested, always use cool water and a mild detergent. Never scrub vigorously, wring or twist the garment. Extra care should be taken when laundering the fabric to prevent snagging and to protect the long floating threads that form the design and give brocade its lovely finish from breakage.
For upholstered furniture covered with brocade fabrics, use a professional cleaner. If you choose to use a steam home upholstery cleaning system or a stain remover, always test it on a hidden area first to be sure there is no fading or excessive damage.
If you have hand washed brocade, lift the heavy wet fabric gently. Lie the garment out evenly on a thick, cotton towel and roll to remove most of the moisture. You will need to repeat this several times with dry towels. When the fabric is no longer dripping water, place it on a flat surface away from direct heat or sunlight to air dry. Do not hang because the weight of the wet fabric can cause threads to break. It is also best to never use a tumble dryer because it can cause snags or pulls in the fabric.
For brocade garments or accessories that are not stained but are dusty, place the items in a mesh laundry bag. Add the protected fabric in the bag to a tumble dryer set on air only and run for around 15 minutes. This will pull out the dust without damaging the fabric.
The temperature setting of the iron should be selected based on the fiber content of the particular brocade fabric. To prevent crushing or flattening the design, iron only on the wrong side of the fabric. Always use a press cloth or white woven cotton towel between the iron and the fabric to prevent snags and pulls.
Brocade fabrics woven during the Middle Ages have been discovered in China, Japan, Greece, and Italy. These were all made of silk and handwoven on looms by master weavers. Due to the intricate design and the hours needed to create the fabric, only the ruling emperors and the very wealthy could afford the fabric. The fabric was often encrusted with jewels and hand embroidery to make clothing and tapestries.
With the invention of a loom by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801 which used punched cards to represent lines in a pattern, brocade could be created in mass quantities. This made the fabric more readily available to a wider audience. However, it still remained a fabric used only by the rich due to the expense of production and the care needed for cleaning.
Today, brocade fabrics are much more affordable and are used for home accessories like upholstery, draperies, and pillows. Due to its elegant look brocade is still used for formal evening wear and for clerical vestments.