It’s quite easy to understand what it takes to make most woven fabrics. After all, we have been doing it for about 10,000 years. But then, you get to see brocade for the very first time and you can’t help but acknowledge that weaving is not only a skill but also an art form.
Today, we’ll examine this beautiful fabric closer. You’ll learn what it is, how it’s made, how to use it, and how to take care of it. So, without further ado, let’s go on our colorful journey.
What is Brocade Fabric?
Brocade is a distinct type of fabric that doesn’t use print for its decorations. In fact, the designs are made with thread, either by weaving them in or embroidery.
There are two main types of brocade: one-sided and double-sided. Double-sided brocade technically doesn’t have a wrong side and both sides are inverted images of each other. One-sided ones tend to look very messy on the wrong side, but they are usually more complex and colorful.
Traditionally, brocade used to be made exclusively from silk, but it’s also available in viscose as a more budget-friendly alternative, and cotton for upholstery.
A Brief Walk Through History
The earliest record of brocade manufacturing come from the Warring States period in China (3rd century BCE). They developed multiple styles, including the ones we see even today. The fabric eventually reached Europe and Byzantium where it became one of the rare truly luxurious fabrics nobility can indulge in.
European brocade comes into its own during Rennaissance, with Italy leading the charge. This is also the time when we see a huge jump in the technology used to manufacture this fabric.
It falls a little bit out of fashion after the French Revolution and around the time Beau Brummell reinvented menswear. But it takes only a few decades for Victorians to start using it both for their garments and home decor.
Today, brocade is mostly used for upholstery, curtains, and evening wear, with a few collections far and between that introduce brocade pieces into everyday wardrobes.
Are Brocade and Jacquard the Same Thing?
Jacquard is supposed to look like brocade but it’s not the same thing. It achieves its look by switching the weave by using the same pattern but switching up the ratio of warp and weft.
Okay, what was that all about? So, when making jacquard you will use different colors or textures for the warp and the weft. For example, using a white warp with the black weft, or a shiny warp with matte weft. The weaving pattern that is often used is a type of satin because it has a high ratio of warp to the weft, therefore showing one more than the other. For example, a weft thread will go over at least 2 warp threads, therefore showing up more. In jacquard, it’s common for that ratio to be even bigger, with the weft going over 3 threads or more. Plus, the warp would not follow a single diagonal line (as it would in a twill weave), so it can disappear almost completely and produce a very smooth-looking surface. Smooth as satin, some may say.
Now, let’s say you want to make a jacquard with a fleur-de-lis design. You chose a 4×1 satin weave, and for the background, your weft will go over 4 threads of warp before one of those pops up. To make the fleur-de-lis stand out, you will invert that ratio, and now 4 strands of warp go under the weft before one of those pops out. And yes, this creates an inverted image on the other side of the fabric so you can choose which one fits your project better.
To wrap this, you should also know that jacquard tends to be cheaper because it uses rather simple looms and technology for its production. The most labor-intensive and technical part is creating a schematic for the design and punching a few cards (that’s another episode), but after that, it’s just like weaving any other fabric.
How to Know if the Fabric is Jacquard or Double-Sided Brocade?
Sometimes a single glance can help since brocade tends to be more colorful and have a more complicated design. Also, double-sided brocade tends to be heavier and stiffer.
On the other hand, jacquard always comes in 2 colors or textures only. And if you take out a magnifying glass and take a look at the warp and the weft, they are visible in both the design and background (in brocade, you’re not very likely to see them in the design). Also, jacquard can be very fine and light, almost like many types of satin.
And finally, brocade often feels more 3D when you pass your hand over it. You would still detect some texture from jacquard, but you’re far more likely to tell what or at least where) the design is with brocade even with eyes closed.
How is Brocade Made?
Way back when, brocade was made by taking a piece of silk and doing embroidery. When you see the intricate designs on historical clothing from Ancient China, you can get a picture. The same technique is still sometimes employed by haute couture ateliers in Paris.
But most modern brocade is made by weaving with 2 (or more threads) of weft instead of 1. While the first thread would go over the weft to create the background, the others would pop up to create the design.
Does this Mean You Can Make Brocade at Home?
If you have a decent loom, yes. For what’s available to the average crafter, you’ll only be able to make heavy brocades. Still, why not give it a go?
And if you have enough patience or skill, you can also try the embroidery technique. If you don’t have the skill but you have one of those very expensive sewing machines that can do embroidery, you can use that to create a custom brocade. Though, keep in mind that all these techniques are very likely to produce a stiffer fabric.
What is Brocade Fabric Used for?
Brocade is equally used in garment and furniture manufacturing.
When it comes to garments, it’s better suited for things that are tailored and structured. Think fitted dresses, pants, skirts, coats, and jackets. And if you’re using one-sided brocade, they will also need to be lined.
At home, brocade can be used for anything from upholstery to curtains and napkins. You can even upholster the seats in your car if you want to take brocade with you everywhere you go.
Below, we’ll go into a bit more detail into which type and weight of brocade are best for which project.
How to Sew Brocade Fabric
Brocade is actually somewhat easy to sew. It’s quite stiff so it’s easy to mark, cut, and feed through the sewing machine. But there are a few things that can go wrong. Don’t worry, we’ll go over everything right now.
One-sided brocade will cause you the most headaches. Some manufacturers leave the wrong side in an absolute state of mess. You will see many loose threads just flapping about. Or, even if they are secured, there would be long pieces of thread that can catch onto anything, or that would flap about as well once you cut into the fabric.
Your best bet is to employ some basting spray or a washable stabilizer. The basting spray will temporarily glue the threads to the fabric, while the stabilizer will do much of the same, but better.
If you have some wonder tape, you can use it as well, but it will take a lot of it to keep all that mess contained. Your final option is to use fusible lining. After all, you will have to line one-sided brocade, so why not do it even before cutting into it?
Proper needles matter. Even when working with lighter fabrics, it’s not the best idea to use universal needles. It’s better to go for leather needles in the appropriate size. Schmetz leather needles go all the way down to size 70/10, so you don’t have to worry about finding the appropriate one.
The reason we’re using leather needles is that they tend to have a sharper point with a slightly thinner but stronger shaft. Not only are they going to go through the fabric like butter and not break mid-seam, but they will also not leave large and obvious holes.
Unless you’re using fusible lining, you’ll have to overcast the edges right after cutting the fabric. A simple zigzag will do, and you’ll have to do it for both one-sided and double-sided brocades. At least, do it on the bias and sides that were parallel to the salvage edge. After all, you’re working with a fabric with two or more wefts, remember?
Staystitching is still needed, and it’s mandatory if you’re making furniture covers, pillows, etc, even though they are all cut in straight lines.
And finally, we have to talk about seam finishes. You can get away with serged edges in some garments, but in both upholstery and coats, it’s best to bound the seams. A Hong Kong finish is more than appropriate, while you can get away with a french seam if the fabric is light enough.
Flat felled seams can be a bit risky, at least in the case of fabric with elaborate design and multiple colors. Still, feel free to experiment. Sew the seam and then pull, tug, and generally abuse it. If you don’t see threads coming out of the design, you’re probably good to go.
How to Wash Brocade Fabric
Brocade can be difficult to care for since you can’t always just throw it into the washing machine and follow it up with a dryer. Doble-sided brocade is a bit more durable, while one-sided and embroidery brocades will need a gentle hand.
First things first, avoid hot water as much as possible. Heat is what will damage the structure of the fibers and make all those beautiful designs and colors fade. Cold water is always the best option when you want to preserve the shape and color of a garment or interior textiles. However, make sure you’re using the appropriate laundry detergents. Some of them are not suitable for cold water cycles, so check the temperature range that should be printed on the packaging.
Try not to use a dryer. Actually, leave the dryer solely for consumable textiles (towels, bed sheets, sanitary products, etc.), and hang everything else to dry. Though, if the brocade is a bit on the heavier side, feel free to give it an additional spin cycle to wring as much water out of it.
Garment bags are mandatory. Even double-sides brocade has all those fine threads that can catch on something and break.
Finally, the delicate cycle is optional. The garment bag and cold water combo should help preserve most brocades. But, if yours is very fine and/or has a particularly intricate design, go for the delicate cycle. Better safe than sorry!
Remember, “hand” washing is always an option, though you should not use the washing board. Instead, place the fabric into a large basin, and use your feet to stomp on it and agitate the soapy water. And feel free to send the fabric to the spin cycle to wring out the water. Just remember to place the brocade in a garment bag first.
How to Get Permanent Marker Stains Out of Brocade Fabric
You’ll be happy to hear that most of the chemicals that are safe for other fabrics tend to be safe on brocade as well. That means that your favorite commercial ink remover should work like a dream. Just do a final check, i.e. if the brocade is made from silk if the remover is silk-safe.
But if you don’t have any on hand (or your remover is not suitable for silk), try rubbing alcohol. Use a cotton pad or clean cloth soaked with alcohol to dab at the stain. Wipe it from time to time with a dry and clean cloth and check the progress. Once you got the stain out, wash the brocade in cold water.
How to Shop for Upholstery Brocade Fabric
The name should suggest that you will have to go to the different section of the store. The brocades in the garment department are usually made from silk or viscose, while in the upholstery department you will encounter more reasonable cotton. After all, cotton brocade is a lot easier to take care of, though you should still use a garment bag when you wash it.
In terms of weight, you should look for something similar to the type of denim you’d use to sew jeans. It’s okay if it’s lighter but be ready to do some extra reinforcement on the wrong side.
Also, make sure to test the fabric by stretching it out in different directions. If the threads start pulling out or you see any other changes, this is not the fabric that would survive being a chair or a sofa.
By the way, it’s a lot easier to find jacquard in the upholstery section. Feel free to go for it if the brocades seem a bit too delicate and if you want to save some money.
Brocade Fabric for Other Interior Projects
Some of the decor projects can be made from brocade that is more suitable for garments. So, feel free to pick the regular stuff if it catches your eye, as long as it’s a piece that you don’t have to sit on.
How to Pick a Brocade Fabric When Making a Garment
Coats and Jackets
Both are obvious choices for a fabric such as brocade. After all, the fabric tends to be stiff and it’s tailor-made for tailoring.
Pair patterns for spring and early fall outerwear will light brocades but go for medium and even heavier weights when making winter pieces.
Skirts and Dresses
Tailored skirts and dresses go great with brocade. You can even go vintage and pick a pattern from the 50s or 60s – it will be super groovy.
Pick light and medium weight for these projects. Medium will work for anything structured (bodycon dress or a pencil skirt, anyone?), while light will be great for circle skirts and peplums.
Oh, 2004 and the embarrassment of riches when it came to all brocade pants models available that winter. If you want to make some for yourself, pick a light or medium-weight fabric.
Corsets and Bustiers
Corsetry and brocades go well together. And you can pick any type you want. If you’re doing a lined corset, feel free to go with something fine and light, but if you’re sewing a single layer bustier, pick something heavier that can hold its shape.
Brocade is exceptionally pretty when used to make carpet bags. You can also rock a super-luxe tote on your next trip to the grocery store. Whichever way you go, visit the upholstery section for the appropriate type and weight of brocade.
What’s the Best Place to Buy Brocade Fabric?
China, France, and Britain. But most of your local fabric shops will do as well.
However, you will have better options in places that specialize in upholstery and/or formal wear fabrics. Your local Joanne’s is far more likely to have a good selection of jacquard but may not do so well with brocades.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.