What Is Jacquard Fabric? This Style's Made a Comeback

jacquard fabric on a chair in front of a gallery wall in a living room with white walls

Design: Emily Henderson Design, Photo: Sara Ligorria-Tramp

The word "jacquard" sure sounds luxurious, but what does this term even mean? Thrown around in fashion and home décor, this fabric style has been around since the early 1800s. Whether you're looking to purchase some jacquard curtains or just want to brush up on your design history, here's everything you need to know about the fabric.

What is Jacquard?

Jacquard is a type of fabric in which the colors and patterns are incorporated into the weave of the fabric itself, rather than being dyed or printed on. The term “Jacquard” does not refer to a particular pattern, but to the loom it was woven on, named for its inventor, Joseph Marie Jacquard. Jacquard can be woven from a number of different materials, and is available in many styles, colors, and textures. 

Prior to the invention of the Jacquard loom, weaving patterns directly into fabric was a difficult, laborious task; done by hand by skilled weavers, these sorts of fabrics were expensive to produce and, as such, were mostly purchased by the wealthiest members of society. These fabrics, known as brocades, were purchased to communicate status and wealth; royals and nobles were fond of using brocade in ballgowns and palace furnishings.

Most fabrics were quickly woven from a single type of thread, like cotton or flax, in its natural shade. Using a common loom, professional weavers would string the long threads that run up and down the fabric (the “warp) across the device, then pass threads through them horizontally (the “fill); though the loom made the weaving process easier, it was still a long, laborious process that was done by hand, which made all fabric — not just brocade — costly. Once a length of fabric was completed it would be dyed or, for pricier fabrics, could be printed with a pattern. For most people, fabric was purchased sparingly and used functionally, with little in the way of design. 

The Invention of Jacquard

jacquard loom in the 1800s

George Rinhart / Contributor/Getty Images

Mass production of cloth began with the invention of the industrial power loom in 1786, making fabric more affordable than ever, and opening up the world of fashion and design to the middle classes. But the first industrial looms were only able to mass produce plain, single-thread fabrics, meaning that for the remainder of the 18th century, brocades remained the provenance of the wealthy. 

Once Jacquard brought brocade to the masses, it quickly became a status symbol for the middle and upwardly-mobile classes, who primarily used the new jacquard fabric as furniture coverings, drapes, and other ornamental pieces that were always on display to be enjoyed every day, and to show off a household’s social standing. Though we no longer associate it with any sort of social subtext, and though it can be used in any sort of fashion, jacquard remains predominantly used in furniture, linens, and home décor. 

Then, in 1804, French weaver Joseph Marie Jacquard invented his namesake loom, which used punch cards to regulate the weaving process. Also known as the Jacquard Mechanism, Jacquard Attachment or Jacquard system, it was inspired by the newly invented player pianos, which used long rolls of punched-out paper to play long pieces of music. Jacquard figured out how to use the same technology to translate designs into a series of punch cards that would automate the loom’s movements, allowing multiple colored threads to be used as the fabric’s fill, and weaving them into pre-designed patterns without the need for human involvement. 

Jacquard Today

Jacquard and his loom became synonymous with all multi-thread woven fabrics that every individual type — yes, even brocade — is now known as a type of Jacquard fabric. The term “brocade” now refers to a heavier woven fabric, with a slightly raised pattern that gives the fabric texture, and a luxurious, dramatic look. 

Damask jacquard is typically made of cotton, linen, or silk, with an elaborate pattern woven in. In Damask, only one color is used, but the threads are of a different fineness, which makes the design subtly iridescent. 

Jacquard fabrics are known for their durability and resistance to fading, which is another great reason to consider this type of fabric for furniture, curtains, or other places in your home where there’s a lot of light. Because every individual thread is solution-dyed, they are more color-fast than printed fabrics, which have been selectively dyed, and can be rubbed off over time with repeated usage. 

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