Fabrics and Garments

10 Things to Know About Brocade

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Showing off intricate woven designs and a lustrous sheen, brocade is an incredibly elegant fabric often made by hand. When it comes to the construction of brocade, the fabric is designed to be raised incorporating different colored threads in stylish patterns resembling embroidery. Although it’s commonly called a fabric, brocade isn’t technically a single fabric such as cotton or wool. The decorative beauty of brocade comes from weaving together different dyed threads to create the visual impression of hand-stitched embroidery.

1. History of Brocade

Brocade is associated with the luxurious garments of the upper class. Fabrics designed in this style were popular during the Middle Ages in various parts of the world. The first historical records trace its origins in China because brocade traditionally relied on the nation’s silk trade. Considering the time-consuming manufacturing process and skill required, only master weavers were able to create brocade fabrics. They were reserved for rulers and very wealthy people given how brocade also needed only fine silk in its construction.

Brocade only started to be mass-produced when the Jacquard loom was invented in the early 19th century. The fabric dropped in popularity during the Renaissance period but the more efficient production techniques of the loom enabled brocade to reach a wider audience. It’s safe to say that it started to be no longer associated with the nobility. Another advantage of the Jacquard loom was that it allowed the creation of more intricate brocade patterns.

In recent times, brocade isn’t very often used for clothing, aside from special occasions and clerical vestments. The affordability and beautiful appearance of this type of fabric enabled it to remain popular for home accessories such as upholstery. It’s no longer based exclusively on expensive natural silk as in the past. Brocade in modern times can be crafted of various types of fibers that are more readily available. Synthetic silk can be used as well to mimic the traditional style without the associated prohibitive cost.

2. Brocade Fabric Features

Brocade Dress

This beautiful fabric has some special characteristics that give it the distinctive look that withstood the test of time. There’s no doubt about brocade’s exceptional beauty that makes it suitable only for ornamental garments and formal wear. However, there’s another reason why the fabric isn’t suitable for casual clothing. Brocade is very thick and heavy making it impractical for many situations or climates.

As brocade fabrics can be designed using different types of fibers, their characteristics depend upon the features of those particular fibers used. That means there’s a notable difference from one type of brocade to another. Some fabrics may not feel like a typical brocade. That being said, the woven construction is universal so the style of brocade retains its distinctive character regardless of the fibers used.

3. Types of Brocade

Thanks to advances in manufacturing technologies and more fabrics used, modern brocade is available in different types. These are the most important:

  • Silk Brocade

Silk Brocade

While it’s no longer as popular as in the past, authentic silk brocade maintains its relevance in people’s preferences. There are purists who don’t consider the fabric as true brocade unless it’s made using silk fibers. In their opinion, there’s no match for the exquisite look and feel of silk.

  • Cotton Brocade

Cotton Brocade

Much easier to produce than silk brocade, the cotton type can often be used for more applications. Thanks to a more reduced level of complexity for its patterns and designs, cotton brocade may even be suitable for less formal garments. Compared to silk options, brocades based on cotton fibers are not considered as elegant.

  • Himroo Brocade

Himroo Brocade

Himroo brocade is a popular type used mostly in India. It’s designed to incorporate both silk and cotton fibers to get the best of both fabrics. That means you can enjoy the characteristic luster of silk and the superior breathability of cotton. Himroo brocade stands out in terms of stretchiness as well.

  • Synthetic Brocade

Synthetic Brocade

If you’re looking for a low-cost brocade option, your best bet is to choose synthetic fibers. This is not a particularly popular option among other brocade types because synthetics like polyester feature inferior qualities compared to natural fibers like cotton or silk. You need to sacrifice some amount of softness and comfort when using synthetic brocade clothing.

  • Zari Brocade

Zari Brocade

Metallic thread can be used to create very bold brocade designs. This type of flashy brocade is called Zari. Although authentic Zari brocade is crafted with real gold or silver metallic threads, most garments that use this type of brocade are now made with synthetic metallic thread for affordability.

  • Continuous/Discontinuous Brocade

Continuous Brocade

As opposed to other types of brocade that depend on a particular fabric, continuous brocade refers to the weave characteristics of the design. It’s based on using leftover thread to hang from the back of the fibers. Discontinuous brocade relies on weaving back the leftover fibers to craft more patterns.

4. How is Brocade Used

Yellow Brocade Dress

We’ve already mentioned how brocade in the past was designed to cater to the needs of the royalty or the very wealthy. That air of luxurious elegance and sophistication persists today even though brocade is not very common to find among formal dresses and suits. Certain types of shoes and accessories can incorporate brocade for a stylish touch. Brocade is a reliable fabric option if you need a specific costume, such as one designed to mimic the appearance of medieval nobles.

Aside from being an excellent choice for various formal clothing styles, brocade fabric can also be used for household decor items such as furniture upholstery or curtains. The beauty of brocade allows it to have great decorative potential, but this is not the only reason. Brocade fabrics are also fairly durable so they can work as padding for furniture.

5. Difference Between Brocade and Jacquard Fabrics

If you’ve heard mentions of brocade somewhere, it’s likely that you’ve also seen it compared to jacquard fabric. Both are made on a jacquard loom, a practical device that can be used to weave more intricate patterns. Jacquard is a larger category of fabrics that also includes brocade. You can use a jacquard loom to make various other weaves, not just brocade. Some fabric examples include damask, tapestry, and brocatelle.

6. Cost of Brocade

Despite the ability of computerized jacquard looms to bring production costs down, brocade is still considered an expensive fabric compared to other woven styles. It’s not an easy task creating all the elaborate patterns and complex designs of brocade fabrics. If you want to make a bold statement on a special occasion, the cost of brocade can be considered worth it. The fabric stands out in the textile market when it comes to luxurious aesthetic appeal.

7. Environmental Impact of Brocade

Traditional brocade made of silk is a very eco-friendly fabric. This is thanks to the methods involved in producing natural silk. However, other brocade types can have varying levels of environmental impact. Cotton performs relatively well in terms of sustainability but polyester or other synthetic fibers are pretty damaging to the natural environment. Synthetics are not biodegradable and contribute to plastic pollution. It’s worth spending more on a high-quality brocade fabric type if you’re interested in sustainability.

8. How to Clean Brocade

Gold Brocade

Most brocade fabrics require dry cleaning. They’re highly sensitive to regular washing methods. Before you try any cleaning solution, make sure you read the textile’s label to follow the correct recommended procedures. Some types of brocades can be hand-washed but there’s always a risk of shrinking that can be safely avoided by using the services of a dry cleaning company. Brocade items are typically quite expensive so that’s why you need to pay extra attention to the care instructions to avoid damaging them.

9. Drying Brocade

If the particular brocade fabric you have can be hand-washed, it’s important to apply the proper drying techniques to protect the threads. You can’t just wring a wet brocade dress like any normal piece of clothing. It’s recommended to remove as much moisture as possible from the brocade item with the help of a cotton towel. Once this is done, make sure you don’t hang the garment. The heavy construction requires it to stay on a flat surface for proper air drying. Also, it’s not a good idea to let it dry in direct sunlight.

10. Ironing Brocade

Using the correct temperature when ironing brocade is essential to avoid any damage to the fabric. The right setting depends on the specific type of fibers used in the construction of the brocade item. Make sure you never iron the side of the fabric featuring the patterned designs. Press cloths or soft towels are recommended to use together with the iron for avoiding snags and pulls.

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