A long time ago, when I posted the difference and between muslin, voile, lawn, and batiste (among other fabrics), someone asked if I could explain the difference between brocade and jacquard. I took a deep breath, and say “Yes, but it will take a while.” It certainly has, because it’s actually quite a big question, and there is so much confusion around it!
Left to right: Imperial brocade, tapestry/brocatelle, damask, brocade, damask
A lot of the confusion come from the fact that while the appearance of brocade has stayed very similar throughout history, the method of creating it has changed drastically. Prior to 1801 brocades were woven on hand operated draw-looms by master weavers, who manually created the elaborate brocade patterns as they were woven in with the help of a drawboy, who stood on a perch above the loom. Then, in 1801 Joseph Marie Jacquard demonstrated a new invention (albeit one based partly on a series of inventions from the 1740s-60s) – a loom which ran on cards with holes punched in them. Each card represented one line of a pattern, with the holes allowing threads to pass through into the pattern, changing the colours and creating a design.
Jacquard loom at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, England
The Jacquard loom revolutionised the production of elaborately patterned fabrics. Skilled craftsmen who could read pattern diagrams and manipulate the pattern as it was being woven were no longer needed to weave brocades and other designs, and the Jacquard loom did not require the assistance of an additional drawboy. The new looms could be operated by an unskilled labourer, making richly patterned fabrics faster and cheaper to produce. Jacquard looms were so much easier and cheaper to operate that the old style of looms quickly became obsolete, and within a few decades of Jacquard’s invention almost all elaborate fabrics woven in the West, including brocades, damasks, and richly patterned faux-Kashmiri or ‘Paisley’ shawls, were woven on Jacquard looms.
If the punch cards with holes which create a pattern sounds a little like an early computer – it is. The Jacquard loom and its punch card pattern system is considered an important point in the history of the computer. Babbage and Lovelace (the ‘Father of the Computer’ and world’s first computer programmer and first person to envision a computer that did much more than mathematical calculations (also Byron’s daughter), respectively) were familiar with Jacquards loom, and Babbage intended to use punch cards based on the loom punch cards in his Analytical Engine.
Punch cards in use on a Jacquard loom at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, England
The jacquard loom was further revolutionised in 1843, with the invention of the dobby loom, which makes simpler patterned fabrics by a method of up to 40 frames which lift according to a programme. The dobby loom was even cheaper to run than the Jacquard, and supplanted it for all simpler patterned weaves. Dobby loom patterns, however, are limited to designs that stretch over 40 threads, whereas designs made on a Jacquard loom are virtually limitless. Today jacquard weaves are achieved not with a Jacquard loom, but rather a Jacquard head which is fitted on to a dobby loom.
Almost all modern brocades are woven with a jacquard device, so one could say that all modern brocades are jacquards, but not all jacquards are brocades, because jacquard looms are used to create other weaves, such as brocatelle, damask and tapestry.
Today the name jacquard usually applies to all weaves that can be achieved with the machine, but it is sometimes used to describe one specific type of fabric woven using a Jacquard loom: a light, soft, draping damask weave (see damask weaves below) of silk, rayon or synthetic fibres, which is why descriptions of jacquard as a fabric sometimes say daft things like ‘similar in appearance to damask’.
A rayon damask of the type sometimes called jacquard.
Here are some of the most common weaves achieved on a jacquard loom. Because a jacquard head can produce an almost infinite variety of weaves, there are many fabrics produced with a jacquard loom that don’t fit nicely into one weave category or another, so certain fabrics (particularly brocade & tapestry) can be quite fluid or imprecise in their definition:
Brocade: These days brocade frequently describes the aesthetic of a fabric, rather than a specific weave. Brocades are fabric with an elaborate embossed or embroidered surface effect, usually with different ground and pattern weaves. The name comes from the Italian brocatto, meaning ‘embossed cloth’. Unlike damask, brocades are not reversible. Continuous brocades have the weft threads left loose and floating on the back. Some continuous brocades have the back threads cut away, though the short cut ends are still visible. A discontinuous brocade is one where additional yarns are only woven into the patterned areas, resulting in a smoother back.
A continuous brocade with a pattern formed of lamé threads that have been cut on the reverse of the fabric.
Mantua, England, 1733-1734 (woven) 1735-1740 (made), Brocaded silk, hand-sewn with spun silk and spun threads, lined with linen, brown paper lining for cuffs, brass, canvas and pleated silk detail, Victoria & Albert Museum
Front and reverse of a silk brocade variant
Brocading: brocade or other jacquard weaves with the inclusion of gold or silver coloured threads. It is also called Imperial Brocade.
A variant of brocade with cut threads on both sides of the fabric, forming voided designs
Front and reverse of an silk/rayon blend imperial brocade
Brocade velvet: a patterned velvet with a raised pile and a woven ground (not to be confused with a burnout velvet, where the patterning is achieved by burning out the pile with acid, rather than weaving in the pattern from the start).
Brocatelle: Similar to brocade, but the patterned areas are more distinct and raised, and the fabric is heavier.
An ottoman in the process of being re-covered in brocatelle
Damask: Patterned fabrics with a ground of one weave (usually plain, twill or sateen) and designs in other weaves (particularly satin and twill variants), so that the patterned areas have sheen and reflect light, Damasks are always reversible, with the pattern weaves becoming the ground weaves on the reverse (so on a fabric with a plain ground and satin pattern front, the ground would be satin and the pattern plain on the reverse). There are tone-on-tone damasks, with different weaves within the damask creating elaborate floral or geometric patterns, and multicoloured damasks, where the background colours and the pattern colours reverse from front to back. My Polly Oliver jacket is made from a red tone-on-tone jacquard damask.
Tea gown with 18th century inspired back pleats, ca. 1905, Callot Soeurs, silk damask, lace, Victoria & Albert Museum
The damask for my Mariana Victoria frock
Front and reverse of a rayon damask
Matelassé/Marcella/Piqué: a weave specifically designed to imitate quilting with a characteristic bubbled/blistered raised effect.
Tapestry: In modern terminology ‘tapestry’ just means a fabric woven on a jacquard loom that imitates historical tapestries. It’s a very imprecise term, but it describes a heavy fabric with an elaborate, multicolour weave, usually with the colours reversing on the back of the fabric (for example, a fabric with green leaves on a red ground would have red leaves on a green ground on the reverse), but is thicker, stiffer, and heavier than damask, the reverse may not be as neat and tidy, and is usually woven with thicker yarns than damask or brocade.
Front and reverse of a modern tapestry type fabric
If you are looking at a modern jacquard weave fabric and trying to determine what it is most likely to be called, ask yourself:
- Is it reversible, with the pattern a mirror of each other on each side? If so – it’s a damask. If it’s light and drapey, some people might call it a jacquard.
- Is one side beautiful, and the other side a mess of floating threads? It’s a continuous brocade, unless it’s very heavy, and the pattern is very raised, and then it is a brocatelle.
- Is one side beautiful, and the other a mess of short, cut threads? Its a discontinuous brocade, unless it’s very heavy, and the pattern is very raised, and then it is a brocatelle.
- Is one side beautiful, and the other a pattern of coloured stripes? It’s a type of brocade.
- Is it a brocade with gold and/or silver coloured threads? It’s an imperial brocade/brocade with brocading.
- Is it quite textured, with puffy, blistered areas on the front and a loose, gauzy support weave on the back? It’s a matelasse/marcelle/piqué
- Is it really elaborately patterned, quite heavy, and doesn’t fit any of the other descriptions? It’s a tapestry weave.
Jacquard looms can also be used to create elaborately patterned knits, including:
Jacquard hose: socks and stockings with elaborate patterns, such as argyle, herringbone, and other socks with the patterns woven in. Stockings/socks/hose have been knit on jacquard looms since the 1920s, and have gone in and out of popularity since then.
Jacquard sweaters: machine made sweaters with elaborate patterns knitted in. Most ugly Christmas sweaters? Yep. Those are jacquard sweaters. Aztec sweaters – those are jacquard sweaters. Machine knit argyle sweaters are knit on a jacquard loom. Faux Fair Isle and Cowichan sweaters are knit on jacquard looms.
And if you are interested, weaves that are usually done with a dobby loom are birds eye (diaper cloth), crepes, cloche, dotted swiss, double-weaves, honeycomb weaves, simple matelasse/piqué patterns, satins, and elaborate twills, as well as fabrics with small, simple widely spaced designs.
Cant, Jennifer and Fritz, Anne, Consumer Textiles. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 1988
Calasibetta, C. M., Tortora, P, and Abling, B (illus.). The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion (Third Ed). London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 2003
Collier, Billie J. and Tortora, Phyllis G. Understanding Textiles (Sixth ed). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc. 2001
Shaeffer, Claire. Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. 2008
Wilard, Dana. The Fabric Selector. Millers Point, NSW Australia: Murdoch Books Pty Ltd. 2012
For my Historical Sew Fortnightly ‘The Politics of Fashion’ challenge I present a carry-on from my Art submissions. I’ve knocked off another little bit of Manet’s Nana’s outfit by making high heeled 1877 evening shoes.
Like Nana’s shoes, mine feature very high Louis heels, a black velvet or suede ground (mine are faux suede), and gold decorations on the toes - I went for gold lace with gold beading.
I made my shoes by taking a pair of 1990s shoes that had the right basic silhouette, and (most importantly) the right heel: a high Louis heel.
Unfortunately, they were cut far too high in the foot, so I had to cut them down.
Then I bound the edges (an endeavor that required pliers to pull the needles through, bent one and broke two) where I had cut them.
Next, it was time for the lace. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any suitable gold lace in the stash because I de-stashed my 1990s gold bridal lace bits because (duh) they were 1990s gold bridal lace bits, and when was I ever going to find a reason to use them? (for this, apparently). So I had to make-do. I rummaged around in my lace, and found these cute handkerchief corner pieces:
As you have noticed, they are white. So, trusty Elmer’s metallic opaque paint markers in gold to the rescue. FOUR HOURS of painstakingly painting bits of lace gold later (at hour two and a half I realised I could have just spent 10 minutes popping to the hardware store and buying gold spray paint, and then another 10 spraying them (Plus the flattering bonus that I still get carded when I buy spray paint) and I would have got the same result), I had beautiful gold lace – much more restrained and antique than the disdained 90s lace would have been.
Then I sewed the lace to the shoes (more pliers, but I managed not to break any needles), layering two handkerchief corners over each other on each shoe.
Then I beaded (pliers), using antique gold beads, half of which wouldn’t go through any needle that was remotely strong enough to go through the shoes, because that’s the kind of project this was.
But don’t they look pretty?
So how are my shoes related to politics? It’s all about the heels: Louis heels.
A Louis heel is a moderately high heel (short Louis heels are called baby Louis heels, though this term wasn’t used until at least the 1950s) that curves in at the midpoint of the heel, and flares out again at the heel tip. The sole of a Louis heeled shoe extends down the front breast of the heel, rather than stopping where the heel meets the sole, as in other heel styles.
Here is a pair of 1870s-80s shoes with Louis heels:
And a pair without:
A distinction is sometimes made between the construction of the Louis heel, with the extended sole, and the style of a Louis heel, with the curved silhouette. If you wish to make a distinction between the construction and the style, the former is called a Louis heel, and the latter a Louis XV heel/shoe, or a Pompadour heel/shoe.
Louis heels on mid-18th century shoes, collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, thedreamstress.com
Louis heels are clearly named after a French monarch, but which one is not clear. A number of modern sources point to Louis XIV – the Sun King. After all, he famously engaged in a battle with his brother for who could wear the higher, more extravagant shoe, he even more famously instituted the tradition of red high heeled shoes that only those with royal dispensation could wear, and finally, he was the patron of the first shoe superstar: Nicolas Lestage. The Sun King loved his shoes, and dozens of portraits show his showing off his elegant calves and fancy footwear. However, these portraits clearly show that Louis XIV wasn’t wearing Louis heels:
Even for women, Louis heels only come into fashion in the last decades of his reign.
So what about his successor, Louis XV? Here we hit paydirt. Louis XV is the term applied to the style of shoes in the 19th century (it is not until 1894 that a NZ newspaper mentions Louis heels, whereas Louis XIV heels are mentioned frequently from the 1870s onwards) , and the vast majority of shoes from Louis XV’s reign feature Louis heels.
Shoes, 1732–59, British, silk, leather, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The attribution is made certain when we consider that Louis heels are also called ‘Pompadour’ heels, after Louis XV’s most famous, and most sartorially elegant, mistress, who did indeed wear Louis heels, usually as mules.
Madame de Pompadour, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1755, Louvre Museum (detail)
Towards the end of the 18th century Louis heels began to be replaced by other styles of heels, such as Italian heels, and much lower heels. Louis heels fell out of favour entirely during the French revolution, when high heels were seen as a symbol of aristocratic decadence. Even during the Revolution France was the international style leader, so high Louis heels became demodé across the world.
Louis heels remained unfashionable throughout the first half of the 19th century. That all changed with Empress Eugénie and the Second Empire in France. Napoleon III and Eugénie were seen as a glamourous couple, the Second Empire saw a return to decadence, and Eugénie was infatuated with Marie Antoinette and the 18th century. She had her rooms decorated in the style of Marie Antoinette, dressed as the doomed queen for fancy dress balls and official portraits, and inspired Worth to incorporate elements of 18th century fashion into his dress designs.
Empress Eugénie as Marie-Antoinette, 1854, Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Under Eugénie, everything 18th century was fashionable again, including Louis heels. For 50 years shoes had either been flat, or had practical low, stacked heels. Suddenly, in the 1860s, heel heights grew, and the seductive curves of Louis heels were all the rage. At first the English speaking world simply called them French heels, but in the 1870s the name Louis heels, or Louis XV heels, rose to the fore and has remained the most commonly used term for them ever since.
Louis heels were seen as the perfect symbol of the Second Empire: elegant, decadent, but ultimately unstable and ill-conceived. When the Empire collapsed in 1870, Louis heels fell out of favour slightly, especially for daywear, but were soon back in fashion for the remainder of the 19th century (and much of the early 20th century).
The more practical decried the return of high heels, and saw the Louis heel as unhealthy and dangerous. An 1899 columnist sighed “no matter if they are injurious, the fact that the foot looks distinctly smaller with them does away with all discussion. So the enchantment of the Louis heel, well curved under, must be answerable to all anticipated injury.”
Louis heels are also the perfect symbol for Nana: decadent and dangerous. It’s no surprise that Manet depicts her in a pair with extremely high heels, adding to all the other visual clues in the painting that indicate that she is not a lady of impeccable morality. From her saucy blue corset, to her unsteady footwear, Nana represents temptation, immorality, decadence. Manet could not have known that three years later Zola would use her as a literal symbol of the Second Empire, a political regime with far less staying power than the footwear it returned to fashion.
The Challenge: #11 – The Politics of Fashion
Inspiration: Manet’s Nana, 1877
Notions: Early 90s shoes ($5 at an op shop), 4x lace handkerchief motifs (50 cents each at an op shop), bias tape (stash), linen thread (stash), antique gold beads (inherited).
How historically accurate is it? I’ve followed the aesthetic of 1870s shoes as much as possible, and researched accurate techniques and styles, but there is only so much you can do working with modern shoes (especially when they aren’t even real leather).
Hours to complete: 7 hours
First worn: Not yet, I’m waiting to assemble everything so I can do a Nana photoshoot!
Bossan, Marie-Josèphe. Art of the Shoe. New York: Parkstone Press Ltd. 2011
Cumming, Valerie and Cunnington, C.W.; Cunnington, P.E, The Dictionary of Fashion History (Rev., updated ed.). Oxford: Berg Publishers. 2010
DeJean, Joan. The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2005
Lee, Landis R. They Wore What? Style and Social Roles of Boots in Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries Nevada (Masters Thesis). University of Nevada. 2008
Lewandowski, Elizabeth J. The Complete Costume Dictionary. Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press. 2011
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. 1995
Of all the challenges in the HSF 2014, Challenge #16, due 1 September, is probably the one I’m most excited about. The theme is Terminology: pick something that’s been defined in the The Great Historical Fashion & Textile Glossary, and sew it up!
Terminology posts aren’t the most popular things I write, but they have been my favourite things to write the last few years. I’m a serious history nerd, so I always want to know exactly what something means in a historical sense, and why it means that. I’ve really enjoyed researching each of the terms, so that I could not only define it, but understand where it fit into the societal context of the day, and how the term would be used in relation to similar items of clothing. I’ve also really enjoyed the guests posts which usually explore a term and a textile from an era I don’t usually work in. Whether through my own research and posts, or through guests posts, I’ve learned so much in researching each term, and hopefully some of you have found the posts enjoyable and interesting!
When it comes to the HSF challenge, there are endless possibilities for what you could make. There are dozens of different fabric (from aerophane and alamode to viscose & voile), simple things like buffons and fichu (fichu en marmotte!), and complicated things like Chesterfield coats, tea gowns and robe de cour. There are shoes (Moliére & Cromwell), hats (bergére and picture hats), and bags (reticules), outer-garments (burnouses and pardessus), and undergarments (symmetricals and stays), to name just a few.
I’ll also be adding to more terminology posts over the next two months as well. There are some exciting guest posts involving Bronze Age textiles in the works, and I’m almost done with a post on the difference between brocade, damask and jacquard (plus a discussion of all the other textiles made with a jacquard loom), and have a post on the difference between worsted and woolens close to publishing as well – both of which are good multi-period terminology posts.
To celebrate the challenge, I’ve renamed the glossary: it’s now The Historical Fashion and Textile Encyclopedia, because it’s so much more than a glossary at this point. I’ve also made it its own spiffy new button, which will shortly go on my sidebar:
I like the hero image for the Encyclopedia. She’s wearing a bergere and a fichu (almost fichu robings), and I’m thinking I should write a post about muffs….
Whatever the challengers make, I hope using the Encyclopedia broadens their historical understanding, and through making the item (and additional research), I’m sure they will broaden mine! Happy creating!