Damask Definition and DesignsKristin Crane
Damask textiles originated in China around 300BC. The knowledge of this weaving technique slowly spread west from there. They are named after the significant silk road trading city Damascus, Syria. These finely patterned textiles grew to major production in the Middle Ages, particularly in the Middle East. Legend often credits Marco Polo with bringing the first damask to Venice in 1295 as part of a fabric bundle. Whether true or apocryphal, Europeans were instantly taken by their richness and luster when they first saw it. Damasks soon became popular in draperies, wall hangings, and wallpaper.
Damask originally was woven with silk but eventually woven in all types of fiber. Traditionally, a damask has only one color in the warp and one color in the weft. Originally woven on draw looms, the design’s ground is woven with a warp-faced satin structure, and the pattern is woven with weft-faced structures. This contrast of structure creates a contrast of luster, a hallmark of a damask. Structurally speaking, they are also reversible.
European damask designs often feature stylized floral motifs, acanthus leaves, and feathers. Motifs are usually in a framed, half-drop layout. These types of patterns have a distinct top and bottom to the design. However, damask fabrics are not limited to those types of designs. This combination of structures can be used with any kind of artwork, such as a smaller scale coordinate. Damasks today are woven on jacquard looms and sometimes are constructed with more intricate weave structures to add layers of color.
In the early part of the 20th century, print designers began creating damask look designs for printing, rather than weaving. These designs were both beautiful in their own right and also vastly less expensive than their woven counterparts.
It’s safe to say that damasks are a constant in home furnishing and always in fashion in one form or another. Look around, and you will notice them nearly everywhere you go.