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What is Jacquard Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • November 25, 2020 • 8 min read

Fabric name Jacquard
Fabric also known as Brocade, damask, matelassé
Fabric composition Natural or synthetic fibers interwoven with complex patterns
Fabric possible thread count variations 100-300
Fabric breathability Depends on the fabric used
Moisture-wicking abilities Depends on the fabric used
Heat retention abilities Medium
Stretchability (give) Low
Prone to pilling/bubbling Depends on the fabric used
Country where fabric was first produced France
Biggest exporting/producing country today China or Australia
Recommended washing temperatures Depends on the fabric used
Commonly used in Dresses, suit jackets, trousers, costumes, formalwear, ties, ribbons, duvet covers, upholstery, drapes, curtains, tablecloths, tapestries, coverlets, pillow shams

What is jacquard fabric?

Jacquard fabric is a type of fabric woven on a Jacquard loom, a machine loom invented by the French textile artisan Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804. Fabrics woven with this type of loom feature complex patterns woven directly into the fabric. As a result, any fabric with woven patterns bears resemblance to jacquard, but technically speaking, only fabrics woven with Jacquard looms can be considered genuine examples of this fabric.

Mainly prized for its ornamental properties, jacquard is also a relatively durable and heavyweight fabric, and it’s possible to accentuate these attributes by weaving jacquard using wool or other durable materials. Uncommonly used in casual garments due to its complexity and relatively high cost, textile manufacturers more frequently use jacquard to make formal apparel such as evening wear and men’s suits. This fabric is also a desirable material for homewares of all types including drapes, duvet covers, and furniture upholstery.

History of jacquard fabric

Prior to the invention of the Jacquard loom, weaving complex ornamental fabrics like brocade and damask was highly time-consuming. As a result, these fabrics were extremely expensive and were only accessible to the elite.

By 1804, however, there were already a variety of machines that made the process of weaving complex patterns into fabric somewhat easier. Building on the successes of earlier inventors like Basile Bouchon, Jean Baptiste Falcon, and Jacques Vaucanson, Joseph Marie Jacquard perfected the process of mechanizing patterned weave production with a new machine that connected directly to existing looms.

As one of the earliest examples of a machine operated with punched cards, textile manufacturers “programmed” Jacquard looms to produce certain patterns by arranging a series of punched paper cards. Modern Jacquard looms produce patterns using computer programs instead of cards, but Joseph Marie Jacquard’s original punched-card design played an important role in the development of electronic computing science by serving as a source of inspiration for Charles Babbage.

Later, American statistician Herman Hollerith used a variation of Jacquard’s punched-card technology to compile the results of the 1890 census. Punched cards remained the primary mechanisms for operating electronic computers until the invention of digital input during the mid-20th century. Without Joseph Marie Jacquard’s loom, it’s impossible to know if the science of electronic computing would have ever produced usable technologies.

Throughout the early 1800s, punched-card Jacquard loom sequences were such coveted trade secrets that competing textile companies commonly poached each other’s designs. Practically overnight, the Jacquard loom dramatically reduced the price of intricately designed woven fabrics to the extent that average people gained access to damask, brocade, and other types of luxurious textiles for the first time.

Jacquard fabric today

The Jacquard loom has evolved dramatically over the years. Textile manufacturers no longer operate these weaving machines with series of punched cards, and instead, Jacquard looms are operated by computer programs. Called computerized Jacquard looms, these advanced textile machines reduce the need for human input, making the process of weaving jacquard fabrics even more efficient and cost-effective.

In recent decades, jacquard fabric has lost popularity as an apparel textile. This ornate fabric has become more popular, however, in the arena of homewares, and high-end pieces of furniture commonly feature jacquard upholstery. The second-most popular application of jacquard in homewares is drapes or curtains followed closely by duvet covers. While considerably cheaper to produce since the advent of computerized Jacquard looms, jacquard fabric retains its association with upper-class luxury to this day.

How is jacquard fabric made?

Textile producers make jacquard fabric using a Jacquard loom. While the process of weaving fabric using a Jacquard loom is universal, it’s possible to make this fabric using a wide variety of different textile fibers. Here’s a basic outline of the steps necessary to produce a finished piece of jacquard fabric:

1. Acquire the textile material

Different methods are used to acquire each type of textile material on the market. Cotton, for instance, is derived from clumps of fluffy fiber that surround mature cotton seeds. Wool, on the other hand, is acquired by shearing wool-bearing animals. Textile producers manufacture synthetic fibers by exposing petroleum, cellulose, or another substance to heat and various chemical processes.

2. Spin it into yarn

Once the basic textile fiber has been produced, fabric manufacturers spin it into yarn. It’s possible to spin yarn in a variety of different thickness options, and in some cases, textile manufacturers expose yarn to post-spinning treatments that improve its durability or heat-resistance. It’s common for textile yarn to be dyed.

3. Program the computerized Jacquard loom

Upon acquiring the desired types of yarn, textile manufacturers choose programs for their Jacquard looms. There are thousands of different weave patterns available for computerized Jacquard looms, and it’s also possible to create new patterns. Choosing a program will prepare the computerized Jacquard loom to weave the yarn into a particular pattern.

4. Feed the yarn into the loom

Modern, computerized Jacquard looms commonly feed yarn into the weaving apparatus from a central location at the top of the loom. The Jacquard loom then arranges this yarn into a complex web as it produces the desired pattern. Some computerized Jacquard looms are capable of weaving multiple pieces of fabric at a time.

5. Expose the fabric to post-production treatments

While rare, some textile manufacturers dye their finished jacquard fabric. More commonly, textile manufacturers expose entire pieces of finished fabric to chemical substances that add enhanced durability or heat resistance.

How is jacquard fabric used?

Most textiles that feature complex, woven patterns are jacquard. While there are a few different subtypes of this fabric, each type of jacquard is used for similar purposes. In contemporary times, jacquard is most commonly used to make drapes and curtains, but it’s also relatively common to find duvet covers that feature jacquard weaves.

Less commonly, textile manufacturers might use jacquard to make formal men’s or women’s attire including ornamental dresses and patterned suits. It’s also reasonably common to find jacquard blouses and informal dresses.

Other non-apparel applications of jacquard include throw pillow covers and upholstery. Usually reserved for high-end, ornamental furniture and used less frequently on everyday sofas and chairs, jacquard lends an aura of elegance to otherwise commonplace pieces of furniture. It’s also much easier to make complex woven tapestries using jacquard looms.

Where is jacquard fabric produced?

The most common types of textile fibers used to make jacquard are cotton, silk, and synthetic fibers. In some cases, textile manufacturers may also use wool to make jacquard fabric, but wool yarn is usually reserved for tapestries.

While India is the world’s largest producer of raw cotton fiber, China is the biggest producer of finished cotton garments. China is also the world leader in silk production, and this country produces the most synthetic fibers.

Australia, on the other hand, produces more wool than any other country. However, Australian wool producers commonly send their yarn or raw fibers to China for finishing. As a result, the majority of jacquard fabrics originate in China.

How much does jacquard fabric cost?

The invention of the Jacquard loom has dramatically reduced the price of complex woven fabrics. Today, Jacquard fabric is only marginally more expensive than similar woven textiles produced using the same types of fiber. The price of Jacquard fabric increases in relation to its complexity.

What different types of jacquard fabric are there?

Any type of fabric woven with a Jacquard loom is considered to be jacquard fabric. There are quite a few different subtypes of jacquard fabric, and we’ll cover a few of the most common options below:

1. Brocade

Originating in Ancient China and first appearing in the West at the height of the Byzantine Empire, brocade is one of the most commonly woven jacquard fabrics. Originally woven with silk, textile producers now offer synthetic, cotton, and even wool brocade fabric. Simple brocade features only two colors of yarn, but it’s possible to weave brocade that involves more than five different colors.

2. Brocatelle

Brocatelle is similar to brocade, but it can only be produced using a Jacquard loom. This fabric commonly features patterns that are more complex than brocade, and its patterns have distinctive raised, puffed surfaces. Brocatelle is usually heavier and more durable than brocade.

3. Damask

Unlike brocade and brocatelle, damask is reversible, and this type of fabric generally only features one warp yarn and one weft yarn. While damask is significantly easier to weave than brocade, it’s still faster and more efficient to produce damask using a Jacquard loom.

4. Matelassé

Commonly used to make coverlets and pillow shams, matelassé fabric features raised patterns. Originally stitched by hand, it’s much easier to produce matelassé using a Jacquard loom or a quilting machine.

5. Cotton jacquard

Cotton jacquard fabrics are usually less complex, and they are among the least expensive textiles made using Jacquard looms. Jacquard fabrics featuring cotton have largely replaced linen jacquard textiles.

6. Silk jacquard

Considered to be the most luxurious type of jacquard fabric, silk jacquard is commonly used to make complex brocade patterns or tapestries. In previous centuries, silk was the primary fiber used to make brocade.

7. Wool jacquard

While less fine than silk, wool is commonly used to make jacquard tapestries. Due to its insulative properties, wool jacquard is also sometimes used to make cold-weather garments like sweaters and gloves.

8. Synthetic jacquard

Due to their inexpensiveness, some jacquard producers have opted to use synthetic fibers instead of silk, cotton, or wool. Synthetic jacquard is low-quality, however, and it has a decidedly negative environmental impact.

9. Jacquard knit

Certain types of knitting machines can be equipped with devices similar to jacquard looms. These modified knitting machines produce knit fabrics with complex, jacquard-like patterns.

How does jacquard fabric impact the environment?

The environmental impact of jacquard fabric varies depending on the type of textile fibers this fabric contains. Cotton fabric, for instance, is highly biodegradable, and it’s possible to cultivate cotton using sustainable and organic processes. It’s only possible to make synthetic fibers like polyester and rayon, however, using dangerous, toxic chemicals, and synthetic fibers are not biodegradable.

Out of all the fibers used to make jacquard fabric, silk and wool are the most environmentally friendly. Silkworms only live on mulberry trees, and silk production is not improved by fertilizers or pesticides. While wool producers sometimes engage in animal cruelty, the only significant potential negative environmental impact of wool production is soil erosion. Choose sustainable, natural, and organic jacquard fabrics to avoid harming the environment.

Jacquard fabric certifications available

Jacquard fabric may be eligible for a variety of different certifications depending on the fibers it contains. Wool jacquard, for instance, may be eligible for Woolmark certification, and Silk Mark certifies silk garments.

Jacquard made using American-cultivated pima cotton may be eligible for Supima certification, and many natural and recycled synthetic fibers are eligible for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), OEKO TEX, or Global Recycle Standard (GRS) certification.

New and recycled synthetic fibers may be eligible for International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification. Any jacquard fabric made using organic fibers may be eligible for USDA or European Commission organic certification.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.