Silk brocade fabric has a long history. For many centuries brocade fabrics were only used as an indication of status and as garments kept especially for ceremonial events. The richly patterned fabric is the most glamorous of clothing since it needs no further embellishment.
As textured cloth goes, the Damascene handwoven brocade produced in Syria is one of the finest fabrics in existence, and it's no exception to the general rule of export excellence set by the Mediterranean nation. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Technology there has been passed down through many centuries and generations of perfection, with its appearance and material refinements only benefiting from cultural exchange mechanisms like international trade. The result of long years of business is seen in weaves produced with lovely traditional Arab or Islamic designs, modern Western and Judeaic details, or even the Orientally influenced natural depictions and floral color schemes known to crop up in many localized variants of fine handmade fabric.
Damascene brocade silk, the most renowned in the Levant, has long ceased to be a major Syrian export but maintains its appeal to visitors of the ancient city. Damascenes have been weaving silk since the 6th century, when Nestorian monks are said to have brought silk to the Middle East from China. An international industry soon flourished along what came to be known as the "Silk Road", an 8000 kilometre (5000 mile) trade route extending across the Asian continent and into Europe.
Damascene silk weavers became renowned across the Levant for their superior silk brocade -- a thick gold or silver-threaded hand-woven silk, patterned with traditional Arabic designs.
Referred to as "Brocard" in Syria, the rich colours of its natural dyes and its intricate Oriental designs make it a much sought item by visitors to the ancient capital.
Silk brocade wefting is a demanding and time-consuming process; even a skilled silk weaver produces an average one metre per day, making the availability of the luxurious fabric extremely limited and pushing its price up to about 78 U.S. dollars per metre.
Damask and brocade are related patterned fabrics in that they both exploit the play of light falling on the weave structure. Long floats of warp and weft create pattern by subtle contrasts. Damascus silk brocade is more commonly known than other types made in Syria, but the basic method of construction is similar for all of them. Multiple threads are woven together onto a thickly stacked loom, using groups of colored strands to generate upraised areas and shapes spaced by subtle background designs. This creates a rich, textured fabric; one that tour guides are famous for promoting as a great take home item for vacationers.
While fine brocades find use in traditional formal clothing, table cloths, drapes and runners, these products are increasingly available in more utilitarian synthetic materials. Comfortable traditional clothes bearing designs like Middle Eastern fans and leaves to European dandelions still use the smoothest silk Damascus brocade. North African influenced designs and Indian paisleys are easily created from soft, attractive dual sided cottons.
Modern manufacturing techniques let the artisans who make great Syrian cloth items exchange ideas with craftsmen from all around the world. Over time, traditional techniques have blossomed into an industry that makes Damascene brocades easier to come by online.