2,000 Years of Elegance: The Story of Damask

Hailing from the famed Silk Road itself, damask has a long history as one of the most elegant options for fabrics and wallpapers alike. Damask’s nature-inspired and symmetrical trellises are instantly recognizable, though you might be surprised to learn that damask itself is not a pattern, but rather a weaving technique that is over two thousand years old. In fact, the earliest known wallpaper was made with the damask technique in 16th-century England.

Dandridge Damask - Schumacher Williamsburg Collection - History of Damask

A luxurious weave of cotton, linen and silk, magnolia-colored Dandridge Damask by WILLIAMSBURG for Schumacher derives from a fragment of a gown worn by inaugural first lady Martha Washington.

What Is Damask?

Damask is a unique reversible weaving technique made with one warp and one weft yarn. Damask can be made with silk, synthetic fabrics, cotton, wool or twill—though some believe that silk is the only “true” fabric for this luxurious technique. Traditionally, all damask-woven textiles were monochromatic, with patterns appearing from the contrasting woven threads. As technology has evolved, so has the damask technique. Today, damask is made on computerized Jacquard looms and can incorporate multiple colors in a single pattern.

Ashley Gilbreath Southeastern Showhouse - History of Damask

Designer Ashley Gilbreath dressed the walls of her Southeastern Showhouse living room in Villandry Damask Print, a stylized pattern that evokes the pastoral elegance of a French country estate.

Lauren Chambers Photography

The History of Damask

Damask gets its name from the ancient Syrian city of Damascus and is one of the five basic weaving techniques from early Middle Ages-era Byzantium and the Middle East. Historians have pinpointed damask’s origins to Tang Dynasty China, circa 300BCE. There, damask was used on luxurious textiles like silk and gold, reserved for royalty and nobility. As such, damask was extremely expensive to produce and was only accessible to China’s highest-ranking members of society.

Fabrics made with the damask weaving technique were highly sought after and sold by merchants on the Silk Road. As the popularity of the Silk Road trade routes grew, so did damask’s reputation for producing beautiful and luxurious textiles. Merchants in Damascus brought the fabric to Europe for the first time in the 11th century; this is when damask got its distinctive name. Soon, European cities and countries began producing their own versions of patterns woven with the damask technique: France in the 13th century, the Flemish city Courtrai in the 15th century, Ireland in the 17th century, and Haarlem, in the Netherlands, in the 18th century. These European-style damasks most closely resemble what readers today will recognize as damask. These single-color textiles were patterned with symmetrical motifs from the natural world, including flowers, feathers and fruit.

Difficult to master and reserved for expensive fabrics, the handmade damask technique kept its elite status until the invention of the automated Jacquard loom in 1745. This machine forever changed the textile and design industry by making it faster and cheaper than ever to produce all kinds of fabrics, including damasks.

Cap Ferrat, designed by Schumacher collaborator Timothy Corrigan, combines disparate motifs—arabesques, trelliswork and pineapples—into one sun-softened damask pattern.

Damask's Characteristics

Though there are many iterations of damask, it is best known for symmetrical patterns that are inspired by the natural world. Its tight weave creates a final fabric that is extremely thick and highly resistant to wear and tear, allowing it to last a lifetime (and longer). Damask is reversible, and often made with a satin weave, so its subtle shine will catch your eye even if you’re across the room.

A shimmering fabric with a floral pattern, Chateau Silk Damask epitomizes understated elegance. The weave has a puckered texture traditionally found in European hammered silks.

How Is Damask Used?

Damask is incredibly versatile, making it a favorite among designers. It works beautifully as curtains or drapes, furniture upholstery, wallpaper, tablecloths and napkins. Damask often appears in homes that feature Victorian or antique styles, but its longevity as a textile that has lasted for thousands of years proves it can work in any setting for any decorator. As wallpaper, we love damask in entryways, offices, dining rooms, bedrooms, you name it. As a fabric, damask looks gorgeous as long curtains (tip: you can really see the reversible pattern this way!), or on a sofa or armchair. Damask is easily adaptable, so let your creativity run wild.

Our Favorite Schumacher Damasks

Schumacher has a plethora of damasks ready as fabric or wallpapers. Chenonceau is a beautifully modern take on a 17th-century Persian damask. Villandry Damask Print is a bold choice that recalls a Louis XIV French chateau. Our Colette Linen/Silk Damask is a twist on classic damask patterns; if you look closely, you can see that it’s on a delicate gingham-check ground. The Montisi Linen Damask is made of natural materials, so each cut is unique. The fun Ruan Dragon Damask is a revival of a 1920s Art Deco chinoiserie—we found the original in our archive! The Mayla Damask is a subtle and sweet option for those who want to try decorating with damask for the first time. All of these—and many more!—can be found at fschumacher.com.

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