Jacquard Fabric — What Is a Jacquard?
If you’ve ever shopped for fabric, chances are you’ve probably seen a jacquard fabric without realizing it. In jacquard fabric, the pattern and colors are incorporated into the weave instead of being printed or dyed onto the surface of the fabric. The term "jacquard" indicates how the pattern is woven, not the specific pattern itself. Although these intricate fabrics seem commonplace today, that was not always the case. Discover the history behind these fabrics, how they’re made, and why you’ll want to consider them for your next sewing project.
To get a better understanding of jacquard fabrics, let’s first touch on the process of how all woven fabrics are created. If you look closely at a woven fabric, you’ll notice lines of interlaced yarns or threads. The longitudinal threads that run down the fabric are called the “warp” and the lateral threads that run across the width of the fabric are called the “weft” or “fill” in layman’s terms. A loom is a device that efficiently weaves these threads together to create a fabric. Looms hold the warp threads in place while the weft threads are woven through them. In the world of fabric, there are few inventions that have had a greater impact on production than the loom, and the Jacquard loom is no exception.
Hundreds of years ago, intricately patterned fabrics, called brocades, were difficult to create. Only the richest members of society could afford such finery, usually in the form of clothing or tapestries. These fabrics were symbols of status and wealth, but could only be woven by hand — a tedious and painstaking process. Those who were tasked with creating these fabrics were often subjected to backbreaking work. One of these laborers was Joseph-Marie Jacquard.
Jacquard wanted to create a device that was more efficient, that would require less labor, and that could create artistic designs in fabric. The result was the Jacquard loom, also called the Jacquard Mechanism, Jacquard Attachment or Jacquard system. Taking an example from the punch cards used in player pianos at the time, this improved device could read a long row of punched wooden cards and weave a predesigned pattern into the fabric itself from these.
Jacquard's design significantly increased the number of yarns or threads the loom could weave, enabling the loom to produce much more intricate and complex fabric patterns than ever before. He also invented a control mechanism for his loom that — for the first time — enabled true, automatic patternmaking.
The Jacquard loom was a true technological advancement. Jacquard's weaving system broke down the complicated weaving process into a simple series of binary choices: whether the hooks were to lift the yarns or not. This yes or no form of “code reading” was later adapted and used in computer technology, forming the origin of binary code, but not before it changed the way patterned fabrics were created forever. For his incredible work, Jacquard was granted a patent for his invention by the then-emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte.
Simply put, jacquard is a specially woven fabric created using a Jacquard loom and various materials such as cotton, polyester, silk and acrylic can be woven to create them. Some of these fabrics even feature a raised pattern, such as a Matelassé or a brocade. They boast great pattern diversity — from floral and damask to polka dot and plaid, you're sure to find a jacquard pattern that resonates with you. Because the pattern of jacquard is woven into the fabric, each yarn can be solution-dyed, giving it more fade resistance than topically dyed yarns.
In contrast, patterns that are stamped or printed on the surface of the fabric are prone to fading, pattern stretching or rubbing off altogether due to the abrasion and stretch of prolonged usage. When shopping for fabric, you can often find some indication in the product description that the pattern is printed, although not every jacquard is explicitly labeled as such. If you look closely, a jacquard pattern is part of the fabric weave itself, so it won’t change despite daily wear and tear — it’s there to stay! Some jacquards are even reversible, promising more versatility compared to a printed pattern.
Now with modern computer technology, jacquard fabrics have become more intricate and readily available than ever before. When you shop our site, you’ll notice we offer a plethora of jacquard fabrics, including a wide selection of Sunbrella® upholstery fabrics. These premium quality upholstery fabrics are well known for their stunning jacquard patterns woven from revolutionary solution-dyed acrylic. Resistant to water, stains, mold, mildew, abrasion and fading, these jacquards are equipped to look beautiful indoors and out despite everyday wear and tear.
Do jacquards have your attention? You’re in luck! We offer hundreds of samples of these fabrics. Easily order as many of them as you’d like to compare with the existing design and color scheme of your home, patio, boat interior and more. We’re sure you’re going to love them.
Which jacquards have you used on your sewing projects? Let us know in the comments — we'd love to see photos!