Need to Know

Damask Fabric, Explained

Its origins are more than 2,000 years old, yet damask remains a go-to today. Read on to discover its history, production, and how to use it in a home now

“Damasks are always in style,” says Claire Vallis, head of design for UK-based Sanderson Design Group, which weaves damask fabrics throughout its portfolio of brands. Similarly, Christopher Hyland—a designer known for his plethora of damask designs used in high-profile projects—exclaims, “Damask rocks the ages, all ages!”

But what is damask, exactly? What’s its history? How is it made? What makes this ornate, jacquard-patterned fabric so special? And where is it best used? We tackle these questions and more with input from damask makers, interior designers, and other devotees of the textile.

What is damask? Where’s it from? And why is it called damask?

Damask is a unique reversible weaving made with one warp thread and one weft thread, resulting in a tightly woven fabric that features an organic, symmetrical, and usually tone-on-tone print.

The history of damask spins all the way back to China, circa 300 BCE. But it wasn’t until it was developed in Syria centuries later that it truly hit its stride in popularity. Damask was named for the city of Damascus, Syria, where damask textiles were made from the Middle Ages onward. Because of its location in the global crossroads of the Middle East, Damascus was an active trading port on the Silk Road—and fittingly, early damasks were hand-woven in silk only.


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According to historians, damasks made their way to Europe in the 14th century, and there they were crafted on Italian draw looms, which allowed for the creation of more intricate damask patterns. However, weaving damasks on conventional looms proved laborious and time consuming for weavers of the Middle Ages. In the early 19th century, the invention of the jacquard loom in France simplified the process by introducing the weaving technique used to make modern damasks. These computerized jacquard looms are power looms that can be programmed for damask weaving—and they’re used for materials beyond silk damask. Now damasks can also come in other natural materials, like cotton and wool, as well synthetic fibers like twill.

How is damask fabric made?

Rachel Doriss, expert textile designer and design director at Pollack, explains the process of constructing damask. “Damask fabrics in our industry are always woven on jacquard looms. In general, damasks are woven on loom setups with a high-end count in the warp and weft to achieve detail, saturated color, and satin construction,” she says.

A damask loom from the Saxon loom factory in Chemnitz, Germany

imageBROKER/Sunny Celeste via Getty

What sets damask fabrics apart from other types of fabrics is the contrast of pattern and ground both with color and construction, she explains. “A damask satin weave construction is when you use a warp direction satin in one position (let’s say the motif or the pattern), and a weft direction satin in the ground,” she says. (For the uninitiated, warp yarns go vertically while weft yarns run horizontally.) “A satin construction is characterized by using very long floats (the least amount of interlacing), so the yarns reflect the light and have the most possible luster. The contrast of these two satin constructions emphasizes the luster, achieves saturated color, and creates a three-dimensional effect with the motif slightly rising up from the ground.”

And while silk damask was the original, traditional damask, Doriss says, “You can achieve luster with silk, mercerized cotton, worsted wool, rayon/viscose, and other filament manmade fibers.” She adds, “I personally love contrasting materials and surfaces. A silk-and-wool damask is pure luxury. But I value using synthetic fibers for cost and durability.”

What are the defining characteristics of damask?

Traditionally damasks are a single color of yarn with multiple tones and textures to create a tone-on-tone effect, but it’s not unlikely for the fiber content of modern damasks to be multicolored. Damasks resemble brocade in appearance and texture, and they’re both constructed on a jacquard loom. But while damask more often features single-color thread in a pattern that’s reversible, brocade features multiple colored threads—usually featuring gold or silver, which makes it more expensive than damask. Brocade also has a looser weave, which makes it fray easier than durable damask. A tightly woven fabric that’s also lustrous due to its satin weaving technique, damask is constructed with several layers of thread that results in a thick, heavy, super-strong textile that’s well-suited for a variety of interior design and home decor applications.

Close-up of a damask pattern

Apugach via Getty

Damask patterns, which are inspired by nature, are known for their symmetry. “For a true damask, you should expect to see symmetry with an ogee-shaped layout, often depicting a simple representation of organic shapes like fruits and flowers,” Vallis says. “It’s their delightful symmetry that makes them so easy on the eye.”

Why choose damask?

Some might think that the intricate patterning of damask limits its potential uses. However, interior designers who really understand the textile know that it exudes a refined, elegant aesthetic that’s appropriate for myriad applications.

“Traditional damask fabrics are quite durable and timeless. A contemporary damask can be woven into a variety of textiles, but always evokes an elegant feel,” says luxury interior designer Tina Ramchandani.

She isn’t alone in this thinking. “It’s a classic!” says Melissa Adair, senior designer at Marc-Michaels Interior Design. Adair is partial to linen damask, in particular, saying, “A soft, tone-on-tone, washed linen damask works well in many different design aesthetics.”

A statement piece to be sure, damasks can spark drama, create interest, draw the eye, and even incite conversation. “Damasks are best employed when a designer wants to give depth, character, drama, panache, and sensuality to a design scheme,” says Hyland.

“Damask patterns speak of decorative luxury,” notes Doriss. “I like a combination of traditional and modern. I can see using a damask as an unexpected impact of pattern and color in a modern space.”

Mrs. Wyndham’s English Rococo State Bed at Petworth features dramatic crimson damask.

Andreas von Einsiedel via Getty

What are ideal uses of damask?

It seems like interior designers who are fans of damask can find a plethora of applications. For example, its densely woven, durable construction makes it ideal for upholstery, since it will maintain its shape and withstand the wear required of a seat cushion, for example. Damask also plays well on a large scale, such as in drapery, where its reversible pattern can be on full display—or as a wall covering, creating an impactful focal point in a space. Or a small dose of damask, such as on a pillow or trim, can add a pop of color and pattern in an otherwise neutral space.

Renowned interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer, whose bold designs draw from her lifelong globetrotting experiences, has a penchant for damask. “I particularly love damask wallpaper, or using the fabric as wall coverings,” she says. Nussbaumer recently launched a collection with decorative fabric company Clarence House that includes a damask called Heraklion, which is based on an ancient carving of a merman from Italy.

“Damask can be used anywhere,” she says. “I’ve used it [Heraklion specifically] on walls and upholstery. I particularly like it as a tablecloth…even napkins for a dinner party.” However, Nussbaumer cautions: “It’s a rich textile that can look dated if you don’t mix it up.” It’s key to find the right balance with other contrasting elements.

Ramchandani says that people either love or hate damask, and notes that she herself always uses it sparingly and intentionally. For example, she explains, “We rounded out the modern home with a neutral damask on our client’s bed. Because the home was clean and minimal, the addition of this pattern in the bedroom created a sense of warmth.”

Adair favors using neutral-colored damasks for a more timeless look. “Damasks could be used on upholstery, drapery, or pillows, but I would prefer not to see large-upholstered items like a sofa in a damask,” she says.

Hyland, on the other hand, loves to see damask used anywhere and everywhere. “Damasks are frequently included in stunning design schemes realized by the most compelling designers—for ceilings, walls, drapery, upholstery, pillows, shades, table linens, rugs, and carpeting,” he notes. Recently, Hyland custom-made 400 yards of velvet damask to drape the walls of Ken Fulk–designed Carbone Miami to cloak the space in luxury.

Hyland adds, “In contemporary spaces that are often stripped of ornamentation rendering them… rather soulless, damask comes to the rescue in both highly classic baroque form or in the more minimal graphic form.”

Are damasks still in style?

The answer to whether or not damask is still on-trend depends on who you ask. Some designers, like Ramchandani, wouldn’t call damask a go-to design for today, but consider it a classic that will eventually come back into favor. While other designers—like Hyland, Nussbaumer, and Vallis—answer with a resounding yes, appreciating damask as a timeless design solution that’s always chic.

“You can wrap a room in damask using the same designs and color for both walls and drapes, creating a wonderful contemporary color-drenched effect, a modern contemporary statement with a classical design,” says Vallis.

Doriss advises on how to appropriately employ damask in a home today so that it doesn’t appear stale or passé. “Damask fabrics can look more contemporary by using highly contrasting materials but with less contrast in value and color,” she offers. “For example, if you select two fibers with different sheens, like wool and silk, and use similar colors and values, you will accentuate the contrasting surface and luster. Or you could choose unexpected yarns, like a lustrous warp satin of silk with a fine wool boucle in the weft.”

Unexpected, dramatic, impactful, and always luxurious and elegant, damask has been decorating interiors for some 2,000 years. And it’s safe to say its enduring aesthetic will help it remain a reliable and coveted design solution for years to come.