But before we take a look at this versatile and, dare I say it, iconic fabric, we’ve got to go even further back in time.
To get to Joseph-Marie Jacquard, the inventor of the Jacquard loom and all its mysteries, we must first begin with #brocade.
And brocade begins in China around 260 BCE, as a highly-embroidered, wildly expensive silk fabric typically made on a small loom.
3 – The English word, brocade, is of Italian derivation and means “embossed cloth” (brocco meant “small nail” so you can see why the vegetable is thus named).
These days, brocade is made all across the world and has a rich, rich history I can only begin to touch on.
4 – Brocades in China have significance in terms of tribal and ethnic affiliations, akin to modern Scotland.
In Persia and India, the quality and patterns of these brocades are still stunning to modern eyes. Below: a Romanian medieval caftan that I would wear in a heartbeat.
5 -Shu brocade from is considered the “Mother of brocade” and by the 17th century, we see complex machines replacing smaller looms springing up all throughout China for the production of these remarkable silks.
The detail of this heron from 18th C China is everything.
6 – Nanjing yunjin brocade means “cloud brocade” and is one of the most well-known, though its craft faces extinction. Below is a Nanjing loom.
Cracking the code on brocade was A Big Deal, but as we know, silk was stolen from China & eventually colonialists figure it out.
7 – Brocade was THE FANCY SHIT.
If you wanted to wear it, however, you really had to be rich AF. Like, mind-blowingly rich. The Byzantine emperors (see below) were notorious for raising prices beyond what anyone else could afford. Because they were dicks. See below.
8 – The ensuing centuries across the world saw an explosion of brocade fabrics to the West.
With some of the most beautiful patterns still coming Persia and India.
We could hardly conceive of the Tudor or Baroque periods without brocade. See young Lizzy I below.
9 – It was during the Italian Renaissance that Europe began trying to make these sumptuous fabrics with a little less work involved.
And also, you know, for economics’ sake. They wanted to make gobs of $$$.
But it was really the Jacquard Loom that changed the game in the West.
10 – Get ready nerds. This is the fun part.
I won’t go into the whole background of the Jacquard Loom, so let’s start here: after a few predecessors, in 1804, Joseph-Marie Jacquard invented his loom. If you’re at all a student of computer history, you’ll love this picture.
11 -That’s right. It was a punch-card system. The predecessor, according to many, of the Babbage Engine.
Ada Lovelace wrote Charles Babbage in 1843: “We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers & leaves.”
12 – The Jacquard Loom was a binary device! And it meant that patterns traditionally associated with wealth could be replicated in any fabric, and even more complexity.
You could even weave images onto the fabric! THIS IS A JACQUARD of JACQUARD. Jacquard-ception.
13 – Most people don’t know that jacquard was a person—if you’ve ever heard the term, you’ve assumed it was just a fabric. And that’s okay. We all learn stuff.
But now you might find it easier to tell that this 1750 French dress was basically a big “FU I’m rich” to everyone.
14 – Some more Jacquard loom examples include this very risqué gown made of jacquard-woven moiré taffeta (those swinging ladies were considered a rather scandalous nod to seduction) and a gorgeous late 19th c. walking dress that I desperately want.
15 – What we do gain from Jacquard is a first: “a revolution in human-machine interaction in its use of binary code—either punched hole or no punched hole—to instruct a machine (the loom) to carry out an automated process (weaving).” (source: https://www.scienceandindustrymuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/jacquard-loom)
16 – And because it’s me, some more images I found of brocade and/or jacquard that are too pretty not to share.
17 – LASTLY for the Jacquard #ThreadThread — my sources. Because again, it’s me.