What is Brocatelle?

Janis Adams

A fabric with a heavy design done primarily in relief, brocatelle fabric is used most commonly for upholstery. The fabric is stiff and heavy. The patterns and name of this type of fabric come from the marble after which they are fashioned. It is found mainly in regions of France and Italy. Brocatelle is considered to be a variant on the traditional damask.

Silk cocoons. Brocatelle is most often made of a combination of silk and linen.
Silk cocoons. Brocatelle is most often made of a combination of silk and linen.

This heavily figured cloth is most often made of a combination of silk and linen. Brocatelle is a cross-ribbed fabric, which is similar to brokade or damask. A fabric with origins in India, brocade is a loom woven silk often with strands of gold or silver thread highlighting its weave and complimenting its patterns. In contrast, damask fabric traditionally employs a monochromatic theme.

Brocatelle finds its origins in 17th century Italy, with its name coming from the diminutive of the Italian word broccato. The meaning of brocatto translates to embossed fabric, which aptly describes the rich woven patterns so commonly found in brocatelle fabrics over the ensuing centuries. During the time of its origination, the fabric was only found in the homes of the most wealthy.

Originally, the cloth was supposed to appear similar to the tooled leather that was highly popular at the time. Its raised figures were played out in high relief. Brocatelle, in its truest form, is a double weave executed in silk and linen warp and with a filling of those same materials. This filling added both strength and body to a material created for both beauty and durability.

In the late 1800s, this fabric was known to feature patterns from paintings. The fabric was constructed in such a manner that it was usable with either side up. Gold metal thread was the most common color of the complimentary stitching and was often juxtaposed with the white, red or a medium hued blue.

While this fabric is classified most often as flat, the patterns stand out in such high relief that they create a blistered and irregular affect. While today's brocatelle fabrics have changed, they are still executed on a very tightly and compactly woven base.

This heavy, decorative and ornate fabric is used traditionally within living rooms, as an accent on dining room chairs and in ornately arrayed bedrooms. Brocatelle is a more costly fabric as its production is labor intensive in contrast to a plain ground fabric.

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