There are so many terms when working within the world of fabric and often clients may have heard of a term without truly knowing what it means. If you've ever wondered what a "damask" refers to, read on...
Created using one of the original five weaving techniques, damask comes to us from the fifth and sixth centuries in the Middle East. In fact, the fabric name "damask" comes from the city of Damascus, which was on the Silk Road. Thus the fabric was disseminated around the world, eventually, and naturally, ending up in Europe. After the ninth century, damasks became scarce, but history sees them pop up again in fourteenth century France where the fabric name as we know it today was first used.
Damasks are a type of Jacquard (previously here) and feature some kind of figure, usually symmetrical, like an Arabesque or a floral. The warp fibers are shiny (these are the fibers that run up and down) while the weft fibers (those that run left to right) are matte. This gives damask a quality that makes it ideal for tone-on-tone color palettes. Another characteristic of damask fabric is that is is reversible...there is no "rough" woven side. For this reason, the use of damask is very common for tableware like napkins and tablecloths.
Here is a bolt of a tone-on-tone damask fabric.
This photo illustrates a tone-on-tone damask with its sides folded back to reveal the contrasting--and reversible--underside. You can see how the light pattern becomes dark and the dark background becomes light.
Since damask is a fairly sturdy fabric, it lends itself nicely to upholstery. Because of its history and look, it fits beautifully in a traditional scheme, or on a period piece of furniture like the Louis XV bergère and foot stool, and then the fauteuil seen below.
And here we have the most common usage for damasks: napkins and tablecloths.
So you can see that damasks are elegant, stylish, and refined. And to evoke a romantic European sense, set a table with damask cloth and napkins for your next dinner party!