I do not remember where I was or how old I was, but I was a very little girl. I was sitting on two pillows at a large table. Grown-ups were talking, laughing and making cheers, the table cloth was white as snow and it had this beautiful white on white shiny pattern of flowers and birds. I did not know it until many years later, but this was a damask table cloth.
I have often been asked what damask is and in this minseries, I will try to explain it. Damask is most often based on satin, a binding with a smooth and lustrous face. The threads of the pattern go in one direction, the threads of the ground in the opposite direction at an angle of 90 degrees. Have a look at the binding diagram above: warp is white, weft is red.
Meaning the ground is weft dominated, the pattern is warp dominated and on the reverse, the pattern is exactly the opposite of the face. The pattern becomes visible because the pattern and the ground reflect the light differently.
Not all table cloths have peaceful patterns with flowers and birds. This napkin was woven in copenhagen in 1602 and I can spot (besides flowers and trees) a fisherman and a fish, crowns, powder horns, canons, canon balls, a soldier, a morning star and a poleaxe! Like all other photos in this blog post, this one originates from the Norwegian digital museum and was published under the Creative Commons license (BY-SA).
Damask is not necessarily white and was used for far more purposes that table cloths, especially for fine clothing and upholstery fabrics.
The technique of damask weaving originates from China, approximately 400 BC. In Europe it appeared in Italy in the 14th century. It is an extremely complicated and time consuming craft and only the very wealthy could afford such textiles. As a rule, two weavers were needed. the actual weaver and a drawboy to draw the correct figure harnesses.
With the introduction of Jacquard looms and increasing mechanization, damask textiles lost some of their exclusivity and became affordable for the average citizen.
In bygone centuries, also used fabrics were very valuable. Perhaps this little christening bonnet was made from a worn-out cape?
Many Norwegian folk costumes have parts made from damask fabrics. Sometimes the damask is monochrome, but often the damask has two or more colors, often partly brocade.