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Brocade: as Precious as Jewels

Sunday, 14 June 2009

BrocadeThe name «brocade» comes from the Italian broccato which means «embossed cloth». There is a legend about an Emperor who fell in love with a poor common girl. The girl was purposeful and she demanded that the Emperor learned some handiwork and the Emperor learned weaving to win the heart of the beauty. He gained skills in weaving royal brocade. In the nearest future the skill of him saved his life.

From region to region this fabric is named differently. But in all cases this is a class of richly decorative shuttle-woven fabrics, often made in colored silks and with or without gold and silver threads. These threads were wholly precious only in ancient time and by time they were replaced by alloys with some concentration of precious metal.  

Thus, the brocade manufacture is closely connected with traditions of silk weaving, and therefore it originated from China, the motherland of silk. Brocade was first manufactured in China and soon after this production reached the countries of Asia Minor, namely Syria, Persia and so on. Brocade from this region tells a lot of its amazing delicacy, rich palette of colors and unique decoration.

In accordance with the legend, weaving art was introduced to India owing to brothers Choy, Chinese refugees. The tissue Tanchoy, named after them, first appeared in Surat, in the western state of Gujarat. The technique then was adopted by craftsmen from Benares where local masters are pride of their skills. Those who were lucky to see the Indian brocade, they should admit it is a unique thing. In ancient and Medieval India brocade weaving was encouraged by royal persons who were in need of luxury garments. The real Indian brocade, kinhab, is a silky basis with in-woven silver or gold threads that form tender and flowery pattern. Mono-fabric with silver threads (rupari) and with gold (sonar) was at a time manufactured for the royal family only. Unfortunately, they are not in demand currently because of their high cost and inconvenient wearing. And modern craftsmen initiated production of the lightened handmade version of the brocade on the silk basis.

The Indians still appreciate fabric from Benares craftsmen for their rich shining and multifarious golden ornaments, and wedding ensembles are usually tailored from this fabric. Also this textile is suitable for holiday and ceremonial attires.

Some researches prove that brocade appeared in connection with religious institutions expansion. Since the major orders demanded luxury garments, brocade manufacture was predominantly set in cities close to cultural centers. Thus, in India the best brocade was woven in ancient patron cities, Benares and Kancheepuram.

Nevertheless, the brocade fits in well in Byzantine Empire and moreover, it was demanded by the European Royal Houses. And the triumph of brocade was appeared there, and it was not only a cloth woven in golden and silver threads, but also embroidered with richest decorative elements, pearls and gold. Such brocade was valued higher than expensive precious metals, semi-precious stones and fur. The fact that these expensive fabrics were produced in the Byzantine Empire is a good factor, and from the middle of VI century people were introduced to the secret manufacturing of brocade, and yet, brocade manufacture did not depend upon the import along the Silk Road. And the Byzantine Empire became the monopolist in brocade manufacture and sales. Disclosure of the secret production information was punished as strictly as the high treason.

However, the secret travelled throughout the whole world and in the medieval time people initiated weaving brocade in the North of Europe, in Sicily, Byzantine Empire, Italy, Spain and France.

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