Syrian Brocade

Syrian Brocade particularly and traditional fabrics in general were very interesting to us, me and Manhal a colleague, during our undergraduate studies in Damascus University.  Thus we write our graduation project in the fifth year on the description of the Syrian traditional fabrics.  Now and after five years I thought of writing an article to summarize what we wrote about Brocade fabrics.

The article will deal with Brocade as a part of Syrian traditional fabrics, the group in which a lot of fabrics are counted in such as Damask, Aghabani, Al-Alaja and Al-Deema.

What is Brocade? Where does this word come from? And what does it mean? What are its patterns? How has it been used? What kind of problems is it facing? What we need to do to save and improve its production?

Brocade is a rich jacquard fabric with different designs might include different figures, shapes, flowers or animals decorated with silver and golden yarns and a twill or satin background.

Syria in general, Damascus in specific, was very famous for these kinds of handcrafts because of its location on the historical Silk Road route.  One of the old famous cerographist, Al-Idrisi 1100 – 1166, wrote that Damascus used to be full of many brilliant handcrafts and its work was like art it was so good and colourful that it competed with similar work from all over the world especially Persia and India at that time.  Even till today there is a part in old Damascus, Al-Kaymarya hood, used to be called ”little India” in which fancy fabrics used to be produced.

Brocade is originally a Kurdish word in Arabic it is pronounce as ”Brocar”.  It has two parts, the first ”Bro” which means in Kurdish Ibrahim the prophet, and the second part is ”Car” which means in the same language is job or craft, thus the word mean together Ibrahim craft, weaving.

Brocade in Syria is produced using silk yarns and it is decorated with synthetic silver and golden threads.  Colours in different designs might vary between 7, 5, 4 and 3 colours.  Seven colours designs are rich in colours, as you will see in the figures below and much heavier that other designs.

Brocade patterns are mainly inspired by and derived from the Syrian environment; you will find Syrian flowers, animals, stories, Islamic geometrical shapes, and even shapes influenced by the far East such as Cashmere pattern.  Different examples of Brocade patterns are listed below with a brief description.

Brocade fabrics are used in furniture as a fancy cover.  You can see it in the government official offices since it does represent a very old Syrian handicraft. It is also used as scarf and to some extend in traditional Syrian men clothing and you can find it mainly in the old markets in Damascus in Al-Tikia Al-Solaimania or on Al-Hamidia Souk.

Big Bob is my favorite design; it is 7 colors patterns, a combination of flowers and roses from Damascus.
Small Bob, 5 colors same as Big Bob but less flowers.
7 colors pattern represents the Sinbad story. You can see that there are three different boats with different people in each one of them; it is considered a complicated pattern.
It is a heavy complicated design. It tells the story of Saladin’s wars and battles.
7 colors patterns inspired by the famous story of one thousand nights and one night.
It is the oldest pattern and named after the place it came from.
3 colors calm and clear design. It is also called Queen Elisabeth design.
5 colors pattern inspired by the wood decoration and sculpturing craft in Damascus.
Rose of Damascus

Nowadays, Brocade production is suffering from many problems.  First of all, the lack of raw materials.  The silk production in Syria is low due to decreasing numbers of silkworm farms.  The silk production is concentrated in the Syrian costal area because of the proper weather conditions, but the trend of new generations is to grow other less labor intensive and more productive trees.  To over come this problem silk yarns should be provided either by encouraging the farming of silkworm and planting the mulberry tree or by importing the needed yarns and both of these solutions have advantages and disadvantages.

Secondly, the narrow applications for current fabric design.  Most of the designs are old and not likely to be fashionable for modern garment manufacturing.  Thus new design should be created to fulfill the needs of the current market in all its aspects, garment, furniture and for tourism pleasure and historical documentation.  Moreover; designs are near to both the costumer and cultural heritage.

I believe that Syrian Brocade has all the potential to be the historical and the up to date modern fabrics that can represent the Syrian rich diverse culture.  Understanding the experience of other nations in preserving and improving their traditional fabric is vital to know how to preserve Syrian Brocade.

Uttu-textiles // Yousef & Hasan//: 27th July 2012


– Classification of Syrian traditional fabrics, Mohammad Issam Yousef and Manhal Hasan, Textile Department, Damascus University, 2006.


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