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Damask for the masses:
An experiment in damask-style pattern design

I have always been intrigued with the ornate patterning of damask. The medieval botanical and whimsical flourishes intricately woven into beautiful infinite patterns are striking even by today's standards. Damask’s versatility as a reversible fabric with an inverse colour pattern on the other side makes it even more interesting. While damask has a reputation for being ostentatious and overly dramatic, I felt it would be an interesting side project to attempt to blend damask patterning with a “punk/rock" sense of rebellion. A sort of damask for the masses. This first experiment discusses the origins of damask and attempts to blend traditional with the contemporary.

  • skull design
  • single skull damask unit
  • full skull damask pattern
  • skull damask shirt
  • skull damask ties

Damask pattern has traditionally been associated with the wealthy and elite. Originally created in China and traded in the prosperous medieval craft centre of Damascus, the pattern’s namesake, damask became synonymous with the exotic and luxurious. Medieval kings and queens sought to acquire damask tapestries and textiles of their own because of their versatility and attractive design. In fact medieval royals went so far as to get monks to steal artisan secrets and smuggle silkworms to have ways of producing their own unique patterns. Damask textiles have seen a number of resurgences in popularity over the centuries. During the Baroque period, a period which was highlighted by artworks of grandeur and exuberance, damask was used in many different ways–including upholstery, wallpaper, and curtains. However, it was arguably at its peak in popularity during the Industrial Revolution. It was at this time, mass production made what was once considered a rich person’s textile into an affordable textile for the working middle class.

The modern technologies of today have led further towards the democratization of damask by making the pattern even easier to draw and produce. Traditional motifs have been cast aside for whatever patterns catch the eye of the consumer. Furthermore, damask has stepped away from the classic reversible fabric to one-sided prints in some instances. My experiment seeks to further the dialogue on what can be classified as damask through edgier and more “punk/rock” subject material. Not having access to a loom or a weaving mechanism myself (at this point in time) I am hoping to showcase the possible use of modern damask patterns through images and digital mock-ups.

My first damask pattern in a series of patterns is a damask skull. This is what damask looks like when someone decides to meld traditional flourishes with edgier modern imagery. Skulls have become a bit of cliché in punk and rock so it was important to make sure the skull wasn’t too obvious and that it still contained traditional flourishes seen in older damask patterning. What has been created is a something that was once held in such high regard as a luxurious, now given a new life in an different subculture.