Broché fabrics have become exceedingly rare, mostly replaced by cut-yarn jacquards. And yet the little-known broché technique offers possibilities unlike any other.
In the great family of jacquards, with their patterns incorporated into the weave, the most exceptional and now rare technique is “broché”, or figured pattern weaves.
The figures are achieved using additional weft threads running from edge to edge, rather than selvage to selvage, as in traditional jacquards. To obtain this effect, special looms are fitted with small cylinders (“tonneaux”) holding bobbins (“espolins”).
Broché know-how : the small cylinders called “tonneaux”
Commonly used until WWII, broché fabrics have nearly disappeared. The textile company FCN TEXTILES is probably the very last to make these fine products.
Compared to “cut-yarn” jacquard, which is the most closely related technique, broché weaving is far more complex, and therefore costly, to produce. But the difference is striking.
Broché fabric produced by FCN TEXTILES for PRADA
In cut-yarn jacquards (also known as cut-thrown), the weft threads which compose the pattern run cross the entire width. Between two appearances on the face of the fabric, each yarn floats on the back side. These floats are then cut flush with the fabric. But tiny threads always remain visible on the edges. Though some talented manufacturers like Canepa, Ratti and Clerici Tessuti manage to transform this into an aesthetic choice, broché fabrics overcome this problem because the edges are neat and the pattern is slightly raised, as if it were embroidered. The difference with cut-yarn jacquard is all the more visible when the background is transparent. And unlike cut-yarn jacquards, broché wastes no material.
“Broché technique is not well known,” laments Najib Chtata, of FCN. And when you know that, out of 114 cylinders on a loom, hardly more than 20 are ever used, it makes you realise the incredible hidden potential of this technique. Imagine all the possible applications in communicative textiles. Until that happens, broché fabrics are the reserve of the luxury segment.
WORDS FROM HISTORY
“Châle espoliné”: A typical example of the shawls made using broché bobbins were the sumptuous pashminas, made in Kashmir, which were highly fashionable in Europe throughout the 19th century. They were hand-woven using bobbins that criss-crossed to form a single weft and so there was no extra thickness. Though they boasted luxurious patterns, it was said that they were so fine they could pass through a wedding ring. The technique was impossible to mechanise and the best alternative solution was therefore the broché technique.
Brocade: Brocade is a broché fabric using gold or silver threads. Used almost exclusively for ceremonial garb, it is considered one of the most precious and prestigious of fabrics in the world. The Kinkhab of Varanasi and the Songket of Indonesia are regional examples of fine brocades.
WORDS FROM EXPERTS
Najib Chtata (FCN TEXTILES): “We work on looms that went out of common use in the 1940s and 50s, and we have adapted them. The broché technique allowed us to win clients in the luxury sector. But few people know the technique or its potential.”
Ratti no longer produces broché fabrics, but has a fine collection of antique textiles dating from the 3rd to 20th centuries which of course includes brochés and pashmina-type shawls. They can be seen in Ratti’s Textile Studio Museum, open to the public, and recognised by the Italian government for its exceptional value.