A Few Fabric Types Found in the
Sixteenth Century

Revised December 11, 2004

This is not meant to be an exhaustive article on period fabrics, but a concise descriptive listing of the few types that I have found reference to being worn in the Italian city-states of the sixteenth century. These are mostly directly quoted from the source. I have noted the Italian fabric name where it is known, and the period fibre content.

Fabric types listed on this page: (Click on fabric type or just scroll down the page)

Brocatelle   Cloth of Gold   Damask   Lampas   Velvet   Cut Velvet   Uncut Velvet   Cisele Velvet Pile-On-pile Velvet   Polychrome Velvet   Voided Velvet   Brocaded Velvet
Brocaded velvet terms: Velvet 'alliciolato', Velvet 'Riccio Sopra Riccio'   Stamped or Gauffered Velvet

Brocatelle (It: brocatello) Originally a silk and linen blend


17th Century

Prime Visual Characteristics of Brocatelle:

1. Raised pattern - high relief
2. Usually multicoloured

"This is a lampas with a silk main warp and a main weft, generally in linen. The pattern is obtained with a silk pattern weft, bound twill by a binding warp. The varying tensions of the warps create a distinctive relief effect, in which the areas in satin are raised and are seen as a pattern. This is a typical fabric used in home furnishing; it came in fashion in the sixteenth century". (Landini & Redaelli 2)

"Fibre: Silk, rayon, cotton, and synthetics Characteristics: Originally supposed to be an imitation of Italian tooled leather - satin or twill pattern on plain or satin ground. It is recognized by a smooth raised figure of warp-effect, usually in a satin weave construction, on a filling effect background. True brocatelle is a double weave made of silk and linen warp and a silk and linen filling. Present-day materials may have changed from the XIIIth and XIVth Century fabrics, but they still have the embossed figure in the tight, compact woven warp-effect. While brocatelle is sometimes classed as a flat fabric, it shows patterns which stand out in "high relief" in a sort of blistered effect." (Textile Dictionary)

"A heavily figured furnishing or upholstery cloth similar to brocade. The pattern is padded out into high relief by the warp threads in a satin weave against a closely woven background structure. Two or more wefts are used and, in the better qualities, there is an extra binder warp. Heavy yarns used are plain and mercerised cotton, viscose, and linen." (Resil Textile Dictionary)

"A heavy brocade with the design in deep relief, used chiefly in upholstery. [ETYMOLOGY: 17th century, from Italian broccatello, diminutive of broccato - brocade(d). (WordReference)

"-thin tinsel, or slight cloth of gold or silver" (Florio)


Cloth of Gold (It: Drappo d'Oro, Tela d'oro, Teletta d'oro, Broccato, Riccio sopra riccio/Soprariccio (velvet))

Cloth of gold reproduction fabric used in reconstruction of "Golden Gown", Uppsala Cathedral (copyright Lynn Meyers)

1. Cloth of Gold (reproduction)

Original was red silk lampas brocaded with silver-gilt lamella thread, North Italy, c1400-1440

2. Cloth of Gold

Cisele Velvet brocaded with metal threads
North Italy

Prime Visual Characteristics of Cloth of Gold or Silver:

1. Predominance of Gold or Silver or an alloy metal thread in the fabric
2. Woven together with a fibre, usually silk, which forms the pattern

There were various weaves incorporating gold, silver or gilt metallic threads. One such was restagno, which was "a delicate cloth woven with gold and silver, manufactured in Venice and exported to the Orient". (Lawner) The "Golden Gown" located in Uppsala Cathedral (dated to 1400-1440) was made from a north Italian figured lampas weave - a red silk brocaded with gold. (Geijer) Brocaded velvets, if the gold content was substantial, were sometimes referred to as cloth of gold, such as in the above picture of a cisele velvet.

The "threads" themselves could be either pure metal, or a gilt metal."The earliest gold threads used in textiles were not threads at all but thin strips of metal which had been cut from sheets of beaten or rolled gold. These strips (filé or lamella) were then woven into a textile (most commonly as a supplemental brocade weft..." There were also spun threads, made by winding the flat strips around a core fibre, which resulted in a much more flexible fabric. Cores were made "commonly (from) silk, although linen was also used. More unusual cores are also known; including wool, horsetail hair." (Barrett) Venice obtained the metal threads used in its textiles from Sicily and Cyprus. (Tilton)


Damask (It: Damasco) Originally silk


Circa 1580

Prime Visual Characteristics of Damask:

1. Pattern appears matte on a shiny background
2. Usually self-coloured (single colour) and reversible

"This is a figured fabric that has just one warp and one weft, with motifs created by the opposition of two different weaves, generally the front and back of the satin. This fabric is used in furnishings, but with specific patterns; also used widely in apparel." (Velvet)

"Very old type of figured fabric, first made of silk in Damascus...the fabric has satin floats on a warp satin background; the surface design runs in the opposite direction from those in the background....a figured fabric made with one warp and one weft in which, generally, warp-satin and weft-sateen weaves are used. Made in different fibres and weights. Used mostly for furnishings, table linen, towels. Rarely found now as a dress fabric. Most damask is self-toned, i.e. the warp and weft are in same colour; the design creates the interest." (Resil Textile Dictionary)

"A reversible fabric, usually silk or linen, with a pattern woven into it. It is used for table linen, curtains, etc [ETYMOLOGY: 14th Century: from Medieval Latin damascus, from Damascus, where this fabric was originally made] (Word Reference)


Lampas (It: Lampasso)

Prime Visual Characteristics of Lampas:

1. Satin-like pattern on a rep ground
2. Usually elaborately patterned and multicoloured

"A fabric similar to brocade....a woven fabric with a rep (a transversely corded surface) ground and a satin-like pattern formed by the warp yarns. A contrasting effect is achieved, too, with the weft yarns so that the same colour appears in the pattern as in the background. Very elaborate designs are produced. It is a heavy fabric, usually made now of cotton, viscose, acrylic or mixtures. Used for curtains and furnishings. In some cases the wrong side is often attractive enough not to need lining." (Resil Textile Dictionary)

"This is a figured fabric that has just two warps and at least two wefts. The ground warp works with one main weft, while the pattern is established by floats of pattern or brocading wefts, bound by the ends of the binding warp (in a binding system), usually tabby or twill." (Velvet)

"A worked material where the design is created by means of a float of base or supplementary trams usually bound in tabby or twill with the threads of a binding chain." (Glossary, L'Arte Tessile)

"An ornate damask-like cloth of cotton or silk and cotton, used in upholstery. [ETYMOLOGY: C14 (a kind of crepe): probably from Middle Dutch lampers". (Word Reference)


Velvet (It: Veluto)

Prime Visual Characteristics of Velvet:

1. Piled fabric - either with loop pile (uncut) or tufted pile (cut)
2. Today it is most commonly found as a solid cut velvet, but many types were available in period

Velvet available in the sixteenth century could be either one, or a combination of, the following:

- cut velvet (tufted pile) It: Veluto
- uncut velvet (looped pile) It: Veluto riccio
- cisele velvet (pile comprised of both tufted pile and loop pile)
- pile-on-pile velvet (velvet comprised of varying heights of pile) It: Altabasso or Soprariccio
- polychrome velvet (multiple piles in two or more colours)
- voided velvet (no-pile background, pattern in cut or uncut or combination piles) It: Veluto figurato
- brocaded velvet (with introduced gold and silver wefts). It: Veluto figurato/broccato

Another method of decorating the velvet was known as stamping or gauffering, which if done was usually done on solid cut velvet.

"A fabric of silk, cotton, nylon, etc., with a thick close soft usually lustrous pile. [ETYMOLOGY: C14 veluet, from Old French veluotte, from velu hairy, from Vulgar Latin villutus (unattested), from Latin villus shaggy hair] (WordReference)


Types of Velvet Available in the Sixteenth Century:

1. Cut Velvet:  This term is often incorrectly used for voided velvet. That which we most often associate with the word velvet - a tufted pile fabric - is cut velvet. The word cut refers to the cutting of the loops from which the pile id formed. In period made exclusively from silk.

“This velvet has a surface covered with tufts of pile, which may cover it entirely in the case of solid or plain velvets, or else may be arranged so as to form a pattern, leaving part of the ground weave uncovered (cut voided velvet). (Landini 1)


2. Uncut Velvet: In uncut velvet the loops are not cut and therefore the velvet is not tuft-piled, but comprised of small loops of fibre which form a loop pile. It: Veluto riccio.

“This is obtained through the use of rods with a round cross-section, inserted so as to raise the pile warp and subsequently removed as the weaving operation progresses. This type of velvet can be solid or figured, even at different pile heights.” (Landini 1)


3. Cisele Velvet: A figured velvet in which the pattern is made up of both cut and uncut velvet - that is both tuft-pile and loop-pile velvet.

Cisele Velvet (voided)

Circa 1560-1680

“This type of velvet has patterns in uncut and cut pile which, presenting different shades due to the differing refraction of light, create a variety of light effects. To these should be added the consideration of the different heights of the uncut pile with respect to the cut pile, which later pile, due to factors in the weaving, always proves to be deeper than the uncut pile.” (Landini 1)


4. Pile On Pile Velvet (It: velluto alto-basso or soprariccio): A cut velvet with different heights of cut-pile which produce a pattern.

Pile on Pile Velvet
Circa 1560-1580

“With the use of rods of varying thicknesses, patterns can be created with different heights of pile; the pattern on the fabric becomes three-dimensional, like that of a bas-relief.” (Landini 1)

“Worked velvet with a design created using differnt levels of fur.” (Tagliabue)


5. Polychrome Velvet (also known as two, three, or four-pile velvet): A velvet made by introducing extra pile warps in various colours to produce a multi-coloured patterned velvet.

Polychrome Velvet

Circa 1475-1500


"If two, three or as many as four pile warps of various colours are used, the velvet becomes multi-coloured and can produce magnificent and artistic effects." (Landini and Redaelli 1)

G Top

6. Voided Velvet: The use of tuft or loop pile (or sometimes both) to form a pattern on a no-pile background, usually a satin weave. The example below is made up of a (tufted) pile-on-pile pattern on a voided background. (Landini) It: Veluto figurato

Voided Velvet

Circa 1480 -1500


7. Brocaded Velvet: Velvet with the introduction of gold and silver to the wefts.

"The richness of the velvet is increased by adding to the base motifs created through use of wefts brocaded in silver and gold. The technique of velvet brocades, necessarily executed on the front of the fabric, rather than on the reverse, as is common practice, proves to be particularly...time consuming and complex." (Landini and Redaelli 1)

Brocaded Velvet
(pile-on-pile voided velvet with brocading and boucle wefts)

Circa 1500-1550


Velvet Brocading Terms:

Velvet "allucciolato": "This is the fifteenth century term that describes the lighting effect produced by brocaded wefts amongst the velvet pile, when these wefts were, at regular intervals, raised...in order to create scattered little loops of gold (boucle effect)."

Velvet "a riccio d'oro" or "riccio sopra riccio": This is a cut, voided velvet that has been brocaded and features closely-packed boucle weft motifs.

"In the velvets of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, in certain areas, brocades with gold and silver wefts, the wefts were raised as by the effect of "allucciolato", but the loops of gold are arranged densely one alongside the other in order to exalt the elements of the pattern." (Landini and Redaelli 1)

Velvet "riccio sopra riccio"
(Cut Voided Velvet with Brocading and Boucle Wefts)

Circa 1525-1550


8. Stamped or Gauffered Velvet: "Used in the creation of decorative patterns on the pile of the velvet in an economic manner. The pile of a solid-coloured velvet is crushed with hot metal matrices, leaving the pattern desired on the velvet. This is a type of velvet that has been manufactured since the sixteenth century; it is quite popular even today." (Landini and Redaelli 1)

Stamped Velvet
(solid cut velvet)

Circa End 16th/Early 17th Century

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