Brocade or Embroidery

It is pretty common for most of our clients to marvel at our woven Balamil cushions and exclaim, “what gorgeous embroidery!!!”; when in fact these cushions are each woven using a backstrap loom and the brocade technique. So, what is the difference between these two techniques? And why do people so often confuse the two? 

Brocade can be defined as a supplemental weft technique. For those who might not know, the weft refers to the horizontal filling threads or yarn that are woven into the vertical strands known as the warp to form fabric. Essentially, brocade is a weaving technique in which an extra, and not structurally necessary, decorative thread is laid in, weft-wise, during the weaving process. This thread can span the entire width of a fabric or an isolated area. It can be caught by every other warp thread, as a weft would be during the course of plain weave, or it can be caught by a sequence of warps so that it appears to be a type of float weave or twill; or it can be placed in, virtually at will and at random—in which case it becomes indistinguishable from embroidery. 

Typically, this last type of float weave is used quite often in Mexico; larger and thicker supplementary threads are placed in a sequence of warps virtually creating a slightly elevated textured design that rises up from the base fabric. The patterns tend to be very geometric and reference regional flora, fauna as well as deities from Mexico’s ancient Mayan cosmovision. 

Quite often, embroidery in Mexico is also very geometric and symmetrical in design and it is easy to conflate the two techniques. However different from brocade, embroidery is the act of decorating fabric using a needle to apply thread or yarn. The base fabric simply being adorned with needlework whereas brocaded fabric is embellished while the base fabric is being woven simultaneously.