What Is Matelasse Fabric?

Matelasse is type of double-woven fabric that first gained popularity in the 18th century. Attractive and durable, matelasse was originally used for domestic purposes and was even fashioned into women's undergarments.

The Weave

Matelasse is woven in a technique that was developed to mimic the style of handcrafted quilts made in the south of France. Originally woven by hand with four sets of yarn on jacquard looms, matelasse has a quilted appearance without any additional padding.

Brief History

Matelasse is dervied from the French word "matelasser," which is defined as quilting or wadding. Quilted weaving, or matelasse, is thought to have been invented by an Englishman, Robert Elsden, who was honored by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1745 for his innovation.

Durable Cloth

Because the double-woven technique produced a sturdy material, many early examples of matelasse have survived in excellent condition and are on display in textile museums and private collections. Most of these pieces are woven from cotton or linen in shades of ecru or white.

Contemporary Manufacture and Use

Today, matelasse fabric is a popular material for interior decoration. Contemporary matelasse is machine made and it is offered in a wide selection of colors. The woven patterns range from classic geometric designs to complex floral and paisley motifs. Many manufactures offer matelasse in both cotton and cotton/polyester blends.

Matelasse as a Fashion Statement

Matelasse has a place in the world of high fashion. Internationally famous couturiers, Cristobal Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy, known for the superb tailoring and structure of their collections, used matelasse in their designs. Both Balenciaga and Givenchy were favorites of many well-known fashion icons, including Jacqueline Kennedy. While she was First Lady, Mrs. Kennedy's taste for French fashion was carefully concealed, and legend has it that her wealthy father-in-law secretly paid the bills for the clothing she ordered from these designers.