Houzz Contributor, Gabrielle Di Stefano
The moiré pattern is a classic, elegant addition to any decor. It can be made with any ribbed or corded fabric, which is moistened and machine rolled at a high temperature, leaving a gentle cascading watermark. This ancient process has stood the test of time, changing to suit every era without ever losing its charm. The subtle beauty of this delicate design works on furniture, fabric and wallpaper — moiré never goes out of fashion for long.
A brief history. Moiré is a pattern, not a fabric. The word derives from the ancient Arabic word “mukhayyar,” literally translated as “goat hair cloth.” It was a fine, woven cloth produced by angora goats in Turkish villages, especially Ankara.
Historical references as far back as the 14th century mention Ankara’s growing fiber industry. Mukhayyar came to be known as mohair and then moiré. This wool was judged to be even finer than silk. It took washers, dyers and pressers as well as weavers to produce it. Although versions of the names moiré and mouarie changed between England and France for centuries, the literal translation of “moiré” is “watered mohair.”
In the 18th century, any fabric with a natural horizontal rib could be folded lengthwise and pressed through heated rollers. The ribs that didn’t align were flattened, resulting in the watermark on both sides of the fabric.
Silk and taffeta were the most popular and sophisticated fabrics during the 18th century, and ball gowns made from moiré were highly sought after by queens and the gentry. From 1600 to 1750, during the baroque era, moiré fabric became the go-to choice for drapery and cushions.
This white high-gloss room delights in the strong color of the moiré cushion sitting quietly on the old-Hollywood-inspired chair.
Ancient moiré. Writings from the 1600s show that moiré watermarking (also called waving) began in the dyeing process. A large pot was set over a piping-hot fire. The colored dyes were added, then the pot was half filled with water. A layer of cloth was added, then a layer of wood planks, with layers added until the top was reached.
The impression and weight of the wood would leave gentle waves of color that filtered throughout the cloth. It was believed that the pieces of cloth that got the largest waves in continuous, perfect lines were the best pick, and Turkish elders received these as a sign of respect. Ankara was the exclusive exporter of mohair cloth to Europe until the 1800s.
Modern moiré. The machines that create moiré finishes now use a technique called calendering. The woven fabric is folded and moistened, and rollers with ribs or engraving are run across the fabric. This is done at a very high temperature.
The pressure from the rollers creates the waves by crushing the fabric threads or chemically setting the color. The same tried and true techniques from the 18th century still apply but now use 21st-century automation.
The wallpaper in this bathroom is an expertly fashioned example of the moiré pattern and gives the space a gorgeous silvery glamour.
Care of moiré. Moiré is thought of mostly as a silk fabric, but these days cotton, rayon and wool are just as popular. As long as the fabric is ribbed or corded, it can take the moiré treatment.
Moiré fabrics need special care. Silk or rayon should be dry cleaned. Water may cause your item to loose its luster, so always check the label or manufacturer’s instructions before cleaning it. Ironing or steaming moiré is usually not recommended; folding may retain the creases.