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Fabric Properties and Distinctions – Velvet

The luxury, the indulgence that is velvet…

By: Karen Brandon
Textile Fabric Consultants, Inc.

History:

In the past there has been some controversy surrounding the existence of velvet in earlier centuries. Velvet has in fact been around as early on as 2000BC. The Egyptians were documented using a technique similar to the one that is utilized today in velvet production. Throughout the centuries from the medieval era through the renaissance into the flapper rage and still today velvet is being used in a variety of ways. In earlier times only royalty and nobility could afford to own garments of velvet. It requires more yarns to create and a number of extra steps in the process, which adds to the expense of velvet garments. It was also common for supplementary sets of yarns to be placed on the surface of the fabric to create a brocade effect making the design intricate and interesting. As the nobility knew and we can still see today some of the richest colors can be produced when dying velvet. It has only been in this century that velvet has become affordable to the masses. The industrial revolution brought with it the chance for the common person to experience luxury that was for centuries reserved for royalty and the rich.

Types of Velvet:

The most common type of velvet is a plain weave with a cut pile. It is soft, comes in deep, rich colors and is typically used in formal or eveningwear. This type of velvet generally retails between $16 and $25 a yard (the price may vary depending on quality and location). Velvet is also commonly used in interior design applications from curtains to upholstery to accent pillows. A common type of upholstery is cut velvet, which has a pattern cut out from around uncut loops of pile. Crushing the velvet pile can produce two additional types of velvet, crushed velvet and panné velvet. Crushed velvet involves the fabric being mechanically twisted while wet. Applying heavy pressure to the pile in one direction produces panné velvet. Crushed velvet is also found in interior applications but is often used in apparel as well. For upholstery purposes crushed velvet can have a coated backing applied to provide stability. When being used in apparel the texture of the crushed velvet creates a beautiful luster effect and the direction of the pile can also be used to provide various looks from the same piece of fabric.

Not to be confused with:

Although they are made the same as true velvet the pile depth differs.

Velveteen: A pile fabric that generally has a shorter pile than true velvet.

Velour: A cotton fabric that has a deeper pile than velveteen and is heavier in weight. It is commonly used in upholstery and draperies.

Knit fabrics can now be made to resemble types of velvet, allowing for the stretch and comfort that we enjoy in today’s clothing. Panné velvet is often found as a knit. Garments are often mislabeled in catalogs as velvet when they are really knits. Even though they may look the similar, knits are not true velvets.

Manufacturing:

Velvet is a warp-pile fabric, which means that it has one set of filling yarns and two sets of warp yarns. The second set of warp yarns can be cut or un-cut. Double-cloth and over-wire methods are the two ways to create pile fabrics. In the double cloth method, two fabrics are woven, one above the other, and connected with an extra set of warp yarns. The over-wire method involves placing wires across the loom so that they intersect the cloth is certain places that create a pile. The pile is then cut with a blade that is over the loom. The wire is removed before the fabric is removed from the loom. If an un-cut pile is desired, waste picks can be placed on the wire and are removed after the fabric is off the loom. Velvet can be made out of various types of fibers and blends. The most common types of fibers used are rayon, silk and acetate.

Care:

Velvet must be handled carefully and stored properly because folds and creases can permanently flatten the pile. If you need to get creases out of velvet you will need a steamer or a velvet board (a fat board that has hundreds of fine wires sticking out perpendicular). The velvet board helps to protect the pile while it is being ironed. Finer, plain weave velvets can only be dry-cleaned and are difficult to spot clean. Most knit velvets must also be dry-cleaned but some panné and other crushed velvet fabrics can be machine-washed. As always the best thing to do is read the manufacturer’s label for recommended care. Velvet is a beautiful and luxurious fabric to own but you must provide extra attention to the care and maintenance of this fabric.

Sources:

  • Hatch, Kathryn. Textile Science. West Publishing Co. New York, 1993. Page 334.
  • Kadolph, Sara J. and Anna L. Langford, Textiles. 8th ed. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 07458, pages 211-12.
  • LaBarthe, Lydie. “12th and 13th Century Velvet” www.geocities.com/Area51/Lair/5459/bliaut3.html, 1997.
  • Tortora, Phyllis G., Understanding Textiles. 4th Ed. Macmillan Publishing Company. New York, page 324.

Textile Fabric Consultants, Inc. manufactures fabric swatch kits for students who study textiles in colleges and universities. These kits are also sold to professionals in the industry. We also sell to high schools, department stores, interior designers and costume designers. The kits are designed to help educate people about a variety of fabrics and to be a permanent hands on reference for the user.