Meurice’s Guide to Velvet
The term velvet brings to mind both expensive, swank attire, and tacky, cheaply made dresses. This is both indicative of and a far departure from the fabric’s original connection with royalty and luxury. No other fabric has undergone transitions in manufacturing or in social context like velvet—leaving us to wonder: What is this mysterious fabric and how did it gain its reputation?
What Is Velvet?
Velvet does not refer to a specific type of fiber. Instead, it refers to a specific type of weave, whereby an extra stitch and step is added during the weaving process. The result is a type of “pile” fabric, or fabric that is thick in the center and smooth on the outside. The center part of the fabric is then cut, creating two distinct pieces that are solid and smooth on one side and textured on the other. This texture comes from the short strands of fiber that now stick out vertically in comparison to the horizontal base. The short strands, or the pile, give the fabric a nice “hand” or feel and constitutes a perceived differentiation in color as the light is reflected differently through the different fiber lengths.
The most expensive of velvets are derived from the finest silk fibers. At its cheapest, velvet can be made of cotton, rayon, nylon, polyester and acetate.
The fabric has roots in ancient Middle Eastern and Egyptian culture, and is most often attributed as originating in the Kashmir region around the 14th Century. From its inception, the velvet weave required extraordinary skill and time to produce— effectively denoting velvet as an expensive fabric that only the nobility could afford. Yet, with the advent of mechanized looms and the proliferation of these machines during the Industrial Revolution, velvet became accessible to the middle class. Additionally, the cost of velvet has attenuated with the invention of cheaper synthetic fibers.
Types Of Velvet
Although it may be woven from different fibers, the different types of velvet are generally referred to in regards to the type of pile produced. Printed Velvet has a design that is made from different color fibers woven together. Brocade Velvet refers to velvet that has a design cut into the pile, where the difference between shorter strands and longer strands create a pattern. Embossed Velvet is where the pattern is produced from flattening some areas and leaving the pile in others. Panne Velvet is when the entire fabric has the pile pressed flat. Crushed Velvet is made from velvet fabric that has been saturated, then intentionally and permanently wrinkled. Velveteen denotes a cotton fiber that has a short pile, while Velour is often of heavier weight cotton and has a longer pile.
Velvet takes special consideration, no matter what fiber it consists of. Generally, the consistency of velvet comes from consistency in the pile: it is extremely noticeable when one area is flattened or creased. Acetate velvets are the hardest to restore, and once the pile has been flattened, it is almost impossible to make them stand straight again. Velvets made of rayon and silk usually flatten as the material relaxes and the weave moves out of place. Velvets with the most longevity are made from cotton, polyester, or nylon.
Additionally, the different types of fibers will pose different care instructions. Rayon and silk fibers are weakened when saturated—velvet made out of these should be dry cleaned to preserve color, prevent dye transfer, and to prevent warping or sizing issues. These velvets are also very susceptible to erosion from perspiration or repeated abrasion from excessive rubbing. Cotton, polyester, or nylon velvets can be wet cleaned, but should not be exposed to high heat, and have the best results when hung to dry then brushed with a soft bristle brush.
Garments with velvet appliqué or velvets with glued ornamentation are hardest to clean. For some more information on velvet , check out this great link.
The root of Velvet comes from the Latin “vellus,” which translates to “fleeced” or “shaggy hair.” Since its origination, velvet has been regarded as a luxury fabric; and appropriately enough, the word has associations with concepts of pleasure and sensuality. Surely it was in this context that the Velvet Underground derived its name—as well as Velvet Magazine and the band Velvet Revolver.
The Velveteen Rabbit is a beloved story about a stuffed animal longing to be considered “real”—though the fabric seems to have little significance outside of the title.
Velvet paintings are paintings that use velvet fabric instead of the standard canvas or wood. Due to the nature of the fabric, and usually painted on black, the colors in the painting have a vibrant and saturated quality to them. Velvet paintings are generally associated with rural America and depict kitschy subjects—most notoriously, Elvis.