Velvet is a soft luxury fabric with a short pile that reflects light, making the colour change depending on the angle you look at it from. It is thought that velvet production was first done in the Far East at the beginning of the 14th century, where it was used for garments such as robes for royal families and ecclesiastical vestments.
Velvet is made by weaving two thicknesses of the fabric at the same time, which are sliced apart and rolled onto separate fabric rolls. When dyed, the fabric has a good depth of colour. It can be made from natural fibres such as cotton, silk and rayon but also from synthetic fibres such as polyester, nylon, viscose and acetate. Mixtures of these fibres are also used, e.g. viscose mixed with silk. Spandex can also be added to the fabric to give it some stretch.
Velvet can be produced in many finishes and patterns, e.g. the pile can be cut into patterns of varying lengths (pile upon pile, or double pile) and the colour of the pile can be varied, to create many beautiful effects. The pile can also be treated with chemicals to dissolve areas of the pile revealing the woven backing fabric – making it sheer in places (known as Devoré).
In dressmaking the pile is known as a ‘nap’. When making a garment from velvet, the pattern pieces must be placed on the fabric with the top in the same direction (so that the smooth line of the pile/nap faces downwards) or the garment will look like it was made with two different coloured fabrics.
Types of velvet
These are the main types of velvet that are available:
Chiffon: A lightweight velvet woven on a chiffon base.
Ciselé: The pile is made of cut and uncut loops to create a pattern.
Crushed: Has a lustrous patterned appearance. The pile is distressed. It is produced by pressing the fabric down in different directions or mechanically twisting it when wet.
Devoré (or burnout): Areas of the fabric are treated with chemicals to dissolve the pile, creating a velvet pattern upon a sheer base fabric (e.g. chiffon).
Embossed: A metal roller is used to heat-stamp the fabric, producing a pattern in the pile.
Hammered: Extremely lustrous, has a dappled/crushed appearance.
Lyons: A densely woven, heavy and stiff velvet usually used for hats and coat collars.
Mirror: A soft and light crushed velvet.
Nacré: The pile is woven in one (or more) colour and the base fabric in another colour, creating an iridescent effect.
Panné: A type of crushed velvet, the pile is forced in a single direction by applying heavy pressure.
Pile-on-pile: A luxurious velvet woven with piles of differing heights to create a pattern.
Plush: Velvet with a deep and soft pile. Often used to make stuffed toys.
Velour: Produced with a knitted back, it resembles velvet, but has stretch and uneven pile therefore a slightly rougher look.
Velveteen: Imitation velvet usually made of cotton or a combination of cotton and silk. It has a short, slightly sloping pile (max 3mm). It lacks the sheen and drape of velvet.
Voided: Deliberately woven with areas of pile-free fabric (usually satin) forming the pattern.