Detail of a silk cut velvet with tartan pattern. Some of the stripes are voided, showing a satin weave ground. c.1840.
Velvet is a type of woven tufted fabric in which the cut threads are evenly distributed, with a short dense pile, giving it a distinctive feel. By extension, the word velvety means "smooth like velvet." Velvet can be made from either synthetic or natural fibers.
Illustration depicting the manufacture of velvet fabric
Velvet is woven on a special loom that weaves two thicknesses of the material at the same time. The two pieces are then cut apart to create the pile effect, and the two lengths of fabric are wound on separate take-up rolls. This complicated process meant that velvet was expensive to make before industrial power looms became available, and well-made velvet remains a fairly costly fabric. Velvet is difficult to clean because of its pile, but modern dry cleaning methods make cleaning more feasible. Velvet pile is created by warp or vertical yarns and velveteen pile is created by weft or fill yarns.
Velvet can be made from several different kinds of fibers, traditionally, the most expensive of which is silk. Velvet made entirely from silk has market prices of several hundred US dollars per yard. Cotton can also be used, though this often results in a slightly less luxurious fabric. Velvet can also be made from fibers such as linen, mohair, and wool. A cloth made by the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo from raffia is often referred to as "Kuba velvet". More recently, synthetic velvets have been developed, mostly from polyester, nylon, viscose, acetate, and from either mixtures of different synthetics or from combined synthetics and natural fibers (for example viscose mixed with silk produces a very soft, reflective fabric). A small percentage of spandex is sometimes added to give the final material a certain amount of stretch.
Velvet with Medici Arms, Florence or Venice, 1440–1500
VELVET, a silken textile fabric having a short dense piled surface. In all probability the art of velvet-weaving originated in the Far East; and it is not till about the beginning of the 14th century that we find any mention of the textile. The peculiar properties of velvet, the splendid yet softened depth of dye-colour it exhibited, at once marked it out as a fit material for ecclesiastical vestments, royal and state robes, and sumptuous hangings; and the most magnificent textures of medieval times were Italian velvets. These were in many ways most effectively treated for ornamentation, such as by varying the colour of the pile, by producing pile of different lengths (pile upon pile, or double pile), and by brocading with plain silk, with uncut pile or with a ground of gold tissue, &c. The earliest sources of European artistic velvets were Lucca, Genoa, Florence and Venice, which continued to send out rich velvet textures. Somewhat later the art was taken up by Flemish weavers, and in the sixteenth century, Bruges attained a reputation for velvets that were not inferior to those of the great Italian cities.
Chiffon (or transparent) velvet: Very lightweight velvet on a sheer silk or rayonchiffon base.
Ciselé: Velvet where the pile uses cut and uncut loops to create a pattern.
Crushed: This type of velvet can be produced by pressing the fabric down in different directions. It can also be produced by mechanically twisting the fabric while wet. The result is patterned appearance that is very lustrous.
Devoré or burnout. A velvet treated with a caustic solution to dissolve areas of the pile, creating a velvet pattern upon a sheer or lightweight base fabric.
Embossed: A metal roller is used to heat-stamp the fabric, producing a pattern.
Hammered: This type is extremely lustrous, appears dappled, and somewhat crushed.
Lyons: A densely woven, stiff, heavier-weight pile velvet used for hats, coat collars and garments.
Mirror: A type of exceptionally soft and light crushed velvet.
Nacré: Velvet with an effect similar to shot silk, where the pile is woven in one or more colours and the base fabric in another, creating a changeable, iridescent effect.
Panné: Also a type of crushed velvet, panné is produced by forcing the pile in a single direction by applying heavy pressure. Sometimes, less frequently, called paon velvet.
Pile-on-pile: A particularly luxurious type of velvet woven with piles of differing heights to create a pattern.
Plain: Commonly made of cotton, this type of velvet has a firm hand and can be used for many purposes.
Utrecht: A pressed and crimped velvet associated with Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Velveteen is a type of imitation velvet. It is normally made of cotton or a combination of cotton and silk. It has a pile that is short (never more than 3mm deep), and is closely set. It has a firm hand and a slightly sloping pile. Unlike true velvet, this type has greater body, does not drape as easily, and has less sheen.
Voided is deliberately woven with areas of pile-free ground (usually satin) forming the pattern.
Wedding ring or ring velvet: Another term for devoré and/or chiffon velvets which are allegedly fine enough to be drawn through a ring.
Silk: More expensive than plain velvet, this type is usually shinier and softer than the cotton variety.
Viscose: In terms of quality, this type is more similar to silk velvet than cotton velvet.
^Strong Hillhouse, Marian (1963). Dress selection and design. Macmillan. p. 156. Chiffon velvet is also called "wedding ring velvet," because it is supposedly so light _and soft it can be pulled through a wedding ring.