Velvet 101Sep 01, 2008

In May I posted an entry on Linen, it's suitability for various uses and how you can expect it to change over time with use. Now I'd like to focus on one of the most beautiful and luxurious fabrics in the world; Velvet, which has experienced a resurgence in popularity over the last few years.

Of course velvet cloth is comprised of two parts; a woven backing and a pile which is usually referred to as the 'face'. It is generally woven using two different methods: A 'V' weave is where two layers of fabric with connecting threads are cut apart; or alternatively a 'W' weave, where additional warp threads are lifted over wires forming loops. These loops are then cut when the wires are withdrawn. A 'W' weave has a more secure pile and is a superior and more expensive cloth. Often 'V' woven velvets have a coating applied on the reverse side to hold the pile fibres in place. To find out the type of weave a velvet has draw out a single thread from the pile (near the selvage!) and see whether it resembles a simple 'V' or a 'W' which has a kink in the middle.


Once the basic velvet cloth is woven it can then be further treated to create numerous variations, eg burnout (Devoré), crushed, embossed (Gaufrage), cut velvet, pressed flat (Panne) and printed. Figured velvet is where the pile is woven in designated areas to create a pattern. Moquette is basically velvet, however the woven loops are not cut.

Due to the weaving process a velvet's pile has a 'direction' or nap which can be identified by moving your hand up and down the length. The direction of the nap on a piece of furniture or drapery is very important to the look and wearability of your velvet. For drapery the nap usually runs upwards ie the pile is smooth when stroked from bottom to top. Once hanging the pile will then 'relax' or open, revealing it's full lustre. On furniture the nap should run from top to bottom, ie smooth when running your hand from the top of the back cushion, all the way down the front of the seat, then down to the floor. This places less abrasive pressure on the pile as we tend to slump down and forward as we settle into a chair or sofa.

Many different types of fibres are used to weave velvet of which we have a wide selection at Unique: Natural fibres like silk, mohair, linen and cotton; synthetic velvets using acrylics, polypropylene and polyester; and finally cellulose velvets made with viscose and modal. Modern day velvets often have blended compositions to enhance their various qualities, eg viscose is blended with cotton to add lustre and strength. The composition of the backing yarns are generally different from the face to provide a strong base for the pile to be 'anchored' to.

Mohair (Angora goat) and Silk velvets really are the ultimate in luxury and although expensive they are surprisingly durable, particularly Mohair; many Deco chairs still with their original coverings are testament to that. Mohair velvets have a sumptuous, deep pile and are often very thick, consequentially not suitable for fine tailored pieces with, say, pleating or narrow piping. Mohair also has low flammability, excellent acoustic dampening properties and great natural repellence to dirt; a simple brushing and gentle vacuum will greatly prolong it's life-span.


Linen Velvet has a distinctive 'dry' handle with a matte look. It is often referred to as the 'Summer Velvet' as it is breathable and cool to touch. It looks great in a natural or casual/country type interior as it doesn't have a showy sheen, however Linen velvet takes up dye extremely well to create deep, sumptuous colours. The pile of a linen velvet is very susceptible to bruising or crushing which creates a much sort after vintage look.

In the last 10 years the popularity of cellulose velvets, particularly Viscose (often branded as Rayon) for interior design applications has increased greatly. Viscose has a deep lustre and soft handle which will provide glamour and luxury to a room. Viscose velvet is often rolled and pressed flat to create a very high sheen velvet.

Synthetic velvets too have been on the market for many decades and while durable they certainly don't have many of the qualities a natural or cellulose velvet has. However with the development of yarns over the years some synthetic velvets do recreate the luxurious look and feel of 'real' velvet. Andrew Martin's 'Cruise' collection (Modacrylic) is a beautiful example of this whilst remaining extremely hardy for commercial applications, (Modacrylics are also flame retardant, resistant to mildew and have great dimensional stability).

It must be noted that the advent of acrylic velvet has changed many people's expectations of how ALL velvets will 'behave'. It should be pointed out that velvets woven with natural and cellulose fibres are far more rich and luxurious and it is because of their softness and lustre that these velvets WILL crush and mark as a result of normal handling, use and wear. This should be considered as an expression of the fabric’s construction, comfort and elegance. It is a matter of personal taste but, like a natural leather, I believe velvet improves with age as it 'wears-in'. Other factors such as general humidity and heat, style of furniture and it's construction (type of padding, piping, linings etc) will also impact upon a velvet's pile.


This last point is certainly worth thinking about when specifying furniture to be upholstered in velvet, particularly with the less secure 'V' weaves. It is recommended that these velvets be fully lined with a heavy, breathable cloth. This will protect the reverse side of the velvet (which 'anchors' the pile) from the abrasive effects of general use.

Please note that the images above feature some of the velvets we have available at Unique Fabrics. Please contact us if you are interested in any.


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