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Velvet is a luxury fabric that is used for clothing, furnishings and home ware because of its elegant texture, feel and drape. It wraps beautifully around curves and falls gracefully in evening gowns or curtains, in rich colours and lush designs.
The textured pile creates an endless play of light and shadow as this fabric moves around curves and rolls gently with movement. It suggests temptation, sexuality and unseen delights, especially in the intense jewel colours and of course its most popular form in ebony black.
Plain velvet is a plain weave fabric with a cut pile. Crushed velvet is a plain velvet that has been dampened and mechanically twisted. Panné velvet is similar to crushed velvet, but made by applying heavy pressure to sections of plain velvet. Cut velvet has intricate, brocade style patterns in relief, which are made by cutting the pile short to create the pattern, while leaving the remainder of the fabric in loops.
Velvet has a huge variety of uses in the home and as clothing. Velvet jackets for men were all the rage in the 1970s and are still used today as ‘smoking jackets’ and evening jackets for women.
Evening skirts and evening dresses are the most popular use of velvet in clothing today, for its luxurious looks and feel and velvet curtains will always be popular for their sumptuous looks and their warmth. Bed covers, seat covers and upholstery is also a popular use of velvets today.
Folding or creasing velvet can lead to a permanent flattened pile which will then ruin your garment, so it is important to take great care of any velvet clothes or drapery when storing it. Remove creases from velvet by steaming, or use a dedicated velvet board. This is a specialist ironing surface that has hundreds of fine wires sticking out, to preserve the pile during the ironing process.
Washing should be done by dry cleaning, but the Polyester Velvets are an excellent substitute that look and feel like the original silk velvet, but can be washed in any machine on a cool, delicate cycle.
The velvet weaving technique began in Egypt in 2000 BC and a list of treasures belonging to Caliph Haroun al-Rashid from 809 AD, shows that he owned 500 bolts of velvet as well as gold and Jewells, so Velvet is historically a sign of great wealth.
The first time velvet is mentioned in England was in1278, when the King’s Royal Tailor bought a bed upholstered with velvet from Paris costing 100 shillings. During the Middle Ages it was used regularly for upholstery, curtaining, and ceremonial clothing for the Nobility and the very rich. This was because the weaving process was all done by hand and the cost of the cloth was equal to that of gold.
The techniques of weaving velvet were kept very secret; passed down through weavers’ guilds, until the French Revolution, when Napoleon abolished the guilds. Since World War 2, velvet has been woven using rayon or acetate, as substitutes for silk, and more recently this has been surpassed by the polyester velvets.