Fabric Dictionary: What is Velvet?

When you think of velvet, an air of luxury comes to mind. You may imagine thick velvet drapes, smooth velvet pillows, or soft velvet dresses. Knowing the ins and outs of different fabric types is essential for any fashion business, and velvet is a unique fabric with versatile applications. Read on to learn the answer to the question “What is velvet?” You’ll also learn its history and how to properly use this beautiful and luxurious fabric in your fashion brand.

What Is Velvet Fabric?

Velvet is a type of fabric known for its smooth, soft, and shiny quality. But velvet is not made from a particular kind of fiber as some fabrics are. In fact, it can be made from anything, from natural fibers like silk, wool, and cotton, synthetic fibers like rayon or polyester, or a combination of both. Traditionally, it was made from silk. Toady, velvet made exclusively from silk is rare and extremely expensive. In more modern applications, velvet fabric tends to be made of synthetic fibers. This makes it more practical and cost-effective for use in all kinds of clothing.

Instead of referring to the fiber that it’s made from, the term velvet refers to the way that the fibers are structured. It has an extremely dense and plush pile of fibers that are evenly cut resulting in a soft, smooth nap. Velvet is instantly recognizable because of its shiny sheen and beautiful drape. These are characteristic of fabrics with a short pile.

Velvet has many applications in the textile world and is great for any use where softness is particularly desired, including in bedsheets and intimate wear. In addition, its visual appeal and aesthetic quality make it perfect for fabrics that are on display, like drapes, pillow coverings, or furniture. However, it can sometimes be more expensive than other fabrics, depending on the materials it’s made from. And some types of velvet must be dry-cleaned, which makes them a bit more difficult to maintain.

Types of Velvet

Types of velvet include:

  • Crushed velvet –  the “crushed” appearance of this kind of velvet is achieved by twisting or pressing the fabric when it’s wet.
  • Plain velvet – this heavy type of velvet is usually made from cotton, making it less shiny than other materials.
  • Embossed velvet – can have decorative designs pressed onto it.
  • Pile-on-pile velvet – is made of two or more piles of different heights in order to create patterns.
  • Stretch velvet – this type of velvet is combined with spandex to give it a stretchy quality

There are also other unique types of velvet available on the market that can be used to add flair to pieces of clothing

The History Of Velvet

Velvet is often thought of as the fabric of choice for European nobility during the Renaissance, but its history goes back much further, most likely to the ancient cultures of China, Iraq, and Egypt. Pieces of silk woven into velvet dating back thousands of years have been found in the Middle East. Because it was difficult to manufacture, silk was the chosen fabric of royalty, who were the only ones able to afford it. During the days of the Silk Road trading route between Asia and Europe, velvet was introduced in Italy, where a bustling velvet industry began. In the coming years, luxurious velvet curtains, furniture cushions, and clothing items were made.

In Europe, velvet production peaked during the years of the Renaissance, where it was expensive and labor-intensive to produce. But in the following centuries, the industrial revolution brought with it the ability to produce any type of fabric more quickly and easily on mechanical looms. Despite this, velvet is still thought of as an opulent textile that remains popular today. Throughout the 20th century, trends in velvet came and went, but its appeal has been enduring for centuries.

How Is Velvet Made?

In ancient times, velvet was made by hand. It could only be made very slowly because of the difficult process involved. Today, however, velvet is usually produced in factories or knitting mills. Velvet is made from vertical yarn and manufactured on a special loom known as a double cloth loom. This loom spins two layers of fabric at the same time. These two fabric layers are then separated and are wound up onto rolls for the consumer to purchase.  Once velvet is woven into cloth, it can be dyed in different colors. Most of today’s velvet is manufactured in China.

When To Use Velvet In Your Brand?

Any fashion designer should understand the unique characteristics of each fabric to know how best to put it to use. Think about what makes velvet stand out from other fabrics. It’s beautiful, shiny and soft, and can be used in contemporary-looking pieces or more traditional applications. Keep in mind that velvet was popular during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. This means that if you’re going for a retro or vintage look, velvet can be an especially great textile choice.

Velvet is also used in long, flowing evening dresses, simple skirts, shoes, or undergarments. Though it’s most often thought of as a fabric primarily for women’s clothing, suit jackets, shirts, and pants for men can feature velvet too. There are countless stylish ways to wear velvet, but it’s always important to look closely at your own brand and style before simply adding just any fabric. Make sure that the appeal of velvet, whether for its luxuriousness, its shine, or its softness, matches with the overall look and feel of your fashion brand.

Closing Thoughts

Keep in mind that there are different types of velvet available, which can be used in many ways. Don’t limit yourself to traditional applications, and don’t shy away from using velvet in surprising ways. Velvet can be a great way to set your fashion business apart from your competition. It’s all about coming up with unique designs that show off your capabilities as a designer while creating comfortable and fun pieces that your audience will love.


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