Velvet is a sleek, soft fabric that is commonly used in intimate garments, upholstery and other textile applications. Due to how expensive it was to produce velvet textiles in the past, this fabric is often associated with the aristocracy. Even though most types of modern velvet are adulterated with cheap synthetic materials, this unique fabric remains one of the sleekest, softest man-made materials ever engineered.
The first recorded mention of velvet fabric is from the 14th century, and scholars of the past mostly believed that this textile was originally produced in East Asia before making its way down the Silk Road into Europe. Traditional forms of velvet were made with pure silk, which made them incredibly popular. Asian silk was already very soft, but the unique production processes used to make velvet result in a material that’s even more sumptuous and luxurious than other silk products.
Until velvet gained popularity in Europe during the Renaissance, this fabric was commonly used in the Middle East. The records of many civilizations located within the borders of in modern Iraq and Iran, for instance, indicate that velvet was a favorite fabric among the royalty the region.
When machine looms were invented, velvet production became much less expensive, and the development of synthetic fabrics that somewhat approximate the properties of silk finally brought the wonders of velvet to even the lowest rungs of society. While today’s velvet may not be as pure or exotic as the velvet of the past, it remains prized as a material for curtains, blankets, stuffed animals, and all manner of other products that are supposed to be as soft and cuddly as possible.
While various materials can be used to make velvet, the process used to produce this burnout velvet fabric is the same regardless of which base textile is used. Velvet can only be woven on a unique type of loom that spins two layers of fabric simultaneously. These fabric layers are then separated, and they are wound up on rolls.
Velvet is made with vertical yarn, and velveteen is made with horizontal yarn, but otherwise, these two textiles are made with largely the same processes. Velveteen, however, is often mixed with normal cotton yarn, which reduces its quality and changes its texture.
Silk, one of the most popular velvet materials, is made by unraveling the cocoons of silkworms and spinning these threads into yarn. Synthetic textiles such as rayon are made by rendering petrochemicals into filaments. Once one of these yarn types is woven into velvet cloth, it can be dyed or treated depending on the intended application.
The main desirable attribute of velvet is its softness, so this textile is primarily used in applications in which fabric is placed close to the skin. At the same time, velvet also has a distinctive visual allure, so it’s commonly used in home decor in applications such as curtains and throw pillows. Unlike some other interior decor items, velvet feels as good as it looks, which makes this fabric a multi-sensory home design experience.
Due to its softness, velvet is sometimes used in bedding. In particular, this fabric is commonly used in the insulative blankets that are placed between sheets and duvets. Velvet is much more prevalent in womenswear than it is in clothing for men, and it is often used to accentuate womanly curves and create stunning eveningwear. Some stiff forms of velvet are used to make hats, and this material is popular in glove linings.
China leads the world as the most prolific producer of synthetic textiles. These and other reckless industrial practices have rapidly made this communist nation the world’s largest polluter as well, and China is lagging far behind the rest of the world’s gradual switch to sustainable fabrics and non-polluting production processes.
Since “velvet” refers to a fabric weave instead of a material, it can’t technically be said that velvet as a concept has any impact on the environment. The different materials used to make velvet, however, have varying degrees of environmental impact that should be carefully considered.
Environmental impact of silk
Silk is the closest thing we have to an ideal fabric from an environmental standpoint. This embossed velvet fabric is still, in most cases, produced the same way it has been produced for thousands of years, and since the production of silk is not aided by any pesticides, fertilizers, or other toxic substances, making this fabric does not have any significant negative environmental impact.
Environmental impact of rayon and other synthetic textiles
Rayon is the most commonly used substitute for silk in velvet and velvet-inspired fabrics, and the production of this synthetic substance is significantly harmful to the environment. The rayon production process involves multiple chemical washes, and the base material of this substance is petroleum.
Essentially, rayon is non-biodegradable fossil fuel product that introduces tons of harmful chemicals into the water supply as it is created. With these detractors in full view, the only reason that rayon is still produced is that it is inexpensive.
The term “velvety” means soft, and it takes its meaning from its namesake fabric: velvet. The soft, smooth fabric epitomizes luxury, with its smooth nap and shiny appearance. Velvet has been a fixture of fashion design and home decor for years, and its high-end feel and appearance make it an ideal textile for elevated design.
Velvet is a soft, luxurious fabric that is characterized by a dense pile of evenly cut fibers that have a smooth nap. Velvet has a beautiful drape and a unique soft and shiny appearance due to the characteristics of the short pile fibers.
Velvet fabric is popular for evening wear and dresses for special occasions, as the jaguar velvet fabric was initially made from silk. Cotton, linen, wool, mohair, and synthetic fibers can also be used to make velvet, making velvet less expensive and incorporated into daily-wear clothes. Velvet is also a fixture of home decor, where it’s used as upholstery fabric, curtains, pillows, and more.
The first velvets were made from silk and, as such, were incredibly expensive and only accessible by the royal and noble classes. The material was first introduced in Baghdad, around 750 A.D., but production eventually spread to the Mediterranean and the fabric was distributed throughout Europe.
New loom technology lowered the cost of production during the Renaissance. During this period, Florence, Italy became the dominant velvet production center.
Velvet is made on a special loom known as a double cloth, which produces two pieces of velvet simultaneously. Velvet is characterized by its even pile height, which is usually less than half a centimeter.
Velvet today is usually made from synthetic and natural fibers, but it was originally made from silk. Pure silk velvet is rare today, as it’s extremely expensive. Most velvet that is marketed as silk velvet combines both silk and rayon. Synthetic velvet can be made from polyester, nylon, viscose, or rayon.
There are several different Holland velvet fabric types, as the fabric can be woven from a variety of different materials using a variety of methods.
Crushed velvet. As the name suggests, crushed velvet has a “crushed” look that is achieved by twisting the fabric while wet or by pressing the pile in different directions. The appearance is patterned and shiny, and the material has a unique texture.
Panne velvet. Panne velvet is a type of crushed velvet for which heavy pressure is applied to the material to push the pile in one direction. The same pattern can appear in knit fabrics like velour, which is usually made from polyester and is not true velvet.
Embossed velvet. Embossed velvet is a printed fabric created via a heat stamp, which is used to apply pressure to velvet, pushing down the piles to create a pattern. Embossed velvet is popular in upholstery velvet materials, which are used in home decor and design.
Ciselé. This type of patterned velvet is created by cutting some looped threads and leaving others uncut.
Plain velvet. Plain velvet is usually a cotton velvet. It is heavy with very little stretch and doesn’t have the shine that velvet made from silk or synthetic fibers has.
Stretch velvet. Stretch velvet has spandex incorporated in the weave which makes the material more flexible and stretchy.
Pile-on-pile velvet. This type of velvet has piles of varying lengths that create a pattern. Velvet upholstery fabric usually contains this type of velvet.
Velvet, velveteen, and velour are all soft, drapey fabrics, but they differ in terms of weave and composition.
Velour is a knitted fabric made from cotton and polyester that resembles velvet. It has more stretch than velvet and is great for dance and sports clothes, particularly leotards and tracksuits.
Velveteen pile is much shorter pile than velvet pile, and instead of creating the pile from the vertical warp threads, velveteens pile comes from the horizontal weft threads. Velveteen is heavier and has less shine and drape than velvet, which is softer and smoother.
For budding fashion designers, understanding the characteristics and feel of different fabrics is key. In her 20s, Diane von Furstenberg convinced a textile factory owner in Italy to let her produce her first designs. With those samples, she flew to New York City to build one of the world’s most iconic and enduring fashion brands. In her fashion design MasterClass, Diane explains how to create a visual identity, stay true to your vision, and launch your product.
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