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Things to know about Velvet

What is velvet?

Velvet is a lush and glamorous fabric used to create clothing, furniture, bedding and accessories. It's heavy and durable, with a lovely sheen. Silk velvet has a soft drape and shimmering surface, while synthetic velvets have a strong sheen but don't drape as well. The term velvet refers to the weave and not to the content of the material: velvet can, in fact, be made from many different fibers. Most types of velvet are dyed with rich, deep colors like aubergine and purple, but the process takes very well to softer colors, too, like light golds and pink pastels. Velvet is luxurious and feels great to the touch and is highly sought after for its unique aesthetic.

Velvet has rich historical and royal roots. It's thought to have been discovered in the Far East during the 13th century and then found its way west along the Silk Road, becoming popular during the Italian Renaissance. Before modern industrial looms were invented, velvet was rare and expensive to produce, available only to royal families and the very wealthy. You can still see Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth today wearing luxurious, dyed velvet robes and regalia during formal ceremonies.

What is velvet made out of?

Rich and beautiful velvet can be woven from any type of yarn. Traditionally, it was woven from silk. Today, velvet is made from any combination of materials, including cotton, linen, wool and synthetic fibers.

Velvet is not a flat-woven fabric like linen, so it requires more yarn, is more complicated and takes multiple steps to produce. The yarn is first woven together on a loom between two layers of backing. The fabric is then split down the middle, creating two identical pieces, each with the upraised pile that provides its soft, heightened texture. To weave a velvet, the designer can choose between several different textile fibers for the ground warp. Each of them offers unique results:

  • Silk is used for the most precious velvet, as it creates a wonderful surface sheen and drapes with a beautiful softness.

  • Viscose is lustrous and adds a lovely shimmer.

  • Linen adds a matte look to velvet, but it absorbs dyes easily and thus creates intense colors.

  • Cotton is not as lustrous as silk and its pile is shorter. However, it's hard-wearing with a nice drape effect.

  • Synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester create shimmery velvet. Their drapery is heavy and not particularly soft.

Types of velvet

Depending upon the process and materials, you can find several different types of velvet, including:

  • Traditional velvet. This pure velvet was in the past woven from silk, making it labor-intensive and highly prized. Lustrous and shiny, it draped over the wearer like a glove. These days cotton and linen is often added in small degrees to the silk material to create high-quality velvet clothing and accessories.

  • Crushed velvet. As the name suggests, this fabric has a 'crushed' look and possesses great luster and shimmer. It's produced by twisting the fabric while it's wet. By weaving in multiple threads of different colors, marvelous designs are created in the fabric. The velvet is then brushed while still moist so that it sets with a grain.

  • Crinkle velvet. Crinkle velvet is a modern take on crushed velvet that shouts luxury and great texture. You can find crinkled velvet shams in fantastically rich colors to add glamour and depth to your furnishings.

  • Washed velvet. Many types of bedding are made with washed velvet, sewn with plush velvet on one side and smooth silk on the reverse. This material offers comfort and great style. All-cotton velvet is enzyme-washed for a beautifully soft, matte texture. The sateen reverse blends cotton and silk for supreme breathability.

How to clean and care for your velvet

Although velvet appears to be high-maintenance, it's tougher than it looks. Velvet is not delicate and can last for years if properly looked after. Many favorite velvet sectionals have held up well for decades.

When you sit on a velvet sofa, the pile may ruffle up: this is what professionals call "bruised." Soon, though, the pile returns to its natural state, or you can steam it gently to smooth it over. Heavier marks might remain, but like a strand of pearls, it's part of the natural patina that adds character. Simply put, velvet gets better with age.

Clean your velvet furniture as part of your regular cleaning regimen. When you vacuum the carpet, use the hand-held nozzle on your pieces to pick up dirt that might be in the pile's nooks and crannies. Velvet is usually treated with stain repellents so that spills can be removed with a dampened towel. Should a stain be dried and deep, consult the manufacturer.

For silk and cotton velvet bedding, the recommendation is usually dry cleaning. Some synthetic blends can be machine washed on gentle cycles and this should be clearly stated on the labels.

Whether you're in the market for a silvery duvet cover, a glam purple loveseat, or a unique, multi-colored evening gown, choose velvet. Its look and feel, softness, strength and durability together make velvet a worthy investment and a luxurious addition to your lifestyle.