With Christmas not far away, our thoughts turn to luxury and extravagance. This applies to fabrics too and what could be more regal than velvet? The term “velvet” refers to the weave of a fabric rather than to its fibre content. Velvet has a pile weave that is created when loops are formed during the weaving process. The pile weave is on one side of the velvet fabric, whilst the other side is plain. Velvet can be made from many different kinds of fibres, but traditionally silk was used. Velvet made entirely from silk is very costly, so other materials can be used such as cotton, although this often results in a slightly less luxurious fabric. Velvet can also be made from other natural fibres including linen, mohair, and wool. Nowadays, synthetic velvet’s are a lot more common, including polyester, nylon, viscose, acetate, and mixtures of different synthetics, or synthetics and natural fibres (for example viscose mixed with silk).
Velvet makes exceptional evening wear and formal clothing. Dresses, jackets, handbags, scarves, skirts and blouses are all items that can be made from velvet fabric. It can also be used in craft work and for plush, elegant curtains and upholstering furniture. At the turn of the 19th century, velvet could only be afforded by the very wealthy. Plain weave velvet is solid and thick with no patterns. Cut velvet which features patterns cut out around a base, is made in various ways such as cisele (satin fabric) and devore (chemically produced) and is often seen in home furnishings. Crushed velvet is also found in cushion covers, drapes, backdrops and clothing. This style of fabric is thinner than plain weave but has a continuous, unlike cut velvet.
One use of velvet which has seen a recent revival is flocked wallpaper. Based on a centuries old technique, flock wallpaper was devised as a means of imitating velvet and textile wall coverings. Flock wallcovering gets its name from the process of “flocking,” in which short fibres of powdered silk, wool or flock are applied to an adhesive-coated surface. As the fibres are extremely short, the effect resembles that of velvet. Once considered an extravagance used by the wealthy in the grandest apartments, it became quite outdated, most familiar (at least in Britain) as nothing more than bad taste décor in Indian restaurants where it was intended to evoke an atmosphere of Colonial grandeur. In recent years however, it has become fashionable to create a sumptuous interior with luxurious, velvet flocked wallpapers that make a statement; designs include stripes, damasks, traditional and contemporary geometric forms.
There is nothing quite as luxurious as velvet, unless it is velvet with a texture. Commercial velvets can be embossed with bold images, but there is a simple way to recreate the effects at home using stamps designed for fabric design and a simple household iron. The beauty of this method of embossing velvet is that your results can be bold or subtle, depending on the designs you choose. Bold, clear patterns look like they’ve been carved into the velvet, while smaller, more geometric designs give a subtler, overall texture or work well as borders.
The velvets that work best for embossing contain a large percentage of rayon, so avoid nylon or polyester velvets. Rayon/acetate blends retain the deepest, most dramatic impressions, and are great for pillows and other home design articles. For clothing, all-rayon or rayon/silk velvets drape well, and both are easy to emboss. Whichever velvet you choose, the embossed results will stay put through dry cleaning but should not be washed. Always try a small sample first and keep experimenting until you get the results you want!