What is velvet - one name, many fabrics
Velvet is just an umbrella term, which refers to a range of fabrics. Velvet refers to a weaving method, where two layers form the base layer.
Between these two layers, a second warp thread - this is the thread that runs with the grain - is weaved in to create little loops. Once the fabric is woven, it’s cut apart by cutting through the loops. This weaving process results in two lengths of fabric. The height of the pile - the little loops - defines the fabric.
Velvet fabric has a pile of up to 2 millimetres. Anything above that is a velour.
This manufacturing process is used for cotton velvet and decor velvet. Stretch velvet and panne velvet are not made using this elaborate process, which requires special weaving machines. They are woven in a way that makes them stretchy.
Panne velvet is made from finer threads than stretch velvet. The fabric is then finished using irons or presses. This process is sometimes called panning, giving it its name “panne velvet”.
Velvet - a short history lesson
Silk and velvet are closely related, as velvet fabric was always made of silk up until the 19th century. Velvet was therefore only used to make elegant dresses and evening wear for the upper classes, and only rarely worn due to its high price. After industrialisation and the development of new fibres such as polyester and viscose, velvet became accessible enough to wear on the streets, as it was now available to everyone as a cheap fabric.
Properties of velvet
Velvet fabrics have a soft feel to them. This makes them lovely to wear as garments, and they create a cosy atmosphere when used to make home furnishings.
Cheaper panne velvet fabrics have a slightly shiny surface. Cotton velvet has a more matte finish, giving it a sophisticated look. Velvet with synthetic fibres has a shinier finish, and stretch velvet offers a good amount of give, making it ideal for flattering garments.
The pile on velvet fabric has one direction where it sticks up and one direction where it lies flat. When cutting velvet, you should take care to make sure that the pile runs in the direction you want it to - otherwise part of your dress could be shiny and other parts could be matte.
Useful care tips for velvet fabrics
Woven velvet is a bit of a diva. It needs special care and attention. To keep the pile long, you should rarely wash velvet, and only give it a gentle handwash. We recommend removing stains from the fabric using a soft brush.
If there are any stubborn stains on your fabric, it might be worth having it professionally cleaned.
Panne velvet is made from 100% polyester, and therefore much easier to care for. Panne velvet can simply be washed by machine at 30°. You should never put it in the tumble dryer, and should only iron it on the lowest setting from the wrong side.
An elegant partner for velvet
Velvet and silk are ideal fashion bedfellows. A black velvet suit combined with a silk blouse is a great outfit for an evening event.
Lace and satin also make excellent outfits when combined with velvet. Lace and satin trims are a great way to add a finishing touch to a velvet garment.
Creative sewing projects with velvet
A smart dress made from green velvet isn’t just for Jane Austen period dramas - it would be a great fashion statement for a Christmas party. Red is a popular colour for velvet dresses - perfect for wearing on a date on Valentine’s Day. Red velvet also has another claim to fame - curtains at the theatre or cinema are often made from red decor-weight velvet as this fabric provides instant opulence and luxury.
To sum it up...
If you’re looking for a fabric that looks luxurious and provides a cosy atmosphere, you can’t go wrong with velvet. A cheaper panne velvet is much easier on the bank balance.
Velvet can be hard to care for, so it should be washed as little as possible. Velvet is an excellent partner for silk.
All you need to do now is choose the right colour and get stitching!