Down in South Carolina our weather is far from cold. In fact, we are still feeling the high nineties and full humidity. But that doesn’t stop us from dreaming about fall! With all the littles heading back to school are thoughts are turning toward pumpkin spice, falling leaves, and-can you believe it-Christmas sewing! So now, heading into fall and winter, we are giving some thought to one of our favorite fancy fabrics for cool weather: velvet!
One of the most distinguishable marks of velvet is it’s pile: its raised, brushed surface. The luxurious appearance of velvet as well as its elaborate production has always associated it with nobility and status. It was brought into European fashion by way of Venice, Italy around the 14th centurty. The Venetians imported this gorgeous textile from Cairo, Egypt-the world’s largest producer of velvet at the time. The Europeans began to view this fine fabric as a symbol of their power and status. Some wealthy families would specially commission velvet woven with the design of their crest or coat-of-arms. The story goes that King Richard II of England even directed in his will that he wished to be buried with his body clothed in velveto (in velvet).
But of course the nobility loved velvet. Its pile gives it stunning dimension and its drape is perfect. And every little girl who has had a velvet Christmas dress knows that it is the perfect fabric on which to draw shapes by smoothing the pile in different directions 🙂 So how is this wonderful fabric created? Velvet is woven in a very unique way-different from other fabrics. Velvet is woven sort of like a sandwich. The threads that are used to create the pile are woven joining the two layers until a point in the weaving process when the top and bottom layers are cut apart. This separates the joining threads and results in the lovely brush of pile. This method of weaving is called the “face method”.
Velvet can be woven using many different kinds of threads. Today the most common types of velvet are silk-rayon velvet and cotton velvet. Some other options are linen, wool, and of course synthetic fibers such as polyester. At Farmhouse Fabrics we like our silk-rayon velvet the best. The silk gives the fabric an even greater sheen! One of our dreams is to one day come across some velvet that is 100% silk. Pure silk velvet is now extremely rare and sells at hundreds of dollars per yard in the US market.
Like silk, velvet has held on to its status throughout time. In the 1300s it was a rare textile that was full of upper-class luxury and today we still view it as a “special occasion” fabric. It is truly perfect for dressing the little ones we love so much.