Design, Photography, & Fashion

What Is Velvet? A Guide to the Different Types of Velvet

Written by MasterClass

Aug 22, 2019 • 3 min read

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Marc Jacobs Teaches Fashion Design

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.

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What Is Velvet?

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 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.

What Are the Origins of Velvet?

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.

How Is Velvet Made?

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Velvet today is usually made from synthetic and natural fibers, but it was originally made from silk.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.

7 Different Types of Velvet

There are several different velvet fabric types, as the fabric can be woven from a variety of different materials using a variety of methods.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Ciselé. This type of patterned velvet is created by cutting some looped threads and leaving others uncut.
  5. 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.
  6. Stretch velvet. Stretch velvet has spandex incorporated in the weave which makes the material more flexible and stretchy.
  7. 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.

What Is the Difference Between Velvet, Velveteen, and Velour?

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.

Become a better fashion designer with the MasterClass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by fashion design masters including Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, and more.

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