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Meet the Velvets

Four Basic Varieties of Velvet: Silk, Rayon, Cotton and Wool

But I digress.  What I should have said, rather than “not all velvets are created equally” was that not all velvets are created of of equal fibers.  The fiber content of your velvet affects it’s hand (how it drapes when left to its own devices, as in, say, a really big skirt), it’s sheen, it’s weight, its durability, how you have to sew it, and ultimately whether or not it’s a period-looking choice.  Let’s take a look at a few of our velvety options:

samples of four velvets of different fiber composition
From left to right, we have a green 100% silk velvet (yes, pile and ground), a poly/rayon velvet in plummy-maroon, a terra-cotta colored cotton velvet, and a grey wool velvet.

Three of these (the silk, cotton, and wool ones) are displaced fabric samples that I bogarted, so I know their exact fiber composition.  The silk velvet is, in fact, all silk. That’s relatively rare: a lot of “silk” velvets are a silk ground with a rayon pile, or a synthetic ground with a silk blend pile.  (Why? Silk is more expensive than synthetics, and requires special care. Modern manufacturing does a lot of blending to cheapen up supply costs and produce a product that’s pretty close to the real thing. I mean, have you read the ingredients in your breakfast cereal lately?) The cotton velvet has a 100% cotton pile, while the ground is 77% cotton and 23% polyester. The wool velvet is listed as 70% wool and 30% rayon.  The tag doesn’t list the fiber content of the pile and ground separately, but I’ve looked pretty closely at the stuff using my mutant power of super-closeup vision (true story: being seriously myopic is like always having a magnifying glass handy), and all the pile fibers seen to have a characteristic wool crimp. Given what can be done with rayon these days, it’s good enough for demo purposes. The last sample is a scrap I snagged from the costume shop.  I can’t give you the exact fiber content, but trust me, it’s a low-end rayon velvet.  (This is a scrap from a hat. I sewed it.  There’s only one thing in this world that sews with that much hate and evil, and that’s a rayon velvet.)

Next: Silk and Rayon Velvets

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  1. Monique
    Monique January 3, 2011

    It’s interesting that you should post such an article as I have been noticing of late the shine of fabrics portrayed in portraits of the Renaissance period. You can definitely tell the difference between the satin/silk/taffeta shine (or the “thinner” fabrics) and velvet shine mostly based on how they lay on the wearer. An example from Bella’s website:

    I’ve seen more, but my 15 min break at work just ran out! :

    • missa
      missa January 3, 2011

      Yeah…. I’ve thought for a while that those velvets were awfully shiny, but it’s sort of apocrypha to mention in some circles… But then I had my hands on a real, live, bonafide sample, and I thought I could probably back the claim up. ;) Thanks for sharing the link, Mo!

  2. […] “Meet the Velvets” is the first page of a six page series on using velvet fabrics for historical costuming use, with a great deal of excellent information on different fiber and fiber blend velvets currently available, by Missa at Sempstress. […]

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