Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A-Z Blog Challenge: V is for Velvet

It's on my mind since my recent visit to a luxury store where I got to savour the pleasures of fabric in its many forms. Among the rolls of lace, brocade, satin and silk were others of velvet, reminding me what a lovely fabric it is, too, with the way it catches the light with a soft sheen and the joy it is to touch, with its short cut pile somehow smooth, sensual and luxurious all at the same time.

It got me thinking. Velvet has always been a luxurious and expensive fabric with the best quality made of silk making it a favoured fabric of royalty back in the day. Before industrialisation the best quality hand made velvet was very costly partly because of the use of silk but also because the weaving process was very labour intensive. It required a special loom which wove two pieces of fabric joined together at the same time. It was then taken off the loom and cut apart by highly skilled workers. As well it was difficult to clean. So obviously not something the average working person would be wearing.

With industrialisation and the increasing availability of cotton (which can be used instead of silk although the fabric doesn't feel quite as luxurious) velvet became less expensive but still in the luxury fabric range, not least because cleaning it remained difficult. When I was a young woman, my mother made me an evening dress out of rich dark blue cotton velvet. It did feel wonderful to wear but without modern cleaning techniques I would have been terrified that something would have been spilled on it.

These days, while the fabulously wealthy can still have gowns of handmade silk velvet, the rest of us have to settle for lesser quality. You can still buy cotton velvet - I bought some recently to make a cloak for a historical costume - but the range is not as great as when I was growing up. You are more likely to find rolls of synthetic velvet made of polyester, nylon, viscose or acetate which is generally cheaper and lighter weight - older style velvets can be very heavy - and some synthetic velvet has spandex added to it to make 'stretch velvet'.

While these synthetic velvets are more practical you would be unlikely to mistake them for the older kind. They simply don't have that luxurious feel and texture. As so often happens, the search for practical and cheap means the quality has diminished - although there is a luxury blend of viscose and silk fabric which is both soft and reflective and shows that new can still be beautiful and sensual if not necessarily cheap.


Jo said...

As a kid I had a Snow White blue velvet cloak which I wore to parties over a Shirley Temple dress. In my early 20's my mother passed over a black velvet dress which was as hot as hades to wear. I do not know the quality of these fabrics, didn't know there was any differences, but knowing my mother I would assume these were silk velvets. The black evening gown had as much sheen as a mirror.

Helen V. said...

I still have a long black velvet evening cloak that my mother made for me when I was in my early twenties. There's probably enough fabric to make it over into a dress but I don't have the need for such things these days. Mum gave me a velvet dress to make over at one stage which is obviously very good quality but it's a colour that doesn't suit me so it's been packed away for years since that kind of velvet is pretty much out of fashion now.

mshatch said...

You've reminded me of a gorgeous velvet sofa I bought at a yard sale once with two matching chairs. Down filled. So comfortable. *sigh*

Helen V. said...

There's nothing like the feel of velvet, is there, mshatch. Thanks for coming by. I looked in on your blog. You have some really interesting posts. I'll be back.