Glossary: Velvet and Other Pile Fabrics

Velvet is a type of pile fabric, which can be made of various fibers. Traditionally, velvet is made of silk, or sometimes wool. Historically, the term “plush” seems to have applied to a variety of fibers and fiber combinations, but consistently seems to have had a deeper pile than velvet. Today, velvet is most commonly available made from synthetic fibers, or sometimes from rayon. Burn-out velvets are made of a combination of silk and rayon, and undergo a chemical process to remove some of the material to create a pattern. Cotton velvet is usually made with a short pile, and known as velveteen. Pile fabrics come in many varieties, but for historical, pre-twentieth century applications, generally only natural fiber pile fabrics, and occasionally rayon, are appropriate. Because silk and even cotton velvet ribbons are very difficult to find today but were much used historically, it is sometimes necessary to substitute high quality man-made velvet ribbons; in this case, man-made cellulosic fibers such as rayon and acetate, are preferable to noncellulosic synthetics such as polyester and acrylic.

Definitions of velvet, plush, velveteen, and other pile fabrics from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

On page 46, under the heading “Velvet,” it is stated that “Velvet is a dense, pile-woven fabric commonly produced in cotton or silk. Florence Montgomery notes that it was also produced in wool in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Textiles in America, 370). Depending upon one’s budget, either cotton or silk velvet could be used in the early nineteenth century for breeches or pantaloons, vests, cloaks or greatcoats, and dresses. Velvet was also much used as trimming and embellishment; for example, many men’s coats and cloaks from the period have velvet collars. The sample shown here is cotton velvet.”

All on page 180: “Velvet” is defined as “silk fabric cut with a dense pile on right side, may have a cotton back.” Then “cut velvet” is defined as “velvet with the pile loops cut so the pile is of single threads.” Later, “uncut velvet” is defined as “pile velvet; loops of the pile are not cut.” Then “velveteen” is defined as “cotton fabric made in imitation of velvet.” Then “wool velour” is defined as “heavy wool fabric with a pile like velvet.”

On page 179, “plush” is defined as “fine quality cotton fabric with a pile or nap of silk, softer and longer than velvet.”

On page 370, “velvet” is defined as “A pile fabric made of silk, wool, or cotton fibers. It is an extra-warp woven-pile structure whereas velveteen is an extra-weft structure.” Also on page 370, “velveteen” is defined as “Cotton velvet. According to Emery it has an extra-weft woven-pile structure.” On page 325, “plush (Fr. peluche)” is defined as “Wool velvet. A kind of stuff with a velvet nap or shag on one side.”

On page 287, “Manchester velvets” are defined as “Cotton velvets including thickset, velveret, and corduroy.” On page 363, “thickset” is defined as “A kind of cotton fustian or velvet made either plain or flowered.” On page 370, “velveret” is defined as “A cotton pile fabric, often ribbed like corduroy, and largely made in the Machester area from about 1750” and the entry goes on to discuss how they were often stamped and patterned.

On page 205, “corduroy” is defined as “‘A kind of coarse, durable cotton fabric, having a piled surface, like that of velvet, raised in cords, ridges, or ribs’ (Merriam-Webster). It was made with an extra weft in the pile. The character of corduroy has not changed greatly since the late eighteenth century.”

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Updated January 10, 2012


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