Voluminous Velvet

1 – Welcome to tonight’s #Treadtalk.

#Velvet may bring to mind 1970s couches, or your 90s goth stage, but that’s a long way from its luxurious roots.

So let’s brave the Black Plague, the cold, and questionable fashion choices together, in the name of this truly royal fabric.

Green Velvet Dress - Image © National Museums Scotland
Woman's dress, one of a two part ensemble, in dark green silk velvet, fastening at the front with a standing collar with lapels, bodice front and cuffs trimmed with dark green ribbed silk, full-length sleeves and the skirt shaped for a bustle at the back with a large self-material bow: British, Scottish, Edinburgh, by Gowan and Strachan, c.1885 - 1888

2 – As with many fabrics, there is debate as to where velvet began. Some say China, others say Egypt & others point to the Middle East.

What they can agree on is that it’s a pain in the ass to make and $$$$$ AF. Original velvet was silk, too.

Artichoke Velvet - Ottoman Empire, 16th Century - the Met Museum

Bursa, a mountainside city in northwest Anatolia about 60 kilometers from Istanbul, was from the mid-fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries the major production center of velvets in the Ottoman empire. This splendid panel, composed of two loom-width pieces sewn together, typifies Bursa velvet weaving in the late sixteenth century. The motifs, especially the feathery leaves embracing the artichokes, are among the most frequently used by Ottoman weavers (and ceramicists) in this period. Fabrics such as this one were primarily employed in furnishings, such as cushions, curtains, and wall hangings, in the Ottoman empire. The many examples exported to Europe, on the other hand, were most often used in ceremonial costumes.

3 – Velvet is a pile fabric, which means it relies on lots of sharp objects & a touch of violence for production.

Yup! Velvet’s pile yarn is on the warp direction & must be cut on the loom or, in face-to-face methods–slicing down the middle to create two mirror-like textiles.

4 – When velvet is cut on the loom itself, it’s done with steel slicing rods.

I watched this video on loop for like 20 minutes last night. I cannot stress enough >> SOUND ON<<.

Go watch. Come back. I’ll still be here.

5 – This process of cutting or shaving the loops is what makes velvet so soft & visually stunning.

It creates a high density surface that absorbs & reflects light; dyes saturate in truly remarkable ways, but the fabrics also shimmer. (Panel 13th-14th century Iran, below)

Panel of velvet late 13th–14th century 
Iranian, probably Tabriz

6 – The pile is also its weakness. Though we know there were examples of pile weaves similar to velvet dating to around 2000 BCE, they are few.

Since the threads are shaved & “open”, over time they wear away. Like this gorgeous hat from India. You can see the patches.

Helmet 18th century 
Central Indian 
Met museum - red velvet hat with long ear flaps and geometric designs that show wear and tear on the edges.

7 – Yet, because velvet is saucy like that, playing upon wear can make for some damn fine patterns, like in this late 18th century court suit.

It’s got cut & uncut velvet which makes the pattern on the silk. There are MANY kinds of velvet that play with these sorts of features.

8 – If you’re a #threadtalks follower, you’ll know that it’s no surprise that the Renaissance heralded in the biggest velvet mania, but how that happened wasn’t a straight line.

These lovely ladies are rocking the black velvet like it’s 1599.

9 – Wherever it actually started, by the early 14th century, velvet-making had spread to Europe, including in Lucca, a city in Northern Italy famed for cloth.

Sadly, the Black Plague ravaged the area, & Lucca’s weavers went to bigger city centers like Venice, Florence & Genoa.

10 – Genoa, also known for its salami, was known far & wide as having some of the finest velvets, but I’m willing to bet there are turf wars all around Italy for that title.

You can still snag some 16th C voided velvet brocade like this one for a mere 30-50K GBP. ::cough::

11 – So it makes total sense that this Van Dyck portrait, one of many of his Genovese nobles series, shows Paola Adorno Brignole Sale in cascading deep-blue velvet.

Especially in colder climate locales, nothing quite said opulence like silk velvet to keep you warm.

12 – Fun fact before we get into some SERIOUS WEIRDNESS (I’m warning you):

Richard II of England requested that his body be swathed in velvet upon his burial.

Judging by this manuscript from 1400, he may have gotten his wish.


First, we have the visard or vizard. This mask was made of velvet & nightmares & worn by noble ladies who wanted to go outside and stay super pale. I guess.

It was held in place BY A BUTTON THAT YOU WOULD CLENCH WITH YOUR TEETH. This so sus.

14 – Meanwhile in France, the “mouche” (“fly”)became a major trend — that is a fake birthmark.

Often made of velvet for its softness & whatnot, these could cover up nasty pox marks & diseased flesh, but could also signal illicit meanings… Wink wink, buzz buzz, seep seep.

15 – Velvet codpieces were also a thing.

As you do. Because what else would make them out of? No, don’t answer that.

Now, the codpiece craze wasn’t particularly long or enduring (HAHAHAHA) but it certainly left an impression.

Ahem. Expand image at your own will.

Man with a velvet suit and codpiece. Giovanni Battista Moroni 021

16 – Here. Have a chair. It’s a special velvet chair. We need to like, take a breather here.

This is the Juxon Chair, 1661. V & A museum. It was used during the coronation of Charles II William Juxon, Archbishop of Canterbury (1582-1663). Made by a guy named John Casbert.

A worn velvet X-shaped chair.

17 – Our good old friend the Jacquard loom meant more velvet in fashion—but though it was cheaper, it was still extravagant.

We see many hats & dresses with velvet trim in the 19th century, using that light-absorbing technique. This court gown from 1828 is one of my faves.

18 – By the mid 19th century, we start to see more experimental velvet piecing, including cut velvet appliqué & really playing with different materials.

This beauty even adds some chenille for some extra pizazz.

GET READY for more FROCKS. It’s about to get hot & heavy in here.

Pink satin and velvet dress with cuffs and trim in a rose color hue with built-in choker design.

19 – Men were wild for velvet & not just because it made for a comfortable codpiece. By the early 18th century you see high-contrast court jackets all over the place.

This teal ensemble matches my hair and I would 100% wear it right now. Look at that TEAL VOID.

Teal and gold, ornately designed men's ensemble - via the Boston MFA.

20 – This 19th C jacket from Bukhara, Uzbekistan is a ceremonial woman’s coat (chalet or munisak) and it includes cut-velvet irate on a resist-dyed pile warp.

I love it so, so much.

Woman's coat (chalat). Coat with flared hips and long tapered sleeves, open down entire front; skirt split at sides to just above hemline. Made of ikat velvet in bright, red, green, yellow, blue, violet and white. Lining shows border of glazed silk and cotton (weft) ikat in subdued tones of same colors. All edges trimmed with black, white and blue silks embroidered in herringbone stitch. White taffeta lining cracked, torn. - via Boston MFA

21 – The 20s ushered in an end era of velvet love particularly in overcoats.

Many of these included devoré silk velvet—which literally means to devour. We now know this as burnout silk. Chemicals used would burn away patterns.

JUST BEHOLD. All from the V&A dating from the 20s.

22 – Some more velvet fashion that I just can’t help but share. Especially the yellow one. I love yellow. And yellow velvet might actually be magical.

But also the blue is basically made of aether. Right?

23 – This Pingat cape might be the velvet CAPE OF CAPES. This is clearly owned by a wizard. Or an enchantress. Perhaps Morgan le Fay herself?

This blue is like a song in my brain.

The rich color of the royal blue velvet is evocative of the original wearer who at that point in time would have been seen as a precious jewel who required continual attention and assistance. That perceived helplessness is also reflected in the cape's lack of armholes, which would limit easy mobility. Pingat's treatment of the trim completes the luxurious quality of the garment with a liberal application of guipure lace in vertical lines emphasizing the statuesque, but somewhat removed, appearance of the wearer.

24 – Okay, one more mantle before I talk about velvet paintings. This one is … no words. Just inappropriate thoughts.

From 1900, Bon Marché department store in Paris.

DescriptionEmerald green evening mantle with black jet beading and diamante trim, cream chiffon and lace lining. Labeled: "Au Bon Marché, Maison A. Boucicaut, Paris."

25 – Yes, velvet paintings are a thing! Modern ones are rooted in Mexican and Chicano folk art, it goes back a long time—some attribute India to its invention.

Velvet paintings have been around a long time, though. Here’s one of that’s a George Washington Memorial.

A memorial painting in folk art for George Washington, on velvet with watercolors. From Boston MFA collections.

26 – With the invention of polyester fibers, velvet is pretty easy to come by these days.

Good velvet It’s STILL very expensive b/c even with technology, it’s super complex. Check this video for more:


27 – There’s a lot more I can say, but I’ve worn out my welcome, just like a good velvet over time. Here are a few more gorgeous dress.

This velvet House of Worth dress combines last week’s topic (LACE!) with this week’s. That’s some full-circle threads there…

1893-95 - deep crimson velvet dress with lacework trim, narrow waist, and bulbous sleeves. From House of Worth, via Met Museum.

28 – Time for… Sources! There are a lot. Part I —









29 – Sources II: https://hellovintage.com/1920s-velvet-devore-the-history-why-we-love-it/










30 – As always, thanks for coming to my #ThreadTalk! Y’all are the best.

Here’s a darling sewing kit. Just to round it out.

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on March 2, 2021.

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