This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Velvet. [From Italian velluto, shaggy] A silken fabric having a short dense piled surface. It is the type of the numerous forms of piled fabrics now made, the methods employed in the manufacture of which are noticed under Weaving. Of the country whence it first came, or the people who were the earliest to hit upon the happy way of weaving it, nothing is known. We are probably indebted to Central Asia, or perhaps China for velvet as well as satin. It is not until the 14th century that any historical mention is made of this fabric, although fustian, which differs from velvet only in material, is mentioned as early as the middle of the 13th century. The peculiar properties of velvet, the splendid yet softened depth of dye-color it exhibited, at once marked it out as a fit material for ecclesiastical vestments, royal and state robes, and sumptuous hangings; and among the most magnificent fabrics of mediaeval times were Italian velvets. These were in many ways most effectively treated for ornamentation, such as by varying the color of the pile, by producing pile of different lengths (pile upon pile, or double pile), by brocading with plain silk, with uncut pile, or with a ground of gold tissue. The most expensive velvets at this period were made at Genoa, Florence and Venice, and to the present day Genoa continues to produce rich velvet textures in vast quantities. Crefeld and Lyons are also centers of velvet manufacture. The first velvet mill in America was built in 1865, but as the stockholders failed to give it their personal attention, its existence was brief, the machinery being sold in a few years to different manufacturers of spun silk. Hence until quite recently velvets in the United States have been an exclusive foreign fabric. At present, however, there are several factories in active operation, having been brought into existence by the increased duties on velvet under the late tariff act, which enables them to produce velvets in this country at a profit. The processes employed in the weaving of velvets are the same as in making plush, fustian, beaverteen, velvet and Wilton carpets. Its peculiar character is produced by the insertion of what seems to be short pieces of silk thread, secured under the weft thread, their ends standing upright and so close together as to completely conceal the foundation beneath. In weaving velvet, in addition to the ordinary warp and weft, there is an extra warp thread, called pile threads, arranged in the loom parallel to the regular warp, and much longer, which in the progress of weaving are passed over a fine brass wires laid across the width of the fabric. The working of a treadle carries the pile threads down over the wire, forming a loop, in which position the whole row is fastened by the next throw of the weft. Another wire is placed in the same position for the next row of loops across the fabric, and these are produced the same as the above. When the weaver has made a few inches of fabric the wires are removed. Each of them has a fine grove along its top surface, in which is run a sharp-pointed knife, thus cutting the loops, and leaving two ends of each one projecting above the fabric. The velvet is now trimmed evenly, brushed up, and dressed to produce a perfectly uniform and velvety pile. Fine qualities contain from 40 to 50 loops to an inch length of fabric, hence their production is exceedingly slow and laborious. In silk velvets the pile thread is organzine silk, which is the strongest and most lustrous used in weaving. There are two kinds of velvet which have the effect of being stamped or embossed. The real stamped velvet is comparatively of inferior quality, woven with a silk face and cotton back. The patterns are produced by means of stamping-irons which are applied to the face of the velvet under pressure. The effect is to cause the ground portions between the raised pattern to appear as if of satin make. Velvet broche is a superior fabric, with a design in the silk pile woven into the web, and not stamped. Ponson velvets are the fine, heavy grades used in cloak-making. Terry velvet is uncut velvet, woven entirely of silk, the loops presenting an appearance of fine ribs or cords running across the surface from side to side. Rubber velvet is not velvet, but is made by sprinkling powdered felt of any color over rubber cloth while the latter is hot and soft. The product looks like felt cloth, but is elastic, waterproof and exceedingly light. [See Embossed Velvet]