Velvet is a type of woven tufted fabric in which the cut threads are evenly distributed, with a short dense pile, giving it a distinctive feel. By extension, the word velvety means “smooth like velvet.” Velvet can be made from either synthetic or natural fibers.
Velvet is woven on a special loom that weaves two thicknesses of the material at the same time. The two pieces are then cut apart to create the pile effect, and the two lengths of fabric are wound on separate take-up rolls. This complicated process meant that velvet was expensive to make before industrial power looms became available, and well-made velvet remains a fairly costly fabric. Velvet is difficult to clean because of its pile, but modern dry cleaning methods make cleaning more feasible. Velvet pile is created by warp or vertical yarns and velveteen pile is created by weft or fill yarns.
Velvet can be made from several different kinds of fibers, traditionally, the most expensive of which is silk. Much of the velvet sold today as “silk velvet” is actually a mix of rayon and silk. Velvet made entirely from silk is rare and usually has market prices of several hundred US dollars per 91 cm. Cotton is also used to make velvet, though this often results in a less luxurious fabric. Velvet can also be made from fibers such as linen, mohair, and wool. More recently, synthetic velvets have been developed, mostly from polyester, nylon, viscose, acetate, and from either mixtures of different synthetics or from combined synthetics and natural fibers (for example viscose mixed with silk produces a very soft, reflective fabric). A small percentage of spandex is sometimes added to give the final material a certain amount of stretch.
Denim is a sturdy cotton warp-faced textile in which the weft passes under two or more warp threads. This twill weaving produces a diagonal ribbing that distinguishes it from cotton duck.
The most common denim is indigo denim, in which the warp thread is dyed, while the weft thread is left white. As a result of the warp-faced twill weaving, one side of the textile is dominated by the blue warp threads and the other side is dominated by the white weft threads. This causes blue jeans to be white on the inside. The indigo dyeing process, in which the core of the warp threads remains white, creates denim’s signature fading characteristics.
Dry or raw denim (contrasted with “washed denim”) is denim that is not washed after having been dyed during production.
Over time, dry denim will usually fade, which is considered desirable by some people. During the process of use, fading will usually occur on those parts of the article that receive the most stress.
Felt is a textile material that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. Felt can be made of natural fibers such as wool, or from synthetic fibers such as petroleum-based acrylic or acrylonitrile or wood pulp-based rayon. Blended fibers are also common.
In the wet felting process, hot water is applied to layers of animal hairs, while repeated agitation and compression causes the fibers to hook together or weave together into a single piece of fabric. Wrapping the properly arranged fiber in a sturdy, textured material, such as a bamboo mat or burlap, will speed up the felting process. The felted material may be finished by fulling.
Needle felting is a method of creating felted objects without using water. The special needles used to make 3D sculpture, jewelry, adornments and 2D art have notches along the shaft of the needle that catch fibers and tangle them with other fibers to produce felt. These notches are sometimes erroneously called “barbs”, but barbs are protrusion (like barbed wire) and that would be difficult to thrust in to the wool and nearly impossible to pull out. There are many sizes and types of notched needles for different uses while working. Needle felting is used in industrial processes as well as in individual crafting.
Invented in the mid 17th century and used until the mid-20th centuries, a process called “carroting” was used in the manufacture of good quality felt for making men’s hats. Beaver, rabbit or hare skins were treated with a dilute solution of the mercury compound mercuric nitrate. The skins were dried in an oven where the thin fur at the sides turned orange, the colour of carrots. Pelts were stretched over a bar in a cutting machine, and the skin was sliced off in thin shreds, with the fleece coming away entirely. The fur was blown onto a cone-shaped colander and then treated with hot water to consolidate it. The cone then peeled off and passed through wet rollers to cause the fur to felt. These ‘hoods’ were then dyed and blocked to make hats. The toxic solutions from the carrot and the vapours it produced resulted in widespread cases of mercury poisoning among hatters. This is the origin of the phrase “mad as a hatter” which was used to humorous effect by Lewis Carroll in the chapter “A Mad Tea Party” (Alice in Wonderland)
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant. Linen is laborious to manufacture, but the fiber is very absorbent and garments made of linen are valued for their exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather.
The discovery of dyed flax fibers in a cave in Georgia dated to thirty-six thousand years ago suggests that ancient people used wild flax fibers to create linen-like fabrics from an early date.
Many products are made of linen: aprons, bags, towels (swimming, bath, beach, body and wash towels), napkins, bed linens, tablecloths, runners and chair covers.
Mohair is usually a silk-like fabric or yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat. Both durable and resilient, mohair is notable for its high luster and sheen, which has helped gain it the nickname the “Diamond Fiber”, and is often used in fiber blends to add these qualities to a textile. Mohair takes dye exceptionally well. Mohair is warm in winter as it has excellent insulating properties, while remaining cool in summer due to its moisture wicking properties. It is durable, naturally elastic, flame resistant and crease resistant. It is considered to be a luxury fiber, like cashmere, angora and silk, and is usually more expensive than most wool that comes from sheep.
Mohair is composed mostly of keratin, a protein found in the hair, wool, horns and skin of all mammals. While it has scales like wool, the scales are not fully developed, merely indicated. Thus, mohair does not felt as wool does.
The fine hair from younger animals is used for finer applications such as clothing, and the thicker hair from older animals is more often used for carpets and heavy fabrics intended for outerwear.
Mohair should not be confused with the fur from the angora rabbit, which is called angora wool.