Friday, May 18, 2012

CorpGoth's Care & Feeding of Velvet

Image: Pyramid Collection
As the weather warms up here in the Northern hemisphere, it's time to put away the velvets for the season. As we move these lovelies toward the back of the closet or into a storage space, it's a good idea to clean them carefully so the garments are fresh & in good condition when the temperature drops & we're ready to wear them again.

So I've resurrected & updated some advice I wrote eons ago for the original, which I was the original mistress of, back when the Internet was shiny & new & the most social we got was on Usenet.

Care and Feeding of Velvet
Velvet can be a very delicate fabric that requires special care. It is more difficult to care for than an old T-shirt, but it looks so pretty that it's worth it.

Types of velvet: 
Velvet, crushed velvet, burnout velvet, devoré velvet, velveteen, stretch velvet, panné velvet, and velour are all types of velvets used in clothing. "Velvet" typically refers to cut velvet, that is, a fabric with a thick pile (that's the little 'hairs' that stick up, perpendicular from the fabric), which faintly resembles fur.

The highest quality of cut velvet is made of silk -- this can be somewhat hard to find and is always  expensive. Most velvets used in ready-to-wear clothing and found in fabric stores are made of rayon or another synthetic blend. Velvet is also made of cotton, which has a more matte look, and that is often heavier and stiffer than rayon or silk velvets.

Velvet should be dry cleaned to preserve the lush, thick feel of the pile. Some cotton velvet can be machine washed, but check the label first and beware of shrinkage.

Crushed velvet is regular velvet that has been embossed with an irregular, crumpled texture. Crushed velvet should also be dry-cleaned.

Burnout or devoré velvet is regular velvet that has patterns etched into the fabric, which dissolves and removes part of the velvet's pile. This velvet should be dry-cleaned.

Velveteen has a much shorter pile, which gives it a dull, soft look, and it is often made of cotton, which can make it heavier and less drapey. Velveteen can sometimes be machine-washed (as long as the fabric has been pre-shrunk -- remember, cottons are prone to shrinkage). Dry cleaning is always a safe bet for velveteen.

Stretch velvet has an extremely short pile and a matte appearance. It's made of synthetic fibers, which gives it stretch, and can usually be machine-washed.

Panné velvet is stretch velvet with a shiny, slightly crushed appearance. Panné velvet is sometimes also called "crushed velvet," so when shopping online, be careful to look for "stretch" in descriptions and "lycra" or "spandex" in fiber content. Panné velvet is made of synthetic fibers and can usually be machine-washed.

Velour is a stretchy, velvet-like fabric with a very short pile and a dull, soft look. Velour is made of synthetic fibers and can be machine-washed.

Image: eBay (sold!)
How to treat velvet: 
Because most velvet must be dry cleaned, you want to do as much as you can to keep those velvet items looking and smelling fresh as long as possible.

Air it out -- When you remove a velvet garment, air it out for at least 24 hours. Do not immediately stuff it back into the closet or drawer. Put it on a hanger and hook that on the back of a door or chair, somewhere the garment will not drag but will get a bit of air circulation.

Use a spray -- If the garment is sweaty or smoky, turn it inside out. Spray all the smelly areas (armpits, neck, crotch, wrists, feet, etc.) with Febreeze, BioKleen Bac Out (or similar enzyme-based odor eliminator), or a three-to-one mixture of vodka and water (this is an old theater technician trick). Lightly mist the garment with one of these cleaners, don't soak it. Let the cleaner dry and air out for at least 24 hours, and then store the garment as usual.

Spot clean -- Carefully inspect velvet garment for spots and stains. Remove by patting (not rubbing) with a clean, damp cloth and a gentle soap. Once the spot is dry, you'll have to revive the velvet pile with steam and a stiff brush (see next section).

Never iron -- Don't press velvet with an iron at all -- you'll crush the nap. If your velvet garment gets wrinkly, you can steam it with a travel steamer or a steam iron held near the item (see next section). While you shouldn't need to, definitely don't iron stretch or panné velvets, primarily because the synthetic fibers may be prone to melting under the heat.

Wash carefully -- If a velvet garment has a "dry clean only" label, your best bet is to have the garment dry cleaned. If you must wash a velvet garment at home, do so in cool water with gentle detergent and lay the garment flat to dry (the big exception is stretch velvet, which can be treated like any delicate washable item). After washing, you'll need to revive the velvet's pile (see next section).

What to do about unintentionally crushed velvet: 
If the velvet's pile is crushed down from wear or washing, you can revive it. You will need a steam source and a small brush.

Get a steamer -- The most affordable and portable steam source I've found is a travel steamer. You fill this small appliance with water, then turn it on, and once the steam starts, you can point it directly at the fabric. A steam iron will also work, but you must be careful not to let the iron touch the fabric at all. In a pinch, you can hang a velvet garment in the bathroom and take a really hot shower to steam the velvet.

Brush out the velvet -- Once the garment is soft and steamy (but not damp), use a small brush (like a nail brush or a clean toothbrush) to gently lift the pile up. Do this very softly and always in brush in the same direction. The whole process should restore the look of the velvet.

Use velvet-on-velvet or a towel -- Another way to revive velvet is to use a scrap of velvet or even a very thick terry towel on your garment. Steam the creased section of the garment, as above. Then lay the scrap of velvet or towel down on an ironing board or other padded surface. Next, put your steamed velvet with the creased portion, pile side down, onto the velvet/towel. Hold a hot steam iron over this velvet "sandwich" (without touching the fabric) for 30 seconds or until the steam penetrates both pieces of fabric. Check the creases, and repeat the process until the creases are eased out.

If you find your velvet garments are often getting crushed, or perhaps you love rescuing damaged vintage items, you can invest in a needle board, Velva-pad, or velvet ironing mat, available at specialty fabric stores. This expensive tool will allow you to perfectly iron velvet while also preserving the nap. (Note: I don't have one, I just use a brush or a scrap of velvet; but I'm adding this to be thorough ;-).


  1. This is awesome, thanks, Trystan! I have always wondered about care for some of my older velvet.

  2. "Burnout or devoré velvet is regular velvet that has patterns etched into the fabric, which dissolves and removes part of the velvet's pile. This velvet should be dry-cleaned."

    Not strictly true, devoré is a special kind of blended fibre velvet, where the underneath (or ground) is made from a synthetic fibre (usually polyester) and the pile is made from an organic fibre (in top of the range devoré this is usually silk), devoré chemicals are then screen printed over the velvet which "burn out" the silk and leave behind the polyester.
    But yes you're right that it should usually be dry cleaned (although I have a top made from stretch devoré that is machine washable).

    There's also non-velvety versions where the polyester is up the centre of silk blend yarns and then when it's printed the polyester is left behind leaving it slightly see through (like this:

    Sorry for the huge comment, I'm a bit of a textiles nerd :)

  3. I'll have to try that vodka trick. I actually wash most of my velvets in the machine, I find the trick is that you don't let them anywhere near the dryer; just air dry them.