A step up from elegant velvet, figured velvet can smarten up your cushions or upholstery with amazing patterns. Traditional figured velvet, also called cut lace, is a cut or uncut pile made from silk with a lace or twill backing. This sumptuous cloth not only ticks the box for a gorgeous number of patterns and colors, but it can also add an important textural element.
Historical figured velvet. Velvet is a material that has a thick, dense pile that is traditionally made of silk but today can also be made of acrylic and other fibers. Its creation involves warps — tightly stretched threads that are attracted over rods to make loops. Since the weaving progresses, the rods are eliminated, leaving loops that can be cut or uncut.
To appreciate figured velvet, we must have a visit down the Silk Road. For quite a while, a country’s wealth could be quantified by its rolls of silk. Byzantine emperor Justinian sent two monks to Asia in the first 550s on a mission to restore the source of silk. They returned to Constantinople with their bamboo canes full of silkworm eggs and mulberry seeds.
By the 11th century, state-controlled silk mills were popping up throughout the Mediterranean. Royal factories were afterwards founded in Spain and Italy, which imported silk artisans from Greece.
This diverse sitting room has a guessed velvet–style material used on classic couches to full effect. Strong golds and reds bounce off the ceiling mural, making a warm glow.
Charmean Neithart Interiors
Figured velvet in the 14th century. By the 1500s, 7,000 looms and more than 15,000 weavers could be found working in the silk industry in Florence alone. Figured velvet had become a popular cloth; stylized pinecone, artichoke and thistle motifs were the layouts of the moment.
Finally, Florentine silks became too costly, and only the royal court could manage to keep the factories in company. The Venetians and the Genoese — who were especially renowned for their fancy velvets — started making more affordable but still equally beautiful pieces. Pictures of peonies, lotus flowers, eagles and dragons embellished these velvets.
This chair cushion design feels a little inspired by the traditional patterns used centuries past. The tassels are a beautiful touch.
Delier & Delier
Figured velvet in the 17th century. Venice became so financially dependent on the producers of silks and velvets that to keep their looms working year-round, they imported silkworm cocoons from Spain and Asia and raw silk in Turkey and Persia. Textile workers were not allowed to leave the country and could be killed if they tried.
The French refused to be left behind. The French monarch Henry IV planted 10 million mulberry bushes in Provence and developed local factories on grand scales. The French velvets were comparable with those of the Italians, with one exception: the most famous Genoese black velvet. The French could never really master the beauty and sheen of this cloth.
This Louis XVI fauteuil seat reupholstered in a cut velvet cloth would not have looked out of place at a 17th-century Venetian house.
Charmean Neithart Interiors
Figured velvet in the 18th century. In the 1900s that the English turned into a force, producing high-end guessed velvets — although a lot of the cloth they designed initially was intended for wear rather than furnishings. The velvets had flowery patterns on light backgrounds, and by the middle of the 19th century, British weavers were reinventing the French patterns from a generation earlier.
Figured velvet is always a welcome inclusion in a serene and traditional room similar to this. The daisy pattern is a modern spin on the nice English floral patterns that were so well known in the 18th century.
Modern guessed Cotton. Nowadays few private patrons keep the hand-operated machines living; 300-year-old machines produces less than an inch of silk a day. Rubelli, a famous Venetian firm, still produces upholstery for a few significant patrons. Figured velvets made of silk are now more often made on mechanized thousand-loom machines, on a 24-hour program.
Today figured velvet can also be made from viscose on either a cotton or linen backing. Viscose is a very versatile product that could offer the appearance and texture of velvet with no hefty price tag. Velveteen — made of cotton or a combination of silk and cotton — is just another modern option. But this cloth doesn’t drape in addition to true velvet and will not have as high a sheen.
Care of guessed velvet. Much like any cloth, checking the label or consulting with the manufacturer for proper velvet care is always a good idea. Creases in velvet can get permanent, as they can flatten the pile — although steaming can occasionally help to remove them. Some dry cleaners and specialty shops have ironing boards with fine wires sticking out of them to help preserve the pile.
The designer of this dining room used many design influences to catch a thoughtful Middle Eastern aesthetic. The dining seats cover homage to the 18th century regardless of their modern form by utilizing guessed velvet in a stylized brocatelle design.