12th and 13th Century Velvet

  • Textile Addendum.
  • By L. J. M. L.
    This is an additional article on the existance of early velvets. Enjoy!

    Due to the concern expressed by some members of Companie as to the existence of velvet, I decided to continue my research into this area to solidify the facts that I had already discovered. This was due in part to prove beyond shadow of a doubt that it did infact exist in our period, and also because I wanted to make sure I had not been dreaming about the whole thing! Therefore, many more hours were spent in the various libraries, digging up various information, which I believe, will prove to the members of Companie, and any other Doubting Thomas' out there that it did infact exist, and why there is confusion about its existence.

    Velvet is made by all simple or compound weaves being elaborated by introducing a supplementary warp over a series of small rods. When the rods are removed, small loops remain, which can then be cut as required, or left as loops. This forms what is known today as velvet pile, being the texture of the textile. All simple, compound or velvet weaves can be enriched by supplementary sets of yarns that float on the surface of the cloth, called brocading.

    "Pile, or boucle weaves were achieved by means of additional wefts drawn up into loops. This was a technique known in Pharaonic Egypt, whilst post Pharaonic Egypt finds include many examples of linen made with supplementary linen loops."1Velveteen is a cotton cloth made in imitation of velvets. It is a kind of fustian made of twilled cotton. It is also known to be of a cotton and silk blend. Early velvets were good examples of fustian. Fragments of twill and cotton velvet have been found dating back to 9th century France. The textile known as pile on pile or double velvet is also one of the oldest known velvet weaving techniques. Corduroy, (Fr: Corde du Roi) was woven for minor nobility and the servants of kings in the middle ages. It has extra wefts that form lengthwise rows of floats that are cut to form a pile, resembling the corrugated effect of the corduroy we know today. It was also related to fustian, and was often made of sturdy wool, linen or cotton, from the early centuries AD.

    "Three dimensional textiles with looped or cut pile are supplementary weft compound weaves. As early as 2000BC the Egyptians made linen fabrics with extra linen weft pulled out into loops for both effect and warmth."2The word fustian dates to the 11th and 12th centuries. It refers to corduroys and velveteens. The term is associated with heavily wefted materials, especially those with weft floats that could be cut to produce pile. "Fustian: Coarse twilled cotton cloth sometimes made with a linen warp and cotton weft, woven in the same way as velvet, with a sheared (cut) surface. It was made in Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland, and was first mentioned in England in 1114....Velveteen and corduroy are included among different types of fustian."3


    Hermes, Egyptian looped pile fragment, 4th and 5th centuries, Victoria and Albert Museum, UK.

    Barve, V.R., "Complete Textile Encyclopedia", D. B. Taraporevala Sons and Co. Ltd, 1967, India.

    Clabburn, Pamela, The Needleworkers Dictionary, Macmillon London Ltd,16, UK

    Emery, Irene, Primary Structures of Fabrics: An Illustrated Classification", Watson-Guptill Publications/Whitney Library of Design, Textile Museum, Washington D.C., 1994, USA

    Harris, Jennifer, Textiles: 5000 Years, Harry N. Abrams Inc, 1993, New York

    Harte, N.B. ed, Textile History/Pasold Research Fund Vol 20-21, W.S Maney and Son, 1990, UK

    Wilson, Kax, A History of Textiles, Westview Press, Boulder Colorado, 1979, USA

    1 Harris, pg 22
    2 Wilson, pg 69
    3 Clabburn, pg 113