Many people love the look and luxury of velvet but hesitate to cover furniture in it because they’ve heard it’s hard to maintain. That isn’t necessarily true. Read on to learn when velvet could be a good choice for your sofa and which kind to choose.
Pile and nap. Pile refers to the length of the fibers that stick up from the upholstery backing. Velvet has a signature short pile. During the manufacturing process, longer threads are cut to create a soft, plush surface.
Nap refers to the direction the fibers lie in. Certain velvets reflect light differently depending on the direction of the nap. That’s why velvet can look lighter or darker when you run your hand across it, changing the direction of the fibers. This is a good thing—it’s this characteristic that accentuates items covered in velvet and makes tufted velvet furniture so visually appealing.
Color. Velvet’s dense pile means it displays color very well. The density allows velvet to absorb a large amount of dye, creating an intense, rich tone. Velvet will have a much deeper color than a similarly dyed piece of flat-weave cotton or linen.
Quality. Not all velvet is the same quality. To compare two pieces, look at the density of the backing fabric and the pile, the thickness of the yarn and the fiber content. Bending a sample on the diagonal allows you to see how tightly the fabric has been woven. If it’s easy to see the backing through the fibers, it means the velvet has fewer fibers per square inch and is of lesser quality.
Durability. A common measure of durability is the rating given to a particular fabric based on a “rub test.” This is a measure of the number of double rubs (what happens when someone sits down and stands back up) before the fabric shows evident wear or two or more threads have broken. Many velvets receive a heavy-duty rating, with some measuring as high as 250,000 double rubs.
Crushing. Even a highly durable velvet may be susceptible to the pile flattening from normal use. The tendency of velvet to crush is not a defect, so know that it’s likely to happen. Some people like the crushed appearance and appreciate the look of a well-used piece. That said, some types of velvet are less prone to crushing because of their fiber content and density of weave.
Material. Velvet can be woven from almost any fiber. You can find velvet made from natural fibers, cellulose (viscose/rayon or modal) or synthetic products. Two kinds of fibers are often combined to create a velvet with the best qualities of both.
Silk velvet. Silk velvet is soft and smooth to the touch and is so lustrous that it can even appear wet. However, it’s best suited for pieces that won’t get heavy use. Like many other natural fabrics, silk is susceptible to fading if exposed to sunlight.
Linen velvet. Linen velvet has a matte “dry” look, and it takes dye exceptionally well, resulting in a deep, rich color. Linen velvets often have a strie (subtle, irregular striping) because linen yarns come in different thicknesses. Its pile is usually shorter than that of other velvets and it’s prone to bruising or crushing (which is great if you like the resulting vintage look). Linen velvet is popular in warmer climates since it’s more breathable and cooler to the touch than other varieties.
Cotton velvet. Cotton velvet crushes easily, which is why it’s often blended with another fiber, such as polyester, to improve its resilience. It has a matte finish, but it can be blended with viscose to add luster (and strength).
Wool and mohair. Velvet can also be made from wool and mohair (which comes from Angora goats). Both are durable, mohair more so, and they are the gold standard for a resilient velvet. Mohair velvet is very thick and has less sheen than silk or cellulose fibers.
Synthetic velvet. Synthetic velvets are made from high-quality polyester and they’re less prone to marking or crushing. They also resist fading, but just know that they don’t have the same feel or depth of color that can be achieved with a natural fabric. Blending synthetic and natural fibers can offer the best of both worlds.
Cut velvet. Cut velvet has had a pattern cut into the fabric. The pattern can be any design, from traditional florals to more modern geometrics.
Which type is right for you? Velvet can require slightly more attention than other fabrics, but that may be worth it for the durability you get in return. Just make sure you select a fabric that will hold up to its expected use. If you anticipate more than just light usage, you might not want velvet made from silk or 100 percent cotton. For upholstery that will see a lot of use, consider mohair or a polyester blend with a tight weave.
Pets. Pet owners often voice concern that velvet will act as a magnet for hair. That can happen, but the hair can be removed with a soft clothing or velvet brush. If you want velvet but pet hair is a major concern, consider a color that matches your dog or cat.
One benefit: Cats find it a lot more difficult to get their claws into velvet than into a fabric with an obvious weave, such as linen.
Maintenance. To limit the characteristic crushing and keep your velvet looking new, you can do a few things:
- Rotate cushions to prevent pressure marks from forming where they rest on each other.
- Plump cushions to keep wrinkles from marking the velvet.
- Brush furniture weekly with a clothing or velvet brush.
- Don’t let anything sit for a long time on the velvet, such as a book or remote control.
Velvet plays well with others. Adding velvet to a room is a great way to bring in another texture. It’s a great complement to fabrics with a noticeable weave, like linen. With such a wide range of colors, it’s easy to find a hue that will coordinate with everything else in your space.