Velvet originated in Kashmir, where it was known as swan’s down, and was later developed in Persia where it was discovered by the Italians, who imported it and learned about its manufacturing techniques. Alongside a burgeoning silk industry in which it was often woven, velvet spread across the major Italian cities of Genoa, Venice, Milan and Florence during the 14th Century, enhanced with gold and silver embroidery. The 15th Century witnessed the first striped and brocaded velvet. (Brocading involves passing threads of gold or silk through fabric to form a raised pattern).
In France, velvet imported from Italy was highly prized, and began to be woven in Tours in the mid-15th Century, with Lyon following suit over the following decades.
In 1536, Etienne Truchetti and Barthélemy Nariz (originally from Genoa) arrived in Lyon and set up twenty weavers. Combined with the fact that Lyon was granted exemptions and subsidies by François I, this enabled the city to lead the way in the manufacture of silk velvet.
In the 17th Century, a silk worker in Lyon, Claude Dangon, invented “draw loom” weaving, which enabled the weaving of refined fabrics, which at the time came exclusively from Italy. This invention definitively placed Lyon at the forefront of velvet weaving in the 17th Century. This technique was used until the Jacquard weave was invented in 1801 by Lyon native Joseph Marie Jacquard, which enabled new combinations of weaving.
The 19th Century witnessed the founding of large velvet works in Lyon and across the surrounding area, such as JB MARTIN in Tarare in 1843 and GIRON FRERES in Saint Etienne.
Velvet is a very special weave. The weave begins with a tight warp yarn criss-crossed with weft threads across the width of the fabric. Velvet requires two warps: the first forms the base and gives solidity to the fabric, while the second warp is used for the loops. A rod known as a long-narrow wire is passed between the two warps. When these wires are removed, the fabric is full of small loops or hoops: the pile. Silk velvet pile is shaved down to two millimetres and smoothed out. “Ciselé” silk velvet pile is cut to different heights, creating sumptuous arabesques with changing effects: the decoration coming from the surface effects. The costly manufacture of velvet, the expertise required, the slow pace of its weaving and the expense of its base materials made this the most sought-after and luxuriant fabric of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
After a long history of weaving, velvet was refined in Lyon using the new Jacquard technique which, using a number of punched cards, wove together two animal and vegetable materials: silk and viscose (invented by Count Hilaire de Chardonnet and made up of cellulose often extracted from pine or palm trees).
It is still woven using the Jacquard technique in the region today. The technique uses punched cards which contain a template of the pattern using a binary code.
Modern patterns are created on computer. Nowadays computer programs have replaced these cards and the technique has been modernised.
Weaving refined velvet is very specific and complex. It is followed by preening: a process consisting of passing a piece of woven velvet between two large heated metallic brushes (a heated roller?) in order to smooth out the pile in one direction, to set the pile in place and give it an incomparable lustre.
This preening process, called “pannage” in French, gives its name to the finished product: la panne de velours (silk velvet)
The Atelier de Soierie: the art of colouring
Before applying the dye, we create patterns or take patterns from the many designs we have in our archives, and then weave silk velvet using a local weaving company.
They send back the woven pieces in black and white: black for the silk chiffon background and white for the velvet raised patterns. (PHOTO 11)
It is at this point that our velvet colourists/decorators/painters combine their sense of colour, dexterity, patience and sensitivity to enhance this exceptional fabric using brushes, cotton and cotton buds.
This is very slow, exacting work for a fabric that has given the big fashion houses so much inspiration and continues to do so. The work is done on three-metre long painting tables on which the fabric is lain like a canvas.
The colours used are very liquid: they are a mixture of synthetic pigments, water and alcohol. (PHOTO 12)
Because of the excess liquid in our dyes, we need to pay particular attention when applying the colours. The various tools we use enable us to provide all the necessary nuances and detail to the velvet. (PHOTO 13.14).
The brilliance of the colours is provided for fixing them (stoving) and a second round of preening after the dye has been applied. The result is an incomparable brightness and softness.
This is how we end up with our unique pieces: shawls, stoles, scarves etc. (PHOTO 15).