PILLOW TALK: Velvet Underground (Deborah Goodwin)
Dec. 16, 2011 (ShapeShiftas) -- What fabric do you always, suddenly, want to wear this time of year?
Anything velvet, although irridescent tafettas and red plaids are close contenders. (I have a thing for those red plaid pants that some of the dads would wear to Christmas Eve church.) Every year I would get a new red or green velvet dress to wear for Christmas, never black because of course I was too young. In first or second grade I got a red wool coat with a black velvet collar, cuffs, and piping from Mimi for Christmas, oh, I was so chic in that coat, I cried when it no longer fit.
The dresses I remember as velvet were probably velveteen, like the Rabbit, a horrifying story for kids, if you ask me. In my high school years even the guys got to wear velvet; jackets and rented tuxes in crushed or panne' velvet so as not to look too -- festive, yeah, yeah, that's the word.
Velvet can be made from many different fibers; the best is silk velvet, very expensive, 100's of dollars a narrow yard, but it is lustrous, drapey, and oh so pettable. The velvet you usually see in garments today is made from either polyester or acetate, sometimes with spandex added for stretch velvet, which became such a hot fabric a few years ago because women "like the way it feels on their back," (said by a garmento I once knew in an interview for a feature story my husband was writing).
You might have seen cotton velvet in jeans or upholstery, and you certainly know the corded velveteen known as corduroy, or, the cord of kings. Velvet was for hundreds of years the cloth only of royalty (now the 1%?), it was so expensive to make.
Velvet and velveteen are cut pile fabrics, they are woven in two layers like an Oreo and then cut apart in the creamy sandwich center. It was tremendously difficult to weave velvet until the invention of industrial steam-powered looms. They are what is known as "one-way" fabrics, meaning you have to cut the whole piece you are making with the pattern pieces all facing the same way, nap up or nap down, still can't remember which way is supposed to be right.
I never could use velvet at any of the dress companies I designed for; too expensive, even the poly kind, too after-five for daytime dresses. But, every year for holiday we would have a velvet-trim group on the line, we'd slap a velvet collar or vest-front on our best-selling bodies and make them in red/black and ivory/black cross-dyed whatever.
Boy, did it drive the production department crazy, trying to cut 300 pieces of a style that only took 4" of velvet per garment (that means we needed, class? 33.3 yds. of velvet. It comes in 50-yard rolls. Left-over fabric in the cutting room would mean lost fabric from the cutting room). Plus, velvet has to be handled just right all along the way, cut "face-up" with paper in-between, no steam, pressed on a special ironing board called a needle board. So to make velvet garments was just too hard for a cheap-as-possible producer like us.
One year we got really "hot" with velour pantsuits. We were "checking" our mock-vest pantsuits in knits already, and stretch velvet was "happening at higher price-points," so come holiday it was the obvious call to make our reorders in knock-off stretch velvet, aka velour.
This was just one season before Juicy Couture put their logo on every woman's butt, with their velour tracksuits. We didn't quite make out like Juicy, but from August to Novmber we were "on fire." Our pantsuits were pretty ghastly, they had 1" elastic-waist pull-on pants, even PJ pants have more of a waistband than ours did, but they "blew out" anyway. We couldn't get enough fabric to fill all the reorders in time, which had to be by 11/15 to be in-store for the holidays.
I saw women all over wearing them, to my chagrin and secret pride. I even saw a woman out for dinner on Christmas night in London, England, wearing one with a pair of sneakers, or should I say trainers. I certainly didn't tell her that I had made her pantsuit; I didn't even confess to being a fellow American. I pretended to be French by speaking English to her in a French accent. "Oh, your pantsuit? Je l'adore!!!