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Everything You Need to Know Before Buying Your Velvet Sofa

Never before has velvet been so fashionable. It suddenly reappeared on the catwalk a few years ago and, as always the tradition, it filtered down on the interior scene shortly afterwards.  Not that it had ever totally left the interior design world, however today, every time you open a magazine you will see at least three of four companies sporting a beautiful sofa covered in velvet.


Velvet is a luxury product. Its manufacture is complex and always has been the fabric of great houses and the church. It originated from the far east in Silk and was only reserved for the very wealthy. Now, it’s appearing everywhere and yet, it’s still technically a luxury product that doesn’t stand up to being ill-treated. It is however, one of the ‘must haves’ in today’s interiors.

It oozes luxury and opulence like no other.

velvet fabric sofa

Image: Bird Branch Honey Chaise 100% cotton Timorous Beasties – 40,000 Martindale (rub test)

Velvet is soft and can be so inviting, it never loses its appeal and, although the fashion industry is not promoting it as a new find, it’s certainly being used everywhere in interiors. 

Every company that manufacturers furniture, will have a velvet fabric collection for you to choose from.  

The Interiors world adores the fabric and it’s perfectly understandable as the manufacturing process and the inclusion of man-made fibres can now be added, which helps reduce the cost and also extend its durability.



When buying either velvet fabric for curtains, sofa or a chair, consider the following:

  • Some Velvets will fade if used as drapes in south facing windows
  • Not all are very durable and will crease and bruise with over-use
  • Velvet may not always clean with a damp cloth and need dry cleaning only
  • The Pile and Nap need to be understood and considered in your choice of fabric
  • There is a recognised measurement which tells you how’ durable’ materials are, which is well worth noting when buying. It is called the Martindale Test and we explain it all here.



Camberwell Velvet

Camberwell Velvet design attributed to Voysey C1894, Indian Red Floral, 88% Cotton 12% Viscose from Watts



Silk Velvets

Silk Velvets are the most luxurious, being soft and smooth, with a dense makeup that dictates a quality fabric. It’s not an everyday product and if you place it in sunlight it will fade, especially curtains hung at south facing windows. 

Within a few years the fabric will have striped effect on the folds where one part of the fabric is in daylight and the other within the fold when stacked back. Therefore, think carefully before using a pure Silk Velvet. It is perfect in dark rooms with an even light most of the time, but obviously fabulous when it sits amongst polished woods and lush rugs and carpets. Use it sparingly as it is so precious and team it with other quality products to give a really magnificent interior. Most Silk velvets are mixed with other yarns and they are very expensive, but look stunning.

hand made by Luigi Bevilacqua

hand made by Luigi Bevilacqua

hand made by Luigi Bevilacqua

These silks are hand made by Luigi Bevilacqua – at the loom

Mohair Velvets

Mohair Velvets are 100% pure angora goats hair

They are the most expensive and particularly fashionable.  It’s very tough and durable and seems to resist dirt and ‘crushing’ or bruising, which is a problem with fabric that has a pile. This won’t be found upholstered on your everyday furniture and is really the domain of the professional specifier and high end users.

Nina Cambells Mohair Velvet Cushions.

Nina Cambells Mohair Velvet Cushions.

Linen Velvets 

Linen velvets have a very original look as the thread is uneven in texture and very often gives a slightly strie look.  As always it takes dye very easily and can therefore male this luxury product looks amazing, in terms of depth of colour. It has a shorter pile and therefore less prone to crushing and bruising.  It’s a very tough and durable natural fabric but again expensive and rare to find in the high street.

Wool Velvets  

Wool Velvets are very tough and also warm, perfect for hanging from a portiere rod over a door or even in place of the door, as it was often originally used. Perfect for the large but chilly country mansion. It’s just as well used on sofas as it’s very cosy and generally more expensive.

Flexiform Mood Armand Sofa in Magnolia

The Flexiform Mood Armand Sofa in Magnolia (132) Uses 28% Alpaca, 5 %virgin wool,

39% cotton, 7% polymide and 6% viscose.  The Rub test (details below) is 40,000, prices only available in the showroom.


Cotton Velvet

Cotton velvets are very popular today as they are cheaper and therefore more widely used particularly in today’s fashion conscious interior. 100% pure cotton will be less durable than if it is mixed with either a man-made fibre like Polyester. 

Just 10% can make all the difference. Other fibres like Viscose, Rayon or Modal (plant or wood pulp based) are also often mixed with Cotton.  You will often find Rayon is mixed with Silk in Velvets, and Cotton often works well with Viscose.

cotton velvet

A selection of different velvets available,  some cut velvets and others printed.



These tend to look man made as they are over shiny and there is less depth to the colour.  The pile is also shorter and very often they are not traditionally woven, but have knitted jersey backing. Ideally you want a mix of synthetic and a natural fibre but if there is too much of the synthetic you can create static which is uncomfortable to sit on.

synthetic velvet sofa

John Lewis Draper Large 3 Seater Sofa in Lucca Umber 100% polyester Velvet, £1699 (no rub test available)

Velvet Sofa by

Sofa by which is a 3 seater sofa in blush pink in 100% polyester at £999 (no rub test available)

Many of the sofas available today have quite a mix of natural and synthetic fibres in the fabric used to upholster them. Polyester Velvet is definitely less prone to the bruising that comes with someone sitting in the same place all the time. You certainly don’t want to leave a book or something heavy on velvet for any length of time as it will form an indent.


Thistle Roosevelt Velvet


This is a 2.5 seater sofa called Rupert by is made from their Thistle Roosevelt Velvet which is 81% Viscose, 10% Polyester and 9% Cotton.  Dry clean Only £2210.00



Velvet has a pile (this is the fibres tufted upwards) and this is part of its charm.  The nap (pile direction) will alter and will look lighter if you brush it one way and darker the other.   This also means specifying a velvet for upholstery can be expensive, as this is taken into account when cutting out the various sections for the item. You need the nap to be consistent and in general brush downwards over the back and the front of a sofa.  The same with the pads and the arms, but then contrast is part of its charm and makes a fabric more three dimensional.

pile and nap velvet

100% Polyester from Harlequin showing how the pile changes with brushing against the nap making it look darker.



Quality velvets can be recognised if you take a sample (perhaps from the hanger showing the colours available in the shop), stretch it at a 45 degree angle and see how tightly it has been woven.  If you can see gaps it’s not a great buy as you want the weave to be as dense as possible. Also the backing needs to be dense. Take care you are not looking at fabric that has been made fire retardant  (back coated, essential for all upholstery today) as the backing will be much thicker, white and slightly uneven and will disguise the real base of the fabric.

good quality velvet

A back coated Fabric for Fire Rating to be used for Upholstery from Harlequin

Also the weight of fabrics tells a story.  In some instances the heavier, the better, particularly for longevity and for use in special areas ie. in place of a door. If you think where you see Velvets traditionally used, just think of theatre curtains and upholstered seating.



Less is more.  You certainly don’t want a three piece suite in Velvet .  This is a fabric for individual pieces to be combined with other finishes.  It keeps its rarity and special look if used sparingly and mixed with other fabrics and finishes.   As it is the fabric of the day it’s generally over-used and in places that will damage easily. Headboards and bed surrounds look fabulous in velvet but the head rest needs consideration because it will mark over time and will then become a focal point you will want to disguise. Individual chairs, sofas, curtains and a statement cushion are all good places to use Velvets.  The softer the velvet the more it will drape well so very suitable for curtains. If you place a deep binding to the front edge, line and interline they will last longer especially if used and drawn a lot and facing North at the window.

Double Bee Tourmaline Chair

Double Bee Tourmaline Chair by Timorous Beasties £650 in a Damask Velvet hand printed 100%Cotton.

Coles, famous for their wall papers also have some of their top selling papers in a printed velvet which is £179 per metre 66% cotton 31% Viscose and 3%Polyester with a rub test of 40,000.  You can use this for upholstery or curtains.

Here are two designs that match their papers in Cow Parsley F111/5017 Magenta and Plum and and Palm Jungle F111/2004V With a rub test of 40,000 they can be used for upholstery and curtains for domestic use.



An internationally recognised test for all fabrics is the Martindale Abrasion Rub Test.  Fabric is tested under oscillating discs of sandpaper or wool and the fabric is measured as to how much rubbing it can take before showing signs of distress.   Interior Designers use this reference when choosing for clients particularly in the commercial and contract world but it hardly appears in the retail market, yet if offers significant information on it durability. 

10,000 or less – decorative use only

10,000 – 15,000 – light domestic use

15,000 – 25,000 – general domestic use

25, 000 – 30,000 – heavy domestic use

30,000 and upwards is suitable for commercial use and many fabrics designed for this market will reach over 100,000 rubs.   In general anything over 50,000 rubs is going to give good service if maintained properly.

On some labels of quality upholstered furniture, you will find this information along with the cleaning and maintenance but there is no reference to UV light and light fastness in general, dirt or stains, or pet claws. These problems can play just as much a part in the deterioration of a fabric.

Loaf, offer a sofa with four options of velvets with different rubs test and fabric make-up using 100% cotton and also 100% Polyester with 2 alternative mixes of fabrics.  Cuddlemuffin is in Deep Green Velvet with a mix of 72% polyester and 29% Cotton £ 2470.00. This fabric is for dry cleaning only but they offer an extra protection called Castelan which should give 5 years of cover for an extra £100.


Ideally you need to have the cushions and pads removable as some velvets can only be dry cleaned and will damage if you take a wet cloth to them.

Generally velvets respond well to a soft brush or a vacuum cleaner with a soft head and low suction.  To avoid crush marks or bruising, rotate the pads and cushions so there is a chance for them to recover.  I often pull out sofa pads and turn cushions so they are not restricted in a scrunched up position at the end of an evening and have a chance to breath over- night and then re-dress in the morning.

How to remove spills from velvet fibres

There are two types of cleaning and you need to know the make-up of the fabric and in general there should be a care and maintenance guide sold with any made up products.  Generally, natural fibres do not like to be cleaned with water. The clean code may say ‘S’ for Solvents’ which means it needs specialist dry cleaning.

How to remove spills on synthetic velvet fibres  

Shake off the spill and do not let it soak in. Dab at the area inwards to avoid a larger spot with a clean white cloth and use a hairdryer to help it dry quickly.  Using a soft brush with the nap will help the fibres to blend back in. A DIY recommended cleaning process is to use lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda mixed until it foams and then applying just the foam with a cloth to the affected area, or use mild soap and lemon juice.

Do not rub in and after 5 hours using a clean cloth wipe away going with the pile direction  Always test out on a hidden area of the material first and I personally do not find this very successful and would recommend specialist cleaning.

Some synthetics can be washed on a 30 degree wash eg cushion pads and tumble dried.



Cut Pile Velvet

Cut pile Velvet usually has a design cut into the fabric by the cutting of all the loops formed by the pile.  Therefore you will have a raised velvet pile in one design and no pile in the other. This beautiful example from Watts of Westminster, which is a silk, rayon and cotton mix velvet on a linen backcloth which gives a natural slub to the fabric is stunning and worthy of using on grand pieces like this Chaise Longue.

Printed Velvet

A printed velvet is any velvet which has been printed over the Pile. The most expensive being hand blocked (printed) velvets. 

velvet print chair

Chair by Timerous Beasties in printed Velvet   A Hand Blocked Design in Gold on Red Velvet

Chenille is the most well known adaptation of Velvet and used for many years, although it’s a woven fabric and totally different to the make up of Velvet.   It can have quite a lustre but not the depth of Velvet. Its less dense and its appearance and name are French for Caterpillar and made usually with a mix of cotton and synthetic fibres – used also in fashion.

Velveteen – generally used in fashion and sometimes called imitation velvet.

Crushed Velvet – the pile is subjected to pressure in all different directions

Panne Velvet – the nap is crushed under pressure to lie one way

Velour – has been very popular for some time. It is used in the fashion industry and has a knitted back which gives some stretch which is useful for fitting loose covers over existing furniture but is not considered very fashionable today.

A velvet sofa or chair is a luxury item and although there have been moves to make it more easily obtainable its still an item that will cost money and needs tender loving care for it to last.

Make your choice wisely and enjoy its cosy but very luxurious feel. Seek out the very best and ask for the Martindale Rub Test as this will give you a better indication as to how durable the fabric is. 


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