Although documented as far back as the 8th century, velvet wasn’t introduced to Great Britain until the late 13th century.
Synonymous with royalty, nobility and the affluent, velvet was an expensive and highly desirable material due to its luxurious appearance, ability to absorb vibrant colour dyes, and its complication of manufacture.
Velvet could be made from a number of different fibres, but silk velvet was regarded as the finest composition. To manufacture velvet, two separate layers of lengthwise threads (the warp) are each tightly interwoven with widthwise threads (the weft) whilst simultaneously being woven together. These two joined layers are then cut apart through the weave; the incised threads create the pile of the fabric. The direction in which the pile sits and the way light reflects off it, gives velvet its characteristic light and shade effect (which is especially noticeable with silk velvet).
During the late 18th century and into the early 19th century, velvet was extensively used for the interior lining of dressing cases and jewellery boxes. With many of the earlier examples of these boxes serving more utilitarian purposes, the use of velvet made from cotton was chosen as a practical and less expensive alternative to silk velvet. As tastes changed in favour of luxury over practicality, silk velvet was almost exclusively used in preference. Popular colours of velvet during the 19th century were red, burgundy, purple, dark blue and green.