The Velvet Weavers of Venice

1st November 2019

The following is an extract from an article published in Inspirations issue #83, written by Yvette Stanton.

The Velvet Weavers of Venice

A quiet campiello just off the Grand Canal in Venice is home to a small family run business that specialises in high end silk fabrics. Luigi Bevilacqua is one of perhaps only two businesses in the world still making soprarizzo velvet.

Soprarizzo velvet, also known as cesellato (or chiselled) is unique amongst velvets because of its combination of both cut and uncut pile. The resulting three levels of relief (ground fabric, uncut pile, and cut pile) are used to create sumptuous, elegant, patterned and textured fabrics.

This fabric made the velvet weavers of Venice famous in the 1700s, and due to the expense of the silks and dyes used to make it, was only available to the most wealthy.

The Bevilacqua family have been weaving in Venice since the 1700s. In the past they have made a wide range of luxury fabrics including damasks, lampases, brocades, satins, and velvets. They now focus on production of soprarizzo velvet, by both hand and mechanised weaving processes.

The 25 hand looms in the Venetian factory date from the 1800s and are operated by six skilled weavers, assisted by one technician. They were selected from a Venetian school of art and were trained by highly skilled weavers who had been with the company for fifty years, before they retired.

In this way, the skills and traditions of soprarizzo velvet weaving
are being passed down to a new generation.

The mechanised weaving takes place on the mainland near Venice. The mechanised looms are much wider than the hand looms, allowing widths of 130cm instead of the 60cm width that the hand looms can produce.

The designs are first graphed out on paper. In the past these designs were hand drawn and coloured. Today, they use computers for this process. Once the design has been graphed, it is then translated onto punched cards. Each card contains the pattern for just millimetres of woven fabric. The cards are joined together in a very long line and are in essence a very early form of computer. They are fed into the loom and indicate to the loom the pattern of the velvet.

The hand-woven velvet process used today is the same as was used in the 1700s. It creates velvet fabric with three levels of relief: the flat woven background with a beautiful silk sheen; the slightly higher level, which is the looped, uncut pile; and finally, the highest level with the cut velvet pile. 

The cut ends of the velvet pile often look darker than the rest, as the light does not reflect off the ends in the same way that it does off the two lower levels of fabric. The velvet not only creates interesting pattern and texture, but also plays with the light.

Luigi Bevilacqua is not a store where you can just walk in and pick up some new curtain or upholstery fabric to take home with you. Customers choose what they want, and it is made to order. However, even those of us who find it out of our price range can admire it and be pleased that such wonderful fabric and skills still exist.

You can visit Luigi Bevilacqua at Santa Croce, 1320, 30135 Venice, Italy Here

Join our FREE weekly newsletter All Stitched Up!

Back to top