Exploring Devoré...

by Dionne Swift

There is very little written about this unique and inspiring process. The general consensus is that it was developed in C17th France as a means of creating a poor man's lace - a quick and spontaneous method developed as a short cut to lace type effects. At this stage it is likely that caustic pastes were block printed onto fabric, being washed away once their work was done. Yet this is where its connection with the inferior ends.

The 1920s brought devoré velvet into the mainstream, no longer a cheap tactile alterative but a luxurious and desirable fashion fabric - many vintage examples are still available. Further developments in fabric construction and fibre combinations fuelled a resurgence of interest in devoré velvet in the 1980s and 1990s when fashion garments flooded the market. Designers like Joseph Conran and Georgina Von Etzdorf revived the 1920s fabric with florals, swirls and brocade designs made into scarves and dresses in deep rich hues.

Devoré - to devour - to eat away/to burn out. Using a combination cloth, the process chemically eats into one of the fibres of the fabric to alter the structure, weight and drape of the cloth. Many fabrics are created specifically for this process, velvet is most widely recognised and it also offers the most dramatic results.


The velvet itself is produced in a unique way in that two lengths are produced simultaneously. Two lengths of the backing cloth travel parallel along the rollers/machinery and the fine fibres of the pile are punched through both layers, forming a 'sandwich', then a large blade slices them into two separate sheets of fabric. Today, industrial processes print devoré through large rollers, then heated rollers to bake and activate the chemicals. In smaller batch production it may be screen printed and baked in a cabinet.


I have adapted the process to allow me the full flexibility of hand painting.
Working with a silk/viscose velvet, a traditional combination cloth, the viscose pile, a cellulose/plant fibre, is destroyed by the devoré paste and process. The silk, an animal fibre, stands firm.

  1. A small amount of paste is applied to the back of the fabric and thoroughly dried. I brush on or use a squeezy bottle to apply the paste.
  2. It is then ironed to activate the paste. The devoré paste is simply breaking the back hook of the delicate viscose fibres. This stage should be done in a well ventilated space as mild acidic fumes are given off when the paste is heated.
  3. Wet and wash the fabric to prevent the newly loosened fibres escaping into the atmosphere - a little rubbing helps, then wash at 40 degrees C in a washing machine.
  4. Tumble dry your finished work to revive the pile.

There are fully illustrated instructions on my website [www.dionneswift.co.uk] and you can purchase the paste that I use [it's a recipe that I've developed over the years, mixed by my own fair hand!]. There's also a DIY kit [Devoré It Yourself!] PLUS details of workshops on Exploring Devoré, Devoré Masterclasses, and other textile techniques.



Dionne Swift offers workshops on a range of stitch and surface design techniques.