With his sleeves rolled up and a direct gaze, he stands in the great room, surrounded by all his looms. Their thumping rhythm pervades everything yet Yves Valcke long ago ceased to notice it. He is one of the few weavers who keeps the centuries-old tradition of velvet manufacture alive here in Belgium. And he takes his chosen mission very seriously. It's out of the question for him to produce just any old velvet or some mass-produced fabric. "What we make here comes very close to the hand-woven velvet creations of the 18th century, like velours de Gênes or velours de Lyon, a fascinating Jacquard weave!" In order to achieve these ambitious goals, he naturally does not work with just any old machines, but with wire looms. "They look as if they have come from a museum but they are more recent and the principle is still exactly the same as it was for those looms of the previous eras." He has good reasons to stick with the operating methods that have been handed down through time. "The possibilities are enormous! We can interweave far more colours and we never have to restrict the designers as far as colours are concerned. Apart from that, we achieve velvets which are significantly finer and with great density; we can weave in more interlaced patterns and we have this subtle effect of looping. The distinctive feature is that a part of the loop in the pattern gets cut into again. No other loom achieves that. It's like hand-woven velvet – I just love that. Voilà!"
Yves puts his heart and soul into weaving. His deep passion is evident when he talks about his velvets even though these fabrics can at times behave like divas. "Even the slightest change can be enough to make a fabric suddenly cease to be weavable. Fluctuations in air humidity for instance or simply a change of colour. Often a weave is going really well in yellow on the loom but when you change it over to red, the machine doesn't want to play any more. Just because the thread is a tiny bit stiffer because of the pigment - especially with red! Even a tiny problem with the thread tension can cause the whole thing to pack up. Sometimes it just feels jinxed!"
The logistics of each working loom are amazing 3200 spools of thread are running on each of its 35 looms. The gentle clacking that can be heard everywhere is made by the counterbalances which hang on every spool to regulate the tension. Whenever the colour or pattern is changed, all 3200 weights have to be readjusted. "As well as that, the speed of the wire looms must be controlled. We can weave about 25 metres of cut double-cloth velvet per machine in a day. You see, the threads have to lie in loops above the steel needles. If we were to weave more quickly, they would get too hot or spin around everywhere. After all, they're not even one millimetre thick. Our competitors weave twice as much or even 200 metres a day using different machines." But Yves isn't interested in the competition. "Here it's quite simply about our love for the fabric! About being unique. It's my ambition to go right to the edge of what is feasible. As a weaver, I want to get to a place where no-one has ever been before. Voilà! "
Large amounts of patience and experience are needed from Yves and from his colleagues. And the strong ability to empathise - with his machines, with the thread, with every single colour and of course, also, with the designers. However that's something that is based on reciprocity. "We've been weaving the velvets for Zimmer + Rohde now since 1995 and I have to say it's a real pleasure for me! They don't just have a clear vision of what they want, they also really understand a lot about what they do. If you want to create this standard of velvet, you have to know and accept the technological constraints of what is possible. The designers at Zimmer + Rohde visit us here and we develop every fabric together. They listen carefully, we listen carefully. It's a dialogue. I believe that we have a mutual need for each other. That's the secret of our success…!"
email@example.com | Phone: +32 (0)56 777226