Oh the beauty of luxurious, silky smooth velvet!
Oh the headache of trying to make something with it!
Most costumers I’ve run into have fallen in love with at least one garment made from velvet. It’s so beautiful. One of my favorites is the burgundy cut velvet one from the Kyoto Costume Institute.
Would I love to have that dress? Of course. Would I love to make that dress? Maybe… IF I could find a cut velvet that was affordable AND if I wanted to deal with the frustrations that come with sewing this gorgeous material.
But at least I already have some tips in place for when that time comes. Perhaps you’d like them in your arsenal too? Check them out…
My first attempt at wrangling velvet was my very first “historical” costume – a royal blue Italian Renaissance dress from a Simplicity pattern. You know the one. (Hint: it’s based on a costume from the film Ever After.)
That blue velvet caught my eye and I just HAD to make something from it. I picked up a lot of experience sewing that gown! Here are a few things I learned for future projects.
1. For a darker, richer color, cut your pieces with the pile running UP the garment. This means if you run your hand down the garment from shoulder to hem, it will feel rough to the hand.
2. Cut all garment pieces with the nap running in the same direction (so you don’t end up with dark green on your left side and light green on the right).
3. Lay your pattern on the back of the velvet to cut, as opposed to opening the fabric up with the hairs facing y0u. (This will help calm the temptation to lie across your cutting space ON the velvet. Let’s keep it neat for the garment.)
4. Cut one layer at a time. So important! Folding your velvet fabric so you cut two layers at once (done most often with other fabrics) will make you to toss the pieces out the window or burn them in the fireplace because they will be so misshapen.
5. Use a rotary blade to cut the pieces. Brilliant!
6. Clear your table of all other fabrics, trims, and sewing tools before cutting velvet.
Because the nature of velvet is short fabric hairs on top of a backing, cutting through velvet will disperse all cut hairs everywhere. Don’t breathe in heavily or cough or sneeze near your cut velvet. As soon as you are finished cutting, clean up your area with a damp towel and vacuum to capture all the random hairs. Be especially careful if you have asthma, contact lenses, pets and a fear of being covered with tiny crawly bugs.
7. Pulling on the back of velvet can drag the hairs out of shape and deform the pile direction and length. Handle gently.
8. Use fine thread (silk or thin cotton).
9. Loosen the tension on your machine and reduce the presser foot pressure.
10. Hand baste seams along the seam line with short, uneven basting stitches.
11. Use Wonder Tape™ to match your seamlines. Place a strip near the edge on the right side of your velvet piece; lay the other side to be sewn together on top of the tape. Sew.
12. If working with a very high pile velvet, you can trim down the pile hairs along the seam allowance before sewing. (This is similar when sewing with faux fur.)
13. Hand baste any underlinings to your velvet just inside your seamline. This will allow for easier removal of the basting stitches. Work from the underlining side when basting. Pin the velvet and underlining carefully, wrong sides together.
14. Steam is your friend when pressing velvet. Avoid placing the hot iron directly onto your velvet.
15. Always press from the wrong side (unless you WANT to make flat designs on the top surface).
16. Use a wire board and place velvet face down onto it. The hairs will fall into the spaced wires allowing you to gently press the back surface of the fabric.
17. If you don’t have a wire board you can use the same technique with a scrap piece of your velvet. (This is the trick I use.)
Make sure your scrap is a good size so you don’t have to move it too much (but don’t feel you have to cover your entire ironing board unless you want to).
Place the scrap face side up and place your velvet garment piece face side down on top, matching the nap direction on both pieces. GENTLY press the back of your garment piece with steam.
18. To press seams, first press the sewn seam flat to set the stitches (use the point of the iron plate and press the seam allowances up to the stitch line but not into the garment); open the seam allowances and hold the iron close to steam; remove iron and gently press the seam open with your fingers or a wood pressing tool until cool.
19. Use a medium weight press cloth.
20. To revive crushed velvet (not panné type fabric as that is factory treated), hold the piece over a steaming iron or tea kettle to lift the hairs back up. Use a toothbrush to gently lift the hairs after steaming.
21. Underlining fabrics to flat line your velvet include: coutil, drill, ducking, stiff muslin, poplin, crinoline, silk organza and cotton organdy. Hair cloth (the modern equivalent of period horsehair fabric) can be used as well. Use the sew-in kind.
22. It is not recommended to use fusible (iron-on) interfacing on velvet due to the high heat iron setting needed to melt the adhesive on the interfacing.
23. If you want a stiff, structured velvet bodice, stick with a firm underlining such as coutil or denim/twill and add multiple bones to the underlining before flatlining onto the velvet pieces.
24. Discover the possibilities of using 2 layers of organza or organdy to flat line your velvet pieces.
I don’t sew much with velvet. But having these tips handy sure does keep my frustrations at bay and my temper calm. I also remind myself to SLOW DOWN so I don’t mess up this really expensive fabric. (Velvet shows its tortured self when attacked with a seam ripper!)
Have you learned some velvet sewing tricks the hard way? What items have you made with this beautiful textile? Post below.