Sewing Velvet (Cue horror movie screaming)
Recently I embarked on my first velvet adventure. I had acquired tickets to go to a fancy ball and I desperately wanted to fulfill my childhood Disney princess dreams. I scoured runways and award shows for more than a year before the event, taking inspiration for my ball gown design. When I finally put pen to paper, I came up with a floor length, long sleeved gown, that definitely had to be sewn in silk velvet. Thus began my research process on how best to sew with it and now I will share some of that wisdom with you.
1. Match your project to your velvet carefully. Velvet, and especially silk/rayon velvet is an incredibly delicate fabric. Sewing with it has a number of challenges so choose a simpler design with clean lines. Anything with lots of seams or darts will be very frustrating.
2. NAP Velvet has a nap, which means the fabric has a raised texture. Terry and corduroy are other examples of napped fabric. A nap only wants to lay in one direction. If you run your hand down the grain of the velvet it is significantly softer in one direction than the other. The softer direction is considered the right direction. A garment should be softest as you run your hand from neck to hem. This way the pile of the fabric, the fibers in the raised texture, are not crushed when you sit.
3. Cut in single layer. Velvet is shifty, especially when the pile sides of the fabric interact. Therefore, it is crucial that your fabric is cut in single layer. Pattern pieces that are intended to be cut on the fold can be traced onto a folded piece of paper so you can cut both sides at once. It is highly suggested that you lay out all of your pieces on your fabric ahead of time so you can ensure that there is plenty of room for each piece and that everything is facing the same direction.
4. Hand Baste your seams. Although time intensive, this part of the process helps so much. As said above, when the right sides of the fabric interact, the pile shifts. This can make it incredibly difficult to sew. Use a big whip stitch along the seam using a single layer of contrasting thread. If you are basting long seams, like on a skirt, hang them on a hanger and pin with gravity. I even will leave the pins in, in addition to the basting for some extra help. When the seam is done, pull out the basting with a seam ripper.
5. Hand sewing. Don’t be afraid of some hand sewing on your velvet. Top stitching can ruin the sleek effect of the garment. A hand sewn hem, under stitched collar or a hand-picked zipper can really take your garment to the next level. Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing has my favorite tutorials for all of these techniques.
6. Don’t press your seams! A hot iron directly on the fabric will permanently crush the pile. I will say it again. A hot iron directly on the fabric will permanently crush the pile. Please I beg you, don’t do it. There are two alternatives. The best way to flatten your seams is to use a hand held garment steamer. Finger press as you sew and then when you’re finished, hang the garment on a hanger and from underneath steam open the seams using gravity to give you some pressure. If you don’t have a steamer, lay a towel down on your ironing board, or over your tailor’s ham or sleeve board, and use the steam setting on your iron at a distance away from the garment. The pile on the towel will let the pile of the velvet settle without crushing. This can create little dots on the velvet where the towel touches it but this can be steamed out.
Moral of the story, don’t be afraid of velvet. If you take some precautions, you will have a happy sewing experience. It’s a beautiful fabric with a luxurious drape and Silk/rayon velvet feels so good against your skin. Here are some examples of projects to try:
100 acts of Sewing Patterns The simplicity of these designs will be wonderfully minimalist chic when sewn in velvet.
Named Eliabeth Gown: Try your hand at making a gown for your next fancy dress occasion. It's sure to be a favorite.
Merchant and Mills Camber Set Who says you can't wear velvet during the day? Sew up this simple shift dress and rock velvet in the office.
We have 5 different colors of Silk/Rayon Velvet in the shop right now! And, they are available through our online store, here.