If you cannot sew then buying a beautiful evening dress like this
green velvet dress from Phase Eight (available autumn winter 2006/7) may
be best for you. I always think bought velvet dresses are worth
the money in this case £120 as great care needs to be taken when working
But if you can sew you may need some help in getting good
results from velvet. Here are my tips for sewing velvet, which may
be useful to know in caring for your dress or if you need to shorten a
velvet can be fraught with problems for both the experienced and
inexperienced sewer. There is no doubt it can be tricky to sew.
The fact is
some velvets sew like a dream and others do not. If you find for
example a black velvet that sews exceptionally well consider going back
to the shop to purchase more of that velvet and store it on a fabric
people wonder why others have trouble sewing velvet, but it can be a
very variable experience. Modern 100% polyester velvet for example is
easier to sew, but you may prefer the look of silk or rayon velvet which
is more troublesome. Cotton velvet is good for beginners and so is
cotton velveteen. Silk velvet is best tackled when more
experienced. By sewing different types you will also then learn which
are great value for money when ready made in stores.
Most velvets hang best when they are lined, otherwise the velvet item
may 'stick' to the body. A lined garment is far superior in feel
and hang to an unlined item and this is especially so for velvet.
London a great place to buy velvet (and other evening fabrics) is at
MacCulloch and Wallis, in Dering Street, just off Oxford Street.
Dering Street is just opposite John Lewis another
great fabric source for fashion craft sewers. You can also get a wonderful range of
textiles and fabrics at Borovicks in Berwick
Street in Soho and at Aladdin's Cave in the same street.
Church St, off Edgware Rd, sells Couture designer fents, whilst
V.V.Rouleaux in Marylebone High Street
(off Baker Street London) sells velvet ribbons and other luxurious
trimmings. Also for
home decorations try Rain
When purchasing velvet, remember that you may need to buy extra velvet
or at least what the pattern states, as velvet is a 'with nap
fabric' and must be cut in one direction only. This means pieces
cannot be dovetailed in the home situation.
So if you
are sewing velvet for the first time you can have a good experience and
garment of your dreams if you treat the velvet with kid gloves during
construction. The rules of working with it I give might sound
petty, but they do help assure success. It is also a good idea
to use a pattern you have used before or have made a rough mock up or
cotton toile if the pattern is a new one so you know the fitting
problems. Then you can make pattern adjustments BEFORE working with
the velvet. You do not want to have to unpick any seams ever
in velvet. So knowing that your pattern is a trusty reliable
pattern can be 50% of the success of the exercise.
several other considerations. These include an understanding of
use of special pressing, steaming
techniques, the use of special machine sewing needles, the use of a
sewing machine walking foot or
special roller foot or using tissue paper plus tacking (basting) and
pinning carefully for short times only.
assess the nap of the fabric. Nap refers to the direction of pile
or directional pattern which may be one way only. With pattern
this means roses and stems for example printed all one way would mean
the fabric would have to be cut in one direction only. If the
roses and stems were upside down as well, then the pattern could be cut
both ways, but not if the fabric was velvet or other pile fabric. A two
way patterned pile fabric must be cut in one direction only.
In practical terms
with pile on PLAIN velvet, velveteen and corduroy nap means 2 things.
Firstly the colour will be
different in the other direction so pieces must all be cut one way so no
shading mismatch appears in a completed garment.
Secondly, when you run
your hand across the pile, one way feels smooth, the other rough.
This is also a factor when choosing which way to use the fabric.
When I wear a velvet dress I like to be able to feel a smoothness
against my hand when I touch the fabric. But if you make the
garment up this way you do forfeit a richness and intensity of deep colour, but gain
the luxury of the softness of the plush.
pile runs up the dress, the fabric colour is deep and intensely rich.
I suggest you hold the fabric against your body and check how you prefer
it in a mirror to
see which direction you prefer to cut it.
So to make
the colour and texture look better, cut it so that the pile runs
To have it feel smoother when stroked down your bodyline
cut it down the pile.
The choice is yours, just be consistent with
pattern placement direction.
Velvet then can be cut with the pile or against it, BUT whatever way you
choose to cut it, you must cut every piece in one direction with either
up or down nap. Use a
one-way single layout. I
personally prefer to cut velvet from a single layer of fabric.
Velvet is mostly woven comparatively narrow compared to modern fabric
widths, so it's often just as practical to cut from a single opened out
layer rather than using symmetry.
With a single piece one way layout you get even cuts as one layer of
velvet fabric if
doubled up can slide on top of the other creating sizing differences in
the cut pieces. This method takes more time to do, but it's worth it.
from a single layer of velvet prevents fabric shifting. Luxurious velvets do creep as you work with them
so try to be aware of this pitfall. If you use this method you
must double check that every pattern piece you turn over is correctly
placed. This does create more work, but with velvet slow and
steady wins the race. The main thing is you want to wear the
finished item and if you are careless with it, it will be less than
perfect and you will regard it as inferior.
For what it's worth even experts find velvet frequently
problematic especially around zips. Hand insertion of the zip
with prick stitch may solve the problem, especially in bias cut dresses
where hand manipulation can ease the fabric that might otherwise stretch
and ripple, into line. The Vogue Sewing Book details how to insert
a zip using the hand couture method if your machine inserted zip in technique is poor. Try either
technique on a sample first so that when you do apply the zip you can do
it confidently. Once you mark the garment velvet with
a ripped out zip, the frayed velvet fibre loss is permanent. There
is no second chance to replace fibre pile loss.
when you cut around your pattern pieces as all too easily creep and
fraying can happen before you have even lifted the pieces off the table,
so I cut my allowances 2cm rather than the standard 1.5cm allowed on a
pattern. It also gives
you a little room to manipulate the basted pieces. Instead of
using tailors chalk I prefer to use old fashioned tailor's tacks for
markings on these fabrics. Cut all
notches generously outwards. NEVER cut them into the seam allowance.
I confess I tack
(baste) very little in
most normal sewing situations apart from tailored collars and sometimes
sleeve heads, both of which do need
careful setting especially in unforgiving materials. After years of sewing I mainly sew over pins set
at right angles to seams, but velvet is one fabric I do tack (baste). Basting
seams helps to achieve a professional finish on velvet. Work slowly and
carefully, not in haste and you will have success. Use a fine silk
thread to baste with, as this will mark the material far less than other
threads. Velvet picks up impressions quickly. So when you have
basted the seam, stitch it as soon as possible and try not to leave the tacking in for hours
on end. The less time the tacking is in place the less imprinted the
velvet will be with superfluous marks.
Hand baste every seam carefully with long and short tacking stitches.
Long and short tacking /basting stitches will hold fabrics better together than
even tacking stitches. By long I mean about 10 to 12mm and by short
about 4 to 5mm.
This long and short tacked seam will also hold together better than even
basting when fitting. Manipulate the seam you tack by hand. This saves lots of tearing of hair
later when the seam might pucker or move up to 2 inches as one layer
of velvet pile floats on top of the other.
also show pin marks so be careful using pins and don't leave any pins in
velvet for anything longer than minutes or you may leave permanent
imprint marks. If you are someone who refuses to baste, then pin
within the (generous 2cm) seam allowance and remove pins a couple of inches ahead, but
don't expect perfection. Basting velvet really does save time in
the long run. Alternatives to hold fabric pieces together include using paper clips, a technique
used when sewing suede.
have the luxury of walking or roller feet. Check your sewing
machine box to see if you have one. If not go buy one from your
sewing machine stockist. They are worth every penny. So USE
A WALKING FOOT TO SEW VELVET is the best MODERN DAY advice anyone can
I've enjoyed sewing velvet on most was a Pfaff with its dual feed
mechanism or integrated Dual Feed System or IDT System. Pfaff
developed an exclusive system that eliminates fabric slippage where the
fabric is fed from above as well as below and at the same rate. So
the dual feed system feeds both layers evenly, preventing puckering and
don't have a walking or roller foot or a dual feed machine, scour your wardrobe for some tissue
paper and place long strips of tissue paper between the velvet pieces and sew the seams
through the tissue. The tissue can be torn away once off the
[Update August 2006 - A reader recently wrote to me ' Please
let me offer an additional tool: I've decided that wax paper is my new
best friend. I design on it, can affix it to the fabric in a variety of
ways, including simply holding it since it does have some grittiness to
it, sew right over it, see through it. And, it's easier to remove from
the stitches than is tissue paper. It doesn't shred into such teeny
So whilst I have not personally tried this method it may work well
your needle and change it for a brand new needle. A size 14
probably most versatile especially when you have several thicknesses at
facings. But some finer velvets will need a size 11 needle and others
will only respond to hand back stitching. Do several
seams through 2, 3 and 4 layers of fabric, adjusting the pressure and
stitch length on samples, before finally opting for hand sewing
seams. If your stitch is too
short and very close together your needle hole too large you will perforate the velvet and
create hole marks that are unsightly. Test and test to get the
stitching right and if you have to do other machine jobs in between work
on your velvet project, then make a written note of the stitch and needle
to change to a higher needle size for thicker seams.
If you are
still finding the seam sample is poor and your sample should be at least
10 or 12 inches long to get a good idea of hang, then try decreasing
pressure on the presser foot. It can also be useful to
machine for about 3 or 4 inches then raise the presser foot and allow
the fabric to relax as pressure is eased off and then, replace the presser foot and continue stitching.
stitch the seam slowly and steadily whilst keeping the fabric taut from top to bottom direction of the dress/garment.
Do not rush it. More mistakes are made on velvet if you rush. You must
treat it with loving care and it will reward you well. Sewing from
top to bottom is best as it's much easier to adjust the hemline area than an
underarm bustline area if you do get fabric drag excess fabric at the bottom
of a long seam.
Make sure you have a work table to support the weight of the velvet fabric
which is heavy. If the fabric hangs off the table it will drag at the
seam. Do not race at the seam as if you are knocking up a throwaway
fleece item. Once off the machine run the seam between your
thumb and forefinger. On the right side use a pin to pick out any
trapped fibres of plush before the steam pressing begins. You may find
a suede wire brush useful instead.
Now pressing velvet is whole new game, but all seams should be pressed
together LIGHTLY to help knit the stitches together before opening the seam
and treating it further. As the velvet pile is resting against velvet
pile this pressing of the seam together LIGHTLY will help get a nice finish.
I like to snip the seam on the outer edge at 3 inch intervals, another trick
which helps the seam lie that bit better when pressed open. If the
seam is curved such snips need to be closer together.
Velvet likes a steamy atmosphere best of all and should never be pressed unless you have a purpose designed velvet needle board or a piece of plush velvet kept solely for the purpose of
pressing other velvets. A needle board prevents the pile of velvet or velveteen from being crushed. The needle board is covered in tiny stainless steel crooked pins about 1cm high which can
burrow into the velvet pile and retain the pile as is. They can be bought from good haberdashers such as MacCulloch and Wallis or Clothilde and usually cost at least £25. I've always preferred
those on a soft back that can also be rolled up and used in awkward parts of the garment.
The cheaper alternative to a needle board is to keep a piece of velvet fabric, preferably serged or bias bound to prevent velvet fibres coming out. Place it on your ironing board
and press the garment velvet pile into the piece of loose velvet, so that the two layers press pile into pile.
When you press the seams open, place the velvet fabric onto your needle board or
spare velvet fabric piece and also place pieces of A4 typing paper between the seam turnover and the main wrong side fabric. This is an extra aid to stop seam edge impressions imprinting lines through
to the outer velvet layer.
Don't press on the serged outer edge of your velvet
cloth when treating the seams. This should not happen if your
velvet press cloth is large enough to cover the ironing board.
You can also make a velvet seam roll using a smooth wooden rolling pin or cardboard tubing from a fabric roll that you have covered with padding and cotton and finally covered with a layer
of velvet. You could too use my tailor's ham pattern here to make a velvet tailor's ham. Click the thumbnail to make it the correct size to print it to A4 and use velvet instead of cotton as the
To make the Velvet Tailor's Ham - Cut
4 ovals of plain white cotton and 2 layers of velvet. Put 2 layers of cotton
down on a surface, followed by the 2 layers of velvet placed pile to pile,
followed by the final 2 layers of cotton. Machine stitch as shown in
the printed out instructions, clip curves, turn through then stuff with
wadding and close the small gap with neat hand stitches.
A tailor's ham is
very useful for shaping curved seams. To use it don't press the velvet
as such, but shape a curved seam on the egg shaped ham and with a wet muslin
cloth over your iron tip generate extra steam and finger caress the seam
open when the iron is put down.
A wooden clapper can be effective too,
to beat a seam open, but be careful you don't damage the velvet pile.
you make a mess of pressing velvet and flatten the pile you have usually
caused shine and pile damage that is permanent. You may be able to
revive it with lots of steam and by brushing the pile gently to raise it
again. But once the damage is done it is most unlikely it will
ever regain its former glory and new sheen may always exist where the
over pressing occurred.
My advice is to take a sample of velvet and
deliberately over press with your iron to see how easy it is to damage and
learn just how much steam and pressing you can give your particular velvet
fabric without causing damage.
Under rather than
over press velvet whether constructing or valeting an item. Try also the freely steaming kettle minus lid
method which can be used with a garment on a firm hanger and just let
the steam penetrate it. This works very well too when trying to revive a
velvet item when staying in hotel rooms.
Or use a travel steamer iron and just hover with steam a few centimetres
from the fabric surface without touching the actual velvet. The
main thing is to avoid touching the fabric with the iron when applying
steam. You can also use your fingers to manipulate flatness when there
is steam in the velvet.
A fully constructed
jacket will be much harder to press than a finished dress with a loose
lining. If in doubt, take the garment to be professionally steamed at
a dry cleaners or first try hanging it in a steamy shower room. Affix a
hook to the back of your bathroom door, run a hot bath and leave the garment
in the steamy atmosphere.
If you have none of these items you may have some success using a velour towel. This type of towel is often made as a beach towel.
finishing velvet seams include, overlocking/serging, zigzag stitch and
bound seams. For totally lined garments sometimes a row of
straight stitching near the raw edge will suffice. Again if you
use a zigzag stitch try not to have the zigzags too close together as it
can create heavy unsightly almost embroidered ridges. Use
your scraps to make samples and only neaten the seam after pressing.
Fraycheck can be used when making amateur one off
wear costumes. Additional edge braids can be attached with Copydex
glue for short term stage use.
4-5 cm hems are best worked flat, with the raw edge
lightly zig zagged or overlooked. Bias tape is also an option to
encase the cut edge. Then sew invisibly by hand. Do not
double over a velvet hem which makes for a lumpy thick ugly appearance.
In some circumstances such as a circular or full bias
skirt it may be best to keep the hem allowance short at 1.5 to 2cm and
after using a fairly open zig zag or overlock stitch then hand sew or
machine topstitch the layer of hem slowly and carefully. Or you
could using satin bias binding or bias facings or circular cut fabric
facings instead. Again you must judge your fabric and garment.
Stretch synthetic velvets can be overlocked or be
finished with a stretched curly lettuce frill. For this you must
test and trial the fabric finish.
Never buy or include a flaw in a velvet item thinking you'll
be able to repair the flaw. Flawed velvet is flawed.
It is impossible to weave velvet without flaws and unlike tweeds flaws in
velvet cannot be made good. These flaws are usually tagged with a
contrast thread by the gold
lined selvedge. So just work around them.
If you are desperate
for lack of fabric try to incorporate the flaw in facings, in underarm seams, under collars or under patch pockets where the flaw would be more likely
to go unnoticed.
How velvet, velveteen and corduroy is made in the weave
process is discussed on the Velvets page.
The page also include fashion images from Next UK.
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