How to Sew Velvet like a Pro
Get the latest from Threads delivered straight to your inbox.
It’s that time of year when velvet starts making its triumphant comeback with holiday dresses for girls and ladies of all ages. Get tips from the pros who can sew it best.
This season designers looked to this winter staple to create looks that were anything but ordinary. Here are a few techniques that will help you get the look with none of the hassle. With new technical information and new sewing aids, velvet is no longer intimidating to sew. After you get a few skills under your belt, you’ll be able to include it in your day or night wardrobe with ease.
Woven with an extra set of warp yarns that form a pile, velvets range in weight from chiffon to heavy upholstery fabrics. Originally made of silk, velvet is now available in cotton, rayon, acetate, polyester, and various blends. It’s usually woven as double cloth; two layers of fabric are woven simultaneously, one on top of the other. The pile, which joins the two layers, is then cut to create that signature, luxurious nap.
STYLES AND PATTERNS
Because of velvet’s nature, stitching lines tend to show. Try to minimize design details such as darts, seams, buttonholes, and topstitching. Choose simple semi-fitted to loose-fitting garment styles. Gathers, soft folds, and drapey styles work better than those that are fitted and contoured.
Avoid ripping out stitches because that makes the fabric look damaged; refine the fit before you start your project. Or, make a garment from a pattern you have already perfected.
Velvet has a definite nap (direction of the pile). When you run your hand over the fabric, you will be able to tell whether the nap feels smooth to the touch (the pile is going down) or pushing against the pile (the pile is going up). If the nap is up, the velvet looks darker. If the nap is brushed down, the fabric looks lighter.
CUTTING AND MARKING
There are no hard and fast rules about which way to cut the fabric. Typically, velvet garments are cut with the nap going down, but if you prefer a richer, darker color, cut the garment with the nap going up. On the other hand, velvet will often wear better and mat less when cut with the pile down. It’s important to be consistent and cut all of the pieces with the nap running in the same direction. Use a chalk marker or a sliver of soap on the wrong side of the fabric to mark the nap direction.
Lay the fabric wrong-side up in a single layer on your cutting table, so the pattern pieces are on the fabric backing. When pattern tissue is placed on the pile side, it moves and shifts, making pinning difficult and cutting inaccurate.
Use chalk or tailor’s pencils to mark dots and other necessary markings from the pattern on the fabric’s wrong side. The best way to mark velvet is with tailor’s tacks or with hand basting. Thread a very fine, sharp hand-sewing needle with silk thread to sew the marks. Silk thread is less damaging to the fabric than the pressure of chalk and can be removed easily. If you need to mark long edges such as a hem, use thread-tracing. Avoid using a tracing wheel and tracing paper. To mark notches, make a small snip into the seam allowance for a single notch or multiple snips for double and triple notches.
Lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric’s wrong side for easy cutting.
Another product that saves time and enormous frustration is temporary spray adhesive. Now, instead of painfully pinning, basting, and stabilizing, and hoping for the best, simply spray a light line of adhesive along the seamline on the fabric’s right side. Then place the right side of the corresponding piece along the seamline, and stitch the seam. You don’t even need pins! If you don’t get the pieces positioned perfectly the first time, pull the fabrics apart, and place them together again. There is no need to spray the adhesive again; the first spray will retain its sticking power.
You can also use this process when sewing a layer of velvet to other types of fabric such as lining or any other smooth, no-pile material. The most amazing thing is that the adhesive dissipates cleanly.
The adhesive dissipates from the fabric, but it won’t disappear from your table, the floor, or the surrounding surfaces, so always cover your work space to catch overspray. Adhesive manufacturers also make products to help remove the overspray from hard surfaces.
Temporary basting spray holds layers of velvet together and prevents shifting while sewing. No pins necessary!
Stitching two pieces of velvet together can be tricky; traditional sewing methods simply don’t work. No amount of pinning and/or basting prevents the fabric from shifting and moving-in both directions-when you sew. Here are some classic tips for sewing seams in velvet:
∙ Hand-baste with one or more of three basting methods-double, backstitch, or diagonal basting.
∙ Loosen the machine tension.
∙ Hold the fabric taut as you sew.
∙ Use a walking foot, Teflon foot, or roller foot.
∙ Use the stop and start sewing method.
∙ Stitch with tissue paper or a stabilizer between the layers and/or between the fabric and the feed dogs
When sewing velvet, use universal or sharp machine needles sizes 70/10H or 80/12H and 100-percent cotton or silk thread. Always stitch in the direction of the pile. To minimize bulk, trim and grade seam allowances, and slash darts along the fold. Press the darts open.
For easy stitching, try loading your machine with a walking presser foot. It has feed dogs on its sole to help feed the fabric evenly through the machine, and helps eliminate the fabric crawling.
Test the foot on a swatch first to make sure it does not leave tracks in the fabric’s pile.
Ironing velvet is always delicate work. It is easy to mar the pile with an iron, so use only steam-never allow the iron to touch the fabric. There are several pressing-board surfaces you can use to safely position the velvet pile-side down while steaming from the wrong side.
Needle and Velva boards are both good surfaces, but they are rather small and need to be moved frequently while you work. It’s better to cover your entire pressing surface with a piece of stiff-pile fabric such as heavy velveteen, mohair upholstery, frieze, or even a thick terry towel; that way, you don’t have to shift the surface as you steam.
If your hands are sensitive to heat, use a press mitt or a finger mitt. Use a large scrap of velvet as a press cloth.
Steam velvet face down over a needle board or towel to avoid crushing the pile.
Before hemming your garment, let it hang for at least 24 hours, giving it time to relax. Re-measure and re-cut the hem length if necessary.
A hem may not need an edge finish. Simply turn it up, and stitch by hand, using a hand catchstitch, or by machine with a blindstitch. Either way, steam the hem; never let the iron touch the fabric. Finger-press the hem to leave a soft fold at the bottom.
For longer, lined garments such as coats and capes, use strips of bias-cut cotton flannel 1 inch wider than the hem allowance to support the hem. Position the strip parallel to the hem with the lower edge, crossing the hemline by 1/2 inch. The upper edge will extend above the hem allowance 1/2 inch. Catchstitch the top and bottom interfacing edges to the velvet’s wrong side. Fold the hem allowance up, and catchstitch the bottom edge to the flannel only. The flannel creates a soft, supportive fold in the hem.
Handsew a bias-cut strip of flannel 1/2 inch into the hem allowance as shown at left. Sew along the strip’s top and bottom edges.
Fold up the garment’s hem and handsew the garment’s edge to the flannel only.
This was excerpted from the article “Velvet Indulgence” by Linda Lee from Threads issue #140.
Max Azria at left and Prada at right use velvet in their Fall 2009 collections.
Gemma Maxi Dress by Named Clothing