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 Fashion Trends 2005
Autumn 2005 Winter 2006
Velvet Sewing and Pressing Tips

By Pauline Weston Thomas for Fashion-Era.com

 

Velvet Sewing, Construction, Nap and Pressing Tips

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Green velvet evening dress from Phase Eight - available autumn winter 2006/7Handling and Sewing Velvet Tips

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 with velvet.

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 dress.

Sewing 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 roll.  Some 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.

Where to Buy Velvet Fabric in London

In central 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. 

Joels in 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 Collection.

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. 

Considerations for Sewing Velvet

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.

There are several other considerations.  These include an understanding of nap, the 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.

Velvet and Pile Fabrics - With Nap - Without Nap

First 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.

When the 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 upwards

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.

Use a One-Way Single Layout

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.

Cutting 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.

Be generous 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. 

Hand Baste or Tack Velvet Seams Before Machining

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.  

Some velvets 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.

Do little experiments with your fabric scraps.

Stitching Velvet Seams

Before you sew your velvet you must first read how to press velvet and how to not press it here.  This is chicken and egg knowledge so I mention it here!

There are many tips here to consider if you have been having problems previously when sewing velvet.

Walking Foot, Roller Foot

Today we 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 give you. 

The machine 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 shifted layers.

If you 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 machine.

[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 pieces.'

So whilst I have not personally tried this method it may work well for you.]

Needles

Next check your needle and change it for a brand new needle.  A size 14 ballpoint is 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 machined sample 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 size etc.

Be prepared 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.

Stitching the Seam

Finally 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.

Steaming and Pressing Velvet

Needleboards

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.

Velvet Seam Roll and Velvet Tailor's Ham

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 outside layer.

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.

Under Pressing Velvet

If 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 Hems

Methods of 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.

Flaws in Velvet

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.

Velvet Coat 

Boden Velvet Coat
Image courtesy of Boden Christmas 2005/6.

Images courtesy of Phase Eight and Boden.

Page Added 18 Sept 2005, updated August 2006

 

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