Monday, January 13, 2014
Tips for Sewing with Velvet
Quick note: Silk/rayon velvet (like the blue fabric I made the dress above in) is drapey and soft. Cotton velvet tends to have a thicker feeling to it, with more body. Cotton or synthetic velvets have the same challenges as silk velvet, since they all have a pronounced nap. Silk velvet can be a little trickier to handle and cut because of it's slippery feel.
The trickiness of sewing velvet can all be blamed on its nap. The nap (or "pile") refers to the texture of the velvet--the little hair-like fibers that stand up, creating a luxurious fabric that feels heavenly to the touch. The nap is tricky to sew because:
1. It has a direction, just like a cat's fur grows in a certain direction. If you pet the cat in the opposite direction, the fur stands up and looks messy. And the cat gets kind of pissy, too. Velvet's the same way.
2. The pile shifts easily. Imagine trying to sew two pieces of carpet together, with the furry sides together. They would shift up and down as the pile tried to settle itself in a flattened position. The pile can slide back and forth, causing unpredictable movements in your fabric.
3. The pile can get crushed with improper pressing. Crushed pile creates these weird shiny spots on your garment, and it's impossible to get the pile to stand up again.
Now that you (hopefully) understand velvet a bit better, here are some tips that work well for me:
Cutting and Marking
*Lay the fabric out with the wrong sides together. Any time you put the napped sides of velvet together, it starts to do its shifty dance thing. Keeping the smooth sides together helps keep it in place while cutting.
*Try using a rotary cutter and mat so you don't have to lift the velvet as you cut it.
*Transferring marks: I used waxed tracing paper and marked just inside the marked lines of darts in case the tracing wheel disturbed the nap. The other option is tailor's tacks.
*Do not EVER touch the fabric with the iron. Steam, while holding the iron about an inch away from the fabric. Use your fingers to coax seam allowances open after steaming.
*Baste! Hand baste your seams before sewing. A double row of basting works best: one row of basting on either side of your seamline.
*Hold the fabric taut as you sew, holding the fabric out in front of and behind the presser foot.
*Consider using an easy-to-sew fabric for your linings or facings. For my blue velvet dress, I lined the bodice in cotton voile. It feels nice against the skin and reduces the stress level of sewing a bit. When you're lining in slippery silk or rayon, you have two difficult fabrics to deal with instead of just one.
*For facings, don't use velvet. Any time you can avoid sewing velvet right sides together, you should take advantage of it. Find a coordinating, non-napped fabric.
*Stabilize necklines with staystitching or strips of silk organza hand stitched to the neckline.
*Do not use anything fusible--interfacing should be the sew-in kind. You can use muslin if it matches the weight and drape of your fabric well.
*I prefer to do a hand-inserted zipper. If you must do a machine-inserted zipper, use two rows of basting before stitching on the machine.
I hope this was helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions about velvet.