Velvet can be tricky to work with, depending on the slipperiness of the pile and whether you’ve had much practice with it. With these tips, you’ll be a master velvet seamstress in no time!
My first encounter with velvet was when I was about twelve years old, and I wanted to make a blue satin Christmas dress for my sister’s Felicity American Girl. (Did you know they released sewing patterns for all the Doll’s clothing? Fuck YES we made so many doll outfits.) (That’s pretty much what I did with my life until I turned 15) So I did make the ball gown for her doll, and it turned out AMAZING. But for my muslin, before I cut into my slippery satin, I made a test dress with some crimson velvet we had in the house. It was a bit of a tricky sew, as I was v. young + rather inexperienced. Ever since then, I’ve just loved the textural elements of adding velvet and satin to my garments – especially in lingerie. Is there anything as luxurious as a velvet bra??
Since our Limited Edition Sewing Kit is made with stretch velvet this month, I thought I’d show you some of the tricks I use to get that perfect finish when sewing velvet!! I had a teensy bit of this beautiful blue stretch velvet left from a thrifted slip, and I made a pair of Arccos Undies with it to showcase my tricks!
Fabric Term – What is a Pile?
The pile or nap of a fabric is a raised loop of fiber on the surface of the fabric. This is the fuzzy part of the velvet. Things with piles include carpet, towels, velvet, velveteen, ETC. The pile can be long + directional, creating a shine, or short and non-directional, like a velveteen. How long the fibers are is called the Pile Depth.
Trick 1 – Lining Up Edges
With velvet, there is usually a very apparent direction to the pile. This could be called the Direction of Greatest Slipperiness. In this photo, you can see how the fabric will slide down the pile, which can mess up your seam allowances. In my velvet piece, you can see how the pile direction is Down and to the Left, and the mesh piece has slid down in that direction. So here’s my trick for this –
1. Identify the direction of the pile.
As I mentioned before, the pile direction on this piece is going down and slightly to the left. If you’re not sure, or you’re working with a crushed velvet like I am here (in a crushed velvet, the pile has been heat treated to point all over the place for depth of color), you can tell by looking at how the pile fibers are laying along the cut edge.
2. Line up your pieces, not edge to edge, but with the pieces overhanging above the direction of the pile. When you do this, it allows the pieces to slip like they want to, but they slip into place instead of out of it.
3. As you pin the pieces in place, gently slide the pieces to match.
Boom. There it is!
Trick 2 – Pinning
My next trick is about pinning – specifically, the way you use your pins. If you have the pin through a very large bite of fabric, the pieces can still slide around the pin. Bummer. Here’s how I like to do it:
1.Take multiple, small bites with the pin instead of one big one. This helps to keep the pieces really locked in place, and prevents slipping after the pieces are pinned together. Also, use lots of pins, especially along curves.
Trick 3 – Sewing
We’re about to have half of the room walk out with my next piece of advice, which is:
1.Sew over your pins.
I KNOW!! I’M SORRY! But what is the point of all of that beautifully pinned velvet if you take your pins out and just let it slip all around as it goes through your machine?! AH my broken heart!
Here is a picture of me sewing over my pins. I am not dead.
If you can’t bear to intentionally sew over a pin, my alternative advice is this:
1. Leave your pins in until the very last actual second before taking them out. The more space between your needle and the next pin is just more slipping opportunity.
If you’re using a serger, which is lovely to have to combat the fluffy dustiness of cut velvet, here’s what I like to do:
I am in the habit of not using my knife as I serge. I use 1/4″ seam allowance on all of my garments, and just use a 1/4″ wide overlocking stitch. That way, my seam allowance is exactly what it needs to be, and I don’t have to worry about wonky lines or taking off too much or too little as I feed my pieces through the machine. To do this, I just line up the edge of my fabric with the knife, and the only thing it cuts is the odd uneven edge and sometimes a little dust.
I take the edge of my fabric and place it right along the knife, with the beginning edge right under the needle. This means that when I start sewing, the fabric edges are locked together immediately, instead of first going under the foot and through the feed dogs. This is helpful because the foot and feed dogs move at different speeds, practically insuring that your edges will slip and won’t be perfectly matched when they come out the other side (I took the pins out from under the knife before I started sewing, don’t worry).
And there you have it!! Perfectly matched edges right out of the gate!! These edges have not been trimmed, so you can believe me! Yay for tricks for sewing velvet!
Go team! Then, once I’ve finished with my machine, I put it in a sewing machine tote to keep it safe and keep all of my threats, needles, and odd bits together.
If you haven’t picked up your May Limited Edition Kit yet, there are still a couple left for the last week this month! After this they’ll be gone forever, so don’t miss out!!!