Sewing with Velvet: Tips for Blacmagic and Mysstic
Few fabrics do “deep and mysterious” the way velvet does. The subtle luster and rich colors make it perfect for witchy, gothic looks like the two newest designs in the Cosplay by McCall’s collection, or for the regal garb of kings and nobles. Although not always the most beginner-friendly fabric, working with velvet doesn’t have to be painful either. And if drama is your thing, you’re going to want to learn to sew with it. So let’s talk about some of our favorite tips for getting the most from this tricky-but-rewarding fabric.
Types of Velvet
Different types of velvet are suitable for different projects, so the first thing you can do to ensure a successful result is to choose an appropriate fabric. High quality velvets have a dense, even pile and soft hand, while less expensive versions may be sparse or stiff and scratchy.
- Polyester velvet is relatively inexpensive, but varies in quality. Shop in person or order swatches to make sure you’re happy with a particular fabric.
- Rayon velvet is usually softer and richer looking, but more expensive.
- Acetate blend velvets are often very beautiful and silky, but delicate and easily crushed or damaged by heat. Handle and store them with care to avoid wrinkles that may be hard to get out again.
- Velveteen is probably the easiest type of velvet to sew. Usually made of cotton, or sometimes synthetic, it has a short pile with a matte finish and is very stable and structured. It’s a good choice for coats and some dresses, but is often stiffer than other velvets and not as soft.
- Crushed velvet can be made from many different fibers. It has a pronounced texture created by crushing the pile into patterns, which may be regular or totally random. It is one of the more forgiving velvets to sew as the texture can help to hide any imperfections.
- Stretch velvet or velour has a knit instead of a woven base and is usually a blend of polyester and spandex. It is available in two-way and four-way stretch varieties, both plain and crushed. For bodysuits, leggings, and similar, you’ll need both vertical and horizontal stretch to ensure a comfortable fit. For dresses and gowns, horizontal stretch is sufficient—vertical stretch will just give make the dress sag.
- Burnout or devoré velvet has been treated to remove the pile in certain areas, so you can see the (often sheer) base fabric. It’s available in geometric designs like the ones shown here, as well as florals, paisley, and other decorative patterns. Use it for capes, scarves, and lined garments; especially with a contrasting fabric underneath to show off the open areas.
- Embossed velvet has a pattern created by selectively crushing the pile. You can make your own designs by placing the velvet face down over a clean rubber stamp and gently pressing from the back with a warm iron. Make sure to test on scraps before tackling your yardage; some velvets respond better to this technique than others.
- Silk/rayon velvet is generally on the expensive side, and it shows. It is extremely soft and lustrous with a heavy, liquid drape. Crushed and burnout versions are available as well.
Sewing with velvet
Before starting to sew your velvet, it’s a good idea to do some experimenting with scraps. See how much the fabric frays and sheds, as you may want to cut out your project with wider seam allowances to allow for any loss at the edges. If your fabric does fray a lot, it’s a good idea to finish the edges with a zigzag or serger stitch immediately after cutting and before beginning the assembly.
Sew strips together to get a feel for how the fabric handles, and see if it creeps or skews. If you find it difficult to keep the edges aligned with pins alone, or if the fabric creeps and bunches as you sew, you may need to resort to hand basting. This may take a little longer, but gives you far more control. A walking or even-feed foot may also help if you have one for your machine.
All velvet has a nap, which means that the pile fibers have a distinct direction to them. The fabric will feel smoother when rubbed along the nap, and reflect the light differently depending on which direction it’s oriented. Decide when beginning your project which direction you prefer, and always use the “with nap” layout when cutting out your pattern to avoid abrupt color shifts across seams.
The other slightly tricky thing about working with velvet is avoiding damage from the iron. Especially when working with delicate velvets like silk or acetate blends, it’s easy to permanently crush or mar the pile. The safest way to flatten seams in velvet is to steam with the iron held a half inch above the fabric and then finger press. On hardier velvets, you may be safe to press the velvet face down on a fluffy towel or scrap of velveteen. A needle board, which has a bed of metal spikes to support the velvet backing without crushing the pile, may be a useful investment if you work with velvet regularly. Or, skirt the issue entirely and flatten seams by topstitching by hand or machine. (A hand pickstitch will all but disappear into the pile.)
Because velvet is tricky to press without damage, it’s a good idea to avoid wrinkles as much as you can. Instead of folding your yardage for storage, loosely fold along the cross grain and then hang with a skirt hanger clipped to the selvage. Similarly, finished garments should be stored on a hanger and not shoved into a crowded closet.