The fireworks have been let off, we’re kicking our way through piles of leaves and, of an evening, eyeing up the ginger wine. It’s that time when we turn our attention to fabrics and garments that we love to wear through the dark winter months, which will somehow seem just wrong come February. And yet any investment in time and money will be worth it as these are clothes which will seem just as indulgently-appropriate come next year – and the year after that. Sometimes it’s a bit of sparkle we need – on other occasions, soft, draping knits. This year there’s an opportunity to add some velvet to our winter wardrobes.
After a couple of tentative years eyeing it up, we’re (apparently) back in love with velvet. Not that it ever went away – we always knew it would be back. Those of us with velvet tunics from a few years back (or velvet shirts from a couple of decades ago) still hanging in our wardrobes, will know that a velvet investment now will still be paying dividends in years to come.
This year we’re particularly enamoured of the way in which velvet is turning up in parts of our wardrobe not often the target of plushness. Slip dresses, trousers, sportswear – these are all being added to the usual roster of the velvet jackets, fitted dresses, skirts and coats that we’re more used to encountering.
The colours too are a step away from those we might anticipate in a more traditional velvet palette. There are rich teal and petrol blues and the odd emerald – but also rusts, ochres, green-golds and dusty pinks rippling around. The juxtaposition of golds, bronzes and green-golds with dusky pinks and creams is one which has excited our eye at ClothSpot for a few months now. We adore the notion of complicating such unexpected combinations further with the addition of velvet textures, uneven reflections of light and then playing even more – layering our velvets with voile, silk and satin.
We’ve been looking at lots of patterns and style ideas for velvet garments here at ClothSpot and we’ll be sharing our velvet make with you next week. Currently on our shortlist are these little numbers.
A fabric that that has turned up in fairy tales and children’s stories and played a key a role in significant ceremonial occasions, velvet is is a cloth with which we’re all familiar. Perhaps like us, your first encounter with it was in Ladybird books where lords and ladies from Dick Whittington to Cinderella were elegantly draped in it. Perhaps too, you have a memory of cutting up old curtains for your first self-made outfits – or perhaps for creating stuffed toys …(‘Lazy Daisy Cat‘ from the My Learn To Sew book, anyone?)
We have fond memories of Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, in which the Fossil sisters raised money against their precious necklaces to purchase a shared dress for auditions – here’s Pauline wearing it for her ‘Alice’ audition.
One of our number has a personal memory of taking a turquoise velvet dress to school just before Christmas 1971. The plan was to change into it for that afternoon’s party. Brand new – and not made from curtains – such excitement! Upon arrival at school, it was carefully placed on a table at the back of the classroom in a brown paper bag.
But come party time – oh, horror of horrors! It was discovered that the class hamster – whose cage also occupied said table – was burrowed deep within a sumptuous nest of turquoise pile, whilst the dress in question now sported a 6-inch hole in the skirt. Cue tears – amid despondent flashes of navy blue pants.
And that, children, is why we never allow pets to mix with our sewing. (We don’t, do we??)
Despite such ubiquity, velvet is treated with surprising wariness when it comes to working with it. We know from experience that the prospect of using velvet can prompt attacks of nerves in the most experienced of sewers – when in fact there’s no need; really there isn’t. We thought we’d have a go at demystifying it a little for you.
What is velvet – and how is it made?
We’re used to being teased in ClothSpot by our suppliers who occasionally try and sell us fleece fabric – ‘just for a laugh’. (Hilarious, chaps…) And yet the term ‘velvet’ originates in the Latin term vellus – meaning – yes indeed – fleece. So the joke’s on us.
Like many fabrics, velvet comes in many weights and compositions. The term ‘velvet’ relates to its appearance rather than any particular yarn used. It’s a woven fabric where the warp thread (those running the length of the fabric) have been used to create a ‘pile’ – threads sticking up on the surface of the fabric.
You’re most likely to come across velvet in one of three compositions (although there are many, many more…)
Cotton velvet (with or without a spandex element)
These are usually heavier velvet fabrics, suitable for skirts, trousers, jackets, dresses and other more structured garments.
Silk/viscose mix velvet (usually 82% viscose, 18% silk)
These are usually more draping fabrics, used for more flowing dresses, tops and more relaxed or rippling separates.
If, like us, you were wondering, velvet is made by weaving two layers of fabric on the same loom, one on top of the other. The weft thread is passed between the warp threads of both the top and bottom layers, thereby binding the two layers of cloth together. Those warp threads are then cut with a fine blade – and it’s their cut ends that give us the classic velvet pile.
If you can bear the annoying robots in this video (sorry!) it’s actually a really clear explanation how all of that works.
How someone managed to invent something as complex and extraordinary as velvet back in the Middle Ages we’re not sure – but we’re delighted that they did.
Working with velvet
Don’t be scared of working with velvet – the key is to take your time and not rush. Here are some tips for creating a stunning velvet garment…
– The ‘nap’ (i.e. the direction of the pile on the surface of your garment) should always run top to bottom. Imagine stroking a dress or jacket sleeve you’re wearing – you’d want to stroke down smoothly as you would when you stroke a cat from head to tail.
– Make sure you lay out your pattern pieces so the nap runs in the correct direction on all pieces of the finished garment
– Always cut your velvet with the napped side facing down.
– If your pattern requires multiple pieces to be cut, don’t be tempted to cut from a double layer of fabric. However securely you cut your pattern pieces there’ll still be some movement as the pile in each fabric layer moves against the other. Cut from a single layer of fabric and if a piece needs to be cut on the fold, then either flip it along the fold line part-way through cutting, or use it as a template to create a single symmetrical pattern piece and lay that out flat on a single layer of velvet.
– Pin, baste, and baste again! When you sew a velvet seam, those layers are going to want to move. This is the time for plenty of basting before you stitch, in order to keep your seams even.
– If you’ve a bulky velvet pile, you might want to trim the pile within the seam allowance in order to reduce the bulk, especially on shoulder, crotch and underarm seams, and on heavier velvets.
– Don’t use fusible interfacing! That requires a hot iron to apply – and we don’t recommend hot irons on velvet (see below). Instead, use a non-fusible interfacing, or on finer velvets an interfacing made from a voile or other crisp cotton.
– Experiment with stitch length and foot pressure – a slightly longer stitch and less presser-foot pressure can sometimes help to minimise movement between layers of velvet.
– Finally – never underrate trial and error! Whatever your garment, you’re going to have plenty of scraps left over from your cutting, so run those through your machine – and your overlocker if you use one – and work out the best settings for your particular fabric and machine settings.
– We usually keep a microfibre duster handy when working with velvet – it’s great for to picking up the pile from your cutting table and around your sewing machine.
How to take care of your velvet
Cotton velvet can be washed on a 30 or 40 degree cycle, but don’t over-fill your washer or use a high spin speed. We’d also suggest a test wash before you do so (and don’t forget that we advise that any lined garment should be dry cleaned to retain its fit). Garments should be turned inside out before washing and we wouldn’t use a dryer. To dry, first stroke the pile in the correct direction and then lay your garment or fabric piece on a towel or over a padded hanger in order to avoid marking the pile.
Silk, viscose/rayon and other fine velvets should be dry cleaned in order to avoid permanent damage to the pile.
The only time we’d iron a velvet would be on the wrong side, with a *very* light pressure and using a steam iron, placing your velvet over another fabric with a nap such as a couple of towels cloth or an old piece of velvet used for that purpose. And even then, we’d only do that with a cotton velvet with a shorter pile.
If you’re using velvet on a regular basis, then it might be worth investing in a velvet ironing mat or a needleboard, both of which allow the supporting fabric to be pressed without crushing the pile.
Usually however you’d simply steam velvet to remove creases; certainly in the case of finer fabrics. You can do that by draping it over the edge of your ironing board or over a clothes horse with the pile running down the length of the fabric. Put your iron onto a steam setting and hold it about an inch away from the velvet. Then as the steam rises, smooth the velvet pile down. Don’t let your velvet get wet – it just needs a little bit of steam to smooth it into place.
Velvet garments should be hung on padded hangers; velvet fabric in your stash should either be rolled with the pile facing inside – or carefully folded with tissue paper between the layers to avoid fold marks on the pile.
If you’ve any favourite tips for working with velvet – or if you’ve been eyeing up a particular style or pattern then please do let us know. Meanwhile enjoy the season of sumptuousness and indulgence while it lasts. Finally – simply because we couldn’t resist it (and we held back so long…)