Friday, January 20, 2012


I’m working with some velvet fabrics, and since I don’t have a finished project to show yet, I thought I’d wax eloquent for a bit about this beautiful material.

Every season some fashion experts place velvet firmly on the “out” list, while others label it the latest “in” fabric. Apparently the designers ignore these pronouncements, because every Fall, one or more designers feature gorgeous velvet garments on the runway.

Marc Jacobs revisits velvet annually (2010, 2011)

Nanette Lepore loves velvet (FW 2010)

I, of course, usually catch up with what’s in or out a few years too late. But it doesn’t matter much, since I don’t revamp my wardrobe annually, or at all. I still have clothes from 1985. I just know they’re going to be back in style soon.

And I’ve always loved velvet, but it seemed a bit too cocktail or evening wear for many years. Now everyone’s using velvet and velveteen for just about everything. I’ve seen button down shirts and camis, miniskirts and leggings, pants, coats, hats, and shoes in these shiny pile fabrics. And we mustn’t forget the recent love affair between active sportswear and its version of velvet: velour.

So I decided it was time to dive in.

This is one of the fabrics I have. Silver? Green? It’s called “smokey green,” which is close enough.

Velvet is a fascinating textile. It can be made from cotton, rayon, silk, synthetics, or a mix.

Embossed poly velvet from Sew What's New

Hand-dyed cotton velvet from Mermaids Beads on etsy

For sewing and care, cotton velvet is the easiest, because it can be pressed without making indentations in the pile.

Hand-dyed silk rayon velvet from Raes Rags on etsy

I like the silk-rayon velvets best, because of their drape, sheen, and unusual colors. Because rayon is a plant fiber and silk is an animal fiber, they each attract and absorb different types of pigments. This allows manufacturers and textile artists to create incredible iridescent fabrics. I love it when science comes together with art. The possibilities are limitless!

Crushed velvet is easy to make – if you’ve ever accidentally crushed a velvet skirt or dress, you know just how easy it is. But if you have plain velvet that you want to add interest to, you can use your steam iron to set in wrinkles and creases in different patterns. Just crunch up the fabric with your hand and iron over the folds and wrinkles. This works best with silk/rayon velvet since you can use the high heat setting.

Claire Schaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide informs me that velvet is marred by pins, creeps during stitching, frays badly, and must be dry-cleaned. Cripes! Fortunately the green velvet I’m working with is already crushed, and it’s been through the washing machine, so not much more can happen to it.

Like most pile fabrics, velvet sheds from all cut edges. My cutting table and sewing machine are completely covered in fuzz. For seam finishes Claire suggests pinked, zigzag, serged, bound, overcast, Hong Kong, or taped. I’m going with seam binding tape.

My first velvet garment is almost done, pictures coming soon!


1 comment:

  1. I love velvet also, whether the experts say it is currently in or out. Last year during one of my clearance + 50% off (translate: practically free, which is the only way I retail shop!)on line buying sprees, I bought a velvet tunic in that silver/green color by Diane von Furstenberg, and black velvet leggings to match by DKNY.
    Another velvet fan is the Indie shop Red Velvet, which has featured velvet pieces in both of their collections. I got an orange velvet mini (which I wear as a tunic!) from their fall/winter collection.
    I don't update my wardrobe on any regular basis either; I buy what I need or like from time to time, and mix it in with what I already have. Very little gets weeded out, unless it's damaged. I have cardigans from the 70's that I still wear! I do have a collection of pretty dresses that are flouncy and feeling too young that I plan to (reluctantly!) give away, to good homes. Other than that, I expect I will be wearing my high school sweaters and my mom's stunning 1960's suits for many years to come! And, of course, beautiful, yummy velvet!
    xo, Anita