Image from page 435 of Decorative textiles; an illustrated book on coverings for furniture, walls and...

Silk Velvet Upholstery Fabric

Anna Sui from her Fall 2009

Anna Sui from her Fall 2009 collection

Marc Jacobs Fall 2009 collection

Fendi from their fall 2009 collection.


It's that time of year when velvet starts making its triumphant comeback with holiday dresses for girls and ladies of all ages. Get tips from the pros who can sew it best.

This season designers looked to this winter staple to create looks that were anything but ordinary. Here are a few techniques that will help you get the look with none of the hassle. With new technical information and new sewing aids, velvet is no longer intimidating to sew. After you get a few skills under your belt, you'll be able to include it in your day or night wardrobe with ease.

Woven with an extra set of warp yarns that form a pile, velvets range in weight from chiffon to heavy upholstery fabrics. Originally made of silk, velvet is now available in cotton, rayon, acetate, polyester, and various blends. It's usually woven as double cloth; two layers of fabric are woven simultaneously, one on top of the other. The pile, which joins the two layers, is then cut to create that signature, luxurious nap.

Because of velvet's nature, stitching lines tend to show. Try to minimize design details such as darts, seams, buttonholes, and topstitching. Choose simple semi-fitted to loose-fitting garment styles. Gathers, soft folds, and drapey styles work better than those that are fitted and contoured.

Velvet has a definite nap (direction of the pile). When you run your hand over the fabric, you will be able to tell whether the nap feels smooth to the touch (the pile is going down) or pushing against the pile (the pile is going up). If the nap is up, the velvet looks darker. If the nap is brushed down, the fabric looks lighter.

There are no hard and fast rules about which way to cut the fabric. Typically, velvet garments are cut with the nap going down, but if you prefer a richer, darker color, cut the garment with the nap going up. On the other hand, velvet will often wear better and mat less when cut with the pile down. It's important to be consistent and cut all of the pieces with the nap running in the same direction. Use a chalk marker or a sliver of soap on the wrong side of the fabric to mark the nap direction.

Lay the fabric wrong-side up in a single layer on your cutting table, so the pattern pieces are on the fabric backing. When pattern tissue is placed on the pile side, it moves and shifts, making pinning difficult and cutting inaccurate.

Use chalk or tailor's pencils to mark dots and other necessary markings from the pattern on the fabric's wrong side. The best way to mark velvet is with tailor's tacks or with hand basting. Thread a very fine, sharp hand-sewing needle with silk thread to sew the marks. Silk thread is less damaging to the fabric than the pressure of chalk and can be removed easily. If you need to mark long edges such as a hem, use thread-tracing. Avoid using a tracing wheel and tracing paper. To mark notches, make a small snip into the seam allowance for a single notch or multiple snips for double and triple notches.

Lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric's wrong side for easy cutting.

Another product that saves time and enormous frustration is temporary spray adhesive. Now, instead of painfully pinning, basting, and stabilizing, and hoping for the best, simply spray a light line of adhesive along the seamline on the fabric's right side. Then place the right side of the corresponding piece along the seamline, and stitch the seam. You don't even need pins! If you don't get the pieces positioned perfectly the first time, pull the fabrics apart, and place them together again. There is no need to spray the adhesive again; the first spray will retain its sticking power.

Fendi from their fall 2009 collection. sew velvet lay pattern pieces on top of velvel Marc Jacobs Fall 2009 collection sew velvet basting spray

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