Sunday 24 October 2021

Sewing velvet (and a blast from the past)

I have bitten the bullet, and started the project with my latest UseNine2021 (realistically, now UseThree2021) fabric - a remnant of black cotton velvet.

It's been a while since I last sewed with velvet: almost 32 years in fact! With the blind optimism of youth, I made a party dress with a fitted velvet bodice and sleeves, and a full satin skirt with a sheer overlay. It turned out fine, but with hindsight it feels like, 'How many unwise fabric choices can I cram into one garment?'

This time, I'm making the entire dress out of velvet. Another fitted bodice, but no sleeves this time. I'm using Butterick 5748 as the starting point, with a modified neckline and the zip moved to the centre back.

I'm only using the bodice part

As I've made this before, I tried on the completed dress, made a note of what I wanted to change, and then drew out a new pattern. Velvet isn't known for its forgiving nature re unpicking mistakes, so I made a toile to be sure I was entirely happy. Then I started cutting out.

The first mistake came quite early. I was working with the fabric pile side down, as recommended in various sewing books, so it was only when I lifted up the first cut piece that I discovered that there was a fault in the velvet. The pile was really squashed for the first 30cm/12" of the remnant, so there was an obvious line across the piece.


Fortunately, I had only cut this one back piece, and I had plenty of fabric. I've used this as a tester for the construction techniques, so it wasn't a complete waste.

Everything I had read warned against using velvet for a dress with darts, and this bodice has six of them!

Darts a-plenty

The back darts sewed up perfectly. The only issue was that I had to sew from the point to the base, to go with the direction of the pile. I started about 1cm/½" down, left a long tail of thread, and sewed the point by hand. The vertical front darts were equally easy, as was the left horizontal dart. I began to wonder if the warnings about darts were overstated ('pride', 'fall', etc. etc.).

The right horizontal dart was a complete shocker. No matter what I did, how I pinned it, or which direction I sewed in, the fabric moved all over the place. After four attempts, mercifully without marking the velvet too much, I gave up and sewed it by hand. I used a stab stitch/back stitch mash-up, which held everything in place.

To minimise bulk, the darts were then cut open most of the way up, and pressed flat. I neatened the cut edges with a small blanket stitch. I also overcast the base of the dart to the edge of the main fabric, so that it wouldn't get chewed up when I overlocked the edge.

Dart finishing

Overlocking is definitely needed (done with the fabric pile side up, to stop the feed dogs from marking the velvet). Each side of a seam is finished separately, and I've also overlocked edges which won't be sewn for a while, to stop them from fraying too much due to handling. Of course, this means that any notches are removed, so I marked their position with tailor tacks first.

The facings are cut from satin I had in my stash, as velvet facings would be too bulky. They can't be pressed, so understitching will be vital to make them lie flat.

Facing, notch markings and overlocked edges

And that is as far as I've got, over several days. Not that I'm complaining. It's something different, and challenging, and interesting. As I've mentioned before on this blog, if I just stuck to quick and easy dresses, I would be in danger of simply replicating all the issues of fast fashion in my own workroom, albeit with more tea breaks and even lower wages. I sew because I enjoy sewing, not because I need clothes, so it makes sense to concentrate on making things which take time.

Finally . . . I was skimming through the BBC news website this morning, and noticed a link to an article about the actress Jodie Comer, complete with a small (literally, a few square centimetres) photo. And I immediately thought, "That blouse fabric looks familiar". A Google search turned up a larger image, and . . . yes, it's the same fabric as my frankenpatterned New Look 6184.

Two garments, one fabric

That was made in 2014, so either the fabric has been in production for a long time, or the blouse was also quite old. Sadly, the dress doesn't get a lot of wear any more as it was made before the Great Inflate, and is now a little snug around the bust. It was also made long before I became comfortable about posting pictures of myself, so as I'd dug it out to check the fabric, I took these shots showing it worn.

New Look 6184 (plus sleeves) #SewnShownSeated

So, what we have learned from this? Well, apparently the details of every fabric I have ever made clothes from can now be added to the list of unnecessary stuff taking up valuable space in my brain (along with the lyrics of questionable 80s pop songs and my old student id number) and crowding out important stuff like where I left my glasses, and why I went upstairs. Sigh.


  1. Thank you! The worst part is that I could never remember my id number when I WAS a student, but now . . .

  2. For what it is worth, I think your dress is way better than Jodie's blouse. It looks so nice on you, not tight at all. The belt is a nice touch. I think the only make I still have from 2014 is a feedsack blouse that is really showing its age since I've worn it so much. My style has changed a lot since then, plus my skill set has improved, and my shape is radically different since I'm not a year post-partum and nursing--ha! But it is fun to look back at the old makes--I wish I had the room to store some of them, but alas, I do not. Thank goodness for blog archives. :)

    1. Thanks Juliana. The dress looked a bit 'meh' when I first made it, but the pop of black from the obi belt was just what it needed.

  3. P.S. I relate to the last paragraph so much! I remember most of our phone numbers from when I was growing up (we moved a lot, so there are several), plus a whole slew of useless information that only comes in handy on trivia nights. :) My dad always says that the Rolodex is full. (Or hard drive, if you prefer). Ha!

    1. It's painful. I took a friend out for a much-delayed birthday lunch last week, and the music in the restaurant was some sort of 80's compilation. She's a couple of years older than me, and between us we got every single number - it was like 'Name That Tune' with bonus tapas!