Silk Velvet

It’s been a while since the last post. Difficult and sad family events took me away from making things, taking photos and writing. I made one dress.

A beautiful deep blue silk velvet bought from Angus International before they ceased trading had been hoarded for far too long, so one daughter negotiated a dress. We decided on a very simple style, a loose A line shift, drafted with bust darts from the side but no waist shaping, and slightly belled sleeves.

If you’ve never worked silk velvet, there are some things to keep in mind.

The pieces need to be cut all in one direction, because of the risk of the velvet shading. You can’t dovetail for economy, it’s not worth the risk even when you don’t think you see any difference in tone before cutting.

You need to use a needleboard to press, or if you don’t have one (I don’t), press gingerly onto a scrap of velvet, pile sides together. Any creases from folding the fabric are best steamed out by hanging the piece in a steamy atmosphere or using a steamer from the underside whilst it’s hanging.

It’s worth drafting the pattern with seam allowances, after you have a toile perfectly fitted. The seam allowances help to keep accuracy when the fabric is moving about on the table. The pattern needs pinning at very frequent intervals to stop it slipping during cutting.

Some velvet marks if you pin or stitch, so keep all pins in seam allowance. Lace pins are safest. I think it’s worth tacking  darts and seams with a fairly small tacking stitch, because the fabric also slips and travels under the machine foot. Tack fractionally outside the stitching line. Tacking doesn’t take much longer than pinning, but holds the fabric far more securely.

When pressing seams, slipping a scrap of paper between the seam allowance and the body of the garment helps to prevent them from marking the right side.  I overcast the raw edges of the seam allowance by hand. This is a very old fashioned technique, it’s lighter than either zigzag or overlocking. The single thread  is far less likely to mark or show through.

Still on hand stitching, the hems were carefully slip stitched, catching just one thread in the garment body, with a longer stitch in the hem. I like to use betweens, small fine needles, for this pernickety work.

I don’t have a photo of the dress (it’s now in London), but I learnt from this garment that a very simple shape can look luxurious in the right fabric and colour. We spent time playing with more complicated ideas, noticing how beautifully the fabric draped. In the end, the draping qualities work well with an unfitted shape, giving it fluidity and movement. It looks unfussy and relaxed.

Spare moments and travelling time during these weeks mostly got spent on reading. Hilary Clinton’s ‘Hard Choices’ felt like a must, given recent events. I learnt so much, and wonder that the resource of her experience in foreign affairs has been discarded by the electorate. I also read ‘Blank Slate’ by Steven Pinker, and in a related vein  ‘The Nurture Assumption’ by Judith Rich Harris, then ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel Van der Kolk, ‘American Pastoral’ by Philip Roth, ‘You Talkin’ to Me’ by Sam Leith, and dipped in to Woody Allen ‘Complete Prose’, and half read ‘Chanel’ by Edmonde Charles-Roux.

Now I hope to catch up on reading my favourite blogs!



About jay

I design and draft patterns
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12 Responses to Silk Velvet

  1. heather says:

    thank you so much for your sewing insight! silk velvet sounds luxurious! thank you also for the reading list. i will check out Clinton’s book- i am dumbfounded by people not supporting a candidate with so much experience, also… hope your family events improve! have a nice weekend! 🙂


    • jay says:

      Well worth reading I think. She packed so much in to her political life, and I got a better understanding of some of the events experienced through the news only.


  2. maryfunt says:

    Nice to see you back. I’m sorry to hear about your difficulties and hope that life takes an upward turn. Having worked with silk velvet I understand the challenges of working with it but it is truly beautiful fabric.


  3. STH says:

    Glad to see you here again and sorry to hear things have been difficult for you lately. I’d be interested to hear your opinion of “The Body Keeps the Score,” as it has been recommended to me. I hope February is a more peaceful month for you.


    • jay says:

      ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ is a thorough, readable and comrehensive round up of the research into effects of trauma, illustrated with diagrams and scans, and includes some pointers to possible therapies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jay says:

        I should add that for someone personally battling with this issue, some of the material, especially in the early chapters which deal with the changes in the brain that result from extreme trauma could be difficult and depressing, but later in the book there are elements which hold out hope.


      • STH says:

        Thank you for this!


  4. seweverythingblog says:

    So sorry about your difficulties. 😦
    Thank you for the tips in the post. Did you use a specialty presser foot on the machine (e.g the “walking foot”)? Or not? I have silk velvet in my stash and now it’s time it sees the light of day. Your post is inspiring me. Love the dress the way you describe it, and looking forward to a photo.
    Take care…


  5. jay says:

    I don’t have a walking foot and just used my normal (Bernina) one. I did machine relatively slowly as I wanted the stitch to hit just a couple of mms from my tacking. The tacking stitches were on the small side. I also kept both hands pressing lightly either side of the foot.


  6. Sorry you have had some troubles lately. Thank you very much for providing such valuable information!


  7. fabrickated says:

    It is so nice to have you back Jay and I am sorry that life has been tough. Your knowledgable posts and your elegant outfits are always inspirational for me. When I was at college one of my colleagues specialised in velvet and I was amazed at some of the things she achieved with it. I also had a go with the needle board and it is so different to pressing any other way – truly a nice piece of equipment. I have a length of “silk velvet” but apparently the ground is silk but the pile is not. Is this always the case?


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