Sewing Cafe

Patterns, Tutorials and Works in Progress from the Sewing Studio of Lynne Williams

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fairy Costume - Cutting Velvet

This yummy piece of velvet is the star of our costume.  Think mist, and sea foam.  This picture does not do it justice, but I will work on that for the final reveal:)

This velvet has a special history to my client, which always adds to the emotional impact of the finished garment.  It belonged to a Aunt (now deceased) who worked as a Dressmaker in California.  I cannot help wondering what her plans for it were and how thrilled she would be to see it put to use now.

Do you ever wonder what will become of your cherished stash items?

I unusual.....Okay let's talk Velvet!

Our velvet here is a silk and rayon blend.  It behaves like liquid, it  resists the confines of a table..dripping off.  It wiggles when handled, like your tickling it in slow motion.  The qualities which make it catch the light, and hug the body, and entrance the eye, like sunlight on water also make it very fussy to cut and sew.  But it is so worth it!  Take a deep breath and think calm and quiet, and soothing thoughts.  The right music might help:)

Possibly you can see from a closer look at the photo, that our velvet has not been stored properly over the years.  It has some small scattered rust spots, and what I can only describe as tea staining along both selvage edges.  I think this only adds to our theme though and somewhat pre disasters wearing velvet in a garden with children.  It has some crushing scattered about from being crumpled up, or folded, or who knows what exactly, so I decided to wash it!  Normally I would not recommend washing velvet, some will not respond well to it at all.  Since it already had the crushing my thought was to create more of that over the body of the piece, and what it accomplished was breaking up the surface beautifully.  I simply placed it in my machine on a cold hand wash cycle and then literally threw it in the dryer on a low heat. 

Now to rules for cutting:

1. Cut - cut in a single layer with the nap down

2. Truing your grain lines - Pull a thread along the cross grain to insure absolute grain perfection and tape or anchor all edges to your cutting table.  Do this in as small and manageable pieces as you can.  I unfortunately barely had enough fabric, so did not have that luxury, which meant I spent a great deal of time truing up my yardage as I moved along
Here I have place a large square ruler along my selvage to aid me in seeing and correcting the grain line.
3. Nap Lay out -   Use the nap lay out, which means that all of your pattern pieces must run in the same direction.  Run your hand over the nap along the lengthwise grain line.  Generally you want the nap running down the body, meaning it feels smooth when your run your hand from say shoulder to hem. 

4.  Marking - Mark your pieces before removing them from the table, because they are shape shifters.  It is important to mark your stitch lines and notches.  The best way to do this is by removing the seam allowance from your pattern pieces and hand basting the stitch line with silk thread.  Silk thread is important here, because it is the only thing that will not leave a scar in the velvet.  Fortunately quilt shops are now caring various weights and colors of silk threads these days:) so it's not as difficult to come by as it once was.  Even more fortunate for me though is that since I washed this velvet I was able to use a tracing wheel (which would normally scar the fabric) and dressmakers carbon.  The marks left by the wheel steamed out for me.  One advantage to marking your stitch lines is that you can leave a larger seam allowance.  The larger your seam allowance the more stable the fabric will be at the stitch line.  Normally I would have given myself one inch, but again there was not enough fabric for that luxury, so I felt lucky to get a full 5/8"

5. Pinning....pinning will also leave scars so it is better to use patterns weights which can also leave scars unless you distribute the weight by placing on a larger object, like some C-Thru rulers.

My pattern has been traced onto true grid and has a 5/8 seam allowance.  I am marking my stitch line with dressmakers carbon and using thread tacks for the notches.
6.  Cutting - I like using a rotary cutter, which works well on velvet.  Some people prefer using serrated scissors though as they find the velvet wants to crawl away from them to avoid being cut.  The serrated scissors help tame the beast better then regular dressmakers shears.  I find rotary cutting the most accurate though because you are not lifting the fabric off the table with the lower blade on the scissor.  It is also far quicker. 
 So my advice is to invest in a cutting mat, that covers your entire cutting surface and keep a good supply of sharp new blades handy. 

Nylon chiffon with a lining fabric behind it.
I repeated these steps for the companion fabric....Chiffon with velvet flowers, and mylar leaves and stems allthough it was stable enough that it did not require marking the stitch lines.  Which will give me more time for the next stage....Hand basting:)  the subject of our next tutorial.

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