Winter Formal in Velvet

Winter Formal was last weekend. It always helps to plan ahead when making a dress for a special event. This something most sewists have learned the hard way (and which we experienced last year with alterations up until the picture taking for the tafetta dress picture below). This is especially true when making one for a "client" (AKA daughter) who is petite AND super picky about fit (wonder where that comes from?...). So, it was over Christmas break that we settled on blue velvet for the fabric, and eventually found an "uncrushed", non stretch navy velvet with a nice weight, that I think is made of rayon. Velvet is temperamental to sew on, slippery and rather unforgiving of mistakes. It doesn't press very well, as the pile is easily crushed. therefore, we wanted a somewhat draped design that minimized structure, need for interfacing and ironing.  The Rose City Halter Dress pattern from Sew House Seven with its adjustable tie tie neck and gathered skirt fit the bill. Two great things about this pattern are 1) POCKETS and 2) the fact that the dress can be worn with either a strapless or halter style undergarment.  It also helped that we had made and altered this dress before. The first time was a "wearable muslin" in cotton Carolina Gingham, which allowed us to make pattern alterations. We then"checked our work" using the altered pattern for another Rose City in Les Fleurs rayon from Cotton and Steel. So, we had the fabric we wanted and a lovely pattern that we knew fit. You can read about these makes and my pattern review for Rose City on my September 23 post.

I researched everything I could find about sewing velvet and settled on a strategic plan that basically consisted of lots of pinning and basting. I tried to minimize pressing, using steam and finger pressing when possible. If I had to press, I tried to do it gently and from the wrong side. I inherited a special high pile press cloth for velvet. I have had this ultra-niche tool in my tool box for many, many years. Of course, when I wanted to try it, it was no where to be I just used a scrap of the velvet, "furry" side down as a makeshift press cloth when pressing from the right side was necessary. 

Pinning was made more fun by using these sweet flat-headed tulip shaped pins from Tulip, Japan. I love how they look all in a row like a little spring garden brightening up a cold Winter day. I have heard these pins described as "life changing". They are beautifully packaged,  long and very, very thin. They cover a lot more ground than your usual pins. You can also iron right over therewith a hot iron and they don't melt. Because they are flat, they don't leave a divet in your fabric either. Love them! (For all you Canadians out there, there is also a Tulip pin with little red maple leaves).

Basting was made more fun by experimenting with different stitch patterns (it is officially "Embroidery Month", after all) and by using many .different colors of thread  (I emptied nearly every almost-empty bobbin in the house). If you're going to do a lot of basting, you might as well turn it into embroidery practice!

The dress was lined with vintage black silk from my grandmother's stash, except for the pockets with were lined with pink satin (originally purchased to make a tangle-preventing pillowcase...)


The hardest thing about working with velvet for this make was inserting the zipper. I used a regular (not invisible) zipper and hand sewed it. I usually enjoy hand picking a zipper, but the slipperiness of the velvet made this task a little troublesome. I couldn't think of a stick on stabilizer that I would want to leave in and was scared to try any dissolvable. With some extra fiddling, iIt came out looking fine I think.


I love using vintage or antique notions when I canI also used vintage pink rayon seam binding (original cost on package was 13c) and sewed the hem by hand. Lastly, I used purple rayon seam binding to make hanging loops to avoid stress/stretching when the dress is hung. These were 10" lengths, folded into to loops and set into the inside upper edge of the back about 3 inches from the side seams.

 I was quite pleased with how the dress turned out  (especially with the lovely pinky-nude pumps my daughter picked out). In the end making the dress, might have been easier than finding the shoes to go with it...



If any of you have tips or tricks for sewing velvet, I'd love to hear about them. Feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email. I'd love to hear from you.




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