Thursday, August 31, 2017

Velvet Underground

While I lament summer coming to an end, my dolls are all rejoicing at the thought of events to come...a month long fashion week and the return of red carpet spectacles. All things considered, I thought it was time to do a few posts showing how to deal with specialty fabrics: velvet, sequins and beads. In this, the first of this series, I explore velvet, a fabric that, over the past few seasons, has staged a comeback. While I love the look and feel of this material, fact is a beast to sew...especially on the scale of doll-scaled garments!

Let's Talk Velvet
Many years ago, my mother bought a boat load of panne (pressed) velvet) which I found and was anxious to use. So when I saw velvet gowns in the collections of Dior, Armani and others, I immediately headed to the closet. But as I started to sew this lofty fabric, all of the memories of struggling with this beast from my high school days surfaced. The fabric was way too thick for the doll, especially on the shoulder seams and around the neckline where I had turned down the edges. And then there was the problem of the seams fraying! Now, how did I iron this?
On the left, stretch velvet; regular velvet on the right. Note the difference in thicknesses on the shoulder seam.
Cotton velvet (a.k.a velveteen) would have been a bit better since it isn't as plush as its rayon or silk equivalent. But these days it is not so easy to find and has become quite expensive. And so that leaves us with...stretch velvet. At first I thought "ugh." But as I worked with it to create last season's YSL dress for Estelle, I discovered that it is the perfect choice for 1/6. The pile isn't as long and it doesn't fray! But here's what you need to know before you cut that first front bodice.

One Direction
Plush fabrics like velvet, velveteen and corduroy are "pile" fabrics. They woven in such a way where the cut ends of threads produce a furry or hairy surface. This "pile" runs in one direction and can be felt with your hands: downwards it  is smooth to the touch and has a sheen while when stroked upwards, it feels rough and absorbs light. With all but panne (a shiny velvet), you should place the pattern pieces with the nap running upwards.

Lay out your pattern over a single, flat layer of fabric, never on the fold.
All pattern pieces must be placed on the fabric facing the same direction. Stretch velvet is a bit tricky in that it can stretch as you pin the pattern to the fabric, as you cut and as you sew. You may have to repin a few times, but check to make sure your pattern is flat against the fabric throughout all phases. Place your hand down on the piece as you are cutting it to keep everything from shifting.

Most importantly...use a good, sharp pair of scissors!

Keep It Simple!

Yes, you could always do tube dresses, but I think many of you will want to do a little more. Take a tip. Choose simple patterns with as few seams as possible. That doesn't rule out darts like the ones in my strapless sheath dress (which you can find HERE). Even though we are focused on stretch velvet, darts help you achieve a more custom fit. Pictured here, I've pinned my pattern to the right side of the fabric. The tracing paper is underneath. I transfer the dart marking using a tracing wheel. Then I pin baste my darts.

If you are using any other type of velvet instead of the stretch variety, you will need to seal the edges with a fray block. There are plenty of products on the market OR, you can improvise by mixing a bit of water in a bit of ModgePodge (or craft glue). It should be a runny consistency. Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut away the loose threads. Then apply your fray block to the edges of the fabric with a toothpick and allow to dry.
A simple cape with faux fur trim, panne velvet was used for this garment. The front edges treated with ModgePodge.
The tutorial for Veronique's cape is found HERE. The important thing is to choose a simple pattern with as few seams as possible.

Sew What!
Strapless black sheath. Opera length gloves are simply two small tubes of stretch velvet.
Personally I prefer to hand sew luxury fabrics because it helps me through a number of challenges. I use a small backstitch which is as strong as a machine stitch. Let the markings from the tracing wheel help guide you as to the size of stitch along the dart lines.

However, if you are tempted to use your sewing machine (particularly for the long seams), baste your garment together using a long, running stitch. This will help keep the fabric from shifting as you sew. And there's another advantage. You can try the basted garment on the doll to check for fit and make adjustments BEFORE you stitch it together. When sewing velvet with a sewing machine.
1. Use a ballpoint needle.
2. Set the machine for a longer stitch than you normally use.
3. Lighten the pressure foot so that you don't leave tracks along the seams.
4. If you use regular velvet, push the pile away from the seam line as you sew. Try to sew on the backing.

Ironing Things Out

The next biggest challenge in working with this fabric is ironing. For human scale garments, a "needle board" is usually employed in ironing a velvet garment. This is a board with lots of little needles that keep the pile from crushing down while you iron. You can also use a piece of the same fabric. Those pressing sticks I created to use for ironing dolly sleeves (you can find instructions by clicking HERE), can be covered in velvet or you can cover your ironing board with velvet. Here I've simply taken my existing ironing stick and wrapped it with a rectangle of velvet, pinning it in place along one side. Now place the fabric right side to right side (going in the same direction) of the velvet ironing surface. This works for all types of velvet.

The Finish Line
So the question always in the back of my mind do I finish this garment. The beauty of stretch velvet is that it doesn't ravel. So you really can leave the raw cut edges as is. However, you still may be tempted to finish the edges around the neckline. Remember, we want to avoid bulk. You can always line the garment edge to edge, however you will lose the stretch properties of the stretch velvet. So, here's how I finished this dress.
1. Sew up the back but leave a 3/4 inch (23mm) opening off the top of the back. Cut a piece of tulle the width of the neckline and about 1 inch long (27mm).
2. Pin the tulle to the right side of the dress.
3. Stitch about 1/8 inch (3mm) away from the top edge.
4. Turn the tulle to the inside. Tack onto the side seams and the tips of the bust darts. Then carefully press the top edge using your velvet board.

And yes, you can always line your dress, provided you have factored in enough ease. Here's a tip. Use a contrasting color for your lining especially if the style calls for a slit.
I've lined Nadja's black dress in purple silk so that when she walks there is a sliver of color that shows around her legs.

Velvet isn't an all or nothing project. Consider using velvet in touches. Maybe it's just a bodice, a yoke or part of a dress. Here Lindsey's Dior dress started out as a sheath dress with deep V cuts over the thighs and wedges of sheer chiffon stitched in. Again, there are very few pattern pieces *front and back) used for the velvet parts. Same thing with the cape, pictured above. Veronique's faux fur trimmed cape is super simple and only consists of 2 pattern pieces. In the last photo of this post...our dolly version of the Patrick Kelly Cocoon jacket made from a single piece of material. (The tutorial is found by clicking HERE.)

The jacket is unlined, so I stitched satin ribbon around the edges of this coat to finish it.

Coming soon. Tutorials on sewing with sequined fabric and sewing with beaded fabric.

All text and photos property of Fashion Doll Stylist. 2017. Please do not reproduce without prior permission. Thank you.

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  1. Uwielbiam czytać Twoje opisy szycia i oglądać zdjęcia! Choć bardzo mi się podobają ubrania z aksamitu, szczerze wątpię, abym kiedykolwiek zabrała się za szycie z tak trudnego materiału!
    Trzeba znać kunszt krawiecki, aby tworzyć takie dzieła i stroje jak te, które pokazałaś! Perfekcyjne i piękne! Będę je podziwiać i zachwycać się fasonami i tkaninami!
    Pozdrawiam Cię serdecznie!

    1. Olla wrote:

      I love reading your sewing descriptions and watching pictures! Although I like velvet clothes very much, I sincerely doubt that I will ever get sewed with such a difficult material!
      You need to know the tailor's artistry to create such works and costumes as the ones you showed! Perfect and beautiful! I will admire and admire the fashion and fabrics!

      Thank you Olla. Thank you for your kind words. As I take this journey into 1/6 scale clothing, I invite everyone to discover the things I've learned. Many years ago, I did sew velvet clothing for myself, so naturally I wanted to make similar items for my dolls. This post, as well as others I am preparing are for anyone who might be tempted to use such difficult fabrics. But the stretch velvet is not so difficult to handle. Always great to hear from you. Big hugs.

  2. Great tutorial. I love velvet and have some stretch I want to try my hand at a few gowns for the ladies. Your tips should help!

    1. Hi Chris. Thank you. I love velvet too. Discovering how stretch velvet can look just as luxurious on the doll as regular velvet looks on us humans was a pleasant experience. Hope my tips can help you.

  3. Beautiful <3 Thank you for th tutorial :) I hope I will try to do something for my dolls :)

    1. Thank you, Urszula. Always great hearing from you. Big hugs.

  4. Thanks for the tips on working with velvet fabric. My favorite is the use of contrasting silk for lining gowns. And I like the tracing wheel. I've seen the device, but I wasn't sure how it was used. (I only had sewing as an elective in middle school. So I am familiar with darts and some terminology. I used to get doll clothes patterns, too. I sew by hand. So your blog rounds out my sewing understanding - thanks!)

    1. Thank you D7ana. Sometimes I'm amazed at how much I recall from my sewing past. The contrasting lining was something very popular particularly in fully lined suits and coats. Because we live in a time where linings (even in jackets) are a rarity, I had completely forgotten about them until I looked at an otherwise boring garment and suddenly remembered the "surprise inside!" It's so nice to revive these kinds of things thanks to the wonderful world of fashion dolls!

  5. They are all pretty, but the brilliant blue dress is my favorite.

    1. Thank you Jaye. It doesn't surprise me that you like the blue dress. The dress you favor is thoroughly modern use of an old fashioned fabric.

  6. The last one... OHHH! I am in love again! :O


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