Friday, 15 November 2013

Minerva Blogger Network: Viva la velvet

Back when I was choosing my 'Winter' collection of Minerva fabrics for the blogger network, I got the big idea to work with velvet. I was dazzled and very much in love with the jewel-like colours adorning the A/W 13 fashion shows, my particular favourite being the deep red, wine velvet as seen in Diane Von Furstenburg and Ralph Lauren's collections.

I have only worked with velvet once before on a refashion project and so, for the pattern, I wanted to keep things simple. My vision was a flared mini skirt that would both work with the drape of the velvet and be practical for a day-to-night look. The closest match was this skirt by Salme Sewing Patterns.

One of the great things about Minerva Fabrics is the customer service. I emailed Vicki with a link to the pattern and a description of what I was looking for, asking her which velvet in their range would work best with this pattern. She sent me a Polyester Velvet Velour in a sumptuous wine colour and I fell in love instantly. It  has amazing drape and feels like a little bit of luxury on my person.

Before starting the project I made sure I researched working with velvet. I found this great link, which has advice about pre-treating, cutting, stitching and pressing your fabric.

Stop. Think. Velvet!
The first thing to do is sit down, rest and tell yourself this is no ordinary fabric. This is velvet. Once you've picked yourself up off the floor, you can then wash your velvet. As the article suggests, it's good to pre-treat in the manner that you intend to clean your garment. I didn't want to be making regular trips to the dry cleaners for such a small skirt, so I took the plunge and pre-washed the fabric on a cold wash. Relax, people, it was fine!

Next, you need to think about nap. No, wake up, I mean your velvet's pile (snigger)! Velvet has a defined pile which, like satin's shine, can look very different in opposite directions. For a simple pattern such as this skirt, it's not a headache at all, but it's something to bear in mind for bigger projects. You may need to order more fabric in order to position your pattern pieces so that they are cut with the same nap. I once made a bias cut evening gown in satin and nearly self-combusted.

Speaking of cutting, ALWAYS cut velvet with a single layer of fabric and if you can, use serrated scissors. That pile is a pesky thing and makes cutting nigh on impossible on the fold. For this pattern all I had to do was mirror the front pattern piece to create one big front skirt pattern. The back pieces are also cut separately on a single layer - make sure you cut those even and completely on grain. This pattern does not include seam allowances. The instructions recommend adding 3/8" but I think it would be better to add 5/8" because the velvet will fray so you may want to finish the seams using a different method - more of that later.

My, 'always cut on a single layer' face

Next up stitching. Okay, yes this is a more sensitive operation than with other fabrics, but it's good fun learning to work with a new fabric type, and Minerva's velvet is very sweet and friendly to work with. Trust me.

Because this skirt is cut on the bias you need to stabilise those bias seams. One website suggests adhesive spray, but after trying this on a scrap I wasn't convinced. Even when it dries, it pulls the pile off and makes it impossible to finish the seam properly. Instead, I opted for my old friend silk organza. I cut long strips and basted them to the bias seams, then stitched the seams with a walking foot using looser tension and pressure settings. No puckering or moving. Bazinga!

Silk organza basted to the wrong side of the bias 
seams before pinning and stitching

Now comes pressing. Fortunately for me, I have a hot line to the world's sewing supremo Mrs Bee who kindly informed me to use a nice fluffy towel under my pile (double snigger) when pressing. To get nice crisp seams without ruining your velvet (and yes, you'll ruin it with no point of return) you place a towel under the right side of the velvet, hover your iron 1/2" over the seam and simply steam it. Using a scrap piece of fabric or your finger if it's made of steel, gently finger-crease the seam open. You may have to do this a few times, but it really works and gives you a lovely clean seam! To finish the seams you can bind them Hong Kong style or serge. I have left my pinked, but I am not sure how long they will last. I hated the effect of zig zagging and over-locking just didn't work on my seams.

Another important tip for this pattern is to stay-stitch the waist edge of the front and back so that it doesn't stretch. Just do this with a longer stitch length and your walking foot.

When interfacing the waist band do not use fusible interfacing. Most advice suggests it will not melt properly onto the back of the velvet - and again, in my opinion, the less pressing you do with velvet the better. I used a medium sew-in interfacing which worked a treat. Once you have stitched the waistband, grade the seam allowance because otherwise it will be a bit of a sandwich when you come to finishing that band on the inside.

I know you want to ask me about the zip, but you're scared of what I might tell you. It's okay, it's not that bad! The best thing to do is FIRST do not cut the Salme pattern as it is with the extended zip seam. I increased the whole seam allowance (from waist to hem) by 1", then you don't have that funny right angle that reverts back to the 3/8" seam to contend with.

SECOND, hand pick that zip! This for me, was the only thing I was going to attempt zip wise. There was no way I was inserting a concealed zipper into velvet using my machine. My sanity was at stake and it's fragile at the best of times. So, I prepared the zip seam, prepared my thread with wax and hand picked it in. It looks great, the waist seams align perfectly and I am smiling normally and not maniacally.

Hemming is also not a problem. I didn't follow Salme's instructions but instead hemmed by folding over roughly 1/2", basting, folding over again and catch-stitched the hem in place. Initially I was going to bind the hem but I didn't have enough bias binding for this. Boo.

I'm really pleased with this skirt and it's perfect for this season as well as upcoming Christmas festivities! I just realised that I am channeling a sexy little Mrs Claus in this ensemble. My shirt by the way is also handmade using a self-drafted pattern. I haven't worn it in forever as I lost some buttons, but  I replaced them weekend with super cute plastic diamante-effect hearts.

If you've not worked with velvet before, give this a go! Minerva’s velvet is a great introduction to this type of fabric and it’s easy to work with – and it’s only £5.99 p/m, which means you can have an on trend look for the Christmas season for minimal cost. Plus if you like what I have made, you can buy my kit here! I'll be wearing my skirt with jumpers, denim shirts and t-shirts. It's pretty versatile depending on your styling.

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