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For beginner sewists, sewing velvet can be tricky. Not only does it creep and slip while stitching and mar easily from mistakes, but it can also make a fuzzy mess of your sewing space.
However, velvet is such a luxurious, gorgeous, drapey fabric that it’s worth the attempt!
Want to sew velvet upholstery, curtains, garments, and more? These helpful tips will teach you how to sew velvet fabric like a professional every step of the process, from ironing and cutting to stitching and putting on the final touches.
What is velvet fabric?
Velvet is a plush, luxurious fabric distinguished by a raised, soft pile on its front surface. While many velvets are smooth to touch, other velvets have a crushed or textured surface.
Different types of velvet exist and vary based on fiber content and construction methods. Some, like panne velvet, are easier to sew than others, like stretch velvet. Knowing which type of velvet you’re working with can help troubleshoot sewing problems.
How to Sew Velvet Fabric – Tips
If you want to try your hand at sewing velvet with a sewing machine, here are some helpful tips to guide you through the process!
1. Prewash and Preshrink Velvet, If Needed.
If the velvet project you are sewing will ever need to be washed, it’s important to prewash or at least prepare the velvet first, in the case of dry-clean only velvets.
This will release excess dye, remove chemicals, and preshrink cotton velvet and other types that would normally shrink with the first wash.
For the best results, follow the directions on the bolt of fabric. If there are no instructions, choose from hand washing, machine washing, or dry cleaning, depending on the fiber content. Always test a swatch of velvet before washing the entire yardage.
Cotton, polyester, and stretch velvet fabrics can usually be washed successfully in a machine in cold or cool water and tumbled dry on low. Other velvet fabrics may require hand washing or dry cleaning.
For dry-clean-only velvet, steam with an iron or garment steam 1/2″ from the wrong side of the fabric to prepare it for sewing rather than hauling it to the dry cleaners.
2. Select a Suitable Project for Best Results.
Velvet doesn’t lend itself well to intricate projects.
Thus, if sewing clothes, choose a pattern with simple lines and few seams. Aim for a loose-fitting garment, and avoid darts, pressed pleats, buttonholes, and topstitching when possible.
Since seam ripping will ruin velvet, double-check pattern measurements before sewing the velvet, and consider making a muslin to test fit first.
For sewing upholstery or home decor, most patterns are suitable for velvet.
3. Be Careful Pressing Velvet Fabric.
Never place the iron on the right side of the fabric, as this will mar the pile. Also, always test iron settings on a small piece of fabric before ironing the velvet yardage.
Durable velvet fabrics, like cotton velvet, can usually withstand gentle iron pressure from the wrong side of the fabric, while most types respond best to a steam iron held 1/2″ away from the back surface, never having contact. Rayon velvets, especially, can melt at higher temperatures, and acetate velvet doesn’t respond as well to steam.
Place the velvet right side down on a needle board or thick towel, and don’t use more than a medium heat iron when pressing.
4. Use a Nap Layout for Pattern Pieces, and Don’t Use Pins.
Because velvet has a directional nap, using the “nap layout” for pattern pieces is important. While you can decide which direction of the velvet you want facing “up,” it’s typical to use the fabric with the nap running down to help it stay flat during wear.
Nap layouts usually require extra fabric, so plan ahead when ordering velvet. Also, velvet fabric is sewn better with larger seam allowances, so consider changing any 1/4″ seam allowances to larger ones and adjust the required yardage accordingly.
If needed, write the direction of the nap you are using on the back of the fabric with a washable marking pen. Also, make sure you know the required direction of the pattern pieces.
When laying out pattern pieces, use pattern weights and avoid pins unless you pin in the seam allowance. Pins leave permanent marks in velvet.
5. Cut Velvet From the Wrong Side of the Fabric.
Lay velvet right side down on a flat surface, and use sharp sewing scissors or shears to cut the pattern pieces. Avoid cutting with the tips of scissors and instead opt for long strokes with the middle portion.
To increase accuracy, cut velvet in a single layer. This means duplicating a side of pattern pieces that are to be cut on the fold.
Velvet makes a mess when cut, so prepare to clean your environment, or lay a disposable lining underneath the surface before cutting.
Edges of stretch velvet and some other types may curl after cutting, so sew soon after.
6. Avoid Tracing Wheels, and Use Tailor’s Tacks Instead
Tracing wheels can damage velvet’s plushness, so opt for using tailor’s tacks or notching in the seam allowance to mark velvet. Thread tracing is another option.
If you prefer physically marking the velvet, use chalk or fabric marking pens on the wrong side of the fabric. Opt for air-soluble marking pens for velvet that is sensitive to water or heat.
7. Choose the Best Thread for Velvet.
I prefer synthetic threads for synthetic fabrics and natural threads for natural fabrics.
Thus, for synthetic velvet like acetate or polyester, use polyester all-purpose sewing thread. For natural velvet made from cotton or silk, use silk, cotton, or cotton-coated polyester all-purpose thread.
8. Select the Right Needle for Your Project.
Needle tip choice depends on the fabric construction method. While you may succeed using universal sewing needles,
- Knitted, stretchy velvet works best with a stretch or ballpoint needle.
- Woven, stable velvet is sewn best with a sharp (Microtex) or jeans needle.
Choose the needle size based on the thickness of the fabric, remembering that larger needles make larger holes. Start with a 70/10 or 75/11 needle for mediumweight velvet, and adjust larger if needed if skipped stitches or other issues arise.
9. Use a Walking Foot for Sewing Velvet.
One way to prevent velvet layers from sliding while sewing is to use a walking, or even feed, foot.
For particularly delicate velvet, test a small length using a walking foot first. It’s possible a walking foot can leave tracks when sewing on the right side of the velvet.
Other great presser feet alternatives to reduce slippage are a non-stick foot (Teflon foot) and roller foot.
10. Stitch Properties and Stitching Method are Important.
First, choose a 2.5 – 3.0 mm straight stitch to sew seams, with the smaller stitch length for lighter weight velvet. If sewing stretch velvet, use a stretch stitch.
When possible, always stitch seams and darts directionally with the nap or pile for best results. This might mean stitching from hem to neck, which may seem odd. Also, sew collars and necklines starting at the center and working your way out as you would when staystitching.
Also, avoid decorative stitches and topstitching. These are great stitch types on velvet as they don’t show up well above the fluff.
When stitching, hold the velvet taut with both hands on either side of the presser foot. Lift the presser foot every several inches to relax the fabric and help it feed more evenly.
11. Don’t Be Afraid to Adjust Tension or Presser Foot Pressure.
If your stitches and machine aren’t taking well to velvet, try loosening the tension and decreasing presser foot pressure.
12. Keep Velvet from Slipping and Puckering During Stitching.
Sewing with the pile sides together when creating seams on velvet leads to velvet’s infamous creep and seam puckering.
Here are some options to prevent layers from feeding unevenly.
- Hand baste seams prior to sewing with a machine, or pin baste with super fine pins in the seam allowance.
- Use wash-away double-sided tape or temporary fabric glue in seam allowances to hold pieces together. (Avoid sewing over these, and test first to ensure they won’t pull out any pile fibers.)
- Add one layer of fibrous water-soluble stabilizer, tear-away stabilizer, or tissue paper between the two layers of velvet to prevent slippage. This washes out or tears away after you’re done stitching the seam. Placing these papers below the fabric and above the feed dogs can also help with more even feeding.
13. Finish Seams and Raw Edges to Avoid Fraying.
Most woven velvets fray easily and shed pile, so considering finishing exposed seams and raw edges. (This is a reason I like to line velvet projects!)
It’s also a good idea on heavier weight velvets to grade seam allowances for less bulk.
Neatening options include serging, pinking shears, straight stitching, or narrow zigzag stitching. Another option is to use a Hong Kong finish. When adding your preferred seam finish, ideally try to minimize bulk.
14. Choose Interfacing and Facings Wisely.
Avoid fusible interfacing as ironing can flatten and ruin velvet. (Although cotton velvet is fairly durable, and you could make an argument for fusibles here.)
Viable interfacing options include sew-in interfacing or lightweight fabrics like organza or China silk.
Also, if garment facings will not be visible, consider using a lighter weight substitute fabric to eliminate fabric bulk.
15. Learn How to Hem Velvet Effectively.
When double-fold hems are too bulky (like on curtains and pants), use single-fold hems. To prevent fraying, finish raw edges first before folding and hemming. You can use a blind hem stitch, or if you’re looking for effect, hem with a straight stitch.
One very common specialized hem treatment for velvet fabrics is the Hong Kong finish.
Also, you can even use hem tape on most types of velvet to bind the raw edges.
Hemming by hand rather than a machine is also easier for stretch velvet, as it will decrease the tendency for the hem to stretch.
16. Avoid Buttonholes, If Possible, and Opt for Other Closures.
Ever tried to machine stitch a buttonhole on velvet, especially stretch velvet? It can be difficult!
In general, button loops, buttonholes in seams, or other methods of fastenings are easier to execute on velvet.
However, if you do need to make a buttonhole, follow these steps.
- Check to make sure the buttonhole foot does not damage the pile.
- Think like a machine embroiderer. Use a layer of interfacing or tear-away stabilizer on the back of the fabric to prevent bunching while stitching.
- If the velvet pile puffs up through the stitches, use a layer of water-soluble stabilizer (like Sulky Solvy) on top to keep the fluff down. Wash it away after stitching. Another option to keep fluff down is placing a layer of organza or tulle on top of the fabric and clipping it open after sewing the buttonhole.
5 Velvet Sewing Projects
Not sure what to sew but want some ideas? Here are five tutorials for fun things to sew using velvet fabric.
- Hand sew velvet pumpkins
- Make a velvet Santa hat
- Velvet evening bag pattern
- Velvet pillow tutorial
- How to make a velvet durag
Tips for Sewing with Velvet – Final Notes
I hope these tips for working with velvet fabric have helped you troubleshoot issues and feel confident getting started sewing this fun, luxurious fabric.