The velvet dress // from fabric dyeing to construction

Up until this year, I’ve never really given velvet a second glance. I used to walk past the carefully perched rolls of velvet at Tessuti Fabrics and sigh, and perhaps tentatively stroke them, but I couldn’t really see how such a lush fabric could fit into my wardrobe.

This season is different. I’ve got images of velvet playsuits and blazers stuck in my head. I’d actually like to make all the velvet things but I had to decide on just one. I toyed with the idea of playsuit, but opted for a more classic style of dress instead. I think the simple design of this dress will have more longevity in my wardrobe.

You’ll have to forgive the scrunched up sleeves and trust me when I say the fit is pretty spot on. I could scoop a smidgen more out of the lower back curve, but with normal walking/moving, those wrinkles aren’t actually that noticeable. I really just need an assistant to straighten me up before photos.

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The dress is a faux wrap design with a crossover bodice and wrap skirt. The fabric is a woven, not a knit. It contains some stretch, but not so much that would eliminate the need for darts/gathers or closures. I chose to add gathers to the bodice design and a zipper in the back. I hid the back darts in the back curve of the waist seam. I prick stitched the back zipper in place, adding a tiny glass bead with each stitch. I also made a detachable leather tassal. which I will secure to the zipper pull to aid dressing. I’m just waiting on a little spring clip in the mail.

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With regards to the fabric, I had my heart set on a deep teal, navy, or bottle green velvet. I couldn’t find what I wanted so I decided to dye the fabric myself. I purchased some natural stretch velvet  and the necessary chemicals from Dharma Trading Co. I find their website quite informative and simple to use, particularly when trying to figure out exactly what I need for something I know nothing about.

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I used a Fiber Reactive Procion dye, regular table salt, and soda ash as the fixative. My velvet is a silk/rayon blend. It only stretches on the cross grain and is reasonably light weight (for velvet). It doesn’t require lining, but I’d consider lining it if I was working with a light colour. I’m actually really pleased with the quality of textile and absolutely delighted with the dyeing outcome. It’s important to note that the fabric shrinkage was quite significant after the first wash, but that information was on the website so I was able to order the extra yardage to account for this.

The dyeing process was extremely simple. I used my front loader washing machine, set on the hottest, longest cycle. I read somewhere that a front loader holds about 8 gallons of water so I made my dye calculations based on that (however, I was hardly precise about anything!). Here’s a quick summary of my dyeing process:

  • Pre-wash fabric with Synthrapol
  • Begin long/hot cycle. When water has filled the machine, pause cycle.
  • Dissolve dye powder in water. Dissolve salt in water. Open machine door and pour in dye and salt. Close door and resume cycle.
  • Run cycle for 15-30 min and then pause again (you need about 15min remaining for the soda ash).
  • Soda ash should be dissolved in hot water – add this to the last part of the cycle.
  • Close door. Finish cycle.
  • Start new cycle to wash out leftover dye, using Synthrapol as the detergent.
  • Remove fabric.
  • Clean machine by running a cycle on empty.

In terms of sewing with velvet, this was my first time. I knew to respect the nap, both in cutting direction and pressing, but I also learned a few other things along the way.

Velvet is shifty to sew. I wonder if the slight stretch in this particular velvet made it worse. My Pfaff has a walking foot which helped immensely. My serger hated the velvet. I only attempted one edge with the serger and then decided to pink the remaining raw edges. Hand-basting and lots of pins also helped deal with the shiftiness.

Velvet seams finger press open beautifully because the pile shifts and locks the seam in place (a bit like Velcro). When ironing, I used a thick, doubled up towel, but I’ve heard another upturned piece of velvet works well to press on too. Velvet is a dream to blind stitch as the pile hides the stitches so well. I machine stitched the centre front edges of the skirt before I realised this (so I’m not very happy with the ripple along one side). The neckline, sleeves, and hem were all hand-stitched (the neck with bias binding) and the finish is much nicer.

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26 thoughts on “The velvet dress // from fabric dyeing to construction

  1. Gorgeous! I’ve had a few challenges when working with velvet too – – I kept losing pins in the thick pile :). The lining is beautiful and the color is well worth the effort you went through to dye the cloth. Stunning. You need someone to take you out on the town so that you can show that dress off!

  2. Beautifully done! It looks incredible on you too!
    I am about to dive into some velvet for a dress for myself tomorrow, and I never have worked with it before. I am glad to see you did it without incident!

  3. That dress looks gorgeous on you! I just ordered some burnt orange silk/viscose velvet so you’re advice comes in very handy!

  4. It looks perfect on you and the amount of hand work is amazing… I’ve been thinking about a velvet blazer myself, but I’ll give it more time… I don’t think I can handle it right now! 🙂

  5. What a stunning shape Debbie – a beautiful showcase for your fabric (oh and that color looks like it worked perfectly!). Is this dress one of your own designs? You look ready to walk a red carpet!

    1. Thanks so much Gabrielle. 🙂
      Yes it is my own design, via a bit of draping and working from a few existing blocks.

  6. Oh my gosh you almost look like a winter princess in this dress. And I mean that in the best way possible – you remind me of those regal beautiful characters. It’s such a lovely dress, it’s simply perfect. And you have to make a velvet blazer… you really do

  7. I love it! The shape of the dress is really nice and I love that you made it as a maxi dress. Velvet is so trendy this season as well! Must get some project going too!

  8. Wow Debbie, this dress is stunning! I love all the care you took with this project, from dyeing the velvet to all the hand stitching to the gorgeous beading along the zipper. I just love everything about it. I hope you find some wonderful occasions to wear this dress. You have to show off all your hard work!

  9. love it! Gorgeous dress and makes a spectacular statement. I have also been eyeing up velvet lately after years of no interest at all. This dress is adding fuel…

  10. yumalicious spectacular jawdropping. and that zipper detail! i demand an update when the spring clip arrives!

    i might have purchased three yards of ponte to copy you (in a less velvety way. because YEAH that shite is shifty!)

    1. Thank you Shannon! I drafted and draped this pattern myself. But I’m sure I saw something similar out there recently from Simplicity or Mccalls etc. If I come across it again, I’ll let you know.

  11. Pingback:Oliver + S // Pinwheel slip dress in silk

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