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I want to recreate a certain type of costume:

enter image description here
Image source and copyright: Heimatmuseum Dahme

My specific problem is that the black stripes on the skirt are supposed to be velvet. As far as I know there could be beads and braids involved, but the material for the main stripes always has to be velvet.

The skirt in the example has very faint vertical stripes, which are also visible in the areas of the velvet decoration, so they are cutouts in the velvet instead of inserts of fabric. In some stripes quite clear that a wide strip of velvet was cut into 2 halves with a wavy or zig-zag cut in the middle and both halves were sewn a distant apart. I thought about building the patterns from narrow velvet ribbons, but that doesn't work with the many wavy or zig-zag lines.

enter image description here

I've read that velvet frays a lot and sheds fibers when it's cut. So how is it possible to create such intricate designs as seen here, especially the elongated hexagons? Can I buy a yard of tightly woven cotton velvet (about 450 g / m2) and cut zigzags and waves like that without it disintegrating? Or how do I need to pre-treat velvet in order to have it not fray?


My velvet arrived and just for completeness I want to post the result of my quick-and-dirty test swatch:

enter image description here

This is untreated cotton velvet (ca. 350 g/m2) and from the left to the golden stripe is the salvage edge. It's sewn onto the fabric with a narrow (ca. 5 mm) zig-zag stitch, but all of the cut edges fray and shed velvet fluff like crazy. I can rip the velvet from the fabric with little force (see upper strip, the black outline is the few threads that are still sewn onto the fabric) and I suspect it would look similar after being washed. The zig-zag cut of the lower strip is still attached to the fabric, but it's already so frayed that you can see the red fabric through all the holes. Velvet definitely needs some kind of treatment on the back of the fabric to hold the threads in place.

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  • What is the other material? Could it be they only really used long rectangular pieces of black velvet and cut the smaller shapes from that other fabric?
    – Joachim
    Mar 4, 2023 at 18:11
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    @Joachim I added my thoughts to the question.
    – Elmy
    Mar 5, 2023 at 9:49
  • @Elmy: Your question is confusing. Yes, it is possible, because you posted a picture of it as a proof. Maybe you want to ask HOW it can be done?
    – virolino
    Mar 6, 2023 at 7:07
  • Are they cut outs in velvet or are they embroidery or some kind of lace or lace/fabric hybrid?
    – rebusB
    Mar 6, 2023 at 21:07
  • @rebusB On the red skirt the stripes are velvet with some metallic braids. On the green apron there might be lace or wider braids, but I'm specifically asking about the velvet strips on the skirt. The only closeups I could find are in a book and I'm pretty sure taking a picture of them and posting them here would be a copyright infringement. The book also states that the main material for the stripes is velvet.
    – Elmy
    Mar 7, 2023 at 5:27

3 Answers 3

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There's a few options I can see to execute this design cleanly.

  1. Use a laser cutter to cut the velvet. This will slightly melt the edges of the fabric, preventing it from fraying. Full synthetic velvet will be fully sealed, and velvet from natural fibers will have minimal fraying. (source)

  2. Use a product like Fray-Check on the back of the fabric to seal the edges, before or after cutting. Anti-fraying products tend to have a thin superglue-like consistency and you'll want to test them before using them to make sure they don't bleed through to the pile and damage the appearance of the velvet. Application will likely be easiest prior to cutting.

  3. Use a "reverse applique" technique. In this technique, you'll sew a panel of velvet behind the red fabric, then stitch in the edges of the design you wish to create. After cutting away the fabric in front, the velvet will be revealed, and you can then finish off the edges of the red top layer. You'll be left with a very similar look without the issue of shedding or fraying from the velvet being cut, including leaving the pattern in the red fabric aligned between pieces. You can find numerous tutorials on the process online; here's a basic guide.

The more I look at the original image, the more I feel it's likely that the original process used was Reverse Applique. It's a very old technique highly compatible with hand-sewing, which likely was how a dress like that would have been produced historically. It's likely also the most time-consuming process, so if the goal is replication of the appearance over historical accuracy, the other options will provide a similar look more quickly.

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    I'll accept this answer because of the fray-check. This looks like the most promising option right now. Using a laser cutter is a nice idea but I want to limit myself to natural fibers. I've seen the reverse-applique used for inserting lace into thin fabric, but I'm not sure how it would look with a thicker wool. I'll definitely keep this option in mind, though.
    – Elmy
    Mar 12, 2023 at 14:23
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I do not know how it was done traditionally, but I have alternatives of the same "modern" solution.

  1. On the velvet, "paint" the contour you want with glue. When the glue is cured, cut the contour (the velvet) through the glue. Make sure you leave some glue on the side which you want protected.

  2. Use a support fabric, lay it on a flat surface. Apply a layer glue on the support fabric, then lay the velvet on the glued fabric (they should become one - as a sandwich). After curing, cut the shapes that you want.

Note: the glue needs to remain flexible after curing. When fresh, the glue needs to be quite fluid, to allow it to penetrate the fabrics and do its job.

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A totally different answer, more on the traditional side.

Apply the velvet on the target. Sew it good. At the end, cut along the path, preserving the sewing.

This is exactly the technique when creating buttonholes. They do the same in factories when sewing t-shirts, but there they use special machines which cut while (immediately after) sewing.

Note: According to a comment, the industrial machines cut before the stitching. Since you are unlikely to replicate their behavior in a simple home environment without highly specialized machines, please do NOT cut before, unless you do it on your own responsibility :)

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  • Overlock machines ("sergers") actually cut the fabric immediately before stitching; it's how they're able to wrap the thread all the way around the raw edge. A wide range of them exist for home use, and the stitching style used is ideal for stretchy fabrics like jersey knit (t-shirt fabric).
    – Allison C
    Mar 7, 2023 at 15:12
  • @AllisonC: I have never seen such a machine, and I did not know its name. I just heard the stories about their magic. Thank you for the clarification. I did not expect that they cut before - for me it is counterintuitive. But there are a lot of counterintuitive things out there, so it is fine.
    – virolino
    Mar 7, 2023 at 18:53
  • Yes, it's literally immediately before :) The blades on mine are directly in front of the needle, so it cuts and advances straight to being sewn up, giving the fabric no chance to shift out of place. And home versions do exist, mine is actually one of the most basic ones since I don't use it often enough to justify purchasing a higher-end home model.
    – Allison C
    Mar 8, 2023 at 15:15
  • @AllisonC: oh, cool! you use such a machine yourself! Then you surely are an advanced user :)
    – virolino
    Mar 8, 2023 at 15:17
  • I don't know about that! I just happened to find one at a good price and occasionally make use of it, ie. completing a commission for a costume made entirely of jersey knit. I probably should actually use it a little more often, but the other machines take up most of my sewing space.
    – Allison C
    Mar 8, 2023 at 15:24

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