Saturday, December 3, 2011

Velvet Adventures

Panne Velvet
As some of you may know, I've taken a part time job at La Jolla Playhouse doing laundry for their pre-Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  I start at 8:00 in the mornings, sort and press the laundry and do any notes from the previous performance, and generally get things ready for the dressers to pre-set everything.  Most of what I am doing is mending rips and tears, darning holes in knitwear, and repairing hems.  Not something that requires a lot of skill, but sometimes there are complicated repairs that require a bit of attention to detail so it's best to have someone doing it that can knowledgeably fix things if necessary.  I go in on the weekends, too, and Saturdays between shows.

It's not a huge amount of time, but it's a supplemental paycheck that I'm glad I'm getting.  Because it doesn't take all day, I can come home and turn my attention toward making my artwear, and that's a great blessing.  It's a win-win for everyone.

Dolce & Gabbana
But lately I've been asked to help make a suit for an actor that will be assuming a role in the production soon, and my hours have increased a great deal.  The last couple of days I've been elbow deep in burgundy velvet.  I don't know if any of you have ever tried to make a suit out of velvet, but let me tell you--it's a NIGHTMARE.   

There's a reason why there aren't more suits made of velvet.  It's a beautiful, lush fabric that is deliciously textured and sumptuous.  It reeks of luxury.  In the middle ages, it was a fabric that was only affordable by the richest of noblemen, and completely sewn by hand (of course).  It seems naturally warmer than most fabrics, as the thin pile of fibers that gives velvet it's soft feel naturally keeps the heat in.  It's like wearing a layer of fur all over.  Yum!!

But an entire suit of velvet...  Argh.  Most men don't wear velvet suits.  The more you sit in it, the more it looks like you've been sitting in it as the pile is pressed down and becomes shiny.  It's considered rather pretentious, I think, to wear a velvet suit to the office quite frankly...  But this particular velvet suit that I'm helping with is for one of the higher class characters, and it's making a statement about his monetary and social status.  So it's perfect.  The original actor wore a panne velvet suit, where the fibers are already pressed down in one direction creating a luxurious sheen.  And it's a brilliant royal purple.

Velvet Board
But our velvet isn't panne velvet.  It's a darker burgundy, and you really can't press it without a velvet board--a board that has thousands and thousands of tiny little needles in it that prevent the pile fibers from laying down flat when you press it.  It's a must-have for working with velvet, really.  An expensive tool, but completely worth it.  

And our velvet is really, really difficult to work with.  First off, the entire suit is cut with the grain going upside down (which is apparently the norm for velvet suits) so the darker tone is more evident.  When you run your hands down the front, the pile of the fabric "fights" you, sort of like rubbing a cat the wrong way.  But that's not the hardest part.  Every stitch leaves a mark, every seam leaves a trail, every pressing job is permanent...  It's enough to drive a person insane!!  You have to approach the construction with absolute confidence in the fit, and hope that it's going to turn out all right!

Which is a challenge, because the actor we're fitting has a unique body shape so the pattern has to be developed specifically for him.  It's not our decision to decide if he's "worth it" or not--we're paid to make the suit regardless of who it's for, so we have to make it work.  And let me tell you, when you're worried about something fitting, every tiny stitch and seam is extra stressful because they really can't be taken out to be redone with this fabric.  

Embossed Velvet with a Stamp
Needless to say, it's been a stressful couple of days.  We've been fighting the fabric to make it behave in a presentable way, and it's been a hoot.  Yeah.  A.  Real.  Hoot.  <sigh>

There are a lot of beautiful things you can do when you "emboss" velvet on purpose, as this blog, Inklings and Imprints demonstrates. You can use stamps, leaves, or even lace.  You can take your lace, put it on your ironing table on top of a terry cloth towel, and place the velvet face down on top of it.   You gently press with a steam iron, and the lace makes an impression in the velvet by crushing the fibers it comes in contact with.  This creates a beautiful contrasting pattern that is evident in the light.  It's not permanent, of course, as the moment you steam it the pile fibers lift back up and the image disappears a bit.  But the effects are beautiful!

But NOT when you don't want to emboss your fabric on purpose.  When you're pressing a seam, it's practically permanent as there is always some flattening of the pile in some way or another.  

So that's what we've been fighting.  Along with puckering, bubbles, stretching, and track marks.  Oy!!

But in the end, it's promising to be absolutely stunning and beautiful.  When it's all done, it will be a remarkable piece that is gorgeous.  I'm really glad I'm just helping to stitch it together and not responsible for the actual patterning or fitting.  That is someone else's responsibility.  But I can say that it will be quite lovely when it's all done, and it's taking an entire team of people to make it happen the right way.

Okay... ON that note, I'm done venting.  Haha!!  You all have any interesting velvet projects or experiences you'd like to share?  I'm all ears!!  : )

Until next time, Live Life with Relish!


  1. I LOVE how embossed velvet looks. Yes, it is a HUGE pain but the final effect is quite stunning. Have you ever done your own velvet burn out? The chemicals necessary are a bit nasty but the effect is also quite stunning.

    Sad I am not at LJP to hang out with you and remind you to get your food out of the microwave:)

  2. Hahaha!! Megan, I'm starving out here without you to remind me!!! LOL!!

    And no, I have never tried burn out velvet, but darn it now you've got me thinking I'm going to have to try... They probably carry all those supplies at Dharma Trading Goods, don't they? Argh, one more thing to envelope my interests!!!

    I miss you too! Stay warm out there!

  3. Hey Corey, that's great news about your gig but the velvet suit sounds very tricky! Good luck with it all ~ be sure to eat and have fun!


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