Working With Velvet: Tips and Tricks

Velvet is a classic fabric, and will always be a favourite choice for certain styles of furniture, however, upholstering with velvet can be tricky. If you’re up for the challenge, here are a few things to consider when upholstering with velvet.

Velvet Terminology:
Nap refers to the direction that the fibers lay. Every velvet has a main nap and a secondary nap. The main nap usually runs down the roll of the fabric, while the secondary nap runs side-to-side.

Pile refers to the length of the fibers. The higher the pile, the more difficult velvet is to work with.

Ribbed velvet, which is what I am working with, is more casual looking than regular velvet, in my opinion. There are two challenges to deal with when working with this ribbed velvet. The first is the nap. Turn it the wrong way, and it will look as though you’ve used two different fabrics to upholster your chair! The second is stripes. Stripes must line up!
20130309-180631.jpgThis chair is a good quality vintage piece, in fair condition, with details that I would like to change. It has been previously reupholstered.

20130309-181656.jpgMainly, I take issue with these arms. They seem rather clunky to me. There is a big problem with using piping on the inside edge of an arm – it is the first part of the chair to become worn, as can be seen here. I’m also not a fan of the way the inside arm has been tacked on in the centre. This chair is interesting, in that it has been bolted together after each component had been upholstered.


20130309-183211.jpgI have changed the arm to this, a cleaner simpler look. When working with ribbed velvet, simple lines are best. You can see here where the shading changes from the top parts and the front parts. There’s really nothing that can be done about this, but it’s important that the inside of the chair maintain one shade (as best as possible). The outside of the chair should also be one shade. So, if the fabric on the seat edge is visible from the side, as on this chair, the outside arm must run in the same direction to get the correct shading.

It should be noted that the inside arm fabric was turned upside down in order to make the shading look correct. It is important to test the fabric by laying it out on the piece before upholstering. Sometimes, the fabric should be turned sideways to get the correct shading, but when stripes are involved this is not a possibility.

20130316-181726.jpgThe original cushion is much too thin for a chair of this size. The client has requested a softer cushion, and I will add a few thick layers of polyester to the original spring-filled cushion to achieve this.

20130319-105046.jpgSewing with velvet takes quite a lot of practice and patience. Because of the pile – this particular velvet has a high pile – it shifts very easily while sewing and can throw off the alignment. Frustrating. If it’s your first time working with velvet, choose a velvet with a low pile, as it is much easier to deal with.

20130319-122537.jpgYet another problem when dealing with velvet is crushing. Velvet is easily scuffed and crushed when folded, or otherwise handled roughly. Always test velvet before upholstering for its own unique characteristics. For example, some velvets can be steamed, others are permanently scarred by steaming. High pile velvets are easily crushed, luckily, this one is resilient and can be steamed.

20130324-084234.jpgThis is one, big comfy chair (and, I must say, this is one of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever sat in!). It looks homey and lived-in already, and I can only hope the client is pleased with the finished product.

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