Taming the Velvet Border Beast

Allison Aller © 2006

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Mmmm, you are all wrapped up in luxurious, luminous silk velvet….it caresses your skin with its softness, delights your eyes with its rich color, makes you feel regal as you run your fingers over its….But oh no! Wake up! You actually have to sew with this beastly fabric. Your crazy quilt needs a velvet border!

  As you can see, I have had some epic battles with the velvet beast, and lost them. This photo is of a corner of an inner border of an early crazy quilt of mine—the whole border is this bad. Not only did I try sewing that velvet border first by machine, having later to pick all the stitches out, (punching holes in the fabric with my seam ripper in frustration); then I hand-basted and hand-sewed the whole thing together and still got this poor result. I covered both seams with wide ribbon so all the horrible puckers wouldn't show so badly, although the rumples still do. 

However, I have learned how to tame the beast and make it behave itself, which more than anything means to lie flat after I've sewn it into a seam. My friend Vicki Day, of www.VickiDayDesigns.com, taught me the following techniques for taming the velvet beast, and she has given me her permission to share them with you.

Start by tearing the silk velvet if you want nice even border strips, a scant 2” wider than your finished border will be. It is too wiggly to cut straight with a rotary cutter, and tearing gives a perfectly straight edge. That 2” extra width gives you some “back up” if things don't go perfectly with your sewing, and you need to re-trim the seam, for example. Also, your seam allowance will need to be wider than usual.

  --When ironing silk velvet, place it face down on a clean fluffy towel. This will prevent you from crushing its nap. Please, use a light hand with that iron! (Needleboards are the best surface for ironing velvet, but they are small, expensive, and hard to find. Towels work fine.) 
  --Fuse a lightweight knit interfacing onto the back of the velvet. I place a piece of parchment or release paper from some Wonder Under between my iron and the interfacing, as this prevents any chance of melting it. Again, use a light touch, go slowly, and make sure you are not ironing any wrinkles into your velvet as you fuse down the interfacing. *Note: if you are totally against tearing your fabric, or if your borders will be too narrow for tearing (causing too much shredding of the velvet), you can rotary cut the velvet more accurately after interfacing it.* 

--This is what will help prevent the two pieces of velvet from sliding around when you are trying to seam them together on your sewing machine (or by hand, for that matter). You temporarily fuse or glue the two edges together. The following example demonstrates sewing velvet to velvet; this technique will work with sewing a velvet strip to your assembled CQ blocks, as well, if the blocks have a bit of extra seam allowance on their outside edges.

You can fuse the edges together in one of two ways:

The first method is: gently fuse a strip of ¼” Steam-A-Seam onto the right side edge of one of the pieces of velvet you are to seam together. Remove the paper backing. Then place the second piece of velvet, right sides together, onto the first one so that the edges line up, as for any seam. Make sure your naps are going in the same direction on both pieces! You may wish to secure this with a few pins, taking them out as you carefully fuse the edge together.

The second method—and the one I prefer—is: dot one edge of the right side of the velvet with Glue-Baste-It, at ½” intervals. Then align the second piece of velvet right sides together along that edge, as with the Steam-A-Seam method. Carefully iron just the edge, to set the glue.

--pin the fused seam at 1 ½” intervals. I like to use thin silk pins for this, as there is less chance of their leaving a mark on the velvet. 

If you have a walking foot for your machine, use it when sewing your velvet. Add 1/2” to your normal seam allowance, so that it is roughly ¾ to 1”. Stitch slowly, removing the pins before stitching over them. I use my hands as illustrated to keep the velvet flat along the seam line as I sew. (Please disregard the condition of my hands; it is gardening season right now!) 
Now it is time to trim off your glued edge. This can be done with sharp scissors or a rotary cutter. Continue to work slowly…the velvet beast will still spook easily and slide away from you, causing you to trim unevenly or worse, if you do not handle it deliberately and with respect! 

After the glued edge has been trimmed off, finger press open the seam and ever so gently tap it open with your iron. Gently! Don't put the full weight of the iron on the fabric.

The beast is tamed! You won't get your seam any flatter than this.

Remember always to work slowly with this wild velvet beast….use these techniques and it will reward you with a rich and perfect border in your crazy quilts!

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