Making a Draped Velvet Dress

It’s that time of the year again! The time where I make a holiday inspired dress out of festively colored fabrics! In the past these have been elaborate gowns, and usually some of my favorite costumes that I make in a year. This years doesn’t rank that highly on my list, since it’s lacking the ruffles and beaded details that I gravitate towards, but I do like how it turned out! Especially considering that inspiration was tough to come by for this piece.

really wanted to make an elaborate 1950’s style evening gown, but I didn’t have the materials for it. The next idea I had and felt enthusiastic about was more appropriate for a snowy winter backdrop, which we won’t get until January or February. So I settled on this design: A “simple” draped gown made from red velvet.

Though this looks easier than my previous Christmas costumes it took longer than last years to put together. I’m far more comfortable with making structured, or ruffly gowns. Doing something sleek and draped requires skills I’ve never had to develop.

But I think I managed to do an okay job! Since the dress was lacking drama I paired it with some home made accessories with hopes it would dress the ensemble up. I think it worked out quite nicely, though it still isn’t my favorite project of the year.

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The first step was playing around with velvet and pinning it to my dress form until I had a shape I liked. I really liked how it looked with the center gathered, a deep neckline, and off the shoulder draped straps (sleeves?) so I decided to go with that. Then I pinned cotton onto the other side of my dress form until I achieved a similar shape.

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I transferred that onto paper and added seam allowances. Now I had a pattern to use for the base. Even though this dress looks loose and (hopefully) effortless, it has a stiff base layer that supports the shape and keeps everything in place. This is especially important for this project since velvet is heavy – keeping it up takes work!

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I debated about making a mock up but since the boning determines the fit, and boning is a pain to sew into mock ups I decided to make the real thing right away. But I was willing to restart if it was really off.

Luckily it fit perfectly! I decided to deepen the neckline, and make it more of a “V” than the sweetheart shape it originally had, but everything else seemed fine.

The base layer was cut from a cheap, stiff, quilting cotton. I cut each piece out four times, so the base is two layers of quilting cotton thick. This makes it more supportive and means I could insert the boning in between the layers of fabric rather than having to sew external boning channels.

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After adding the boning (all 1/4″ plastic bones) I turned the neckline inward.

In this picture the left is turned inward more than the right side to create the V effect I wanted. After deciding I preferred this I repeated the process on the other side

. Since the base layer will be hidden by velvet I sewed all these edges by machine.

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I sewed facings to the arm openings…then realized I forgot to support the highest points of the bodice, which also happen to be where the straps mount. This meant there would be nothing to support the straps, and they would flop outward.

So I sewed external boning channels made from ribbon on either side of the arm openings.

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I also turned the bottom and back edges inward.

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The final step for the base layer were the sleeve supports – which are just pieces of ribbon sewn to the high points of the bodice.

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Here it is on the dress form. The ugly side faces outward, since that will be the side covered by velvet.

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While it was on my dress form I draped velvet overtop and used basting stitches to mark the points where the velvet should be gathered or turn inward.

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Once I took it off my dress form I smoothed out the edges, then used it as a guide for cutting out a piece of velvet for the other side.

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These pieces were sewn together across the front edge with a one inch seam allowance. Then I used pins to mark the gathering line at the front.

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It was gathered down by hand with running stitches. Something about gathering velvet is super satisfying, it’s thick enough to form cartridge-pleat-like gathers but has a wide enough weave that it’s easy to sew through. Every other part of working with velvet sucks, but it gathers beautifully.

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I roughly turned the edges inward and pinned the front panel onto the base layer.

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Then I pinned that onto my dress form and draped the skirt panel for the back of the dress.

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And I used that as a guide for cutting out the panel for the other side.

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The top edge was gathered down so there is more volume at the back of the skirt.

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Then it was sewn onto the bodice portion of the back panel, which was cut from the same pattern as the base layer.

The side seams were sewn up too, with a one inch seam allowance. I sewed all the seams in this normally – no french seams for once! Velvet is really prone to shifting and sewing the pieces together once was enough of a headache, so I just pinked the edges and decided to let them be.

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To make the neckline a little less extreme (and to incorporate a color I plan on using for next years project) I cut four inch wide strips of mesh. I folded the mesh in half so it was more opaque, then sewed it onto the neckline of the bodice in such a way that it extends three quarters of an inch past the base layer.

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Then I pinned the dress onto the base layer. I started at the waistline, then moved upward.

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I sewed the waistline of the velvet layer to the base by hand with whip stitches.

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I tried the bodice on at this point and the result was disappointing. The waistline looked fine, but the velvet was really droopy in the bust area and I couldn’t see how to fix it. I didn’t think the bodice fit my dress form well enough to adjust the draping there, and the dress didn’t have closures yet, so I couldn’t wear it while adjusting it.

After a few days of procrastinating I tried pinning it to my dress form and that worked amazingly well. In ten minutes and with a bit of pinning I had fixed the droopiness. I’m glad I found an easy solution, but I sure wish I had tried it a few days earlier!

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After smoothing out the edges a bit more I took the dress off my dress form, then sewed around all the edges with slip stitches so they are secured to the base layer.

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I also folded the bottom edge of the straps inward, and the material at the back of the bodice. The photo of it finished is a bit blurry, but you get the idea!

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Then I sewed closures in, which are eyelets embroidered with matching thread.

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At this point I decided to finish the dress in two days so I could photograph it that weekend (made more difficult by the limited hours I could work on it and have good enough lighting to film the process) so photographing my progress fell to the wayside. Sorry about that, I’ll try to explain everything I forgot to photograph!

After a fitting I realized the bodice was a bit big – it stayed in place when worn, but wasn’t as flattering as I wanted. I ended up taking it in near the side seams with darts.

I also realized that the straps looked pretty pathetic, which I was expecting. They were really narrow and lacking the draped effect I wanted. So I cut out two rectangles, hemmed the edges with a cross stitch, and gathered the short edges down to approximately two inches. These were pinned just underneath the existing straps. I sewed the gathered edges to the base layer, with the top edge secured to the bottom of the ribbon sleeve support.

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I sewed up the back seam with a one inch allowance and left the top ten inches open. I folded the edges of the unsewed portion inward, then sewed them down by hand. Three snaps were sewn to the opening to keep it closed. Then I sewed a velvet modesty panel to the back, it’s mostly to prevent skin from showing through the eyelets, but I extended to past the opening left in the skirt, since snaps aren’t super reliable.

The hem is a half inch rolled hem sewn by hand. It might be my least favorite hem I’ve ever done – the sewing is fine, but it’s SO uneven. I leveled it while the dress was on my dress form and though it looks perfect when worn, I swear there are four inch discrepancies between each side. I have no clue what happened.

After a fitting I noticed the dress was gaping away from my shoulders. It fit the bust fit fine, but the weight of the velvet I added to the straps made the high points of the bodice fold outward. So I sadly had to add over the shoulder straps, which did not go with the design I planned. But it meant I got to use some of the glittery velvet ribbon I’ve been hoarding since last Christmas, which was nice.

In future I would shorten these straps – I sewed them on the night before wearing it, and did not do a fit check. They stay up but only if I stand very straight, which is kind of annoying.

The final touch were a few velvet poinsettias and sprigs of pine that I glued on.

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I was worried these would take away from the simple elegance of the dress, but I think they add a lot to it. It makes it more interesting it and ties the dress and the accessories together.

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Only thing I regret is placing one pine sprig in such a way that it digs into my armpit. That was a bad decision.

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Speaking of accessories – this dress has three! The first is the headpiece I made last year, which you can see a tutorial of here.

The other two are new additions – a staff, and a necklace. I thought the dress was a bit boring on it’s own, and these made it more exciting and costume-y. They were also really easy to make.

For the necklace I used two strands of red glass beads I got from Jo-anns, plus a crystal pendent. These were threaded onto some 6lb fireline with a clasp at the back. Then I used some thread to tie a piece of chain to the clasp, which hangs closer to the throat. I also tied three smaller crystal beads onto it. The whole thing isn’t very sturdy, I really should have bought a heavier thread, and chain that was meant for beading, not for sewing onto garments, but it’s pretty!

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The staff took longer to make, but it wasn’t very challenging either. My dad and I went hunting for appropriate sticks in our backyard and eventually found a small pine tree that had been cut down a few years prior. We broke off the branches and he cut off the bottom twelve inches so it would fit in the car.

Then I decorated it. Since the bark was spiky I glued ribbon around the point I planned on grasping it. I also glued on glittery pine cones, fake glittery pine branches, and velvet poinsettias to make it more exciting. There is a strand of lights on it took, which unfortunately don’t show up well in photos.

I was worried I didn’t get enough to decorate it (I was too cheap to buy the garlands – the ones I liked would have been thirty bucks). In total I spent fifteen dollars to decorate it and I have a ton of flowers leftover.

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And that’s it! As I said, it isn’t my favorite Christmas costume, but I like how it turned out. Especially with all the accessories – I think they really bring it together.

I’m also glad I pushed myself a bit, maybe I’ll do more things with draped details in the future.

Thanks for reading! A post with photos will follow this one! And if you want to see videos of me constructing then click here!

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