Handcrafted History

Historical and modern handcraft mixed with adventures


Sewing in velvet- a guide

Today I am sharing my best tips for making garments in velvet!

Velvet has a beautiful shine to it, with highlights rather than shadows. This can be seen in paintings, where the clothing is pictured with highlighted areas rather than darker folds. Like this; (though this may also be woolen cloth, but it goes for illustrating highlights in fabric)

  • The choise of material is important. On the market today, you can find different kinds of velvets, in both high and low quality. The original velvet fabric was made of silk, insanely expensive, and probably also sensitive for wear and washing. To buy a good silk velvet for your project is of course historically accurate, but also very expensive, and you will have a garment that is sensitive. But the look and shine of the fabric will be outstanding.
  • Cheating? For a silk velvet look, you could instead choose velvet made of viscose, rayon or a mix of synthetic fibres. This fabric is a lot cheaper, more durable, and is (depending on the quality and materials) close to how silk velvet looks. Avoid fabrics made of pure polyester, since these will be warm and uncomfortable to wear; a mix based of viscose is often the best. You could also go for cotton or cotton mixed velvet, the look is a bit more matte than silk velvet but black is quite close in appearance. The good thing with cotton velvet is that it is made of natural fibres so it is easy to wash, feels good to wear and is durable and fire safe (it will not melt on your other clothes if you are unlucky) as well as cheap. As an example; my wedding gown made of silk blended velvet costs 4 times more than a medium cotton velvet.
  • Ironing velvet fabric is often unnecessary, instead just hang it out. If you need to press seams or iron out stubborn folds, you need to iron the fabric on its wrong side, with a cotton cloth over and a bath towel underneath. This will protect the fabric, and the towelling (in swedish; frotté) fabric with its pile will act as a soft bottom so the velvet pile doesn’t get flat and pressed down. Iron gently, and always try it out on a spare bit first.
  • Hang it before hemming; to make the skirt hem as even as possible; hang the dress on a doll for a couple of days to let the fabric hang out, then pin/mark the hemline and cut it. The skirt on my velvet over dress is cut in a half circular piece (almost) making the fabric drape nicely, but also hanging out uneven in the hem. Look at this picture- this is the dress skirt before cutting the hem, it differs over 10 cm!
  • The pile is what makes the velvet special, and it is important to take care not to crush or flatten it out. When ironing; do so gently. When machine sewing, choose a foot/presser that is narrower, and loosen the pressure on the machine a bit if possible. Or sew the fabric together on an overlock machine or by hand. When cutting out your pieces, don’t step on or lean on the fabric, as this may crush the pile unevenly.
  • Baste- don’t pin! Silk velvet is quite sensitive, the pins might rip threads from the fabric so basting with loose stitches is a safer way to go. If sewing in other materials, it is still better to baste because the pile of the velvet, when put together with another fabric, tend to “walk” over the surface no matter how much you pin it.

A picture from our wedding day, the velvet dress looking all nice and innocent, not at all like me and the dress really hated each other while making it…


Houppelande tutorial -part 1

Since I made my first houppelande (late medieval overdress) some years ago, I have been thinking about putting together a tutorial for you, to make it easier to understand the construction techniques behind the dress.

As it turned out, the houppelande dress is a bigger project than I thought at the beginning, so I’m doing the tutorials in different parts so it will be easier for you to find the model you are most interested in, and to get a nice overview of the whole dress style.

I start with my first woolen houppelande:


This was somewhat of an experiment trying out both pattern, if I would like the type of garment, and what it would look like finished. I could not find my original sketch for the pattern layout, but it did look something like this:


Some notes; this type of pattern layout work well in a tabby weave since it doesn’t matter if you turn your front and back pieces, but you can also use a twill like I did. If doing this type of pattern on a patterned fabric, you can have the pattern one way on the front pieces and the opposite on the back pieces, which work really well I think, if you want to save on the fabric.

The amount of fabric needed for this layout, in size small, is 150 cm * 280 cm (I used 3 meters of fabric, so I had a slightly larger hem.

F=front, B=back and FM= front middle gore. S1 and S2 is the sleeves. I always recommend drawing out your pattern before you do it on your fabric, it gives you the opportunity to see if all the pieces have room, and if you can add some extra circumference to the skirt. I also use to draw out how the garment will look finished, to give you an extra idea of the result. The small cut out pattern piece I use to draw the pieces faster by drawing around it on the paper.

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This is what it looked like once I had cut out all the pieces. After cutting, baste your pieces together to try them on, or sew them at once. I used running stitches and back stitches for parts were there was more stress on the seams (like around the body, the armholes, and the top of the front gore). I also pressed the seam allowances down and whip stitched them. You can of course sew your dress on a sewing machine if you would like, just be sure to pin or baste the skirt lengths first so they don’t stretch uneven.


Always pin or baste your pieces together when they lay flat on a surface. After this is done, you can have the garment in your knee, sitting comfy in the sofa and sewing without having the seams getting all uneven. I started with the front gore, then sew the front and back pieces together. The sleeves were made after the “fitted sleeve” tutorial.

The hem is folded twice and whip stitched down, and the sleeves and front opening is lined with a soft, cut sheepskin in a matching colour.

The dress is sold since some time back, and I moved on to make another kind of pattern construction (as I usually do). I liked this one because of its simplicity, it was very comfortable and not bulky around the upper body. another pro was that it didn’t take a lot of fabric to make it. I really liked the fluffy lining since it gave a lot of extra warmth.


The style is somewhat unusual in art, but can be seen at the start of the houppelande period, though with a tighter upper body, the sleeves were full length and often somewhat tighter. For paintings and art inspiration, check out my Pinterest board about Houppelande dresses

What I didn’t like was that I dragged the hem of the dress after me everywhere, without getting the comfort of a warm and thick enough fabric to protect me from rain and chilly winds. So the next one became a bit sturdier in fabric, and with more fabric…

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Pin on sleeves- a quick tutorial

Here is how I make my pinned on sleeves for my 14th and 15th century outfits. Pin on sleeves are an easy and quick project, perfect for that spare bit of extra fancy fabric you may have stashed.

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The easiest way to make a pinned sleeve, is to base it on a regular S-sleeve, that is to say, a sleeve with the seam on the back of the body. Here is my sleeve pattern and my pinned on sleeves, do you notice that I make the upper part of the loose sleeve a bit flatter? Since I wont be sewing on the sleeve to a bodice, I can cut away some excess fabric to make the sleeve laying more smoothly on my arm. In this case, I also make it a bit more narrow than my regular sleeves, to achieve a tight fitted look. These sleeves also have a cuff so the main piece is shorter than a regular sleeve.


If you don’t have a sleeve pattern that fits you, you can draft your sleeve on a piece of paper or scrap clothing first to make a toile. Measure your arm’s length, and then around your upper arm, your bent elbow, and last around your wrist. Add some cm or about 1 inch in movement space, add seam allowance, draft the sleeve, cut it out, and then try it on. Remember that silk fabric often is stiffer and less flexible than cotton or woolen fabrics.

I sew my sleeves with running stitches on the wrong side, and then fell the seams with whipstitch by hand, but you can of course use the sewing machine. The linings I usually fold twice and whipstitch, if I don’t line the sleeve or use a reinforcement piece.


The sleeve should be quite tight fitted if watching paintings, and also long enough for your arm- be sure to try it on with a shift/dress under and bend your elbow.

At the wrist, you can just finish the sleeve of with a whip stitched hem, or add a cuff with one to three buttons (for 15th century style). The yellow sleeves have a cuff; they make it possible to have a tight fitted sleeve around my wrist, and if they get stained or worn I can cut of the cuffs and replace them with new fabric. It is also a good way to save some fabric, if you need sleeves longer than half the width of a fabric (or if you need to piece out your sleeves on scrap pieces of fabric).



To fasten the sleeves on your dress; use dress pins to pin them on. Very simple and practical! If you have small children though, you might want to fasten the sleeves in a different way so the small ones doesn’t touch it by mistake. A way to do this is to sew a small hook on the inside of the sleeve, right at the top where you should pin it to your arm, and then fasten the hook in an eye sewed onto the dress. If you have a small enough hook, and a sturdy woolen dress, you could just put the hook directly in the fabric. This may not be the most historic way (pinning seems to be the thing) but is a safer way for not accidentally stabbing yourself or someone small.

Also, if you have a very delicate patterned silk fabric, a sewed on hook will make the fabric last longer.

IMG_1375 (2) - kopia

Talking about delicate silk fabrics; it could be good to strengthen the sleeves by adding a lining, either line the whole sleeve with a thin linen fabric, or just add a strip on the inside at the upper hem. That may add to a more durable sleeve, get you a better lining and make it easier to sew. Do you notice that the sleeve on the picture above has a visible line around the upper arm? (The fabric doesn’t lay smoothly) this fabric would probably have been better of with a reinforcement strip on the inside of the hem, instead of folding down and whipstitch it. This was a quite stiff silk brocade fabric.

So, learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to make your own!