Making the Red Velvet dress: the bodice and the sleeves

After finishing the Cream Dress, I knew my next project should be holiday inspired. This is going to end up being a post littered with fangirling so I’ll open with it. Angela Clayton’s work has been a huge inspiration and I loved the idea of creating a holiday inspired dress. I wanted to make something I could actually wear rather than something very heavily historic. This included a zipper, lining and a short skirt! Thinking of Christmas, red velvet instantly came to mind.


I bought four meters of red velvet, matching satin lining and one meter of cream chiffon. Originally I was to use the chiffon for the sleeves as well, but I ended up using the velvet for the sleeves too. The first step was to draft the bodice so I draped something and then transferred it to paper.

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In between cutting it from the actual fabric, I made two mock ups. I was having a hard time making it fit properly and man, that was only the beginning! The bodice is made of one piece cut on the fold at the centre front. I cut it out of a layer of stiff cotton drill to create support for the boning and the velvet. Then I marked out the boning channels and sewed on 1/4 inch bias tape to make the channels.

After that, I cut the bodice out of the velvet and pinned it to the cotton layer, right sides facing each other. I then sewed them together. The problems began here. The velvet is very soft and it WOULD NOT SIT STILL. This seam ended up looking absolutely horrible.

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Many boning channels
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SO WRINKLY

So I ripped it out and started again. I had the brilliant idea to be interface the velvet because there’s nothing that fusible interfacing can’t fix, right? Well… it worked well in e sense that when I redid the seam, it looked much better! It started behaving like a good little child now (do not interface your children). But it didn’t stay very fused and the interfacing started peeling away. However, because the seam was sewn it stayed attached and so I left it be. I clipped the seams, turned it the right way around and used a pencil to mark all the corners.

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At this point, I basted a zipper to the back and tried it on and the velvet had shrunk like three inches from my last mock up! So I made two extra panels at I attached to the back.

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Then I made the chiffon ruffle for the neckline. The best way to cut chiffon, as far as I’ve figured out, is to mark one end, make a small cut and then pull one thread so you can cut fairly straight.
The ruffle is one large rectangle, which I then folded in half. I basted across the folded edge so that it wouldn’t shift while sewing the gathering threads and ironed the bottom edges inwards to hide the raw edges. Then I sewed two rows of gathering stitches at the bottom and two other rows about an inch away from the top folded edge. This was gathered down and attached to the bodice. Then I used a very poorly cut rectangle of plain cotton as I was worried the chiffon would be too see-through. I also sewed a strip of bias tape to the top gathering threads to try and keep em up.

I moved on to drafting the sleeves. I used my standard straight sleeve block pattern and the same method I used for the Cream Dress sleeves, which was slashing the pattern to add extra volume. Because the velvet is thicker than the light fabric I used for that dress, I made this pattern smaller. 

I cut them out of the velvet and the lining, and then flat-lined them together. Then I sewed two rows of gathering stitches at the cuff and armhole. I did up the side seams with french seams to hide the raw edges and moved on to making the cuffs. They are made by cutting two rectangles of the velvet, interfacing them and then folding them in half. I ironed the fold and ironed half an inch of the raw edges inwards. Then I turned it so that they had the right sides facing each other and sewed across the short edges. Then I turned them the right way around and they looked adorable.

I gathered down the bottom portion of the sleeves, leaving a 5″ gap that I turned inwards and sewed down by hand. Then I sewed on the cuffs by hand too.

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The next step was to gather down the armhole and attach the sleeves to the bodice. I sewed it on by hand to the bodice with a double thread and a back-stitch. I added hooks and eyes to the cuffs, so that they would close.

I thought the neckline looked a little plain so I bought some small, cupped, matte gold sequins and sewed them on while watching Downton Abbey.

I used invisible thread for this. It was a little fiddly to work with but works pretty well in the end.

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Meanwhile, I’d been working on this bodice for a month. I was packing and moving house, so it was all very complicated and unproductive for a while. My room still required some work and the construction people came into my room without telling me so I didn’t have time to put anything away. I had a huge breakdown when I got home after work and they’d gotten paint on my poor velvet.

Just LOOK AT IT

Thankfully my mother is a goddess and she got it off. Phew! And that was it for the bodice. I also cut the lining at around this time, but I was waiting to attach it. If I waited until after adding the skirt, it would also cover the skirt-bodice seam. I rushed to finish this dress this weekend, as I wanted to take some worn photos of it before going to New York on Monday! Very exciting, can’t wait to go prowl on that garment district. Thanks for reading!

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3 thoughts on “Making the Red Velvet dress: the bodice and the sleeves

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