Saturday, December 5, 2015

Fiber Etching Silk Velvet (Devore Technique)

For Clara's Robot of Sherwood dress, I had to burn off the pile of silk-backed velvet.  I'm putting these instructions here because even though I followed the directions, they weren't good enough, and I ruined a LOT of fabric, and wasted a LOT of money.  I don't want that to happen to you.  Please note that I've only used the devore technique on silk velvet, so I have no idea if the following directions apply to other fabrics.  As far as how much fiber etch you'll need, I used about 44 ounces for Clara's dress (not including the chemical that I wasted).  There may be better ways to do this, but this is what I did, and it worked pretty well for me.

What You'll Need:

- Silk-backed velvet.  I used the Moroccan Red velvet from SyFabrics.
- Synthrapol, a chemical to prepare the fabric for etching, purchased from Dharma Trading Company
- Fiber Etch, a chemical which you can purchase from Dharma Trading Company.
- Paint brush
- Respirator
- Gloves
- A design or pattern

Note:  Always wear a respirator during every step that involves the chemical.  It's nasty stuff.  I also wore the respirator while scratching off the pile, as you'll end up breathing it in if you don't.  It's essentially dust at that point, and it's also nasty.  Also, PLEASE test a LARGE piece of cloth on each step before you do this.  Trust me.  I practiced on a small piece because I didn't want to waste fabric or fiber etch, and it turned out that my dryer dries unevenly.  The small piece turned out great, but the large panels were unevenly heated, and I tried reheating them, and I ended up burning holes in the fabric.  I had to throw out FOUR of the six panels.  I also had to buy four more yards of fabric, and another 32 ounces of fiber etch.  It was not pretty.  There were tantrums.  But hey, it all worked out in the end.

Step 1: Wash the velvet in HOT water using the Synthrapol, and then tumble dry.  I know this seems scary, but I did a test before I tossed all nine yards in, and it actually works great and removed all of the wrinkles that had set in during shipping.  This is a necessary step because the Synthrapol will remove any impurities that will keep the fiber etch from working properly.

Step 2:  Draw your pattern on.  You can use stencils or free-hand it.  Matt made me a pattern that I drew around using a washable fabric marker (it disappears when you wet it - you don't have to actually wash it out).

Step 3:  Wearing a respirator, SOAK the parts of the velvet that you want to remove with the fiber etch, and I mean SOAK.  I had purchased the 4 oz bottle to test the technique before purchasing more. I found it was easiest to use the squeeze bottle to apply the fiber etch. Because I was doing such a large area, I cut a larger hole in the tip.  Using the paintbrush, really jam all of the fiber etch in.  Brush in all directions to make sure that it's covering all of the pile.  If you think it's soaked enough, soak it some more. When you look at the wrong side of the fabric, you should see that the chemical is completely soaked through.  Please note that the respirator is really important here.  The chemical is really strong, and it can damage your lungs and make you feel dizzy.

Steps 4 and 5: Dry the fabric completely. I hung it on the clothesline in the utility room overnight. When the chemical is dry, the fabric will be stiff. Throw it in the dryer. I put it in with a few towels to tumble it around better, as just the fabric wasn't enough. I had it on high heat set for 30 minutes, but took it out around 15-20 minutes in. This took a lot of trial and error - every dryer will be different.  You'll know when it's done, because the pile will turn black and brittle.  If it has heated unevenly, the directions say that you can put it back in the dryer or iron.  DO NOT put it back in the dryer!  DO NOT attempt to iron.  These are MISTAKES.  You will burn holes in the fabric.  Instead, turn your hair dryer on high and move it back and forth over the unprocessed parts.  You will see them turn black right before your eyes, and so can stop before you over-process.

You can see the right side has been scraped off.

Step 6: Scrape off the pile using the edge of a credit card. Some of the pile will still probably not have processed correctly.  If this happens, heat with the hair dryer again.  If it still doesn't work, then you didn't soak the fabric enough, and you have a new piece to your design. 

You can see in the left side of the photo that the chemical has processed.  The right side of the photo shows what it looks like after being scraped off, leaving the design.

Beware: lots and lots of pile ends up in your house.  It's everywhere right now.  It's like glitter, so try to contain it as much as possible.

Step 7: Wearing gloves and a respirator, soak fabric under cold running water.  Hand wash with liquid soap (I used Dawn dish detergent), lightly rubbing fabric between hands.  Rinse thoroughly.  This will remove the remaining chemical and any remnants of the pile that gets caught in the fabric.  As long as you don't have any holes in the fabric, it's pretty tough.  I didn't have any issues with it.  However, I tested this part of the process on the fabric I'd ruined, and the tiny holes that I had in the fabric absolutely shredded.  So please make sure that your fabric is intact; otherwise, you'll have a real problem.

Step 8:  After washing the fabric, place it between two towels and pat dry, then hang to dry completely.  If it gets wrinkly, you can steam it.  You might be able to tumble dry it, but at this point, I wasn't taking any chances, so I didn't try it.

The Finished Product:

When you've finished all of the steps, this is what you're left with.  As you can see, there are a few mistakes where the velvet didn't process correctly, but for Clara's dress, this adds to the design.  Obviously, if your design needs to be perfectly clean, then practice until you've mastered the technique.


The following photo is what happens when you over-process.  Don't over-process.  Learn from my mistakes!  Even if you have a small hole, it will shred and ruin your entire project.  You can see on the lower right corner that I put some fray check to see what would happen.  It discolored the fabric, making it even worse.

So I ruined four of the six skirt panels this way because I'd already sewn the skirt together (to know where to put the design).  I remade the four panels separately. 

That's how I fiber-etched Clara's skirt.  I may try this technique again in the future, but on a much smaller scale.


  1. Do you know if Fiber Etch will work on silk/rayon velvet that stretches? I believe the stretch comes from a ~10% spandex content. My project requires the velvet to look very beat up, so a few burned spots or holes would be no big deal. Thanks!

  2. Fiber etching only works on velvet that is silk-backed.