I'm a sewing enthusiast in Beacon, New York, with a love of all things retro. This site is all about tutorials, tips, inspiration, and lots of spirited discussion about sewing as it relates to fashion history, pop culture, body image, and gender. My first book, Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, is now out from STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books! Also look for my line "Patterns by Gertie" from Butterick.
After taking classes with a couple very experienced teachers lately, I've learned that the one thing couture-level sewers really freak out about is fabric stretching out of shape on curved areas like necklines. As my teacher Sharon says, as soon as you cut fabric on the bias, "it's like water." It can slip off grain pretty easily, apparently. I think this is the kind of thing that home sewers don't really think to worry about, right? I've staystitched curved areas when a pattern calls for it, and I've stabilized waistlines with seam tape when vintage patterns instruct to, but that's about it. But apparently this stabilizing of seams is one of those skills that separates the women from the girls, if you will.
You can get really fancy with this stuff. Kenneth King actually recommends stabilizing necklines on wool crepe BEFORE you cut out the fabric. Crazy, huh? But the basics of stabilizing aren't so extreme. Unfortunately, though, there doesn't seem to be a lot of information on this matter available to home sewers - beyond using commercial interfacing as a stabilizer, usually just on facings. The best information I've found on this topic, hands-down, is this chapter in Professional Sewing Techniques for Fashion Designers: " Introduction to Stabilizers: Fabricating a Stable Foundation."
First, what is a stabilizer? For the purposes of this post, I'm talking about interfacings and tapes used to give structure to a fabric. But broadly, stabilizers can also include interlinings, tulle, boning, horsehair canvas, flannel padding, etc. It's all the intricate stuff that goes into making a garment a feat of engineering. Take Charles James's "Four-Leaf Clover Gown" which is so stabilized that it can stand up on its own!
But let's get back to the basics. Most home sewers are familiar with interfacings, both fusible and sew-in. Personally, I've always been confounded by stabilizing tapes - thin tapes that are applied to the seam lines, also referred to as stay tapes. I'm just starting to make the foray into incorporating them into my sewing. From what I understand, stabilizing tapes are applied to the garment pieces after they're cut to avoid stretching them out in the construction process, as well as to reinforce seams in the long term. Just like interfacings, stabilizing tapes can be either sew-in or fusible. It's a fairly easy process to apply these tapes: after cutting out your garment pieces, lay them out and apply the tape to the wrong side of the fabric. For fusible, center the tape right over the seam line and apply it with heat as you would any fusible interfacing. For sew-in tapes, you'll want to position the tape just inside the seam line (in the seam allowance), pin it in place, and then stitch it on by machine. Again, you're stitching just inside the seam line, not right on top of it. The tape will still be on top of the seam line, but your stitches will be just inside. Am I making any sense? I hope so!
You also have to take into consideration whether your tape should be bias or straight grain. Bias is ideal for curved edges, and straight-grain is for straight or only slightly curved areas.
But where to find these tapes, you ask? Well, you can buy special tapes like Dritz Seams Great and Design Plus. You can make your own perfectly-matched stay tape out of your fabric selvage. And twill cotton or linen tape is the classic stabilizer, often used in tailored jackets. Kenneth King recommends strips of silk organza, and I assume you can cut this on the straight or bias grain depending on what you need.
Whew! I hope that wasn't stay tape overload. I've always been fascinated by topics like this, but it can be frustrating trying to gather this information in your standard home sewing book. Now please, share your stay tape tips and questions here. Did I miss anything? Any good advice you can pass on? Let's hear it!
P.S. I should also mention that stay tape on knits is a whole other can of worms, and one that is most definitely out of the realm of my knowledge!