Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Wild World of Stay Tape

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!


  1. Yay for super geeky sewing tools like stay tape! I've recently started exploring the idea of using notions like that more often in my own sewing, to help create a more professional-looking garment and improve the lay/drape of curved edges. It's amazing what a simple piece of tape will do to help stabilize a curved edge!

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to post what you're learning! Stabilizing is one of the topics that makes me aware of how huge the gulf is between the industry and home sewers -- Kathleen at Fashion Incubator has a lot to say about interfacing and how mystifying it can be to home sewing folks.

    Of course, it doesn't help that most of this stuff is unobtainable in the UK and that when it does exist it's usually called by a totally different name. GRAR.

  3. Lots of people recommend cutting off selvedge edges of silk organza and other thin silks and saving them for use as stay tapes. Kathleen Fasanella recommends using fusible interfacing at the neckline edge for stabilizing and there are thin fusible tapes that are available online from The Sewing Place. Do you have a NYC source for these thin fusibles?

  4. this is a really helpful post - thanks for sharing. It certainly sheds light on why some of my sewing from the past has failed, I'm thinking gape-y necklines in particular...

  5. Great post - I just bought some stay tapes myself and was going to try them out. Can you find someone to do a guest post on stabilizing knits?

  6. Rats - using stay tape on knits is the part that I want to know about a lot.

  7. This is so helpful - thank you! I bought some stay tape a little while ago but haven't got around to working out how/where to use it yet.

  8. I use Stay Tape for stabilizing the shoulder seams in knits...cardigans, dresses and tops. You really don't want your shoulder seams stretching out.

    And if you are looking for someone to do a blog post on sewing knit tops, I nominate Gigi of Gigi Sews! She makes the most amazing knit tops and has perfected several techniques on how to sew them.

  9. Stabilizing... yes, that's definately a hard thing to get perfectly right. I would like to add, however, that the really fussy stuff is only found in seriously high-end garments. Cheap brands often use fairly mundane fusibles although sometimes types of those in places where a home seamstress wouldn't expect them. I'm only just straying into seam stabilizing myself although I have been known to 'sculpt' jackets and coats using a fusible interfacing meant specifically for wool fabrics. I still think about trying to do it the old-fashioned way one day, but I wouldn't know where to start looking for the materials.

  10. I have sewn a fair amount with knits - so here are a few bits some may find useful:

    A piece of clear eleastic or 1/4 inch regular elastic used in the same manner as stay tape in the shoulders can help that area a lot.

    I have used regular no-stretch stay tape in the shoulders and found that while the rest of the garment feels good the shoulders move off the shoulder line because they don't flex and stretch like the rest of the garment, which is not such a good look, nor is it comfortable.

    Elastic used as stay tape can also help droopy armholes. This can also be used as a neckline reinforcement, but typically is not because ribbing is ususally used as a finish.

    If the issue is that the fabric is stretching out under the presser foot when sewn and doesn't snap back, try sandwiching the seam between sheets of tissue paper or wash away stabilizer. Tissue paper is cheap, but can leave little bits of tissue in the seam that wash away after a while. Wash away stabilizer (such as is used for machine embroidery) works great, is semi-transparent so you can see what you are doing, but is also more expensive. This works with all kinds of knits, including lycra.

    Firm knits used the same way as wovens (such as in Gertie's purple dress) would require similar stabilizers as wovens, but with perhaps a bit of flex - so a bias stay tape instead of a twill tape, and tricot interfacing instead of woven.

    Knits used as, well, knits, are by their nature less structured than woven garments and don't typically use, or need, a lot of additional structure, as adding more structure can affect the drape and performance of the fabric to a greater degree than with wovens.

    There is handy information in the now-out-of-print books about sewing with knits by Kirsten Martensson (the founder of Kwik Sew). One title of her book is "It's Easy to Sew Knit and Stretch Fabric". Also, Ann Person (the founder of Stretch 'N Sew) had a similar book (also out of print), "The Stretch and Sew Guide to Sewing on Knits." In addition, Singer has had books on sewing with knits over the years.

    I like the Kirsten Martensson and Ann Person books the best as they were written in an era before sergers and so their instruction is designed with a standard home sewing machine in mind. I have sewn swimwear and exercise wear in addition to other kinds of knits, and I still prefer my standard sewing machine over my serger for those things.


  11. Advanced BeginnerJune 15, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    Kathleen at Fashion Incubator doesn't think much of the book you discussed. She was complaining about it in her forum. I myself thought it was very good when I went through it at Barnes and Noble. But given her greater experience, I didn't want to argue with her, especially online, under my real name. The only reason I haven't bought it is because of the price. I already have a fairly good-sized library of sewing books.

    I've worked a bit with Kenneth King, and if he says one should stabilize wool crepe before cutting, I'd do it. I assume he thinks it's very susceptible to distortion.

    I don't understand why anyone would engage in something as time-consuming and demanding as sewing without trying to do it as professionally as possible, especially if you're learning as an adult. But it can be overwhelming.

  12. Advanced BeginnerJune 15, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Nancy K:

    Some good NYC sources for fusibles include:

    Greenberg and Hammer



    Steinlauf and Stoller


    Neither is open over the weekend.

  13. I am currently working on a dress pattern that requires stay tape for the seams of the skirt section (cut on the bias). My other project is a Kwik Sew T-shirt from the 1970s (I think the cut of this shirt is much more flattering than current patterns). I found this post and the resulting comments (particularly Amy's piece) extremely helpful. Thanks so much!

  14. I've just started using stay tape in my sewing and it makes a huge difference! Gigi of Gigi sews once posted a great tip about making your own fusible stay tape by cutting up interfacing, which seems like a great idea. I have so much more to learn on this topic -- thanks for bringing it up!

  15. Advanced BeginnerJune 15, 2010 at 10:55 AM


    It would be impossible for me to teach myself tailoring, but here are some good tailoring books, sites, and sources for tailoring materials:




    Tailored Jacket by Kenneth King









  16. I am still confused. When you sew-in a stay tape, does the tape go next to the sewing line on the garment side or is it on the seam allowance side?

    1. I think it is centered over the sewing line, but you sew it down just inside the seam allowance side.

  17. Thanks for sharing your information. Sewing is a challenge and I admire your willingness to dive right into the murky land of sewing geekdom for us home sewers. I think the internet has done more to advance my sewing skills than other single tool. Finding information and instruction, you tube videos etc really has made a plethora of information available. It is so much easier than say 25 years ago when you had to attend a training seminar at the local extension office or check a book out of the library. If you were very lucky you had someone in your family who was an accomplished seamstress. For me that was my grandmother. But I'm not sure even she would have ventured into the sewing mysteries that you share with us readers. Thanks again!

  18. Winding Ways, you sew the tape inside the seam line *within the seam allowance*. If you sewed it on the garment side, the stitches would show.

    The reason I didn't post about knits is that being focused on styles of the 50s, I just don't sew with them. I often use stable knits, but they are similar to wovens in technique.

  19. Good point Gertie, the 50's didn't have much in the way of knitwear with the exception of fine-knit sweaters and shells. Nobody made them, they were always purchased. I still have a few of them that were my mom's.

    Knitwear really started to come in with the 1960s as synthetics were developed, but were still highly structured--think double knit without much stretch. And often interfaced as well.

    Stretchy knitwear as we think of it didn't really appear until the early 1970s.

    I love the stabilizing tapes. Some of my mail order sources are the Sewing Workshop and the Sewing Place. They can be used on wovens or knits. You can also use fusible tricot interfacing cut in strips, which is also a good way to use scraps. This is my go-to stabilizer for shoulder seams in knits.

  20. Thanks for sharing! These are the kind of techniques that a lot of beginners skip, because they don't see the point and it seems like extra work. (I have a friend that's learning to sew and it's hard enough to get her to press her seams while sewing!) Stay tape can make such a difference, there's nothing worse than finishing up a dress only to have a gaping neckline that makes you never want to wear it.
    Love reading about the things you've learned in school!

  21. Fabulous information! Thank you so much! But reminded me I have mountains still to learn about sewing!

  22. I learned a lot by reading this post and the comments. Thank you.


  23. Thanks for this amazingly coincidental and very useful explanation-I was just looking around the web at stay tapes yesterday and trying to understand why, when, and where to use them.

  24. This really is an issue that separates the women from the girls! I worked in a fabric store for three years and I don't think I ever sold a single package of seam tape. Probably because there really isn't a lot of info about what it does or how to use it correctly. I, myself, never have. I can't wait to use your suggestions on my next project since I seem to have problems getting necklines to finish properly. Thanks!

  25. Nice post! I recently tried using stay tape on the neckline darts of this Burda jersey blouse: http://bit.ly/cogH7Q

    If I make the blouse again I will use 3/8" clear elastic, as I've seen it used as stabilizer in RTW jersey garments.

  26. Wow that was so informative! I've learnt so much :)

  27. I used Seams Great to cover the fraying edges of my corduroy skirt but does it really stabilize anything? It seemed way too flexible and stretchy to do that.

  28. You can make your own fusible stay tape by cutting strips from your leftover bits of fusing - you often only need short lengths, and can choose if you want straight or bias!
    I regularly use a lightweight fusible knit interfacing on my knits (not really stretchy knits though) for facings or reinforcing elsewhere.

  29. I've often seen this on my vintage patterns (either as a pattern piece or in the instructions) so thank you for the big explanation and the comments as well sewing friends!

    When I start to feel professional I'll get into this for sure, I like the idea of saving off cuts from other fabrics and interfacing pieces rather than buying new. ALWAYS thrifty in my sewing room!

  30. Great post & great tips- sewing more loosely-woven lawns and so forth this spring/summer, stay tape has become my best friend! I need to learn a lot more about the different options out there though, especially with interfacing.

    This may be dumb question- but how do you stabilize wool crepe before you cut it? What do you use/what do you do? Trace & hand-baste bits of whatever you'd use on there? I feel like I'd distort more trying to do that!

  31. Great post Gertie! I haven't used the tpe before but I frequently use the interfacing and stay stitching methods.
    There is definetly a lack of info out there about using these types of notions, Another one of those simple things that can make a huge difference to end result and wear and tear of our garments, but we forget about or dismiss because we dont know what the hell they are or what we do with it! lol!

    :-) Ruby Slippers

  32. ohh that looks fun. have never seen the tape at my local sewing place. must search for some! thanks gertie :-D

  33. I use stay tapes pretty regularly - I buy a cheap white or black woven tape. I don't know if I do it right or not, but it always seems to work out. Like Amy, I use clear elastic on knits. It is a very useful product and gives a great edge to fold a hem over. I also keep a box of interfacing offcuts and use them when I can. This is a very interesting topic and makes me realise how little I really know about sewing!

  34. Using the selvage edge is a fab idea. Especially as it "recycles" a bit that normally gets tossed out. Thanks for the tip!!

  35. Advanced BeginnerJune 16, 2010 at 11:08 AM


    I don't know for sure, but given what I've read by Kenneth King, I'd imagine that you'd treat the two pieces as one, pinning, then hand basting the stabilizer to the wool crepe fashion fabric, then chalking the pattern over the two and then cutting.

    He suggests a similar method for handling underlining, I believe.

  36. Another question. Do you need to apply the stay tape to both pieces of fabric (meaning the two pieces you are sewing together) or just one?

    What if you are using a serger to finish the seam allowances? Do you go right over the tape (or tapes) and does that get really bulky? Or am I missing something?

  37. Ok I'm amazed no one has mentioned it yet (especially since Burda magazine is NUTS for the stuff), but Vilene bias tape is just plain AWESOME. I never, ever stay stitch anymore - I fuse that stuff on necklines, shoulder areas, anywhere it needs it. It's cheap, quick, and awesome. I get mine from SewEssential.co.uk and I know they ship quite happily to the USA, too (because apparently this stuff is rather hard to find in the States).

  38. Gertie, thanks for that post! You have NO idea how long I've been wondering what bias tape is supposed to do. I'm a little ashamed . . . a lot ashamed. Anyway, thanks.

  39. Thank you!

    I've just started reading your blog in the last couple of months. I am so enjoying it. I am making a project and this exact topic came up. I am so glad I have been reading your blog so I can refer back to it. Thanks for sharing your wonderful tips.


  40. Gertie,

    I'm really understanding how to attach the sew in stay tape do you think you could do a picture/video tutorial?

  41. I'm using fusible tape on the armholes and neckline of a a knit dress. Should I fuse it to the front and back pieces or just the front pieces? Thanks!

  42. amazing sewing stitching techniques and samples thanks

  43. Hi Gertie! I was so happy to see your post so that I could see what Stay Tapes are. The pattern I am working on calls for it, but I have never heard of it before. You've cleared up some confusion, however, I am using this on a knit. I know this is beyond your area of knowledge. This makes me a little sad. Back to Google it is! Thanks for the insight!

  44. Thank you for this post! The pattern I am currently sewing calls for stay tape but I had no idea where I was supposed to sew it apart from at the seam. I am using the sew in type so now I know to put it just inside the seam allowance. The pattern was a little unclear it just said 'on seams' so thank you for this! I love discovering little techniques like this to help improve my sewing.

  45. I think the placement is still confusing. I understand that the tape should be placed so that the tape is caught in the seam when facings are joined to garment. If the tape is sewn to the facing (as opposed to fused), it should be sewn in just inside the seam line. But either way, the tape should be caught in the seam, is that right? Or is it meant only to stablize the fabric from the seam to the outer cut edge?

    Thanks for clarification

  46. forgive me as i hope to add to the discussion rather than use up space. i am just a most humble advanced beginner. certainly not formally trained nor decades of skills experience. but i pay attention, i care and do a lot of internet searching.

    most recently, my search was for an alternative to McCall's 6694 instruction to use bias tape on the open front, neck edge and sleeves since reading (i need to begin taking notes for proper references, my bad) somewhere that this is an outdated technique which i fully bought given my own experience. i never see it in RTW and it is too bulky for LW knits. i LOVE knits both working with and wearing.

    my bff is about to receive a production of M6694 in a lightweight rayon spandex knit (red). she'll look great in it. i finally tried Pellon Stick-N-Tear Sew-In Stabilizer. it is primarily for embroidery (i guess?) but the box front says "and knit fabrics". so i trimmed a strip using the handy pre-print grid, stuck it to the inside seam edge, and serged it. now, having a perfect guide, turned over once, pressed and used a ric rack stitch sewn from the inside rather than a top stitch which prevented the front/neck from stretching. its beautiful, although i haven't washed it yet. the edge is super nice, it hangs perfectly, looks and feels exactly like RTW made with clear elastic -- something i considered using but wanted something easier to apply.

    anyway, for what it's worth...
    warm regards

  47. I am a beginning sewer, having made only 4 items so far, and I bought Dritz Stay Tape today, because I am having a problem with the edges of a bias-cut open-backed dress stretching. I could not figure out exactly where to place the tape, and your blog entry told me exactly what I needed to know. It may be 3 years since you posted this blog entry, but it is still helping seamstresses improve their skills. Thank you.

  48. I am confused, what is the difference between stay tape and vilene bias tape?? Thanks so much.

  49. Thank you for this post. I bought Seams Great, but the instructions don't actually tell how to use the product. Guess it'll be trial and error.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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