Monday, December 20, 2010

Crepe Sew-Along #7: Underlining 101

Woo hoo, almost time to cut our fabric! Things are shaping up nicely in the Flickr pool; always feel free to stop by, upload pics, and ask questions about fit—or anything else!

Today I'm going to walk you through cutting out your underlining, which I'll remind you is an optional step. First, a couple distinctions in terms:

Lining: this is a separate layer of fabric, usually of a slippery texture, that hangs freely within your garment to keep it from riding up or clinging to you. I won't be going over lining this pattern.

Underlining: This is a second layer of fabric, cut from your main pattern pieces, that gets basted to your fashion fabric and then the two layers function as one piece of fabric, rather than hanging separately. Underlining is most commonly silk organza or cotton bastiste. It adds body and opacity to your fashion fabric. As well, the color of your underlining can influence your fashion fabric, and you can use this to your advantage. I'm using a bright white cotton batiste underlining to add opacity (and keep the facings from showing through to the outside of the dress) and to brighten the ivory background of my fabric. I'll be showing you how to underline your dress today. (This is also sometimes called interlining, and it's one of those terms that people use differently and everyone is sure that their way is the best! I won't get involved in that heated debate; we'll just call it underlining for the purpose of this sew-along.)

Interfacing: This is a special material, either fusible or sew-in, that gets attached to crucial parts of your garment to add stability and structure. We'll be adding fusible interfacing to our dress facings in a later step to add structure to the neckline of the dress.

So, are you ready to underline? I'm going to get you started on the bodice pieces. I'll try to cover lots of step-by-step cutting instructions since this is a beginner's sew-along. Don't be afraid to ask plenty of questions!

First, lay out your underlining fabric on a fold. Your cut edge of your fabric should be on-grain. The easiest way to do this is to cut a snip into the selvage and tear, letting it rip on grain. It will do this naturally if you just rip.

(Do you like my fancy photo work? My fellow blogger and real-life friend Robin let me in on her secrets of labeling photos like this. Thanks, Robin! You can double-click the labeled photos to see the text easier.)

Make sure that your pattern pieces are on grain. This is the back piece; it has a "floating grainline" (an arrow marked in the middle of the piece) that you'll need to measure to make sure it's parallel to the fold of the fabric.
Here's the front bodice piece. It has an arrowed bracket that gets placed on the fold line rather than a floating grainline.
Cut out your underlining pieces. You now need to use your tracing paper to mark both sides of your underlining fabric. I'm using a pale yellow tracing paper. The yellow is kind of hard to see on white, but that's preferable to using a bright color that might show through to the outside of the dress and will be hard to wash out. Make sure to mark your darts, circles, and grainline.
Clip into your notches now too. I just take a little snip into my notches rather than cutting them out completely.

Now that you've got your underlining pieces cut out and marked, you'll want to lay out your fashion fabric, wrong side up. Straighten the grain on the cut edge, as you did with your underlining. You will be using a single layer layout for your fashion fabric. 

Open out your front bodice underlining piece, and lay it out on your fashion fabric, keeping the grainline straight. Your marked side should be facing up. Pin it in place temporarily.

Now you're going to attach the underlining to the fashion fabric by basting it by hand. I used silk thread here. Baste within the seam allowances around all the edges of the piece. Also baste up the dart legs, right inside the stitching lines.

 Once you're finished basting, cut out your fashion fabric around your underlining piece.

 Here it is from the wrong side:

 And the right side:

Now this piece can be treated as one for the rest of construction!

Homework: repeat this for the back bodice pieces. Move on to the skirt pieces next. (Important: if you made your bodice wider or narrower, remember to compensate for this on the skirt pieces by adding or removing width from the skirt side seams. You'll want them to match up easily to your bodice pieces.)

You only need to underline the front bodice, back bodice, skirt front, and skirt back pieces. Lay your underlined pieces neatly aside (be careful of stretching out the neckline or skirt waistline edges as you're handling them).

The next step will be stabilizing the neckline. I'll show you a couple methods, one with silk organza, and another with bias cut strips of fusible interfacing. (I know some people couldn't find silk organza.) I'm unsure if I will get to this before or after Christmas right now. The holidays are creeping up rapidly and I know lots of us are looking forward to some family time and celebrations. More to come!


  1. Absolutely fantanstic tutorial!

    Thank You

  2. Hi Gertie,
    Wow, thank you! I know this is a stupid question but what is clipping into your notches? I'd rather look silly and know the answer : )

  3. I’m surprised by the recommendation to underline the skirt too. Seems to me it would have the potential to create wrinkles between the underlining and face fabric. Wouldn’t it also impact the drape and swing of the skirt? I’m wondering if a standard (separate) skirt lining would be better here? (I don’t have a lot of experience with underlining; hence, the confusion.)

  4. Hi Diana, skirts are very commonly underlined. They actually reduce wrinkling and improve the hang of the skirt by adding body. They also give you something to attach you hem stitches to, so your hem is truly invisible.

    You certainly don't have to underline, though, and if you prefer to line (which is indeed a valid option, though one I won't be providing instructions for), feel free!

  5. Oh, and Fay! I'm referring to the notches on the side seams of the pattern, which help you match up your pieces. A lot of people cut out their notches into little triangles. I prefer to just make a tiny snip into them and then match up my snips. Make sense?

    Though, it should be noted, that there seems to be a drafting error in this pattern and the side seam notches don't actually match up. You can easily rectify this by placing the front and back pattern pieces together so that the side seams match up, and then re-drawing the notches so they match.

  6. Hi Gertie

    I went out before you posted this and bought a lining fabric (because I was impatient and didn't understand the difference!) is it ok to use this material still?


  7. Poppy, I'm assuming you bought a slippery lining fabric, in which case, that won't work for underlining. Underlining needs to have more body and grip, which is why I recommended batiste in my supplies post. You could line your dress instead, but unfortunately I won't have time to provide instructions for that. I don't think it would be too difficult to figure out though.

  8. Ah! I needed this! I'm not doing the sew-along but I just bought four yards of Seventies-but-looks-rather-Forties floral print cotton (cotton-poly, more likely) at a secondhand store and it's absolutely what I wanted for one of my patterns, but it seriously needs underlining. White + lightweight = loads of embarrassment potential, in addition to the fact that it's really not substantial enough fabric to hold the shape the pattern intends. I was debating how to handle all this, but, well, problem solved.

  9. Hi Gertie,

    I've been waiting for this underline post since I heard about your sew-along! I don't think I will be using an underlining (my fabric is opaque and sturdier enough), but I will definitely use it when making the sheer, chiffon dress I have in mind for my step mom.

    No questions arise for this particular tutorial. . . Great job writing this up! Thanks for taking the time to explain. And I do find your fun, graphic notes to be very helpful.


  10. Thanks for another great tutorial! Your muslin tutorials taught me a lot!! I have a question. You say "if you made your bodice wider or narrower, remember to compensate for this on the skirt pieces by adding or removing width from the skirt side seams." Can you clarify? My bodice is wider than my skirt size, and I don't quite understand how I add onto the skirt to make it fit the bodice seams without making the skirt too wide in the hips.

  11. Hi Jilly, good question. Let's say you added 1/2" to each side seam. You'll also need to add 1/2" to the side seam of your skirt pieces. If you don't want to add that 1/2" all the way down to the hem, you can use a long ruler (like a yardstick) to connect your new side seam mark to your *original* size at the hem. Make sense?

  12. Thanks for the pointers, Gertie!
    P.s. Did you change your mind on the black and white zigzag?

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Nicole: nope, it's basted to the wrong side of the fashion fabric. See where I say to lay your fashion fabric out wrong side up?

  15. lazystitching, I did change my mind. The blue roses were calling to me. :)

  16. Gertie,
    I'm not doing the sew-along but I have to confess every since you constructed a dress with the Liberty Red Roses - I've been pining for the blue roses - I can't wait to see how this turns out! I'm having a blast reading along!

  17. Hi Gertie, I was wondering if I was using a sturdier cotton, a bit more like quilting cotton, would there be a problem if I underlined the skirt but not the bodice? I think the skirt would hang better with the underling, but I'm worried that it will be too heavy for the bodice.

  18. Thanks Gertie! It does make sense. Sometimes I confuse myself when I start trying it myself, so I'll let you know if I have further questions. :)

  19. I feel like patting myself on the back. I don't think underlining would have crossed my mind without some past posts (the red lace in particular). This weekend I made a dress with a crepe back satin and a sheer swiss dot I have had for years in my stash. It turned out great and reading your tutorial it seems I was thinking in the right lines.

    Great post even for those of us not doing the sew along. Thanks for the inspiration and technique.

  20. Gorgeous fabric! I thought it was liberty from the photos. I have some of the same that I'm too scared to cut into, I can't wait to see how your dress turns out.

  21. I'm not doing the sew-along but I'm really enjoying reading along!

    This post about silk organza and underlining got me thinking about interfacing sheer fabrics (that are not underlined).

    I think I've read on your blog or elsewhere that you can use silk organza for this. Its not so easy to source for me. There's lots of polyester organza though, and it has similar body.

    What do you think about polyester organza as a substitute for interfacing sheers?

  22. Help -- 3 questions!

    1) I'm trying to figure out if I need an underlining. I'm using a cotton which is a multi-colored floral on a brown background. It's not see through, but if I hold it up in front of my Ott light I can kind of make out my hand behind it.

    2) If I underline is it okay to use white batiste (which I can get locally)? Or should I look for a different color?

    3) About Silk Organza: has some which they say is "7mm in weight." Is this the right stuff?

    Thanks for any help. I'm feeling incredibly intimidated despite the well written tutorials.

  23. What pretty fabric and I am so glad you are enjoying Snag-It. It is fun to use! I also love reading the comments. So many new-to-sewing folks are digging in and learning dress-making. It is encouraging!

  24. Hi Catholic Bibliophagist, it sounds like you don't need to underline for opacity. There are other reasons to underline, like having something to anchor your internal stitches to (hems and facings and such) so that they won't show on the outside. But if you're feeling overwhelmed, you could definitely just skip the underlining.

    White batiste should be fine with your fabric, though it's always hard to say without seeing it.

    As for silk organza, the type you linked to should be fine. In fact, it sounds very high quality.

    Don't worry, you're doing great!

  25. Guys, we are screwing up. Inspired by a comment on flickr, I closely examined the finished garment shown on the Colette site, and the horizontal darts are SUPPOSED TO BE that high to control that ugly bunching at the armholes.

  26. Gertie,
    Have finished my "muslin" of bodice, which, now I like the fabric so much, am going to use as the true bodice. I had to start with a size 10 due to bust measurement, however, it is quite large( Perfect in the bust though) and I have graded the side seams quite a bit. My question, do I continue with size 10 for skirt, or choose a smaller size.
    Thank you so much for sharing your talent!!


  27. Hello !

    Question about cutting out the skirt pieces - Piece K says to cut out 4. Is it best to fold the fabric over and cut the 4 pieces all out at once? Or to cut out 2 at a time?



  28. hi gertie- i'm having second thoughts about my underlining fabric. I bought a plain white cotton, but it's not a batiste- it's a bit thicker. my fashion fabric is cotton voile- should I get a batiste instead? are cotton/polyester batiste blends ok?

  29. You all may want to check out this cool tip on underling

  30. Caryn, that's so cool! Thanks for sharing.

    evann, it's hard to say without seeing the fabrics. If the thicker cotton affects the drape of the voile adversely, then yes, you'll want something thinner. Hold pieces of them together and see how they work. Poly blends are totally fine; that's what I'm using.

    Katherine, it's possible to cut 4 pieces at once, but I think it's best to stick to 2 at a time. It's hard enough to keep the grainline straight on two layers of fabric!

    Tricia, your bodice needs to fit into your skirt pieces. So either take in the waist of the size 10 skirt the same amount you did the bodice side seams or start with a smaller size that matches your new waistline measurement.

  31. Hi & thanks for all the advice! I was wondering if anyone could offer advice on if I should underline or not - my fabric is a medium weight cotton, so I am a bit worried about making it too stiff by underlining as I'm not really looking for extra body. However, it is a bit see through and it looks like the facings may show through faintly, which I'd really like to avoid. any words of wisdom??


  32. I'm frustrated that I found this several years after the initial post but I never daw an answer to the "sewinggelle's" question about using poly organza. I have a bunch of that I bought to use for making reupholstery patterns. I had some linen in my stash from a grab bag purchase and wanted to unline for the anti wrinkling effect. Is poly organza a substitute for silk or would it be better to go with the batiste?

  33. Well fitting have shared a amazing cutting procedure, you have guide us very beautifully...


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

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