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.
And we're back! I hope you all had a lovely New Year's celebration. I certainly did, but I'm excited to jump back into the sew-along. And jump we shall! Today I'm writing about not one, not two, but THREE different ways to stabilize a neckline. As you add more handmade garments to your wardrobe, you'll start to see how easily a neckline can stretch. Any portion of a garment that is partially on the bias can become pulled out of shape in time. You may not notice it right away, but after wearing a dress for a year, you may start to see gaping around a neckline. Not to mention that you can stretch a neckline all too easily during construction. Here's how to avoid stretching before, during, and after construction.
Before you try any of these methods, do yourself a favor and mark your seamline around your neck with chalk or a disappearing marker. Mine is marked in purple disappearing marker in the photos below.
1. Method #1: Stay Stitching
This is the easiest method, and if you're just starting out, give this a try. Stay stitching is also the most common way to stabilize, and the one that you'll see included in pattern directions.
All you have to do is run a line of stitching just within your seam allowance. Your stitch length should be shorter than usual, around 2 mm long. My stitching is in white below, indicated by the red arrows.
The theory is that thread does not stretch, so it will keep the neckline itself from stretching, especially in a short, tight stitch. You can stay stitch any part of a garment, and it's never a bad idea. Because the stitching is within your seam allowance, it won't show on the outside of the garment.
Method #2: Bias Strips of Fusible Interfacing
You may have seen pre-packaged fusible stay tape around, but it's easy to make your own by cutting strips of it. I use woven fusible interfacing. For straight seams and necklines, cut your strips on the straight grain. For a curvy neckline like ours, cut your strips on the bias.
This method will work best if you're not underlining your dress. If you have an underlining, the bias strip will only be fused to the underlining layer, which is only half the battle.
Fold your interfacing on a 45 degree angle and use a clear gridded ruler to make strips. I made mine 1/2". A rotary cutter is the fastest way to do this, but you can also mark your cutting lines with chalk or marker and cut with shears.
Position the strips on top of the neckline seamlines, centering over the stitching lines.
On the curvy sweetheart portion, you'll need to manipulate the bias strips with your fingers. Because they're cut on the bias, they'll stretch around the curves easily.
Fuse the strips in place with your iron.
Here's a sample of the kind of curve you can get with a bias strip, indicated by my handy red arrow. (Sorry, my sample strip isn't showing up too well on the muslin!)
The bias strips just add another layer of stability. The only problem is that, being on the bias themselves, the strips can only provide so many stability on their own. If you want to get serious, it's time to pull out the big guns. Which brings us to . . .
Method #3: Silk Organza Strips on the Straight Grain
I learned this method from a post by Kenneth King on Threads.com. I think it's brilliant. He suggests doing all these steps before your piece is cut out, but I do them afterwards. If a fabric was really spongy and stretchy (like some wool crepes, for instance), I would add that step. Definitely read Kenneth's post if you're interested in this method, but I'll show you how I did my Crepe neckline below.
First, cut out your organza strips on the lengthwise grain. The lengthwise grain has the least amount of stretch, so it's ideal for this job.
Tear off a bunch of strips that are about 1-1/2" wide by 10" long. I do a ton at once and then save them for other projects.
Press some of your strips in half lengthwise, so they're 5" instead of 10". They're now doubled-up.
Make a bunch of these.
You'll also need some smaller strips, so cut some of the other 10" long strips in half.
Press them in half; these are now 2-1/2", doubled up.
Start pinning the strips in place along the long straight side of the neckline.
You'll need two strips; they can overlap by about 1/2". Cut off any excess on the second strip.
Now you need to do the curvy bit, which is what you'll need those short strips for. Start pinning short strips around the sweetheart portion of the neckline.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the grain of the organza strips must be parallel to the seamline (the one marked in purple at the beginning of this post.) In the picture below, you can see the grain of the strip already placed with the red arrow. I've marked how the rest will be positioned with the yellow arrows. You'll need to keep the organza grain parallel to the seamline. Does that make sense?
Cut your strips down as needed. Here's how mine looked.
Next, hand baste the strips in place.
Now, take the piece to your machine and stay stitch right within the seam allowance. My stay stitching is in white thread, indicated by the red arrow below.
You can take out the basting stitches around the neckline. From the outside, you can just see the row of stay stitching, but that will be hidden in the seam allowance once the facing is sewn on. (Side note: you can trim down the silk organza strips once the facing is sewn on, if you feel they're adding bulk.)
For this dress, I would also recommend stabilizing the back neckline—the wrap edges on the back.
I'll be back this week to talk about interfacing your facing pieces. So, just to recap: at this point, we have our bodice and skirt pieces underlined and cut out, and now our neckline is stabilized. In the next step, we'll cut out our facings, sash, and pockets, and then fuse interfacing onto our facing pieces. I'll also show you how to draft new facings if you've made a bunch of alterations that will affect them. From there, will be getting into the real sewing! Stitching darts and assembling the bodice. Woo hoo!