Monday, January 3, 2011

Crepe Sew-Along #8: Three Ways to Stabilize a Neckline

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 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!



  1. Hi Gertie,
    thanks for the tips. I'm always a bit scared about necklines stretching out. Do you know what they use in RTW? Would clear elastic caught in the seamline help on wovens as well as jerseys do you think?
    Plus, if a neckline is topstitched does that help to prevent stretching at all?
    Sorry to bombard you with questions!

  2. Hi Gertie - I just wanted to say thank you for your work on this sew-along. Your explanations are always so clear and easy to follow!

  3. Saranne, thank you for the kind words!

    Betty, I believe stay tape is used in ready to wear on wovens, according to an FIT textbook I have. On the subject of clear elastic in wovens, I did read a Sew Stylish article that suggested using it on a sundress neckline to keep it close to the body. I've never done it myself. Topstitching probably will help in the long run, but it won't help you during construction because it comes later in the process.

  4. Gertie, what do you think about stabilizing the armholes? From my muslins it seemed as though the lower parts were experiencing a lot of stress. Did you experience that as well?

  5. That's interesting. I would have thought the facing would stabilize the neckline. Read and learn....

  6. There is one other possibility, which works very good.
    Cut organza bias strips around 4cm wide (1,6 inch) and stretch it under the iron. You´ll get a much thiner strip which still stretch around the curves.
    We always used that method, when we worked with thin material and off course evening dresses.

  7. Love that Carline in blue!

  8. Lizzy, I totally agree that staying the armholes would be a good idea. Or at least the underarms. I'll have to take a look at it when I get home tonight.

    Thanks for that bias organza tip!

  9. Just a quick question about the organza method -- why do you double up the strips? Extra staying power? It seems like it might end up a little bulky since the strips are overlapping quite a bit in the finished product as well.

    Thanks for the tutorial, awesome as usual!

  10. centrallyisolated, Kenneth says in the comments on his post that the doubled-up organza is for double stability, but if you're using a thin or sheer fabric like chiffon, you can use a single layer instead. I guess it all depends on your fashion fabric.

  11. Hi Gertie,
    I just wanted to say a huge thank you for this sew-along; being an 'E' cup (not as much fun as you might think!), nothing has ever fit properly, but your shaped darts are amazing - my boobs are actually accommodated in a flattering way, not to mention all the brilliant techniques you are sharing with us.

    Thank you again.

  12. Great tutorial!

    Maybe you've covered this and I missed it, but for those who've done a FBA we now have more width at the waist. Do you have the method on how to alter the skirt pieces so they fit?

  13. Super helpful tips! I'm lazy about stay stitching and I always pay the price. Thanks for the post.

  14. Just what I needed!!! Until - silk organza. Something I've looked for numerous times, and have never managed to find. I wonder if anything else would work?

  15. Should we do the back neckline in one long strip? Or just lots of 10" strips folded in half the whole way?

  16. King shows doing this stabilizing before even cutting out the piece... should we do that?

    Also DAGBLASTIT! I lost my organza! I will be tearing apart the sewing room tonight looking for it, if the big fat devious dashchund doesn't tempt me into taking a nap with her again.

  17. Gertie, I just checked out Kenneth King's post and I noticed that he presses the strips in half lengthwise. Is there a particular reason why you do it crosswise?

  18. New follower here! Love, love, love what you're doin' over here. I'm a freelance clothing designer, so it's awesome to see you rockin' your stuff! Congrats on your book, too.
    Kristina J.

  19. Thanks, Kristina!

    Lizzy, I think I just misread the post! When I fold mine in half lengthwise, they look too skinny to me. (Also, I always get confused by the word lengthwise! I can never remember which way that is!)

    Caryn, check out the first paragraph of the silk organza section, where I address your question. Sorry you lost your organza!

    Nicole, you could do the back in one long strip, as long as it's doubled up.

    Sarah, have you tried online for silk organza? I've seen lots of places that sell it.

    Hi Kelly, I've only addressed that just in comments, I think. You basically just need to widen your skirt as much as you widened your bodice. If you're not sure how much bigger you made your bodice, measure each piece and add to the skirt side seams until they match.

    Gaylene, I'm glad the shaped darts are working well for you! Aren't they the best? They're just more flattering, no matter what your bust size, I think.

  20. I can't find the organza in my sewing room. Crap. I am going to make do with some polyester organza.

  21. If you were sewing a lined dress, would you stabilize both the lining and the fashion fabric separately?


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

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