Saturday, October 1, 2011

How Would You Sew this Neckline?

Happy weekend, readers! For once I am home in my pjs rather than gallivanting around the country. I'm working on a project for an article (that's all I can say about that for now, but more to come) and I've hit a slight roadblock. The question is: what is the best way to sew an illusion neckline like the one on the Peggy Hunt dress above?

A few thoughts:

  1. I originally thought this kind of yoke would be made in a mesh illusion fabric, but later decided it must be chiffon. It has a floatiness (is that a word?) to it rather than the fitted mesh of a figure skater's costume.
  2. I can only find this kind of design addressed in one sewing book, Singer's out-of-print Sewing for Special Occasions. The text suggests making a double layer of sheers--one is a lining and one is the outer layer. Sew right sides together, trim down the seam allowances, and flip right sides out. The problem with this method is that a double layer spoils the super-sheer effect of the dress above. I can't imagine that it's more than one layer.
  3. The neckline above seems to resemble a serger's rolled hem, no? It looks more like thread than fabric at the edges. Do you think that's possible given the time period? Also, would you use a serger rolled hem around a curved neckline? I would worry about stretching out the bias.
  4. The other option is to bind the neckline with self fabric. But it seems that would give a wider effect rather than the narrow edge in the photo. (And also be a major pain to sew in chiffon!)
Whew! I've been thinking about this a lot--can you tell?  I'd love to hear your thoughts. And here a couple more Peggy Hunt beauties to get your creative wheels turning.



All these photos were taken from this Peggy Hunt photo collection on Flickr. I credit Sarai with introducing me to its wonders!

77 comments:

  1. All I can think is that it might be a very fine hand rolled hem. But other than that, I have no idea! Hope you're enjoying sewing in your PJs, and kitty cuddles.

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  2. I'm thinking hand-rolled, too. It reminds me of some of the nicer silk scarves I have.

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  3. I take it back. I just inspected a late '50s dress in my closet with and illusion neckline of sorts, and it is a binding that is just about the same width as those pictures. Yikes!

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  4. If I were tackling this neckline, I'd find a couture sewing book - I've checked them out at my local library and they have amazing techniques. I've been sewing for over 40 years and have yet to indulge myself in this type of neckline. Good luck!

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  5. Hello there,

    The sheer fabric may be a silk organza, and maybe the neckline was a hand stitched rolled hem, possibly reinforced with a very narrow bias strip cut from the organza?

    Shawn

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  6. In 1957 our minister's wife hand rolled a tiny hem all around the edge of my silk illusion wedding veil, and it looked just like this. I'd try that out on a bit of extra fabric if you have any.

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  7. I think it's probably a bound hem in self-fabric or color-matching organza. Press a bias strip in half, sew along the edge with just 3/16 inch of the fold extending, trim seam allowances, press back, and topstitch down the folded edge from the front side. Incredibly fiddly, but in silk, possible. It would give you the effect that you see. Also, a migraine.

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  8. I would vote 3 thread serger with a very narrow gauge and 20+ SPI (stitches per inch). I have found this on some vintage lingerie and slips I have. They did make those sewing machines back then, so if it was a "mass produced" style it is possible that it could have used it. Do you have the garment or just a photo?
    To reproduce I'd vote doing the above with a fluff thread aka wooly nylon.

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  9. really interested to read the outcome of this post. I've always wanted to sew something like this but have never started as that is the first question I would have! Thanks for asking the question, can't wait to see the variety of answers :o)

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  10. this photo of a damaged dress looks like it has a single layer of silk chiffon; can't tell about that edge though! Wish she'd taken closeups! I vote hand-finished though.

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  11. Sew around the neckline about three times one on top of the other or use a thicker thread in the bobbin. This will stabilize the neckine. Trim fairly close to the stitching. Roll this edge between your fingers a couple of times and hand stitch around the little "tube" to keep it turned under. Iron it flat if you wish. My mother used to do this on fine lace, chiffon, and fine Irish linen. It was beautiful.

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  12. The way I deal with this sort of neckline on evening or bridal is really simple - I stay stitch the neck at the stitching line, then trim really close, taking care not to snip any of the stitches - then I do two passes with a narrow zig zag - all set! It gives the vintage look you are going for - very delicate looking but strong!

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  13. I think even if you used a machine method it would end up taking as long for a beautiful finish than just doing it by hand. I'd run a line of hand basting and trim to a smidge under 1/4" and hand roll it with a matching thread and a long skinny sharp, and soft tension. Hope your entire weekend is spend jammie dancing!

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  14. I think no-one suggested this yet, so I am going to just give it my best guess.

    Perhaps it's done by buttonhole stitches using a sleek silkthread?

    I totally agree with the others who said it must be hand-made. But then again, I seem to believe that all nice finnishing must be done by hand :) It fits with the era!

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  15. I would put my vote on a hand rolled hem or a very very tiny bias binding (bifocals included). Regardless, if you figure out how to do this I would love to know! I have a 1940s pattern that I want to do but it does not address the second view with the illusion top neckline. I have no idea how you are supposed construct the dress bodice and keep your ladies from swinging in the breeze so to speak. I'll stick a pic on my blog in case anyone is curious. Any advise or ideas are most welcome too!

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  16. It looks like a hand-sewn rolled hem to me. I've sewn one for the veil of a belly-dance costume. It's quite time-consuming but that's the only way to get such a tiny, narrow finish.

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  17. A hand rolled hem would not give you that very fine line at the neck. I would do a machine baby hem. There are several ways to do this. If you have Kenneth Kings book he has instructions. Claire Shaeffer has instructions in one of her books as well.

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  18. To me the sheer is more than likely a silk illusion rather than chiffon. This would give the sheerness, softness against the skin and more stability to work with than chiffon.

    I would cut a tissue pattern piece of the neckline and sew the illusion bodice and a narrow strip of illusion together at the seam line on top of the tissue pattern in order to keep any stretch in control.

    Then trim very closely to the stitching. And trim the strip so as to fold over twice (very, very narrowly) and hand stitch. Since illusion does not fray I might do a test of one and of two turns. Then decide which is best.

    However, I am anxious to see everyone's ideas.

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  19. I've got a tute on my blog on how to do this type of finish. Try: http://lasewist.blogspot.com/2009/06/sheer-hem-technique.html

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  20. A second thought using my method..could the strip not be turned over the tiny trimmed seam and machine stitched using very small stitches on the edge and then trim the illusion strip next to the stitches? There would be no issue with the illusion fraying.

    Just a thought as I am sure you will be doing a lot of samples.

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  21. I would cut it with 3/8"SA, I would fold 1/4" under, stitch just under 1/8" from the fold line, trim SA to 1/16" from stitchline. fold under 1/8". My stitchline is just to the back my new fold. now I edgestitch the first fold to the garment for a narrow handkerchief hem. For a nice finishing detail, I might try a technique from Threads Nov 2010 issue "Coco's Cuffs" page 34. Take matching embroidery thread and whipstitch over my topstitching -catching each machine stitch for a subtle embossed effect.

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  22. @Bunny, genius! I MUST find that starch! It's so simple even I could do it!

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  23. I am thinking a hand application as well. After cutting the fabric, stabilize it on a pinning board with very fine T pins. Lightly starch it there and let it dry. Carefully remove it from the board and with a matching silk thread trace one or two threads inside of the seam allowance. (roll line) Then with the same silk thread, hand roll and secure the edge. I will check my couture books and see if there are any other suggestions.

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  24. I like Bethzookie's idea of ELVES!!! Send them to my house. All these suggestions sound great- you have really smart people on your blog! These dresses are stunning- I look forward to hearing how you handle this and to reading your article. It reminds me slightly of a neckline on a dress that Emma Stone wore in "The Help"- A peach colored dress. Would love to sew and wear that one.

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  25. I also think it looks more like a thread finish than fabric, but its really hard to tell. it seems like there might be a couple solutions to this.
    if you are very neat and precise you could try hand overcasting the edge, very close together...?

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  26. It could be a double layer of something like very fine silk tulle. It's probably just a very delicate hand rolled hem though.

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  27. Bunny's technique above and note her recommendation to use a see-through clear plastic foot.

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  28. just possibly they used a fine roll hem foot on the machine, OR, they may have done a minute french seam and trimmed off exces at the back, to leave a fine rolled looking edge.
    You really need a look at the real thing don't you?

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  29. Bunny I love your technique. I'll have to try that some time. I'm not an expert on sewing with sheers, but an idea came to mind. I think that a rolled hem or narrow zigzag over a very fine cord (embroidery floss or similar) might give a good finish. If I ever have a little free time (hah!) I'll grab some chiffon and give it a try.

    I know what you were thinking of doing this weekend, :(, but I'm really glad you're having a lovely day. Stay in your PJs, cuddle with the kitties and the DH and have a wonderful relaxing weekend!

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  30. i think it's a wee rolled hem, too. maybe by hand or using a very tiny modified zig-zag/buttonhole type machine stitch? imagine the skill that went into these pieces!! stunning.

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  31. Bunny's tutorial is awesome! You MUST look at her pic of a finished hem. GORGEOUS.

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  32. I don't know how a neckline like that was done at the time. I would howver use a two or three thread rolled hem on the serger. I would opt for two thread, I would use a light weight water soluble interfacing to support the neckline as i serged. This can then be washed a way later, and I would use the differential feed on the serger towards the gather setting. Not enough to gather but enough to feed the fabric through so it doesn't stretch. I would also release the presser foot pressure. I have used this finish on chiffon scarves, and sleeves and necklines of machine knits I have made on my knitting machine.

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  33. I think it's a rolled hem, maybe hand stitched over a cord or possibly machine stitched. I know that the rolled hem foot was available at least by 1917 as my treadle machine from that era has several rolled hem feet of vary widths, including one that is similar to the modern foot.

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  34. Silk Illusion Netting/Tulle...No? *LOOKS AROUND AT EVERYONE ELSE*

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  35. I would hand roll it with a whip stitch. I do them all the time.

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  36. You could also stabilize the edge by running a thread of button cord or even dental floss through the tube created by the hand roll edge.

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  37. I don't think it is any kind of a hem. I think it is two layers, stitched, trimmed less than an eight and turned. Any hem you try even by hand will result is some stretching, and I don't see any here.

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  38. Squinting at the first dress from many angles and recalling things I have read in the past, I believe the bodice is probably cut in a chiffon or organza as you have guessed. The a secind ne cut in lace 8)you can seer the chiffon layer through it) as far as the top of the bust (about camisole depth). Then lots and lots of lace appliques have been sewn across the join of lace and chiffon, building up the pattern and fixed in place with the rhinestones (you can see how that area is not a lace pattern and is different from the lace below). The same method/effect is used on wedding gowns.

    As for the neckline, it does look like a rolled hem. Sergers have been around for a long time, decades before they became domesticated in the 80's but you wouldn't expect that on a couture dress. I think the chiffon bias binding suggested above is very plausible but then its quite possible that it's hand rolled too.

    I've seen a lot of 50s dress patterns with an option for chiffon over a built in camisole. Off top of my head, don't recall if I have one in my stash, I wonder if one would hold the answers...?

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  39. My Aunt used to make dresses with similar necklines ~ she made two layer communion dresses for every one of her nieces and great nieces. I remember the fuss that was made over them when we were growing up, and I had the opportunity to watch her make one over a summer that I lived with her during college. She spent hours and hours on it over the course of months, and it was truly a work of art. The sheer overdress was made from silk tulle, and all of the embellishments as well as the neckline, sleeve finish and hem was done by hand. The neckline was done using a fine needle and silk thread. She would catch the very edge of the fabric and turn it under with stitches that were side by side with no space between them.

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  40. My guess is that they basted the neckline in, and then trimmed it and used the basting thread to make that super finely turned edge. It's just about the same fine width as a basted thread would be, no?

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  41. My vote would be for a hand-rolled hem as well. You could also bind it with a bias strip of illusion or stitch and turn a narrow silk ribbon.

    Another good way for this (and it works very easily around tight curves) is a narrow hem: machine stitch at 1/4" to 1/8" from the finished neckline and turn and press, rolling the stitching slightly to the back. Stitch again a hair's breadth from the first stitching and trim right up to the second stitching. Turn and press again and stitch for the last time on top of the prior stitching. Only one line shows in the front of the garment and with a little practice I can get this hem down under 1/8".

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  42. I'm not the most accomplished seamstress in the room, but I think I could get this look by cutting the neckline with a 3/8 seam allowance, doing a staystitch, then trimming close and then doing a very tiny zigzag. You could then press it under and do a tiny zigzag again?

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  43. I would very very tightly zig that neckline on the machine.

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  44. THIS MUST BE STITCHED BY HAND!!!

    If the dress has lace, Swarovski crystals, or any other handstitched treatment on the surface of the fabric, why would anyone in their right mind do all that work and then ruin the garment by stitching the neckline by machine?? (And I despise doing any handstitching myself, and am very willing to do most techniques by machine that others do by hand, but there are just times that handstitching is required.)

    I agree with Bunny that real starch should be used. This will give you the control you will need.

    Despite the fact that I am adament that the finished stitching should be done by hand, I really like Sewdarnlucky's suggestion of giving it a couple rows of straight-stitching first. This will stabilize the neckline and prevent it from stretching. In this case, two passes with a fine thread and very fine needle are better than one pass with a thick needle. If the stitch lengths are offset from each other very slightly, they will give the roll a nice, natural feeling, as opposed to being jagged the way one pass would be.

    Then, as everyone else has suggested: trim very close, handroll the edge over so that the edge and machine stitching is covered by two rolls. VERY tiny stitches made VERY close together will cause this edge to mimic the look of an itty-bitty self-binding.

    Gertie, I applaud you for challenging yourself with this task...I would have decided it wasn't worth the heartache. Can't wait to see the result!

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  45. I need to update my comment...I went on flickr and looked at the vast collection of photographs. This is a handrolled edge with a fine silk cord for stability, I think Richard described it in the most detail. The double stay-stitched edge that I mentioned in my previous post does basically the same thing, but the silk cording gives it a finer edge, and a FINER-LOOKING edge, too!

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  46. Gertie, the black lace one reveals the technique more clearly. The bodice is a solid under to above the bust, covered in lace, with the illusion above it (I go for a fine and soft silk organza as probable fabric. How you join the two together is up to you but you could even drape the illusion fabric over the bodice an inch or so and hand stitch it down. The next stage will completely enclose the raw edges. Then another layer of lace motifs is hand appliqued over the transition line, this lace looks slightly different from the other, but the techique works best when they are the same. Use fine scissors to carefully cut motifs from the all over lace, arrange artistically to dress while on a form, pin the bejeezuz out of it, take it off and carefully stitch in place with tiny stitches. Apply crystals etc by hand afterwards. Done! As for the edging, I'd be very surprised if someone hasn't answered this already (haven't time to read 46 posts!) but it looks like a tiny satin binding - fold a scant 1 inch satin bias cut strip longways and press. Sew both raw edges to the neckline with 1/4 inch seam, trim back to 1/8. Roll the folded edge to the inside and slip stitch. If you can get it finer, that is good, just reduce the satin strip accordingly. You can always use a darning needle to thread a piece of strong thread like crochet thread, through this tiny casing, to stop the neckline from stretching. :) Oh I am feeling nostalgic for wedding dress making, although with 500+ under my belt you'd think I'd be over it! :)

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  47. Oops, I had another look and I think it's not bound, it is hand rolled with a fine cord threaded through it afterwards to give it a better look and stability. This has probably been covered! And you weren't asking about the lace so all that typing for nothing :) Although if my answer helps in some way it will all be worth it hehehe

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  48. I imagine the vintage style is done with a hand rolled hem....but I think I would (if I had a really good thread match....) create and attach a facing (wait....I can hear the objections already...just wait!) pin it to a water soluble stabilizer (perhaps more than one layer) and give it a VERY fine zig zag or shell finish and then trim everything that isn't the exterior shell away and rinse.....this will be easiest when the neck can be laid flat which means before the side and back seams are finished. This also means that you HAVE to know the neckline is right before you approach it, so muslin and then muslin again for good measure. ;) k.

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  49. 1. Clear nail polish all around
    2. When dry, then a very fine hand rolled hem

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  50. You are truly talented- I love looking at all your designs!
    ♥MLE of the SIX.

    ps: I hope you don't mind but we featured you in one of our posts, You're very inspiring :)

    http://www.sixinthesuburbsblog.blogspot.com/

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  51. I checked one of my favourite resources: Haute Couture Techniques Tome 1, c1990, by Angelina di Bello. She gives two methods for a rolled edge.

    For natural fibres (chiffon or fine silk) she suggests a rolled edge (hem), rolled to the size of a fine pin that “must not be pressed so as to keep the roundness” (aka floatiness). For fabrics that fray, staystitch or zigzag the raw edge for easier rolling. She has close-up drawings, “Rolled edge - Steps 1-7!”

    Some of her pointers include: use the finest silk thread; no knot; it helps to moisten your thumb and forefinger but test this first to ensure it doesn’t stain your fabric; no hand cream on your hands because it’ll be more difficult to roll the fabric.

    “This method requires some practice and dexterity in order to achieve a rolled edge of an even width.” No kidding! If anyone can do it Gertie, it’s you.

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  52. Check out the Threads article on designer Valentina-- she worked with these fabrics often, and was a master at micro-hems and bias binding on sheer fabrics. I think that a petite rolled hem, done by hand, would work well, or maybe some self-fabric binding. But I think the key is doing it by hand.

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  53. Good luck Gertie! I would get Susan Khajie's number for this one. You have lots of good ideas in these comments.

    Very beautiful dresses. I would like to know the best way of doing this as well as I am totally inspired by Gucci's flapper dresses in their Spring 2012 collection. Surprise! They use lots of embellished chiffon!

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  54. Nix, I left longer post but it got eaten. Never mind I see someone else covered the same information so yay!
    Most of the suggestion for an edge will cause stretching Gertie, so what you need most is a counter stretching technique too. BTW I think this neckline is silk tulle - not the stuff dancers use, but the real deal. Easier to work with than chiffon or organza as it doesn't fray. I reckon the best way to get the look you want is to cord the neckline - use a cording foot (has a hole through it horizintally for the cording thread) using a fine silk cord and a fine zigzag in a fine silk thread. Carefully cord along the stitching line, ease the cord in afterwards if any stretching has occurred, super carefully trim the seam allowance back to just a 1/16 inch or so, and hand whip this to the back behind the cord. This is probably easier than it sounds, will remain completely stable, and will look purty. :)

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  55. Ok, my MIL says there's a special cording to do that with called limp cord (incorrect spelling), and its available in the UK..you sew over it and catch the hem:)

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  56. These are beautiful dresses & necklines. Thank you

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  57. My guess is simply a very small number (width) zig zag stitch but not so thick that it would put waves in the fabric.

    The same technique is used for bridal veils only for a veil it would be heaver threads because you would want that look.

    Can you check with Mary Adams of Party Dress, the book you mentioned?

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  58. I read somewhere that on fine sheer fabrics an easy way to hem the edge is to use a matching thread and crochet cotton and using a narrow zigzag stitch you sew over the crochet cotton and cut off the excess fabric that would have been the hem/seam.

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  59. Gertie, I doubt very much that this edge is serged. It looks more like a very tiny, hand-rolled hem to me, done the old fashioned way. (maybe your vintage Vogue sewing book has a section on this technique?). Either that or it is bound in a very thin bias strip of self fabric and applied by hand. I'm pretty sure it is a hand-rolled hem, though.

    Lois

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  60. Cording is a possibility, It'll also give it the floatiness!!!:O

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  61. Oh!! see many have guessed cording !! I am glad my guess is not way off!!

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  62. It's been said a few times, but I believe it's a a hand rolled edge as well ;) And I think you're right about the chiffon. I came across a late 40's wedding dress with a similar neckline and it appeared to be a very, VERY light weight silk chiffon.

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  63. Gertie, I, too, have been lusting over those Peggy Hunt dresses. They're amazing. I'm too intimidated to work with such sheer fabrics, but yes, if you figure out the best way, do pass it along to us!

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  64. I'm such a novice that I am really reluctant to make any suggestions. I read this hint just this afternoon on another blog. Perhaps you could cut the seam allowance along the neckline 1/4-1/2 inch wider, fold it in half, and then serge it. It might work.

    Gail D.

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  65. That definately looks like a hand rolled hem to me, too. As for the beadwork, they probably used a similar lightweight backing fabric and then trimmed around the work after finishing. It would have to support the weight of the beadwork without dragging on the neckline and mis-shaping it. It was probably boned around the chest to keep it up.

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  66. Hey Gertie,

    I just got this in my email box from Burda. Maybe this is the technique used for such a hem as the one on the dress neckline?

    http://www.burdastyle.com/techniques/how-to-sew-a-perfect-baby-hem

    Now that I've seen this I know that my sewing room is lacking one more thing...ban!

    Have a wonderful day!

    Debbie...(O:
    ><>

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  67. oh pretty!
    I guess it is possible to bind that tiny as long as your sewing machine is capable of sewing it on! The rolled hem hypothesis seems very feasible too. Whatever it is, it looks tricky, but lovely

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  68. Baby Hem - maybe using the ban roll technique that tailors use?

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  69. I think Kenneth King has a seam treatment like this in his Cool Couture. I don't own it, but I checked it out from the library a year ago, so my memory may not be on.

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  70. Overlock machines have been in commercial use since 1881, so it may indeed have been serged. When I first used one, in college, we still called them "merrow machines." This was a brand name, I think, named after the inventor. Soon after I learned to use -- and lusted for -- an overlock machine of my own, smaller versions were widely available for the home sewing market; from various manufacturers. I still want of the big, green monsters. Would have to reinforce the flooring of my home to support it, though.

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  71. Looks like rolled hem with fishing line

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  72. Wow, that's beautiful since I love chiffon. The first picture is my favorite. It has elegant design and look so feminine.

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  73. As a couple of others have suggested, I believe it is accomplished by stitching over gimp thread with a tiny zig zag, and trimming closely. Gimp can easily be shaped around curves, without the possible stretching of other techniques. Stitching over gimp has been used in heirloom sewing for a long time.

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  74. No matter what technique one uses a straight stitch throat plate, straight stitch presser foot and a microtex needle works great on sheers for the initial straight stitching with none of the fabric sliding down into the wider throat plate opening for regular stitching. OK, if you choose to do a zigzag later you have to change plates but it's worth it.

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  75. I know it is a little late to the party but check this technique out from the Burda website http://www.burdastyle.com/techniques/how-to-sew-a-perfect-baby-hem

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  76. Thank goodness for the internet. And you. I managed to overcome a hem quandry two weeks before my wedding dress needed to be ready and found this technique to give a completely professional finish that even my mother in law was impressed with.
    Thank you thank you thank you!
    http://missrdevine.blogspot.co.uk for the finished article

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

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