Curves and Corners – Marfy 3879

This pattern is from the current 2016/17 Marfy catalogue.  It has a strong 1970’s influence which is enhanced by the fabric used.



Purchased at The Fabric Store in Brisbane, the base fabric is cotton with a fancy square weave which was available in the 70’s but not for many years since.  The overlay is a very soft, nylon lace – also very popular in that era.  In addition to the curved panel and hem band in the original pattern, I have continued the overlay over the left shoulder and partially across the back hem edge to bring interest to the back as well as the front.

Marfy Patterns is a family owned and operated company based in Ferrara, Italy since 1966.  They produce a catalogue in January each year which can be ordered directly and shipped to Australia.  The catalogue includes several free patterns with each issue.

While a number of the patterns can be viewed on the McCall’s website – – they are not sold by McCall’s outside of the United States.

The patterns can be purchased from or by choosing a style from the catalogue and ordering by email.  They come in single size, printed and pre-cut using onion skin paper.  They have no seam allowances added and do not come with a guide sheet.


Planning the Project:

While all the pattern pieces are labelled and have letters to indicate joining points, it is best to trace the pattern on to greaseproof to make any fitting alterations needed before a trial garment is cut in calico.

Apart from helping to see what further alterations may be needed, making a trial garment is very helpful in understanding how the garment goes together.

Once the toile has been fitted and the working pattern altered, it can be laid out on a gridded cutting board to assess the amount of fabric that will be required.  Marfy provide basic guidelines for fabric needed but this needs to be checked to make sure the chosen yardage will be sufficient.

Adding Seam and Hem Allowances:

Seam and hem allowances need to be added to the working pattern before trial garment is cut and sewn.  The choice of seam width is made after considering:

  • whether the seam is straight or curved
  • the stability of the fabric – does it fray easily?
  • the position of the seam – around a neckline or armhole

This garment has a curved feature panel and has an all in one armhole and neckline facing.

The side seams have been sewn using the standard 15mm while 1cm was used around neck and armhole openings.

While I initially intended to use 1cm seams in the curved seams on either side of the feature panel, the thickness of the overlay made the narrow seams more bulky.  Once the seams were sewn, the overlay seam allowances were pared back between the layers of main fabric.  This resulted in a flatter join.


Overlay trimmed from seam allowance to reduce bulk and seam allowances clipped to allow them to lie flat.

Tip:  Before deciding on hem or seam allowance widths, it is important to make some samples using the chosen fabric and to finish and press them as they will be in the garment in order to see how the fabric behaves.

Since the pattern gives no indication of a suggested hem finish or pressing direction for seams, testing beforehand is a must.

Cutting and Fabric Preparation:

Each piece of the pattern needs to be cut once only so it is important to carefully label the right side of the pattern pieces which are placed on the fabric laid right side up as well.  photo-4-overlay-fabric-trimmed-to-reduce-bulk-seam-allowances-clipped-where-needed-2

Seam lines and match points were marked on wrong side in curved areas.  This was done with dressmaker’s carbon and a tracing wheel and helps with accurate seam piecing. 


Once all base fabric pieces have been cut and match points marked, cut the overlay and position it on the appropriate garment pieces.  Hand tack the layers together within the seam allowance so they will not move during construction. 


The concave curves on both sides of the inset panel have been staystitched just inside the seam allowance – stitch length 2.0 – to protect the seam if clipping is required after the seam has been stitched.


Sewing the Curves:

While the curves are quite pronounced, they are quite long which makes it easier to achieve smooth seams.

The key to this is to pin at right angles to the stitching line taking a very small bite of fabric and making sure that the cut edges of both pieces are perfectly aligned.  Hand tacking before machining makes the sewing easier.

Tip:  Sew with the curve and do not attempt to straighten it while machining.

Accurate Corners:

Careful marking is essential.  Depending on the fabric, mark or thread trace the seam lines to indicate the exact shape of the inside corner and the exact point of the corner on the outside corner.


Position a 5cm square of silk organza on the right side of the fabric, centred over the corner point.


Stay stitch along the marked seam lines.


Clip exactly to the corner photo-10-clip-exactly-to-corner-pointand turn the organza to the wrong side.  Press the seam allowance open and then press the patch flat against the wrong side of the fabric.


Organza has been basted out of the way so it does not get caught up in seam stitching

Pin the corner match points and, starting at the corner, stitch out along the seam line on each side of the corner before stitching the remainder of the seams.


Finished corner

If using an overlay, be careful to trim away any bulk in between the seam allowances.

Pressing Seam Allowances:

The seam allowances should be pressed flat as sewn before assessing which way to treat the seam finishing.

There are several options for the direction to press the curved seams and they all depend on the fabric being used and the desired finish.

With a single fabric layer garment, seams can be pressed flat and then open, perhaps with topstitching on either side of the seam line.  They can also be pressed either to the main garment or towards the overlay.  Whichever is chosen will make the area towards which the seams are pressed advance to become more of a highlight.

Because of the thickness of the overlay, I decided to go with this latter option as having thick seams under the main fabric made the seams look very bulky.

Once pressed, the seam allowances were clipped where necessary to allow them to lay flat and the edges overlocked together.

Hem Facing:

Because of the thickness of the overlay and fabric together, a facing has been applied to finish the hem.  It was cut from the main fabric and applied across the full width of the band before being hand stitched in place.

If I had been using a single layer fabric, I would have most likely turned up a 5cm hem, finished the upper edge with the overlocker and hand stitched it in place.

All in One Neckline and Armhole Facing:

Again, the thickness of the overlay needed to be taken into consideration when the facing was applied.

To minimise bulk, the facing was cut from a finer cotton fabric.  The usual method of leaving three open seams and completing the neckline and armhole edges before pulling the whole garment through the shoulders would have been problematic with the thickness of the overlay, even though the shoulder seams are wide.

Consequently, I seamed the shoulders and armholes of the facing and completed the neckline edge, including trimming, clipping and under stitching. photo-12-armhole-facings-pulled-through-at-lower-edge-of-facing-to-allow-seam-to-be-stitched-closedphoto-13-clips-staggered-to-allow-facing-to-lie-flatphoto-14-facings-understitchedBecause of the wide shoulders, it was relatively simple to reach inside the turn the fabric so that the armhole seam could be machined – this method was the same as stitching a sleeve lining by machine in a lined jacket.  Hand under stitching completed the armhole facing and has also been used to anchor the facing and shoulder seams in place. photo-15a-facing-hand-under-stitched-to-seam-allowances-at-underarmphoto-15b-facing-shoulder-seam-hand-under-stitched-to-seam-allowances

Invisible Zipper Finish:

An invisible zipper has been used for the back closure.

The zipper tapes were machine tacked in place before final stitching.  To avoid bulk at the neckline, stitching is started level with the top of the plastic zipper stop.  When facing is to be applied, zipper tapes are folded back so they are not included in the seam.  photo-16-zipper-tape-folded-back-so-it-is-not-caught-in-facing-seamFacing is stitched right through to the seam edge at centre back.

Using the zipper foot, stitch the facing seam allowance to the garment seam along the side of the zipper tape.  photo-17-use-zipper-foot-to-attach-seam-allowances-beside-zipper-teethTo clean finish the top of the zipper, place zipper foot blade on the garment side of the zipper teeth and stitch through neckline seam down approximately technique forms a pocket which holds the plastic zipper stops so they are not visible from the right side of the garment. photo-19-finished-stitching-at-back-neckline


A hook and eye has been hand stitched to facing


LHS – finish showing zipper stop /  RHS – finish with zipper stop hidden


Marfy patterns are a wonderfully stylish range, many of which have simple lines and details.  The cut is superb and well worth a try by any sewer of average ability.  Do give them a go!

The catalogue for this year “Marfy Evergreen” has just been released featuring a broader size range and highlighting their landmark dresses, tops, pants and skirts as well as classic jackets and coats and evening wear.  It can be ordered directly from .

Elegant in Pink – Vogue 9148


During construction – before hem and final steam press.

With its flattering, asymmetrical lines and interesting front pleat detail, this dress makes a versatile wardrobe piece.


The description on the pattern envelope states that it is intended for medium knits only.  However, by making a woven toile for fitting, any necessary pattern alterations can be made so that the fit is adjusted to accommodate a woven fabric.   The only changes needed  for this garment were a little more width across the back and front at bust level.

The fabric is Italian silk and polyamide was purchased at Alla Moda in Brisbane.  It is a most unusual fabric – the warp threads are artificially manufactured polyamide (an extremely fine fibre sold as nylon in all parts of the world ) and the weft threads are silk woven in an intricate diagonal twist pattern.  It is beautifully soft with a slightly springy hand and is resistant to creasing.

The dress has been underlined with a silk and cotton blend to support the fabric and minimise the seam shadows with occur when using a plain fabric in a pale colour.

Underlining and Marking (especially intersecting points and pleats on front)

This garment is a perfect candidate for underling and, while it is a relatively simple style, meticulous marking is needed to ensure that the diagonal lines align perfectly and that the unusual attachment of the front bodice to the front skirt section is easily accomplished.  Pleats in the skirt also need to be accurately positioned.

The garment has only the sleeves cut from double fabric.  The remaining pieces were cut single layer and the fabric pieces (with pattern still attached) placed on grain on the underlining fabric which was then cut.  This ensured accuracy in grain and fabric edges.

Stranded embroidery floss is excellent for thread marking as it is quite weak (2 strands only at a time) and easy to remove.

All fabric and underlining pieces were tacked together at the cut edges of each piece. photo-1-fabric-and-underlining-tacked-together-at-outer-edges

Sometimes the difference in weights of the fabric and the underlining can cause distortion at the garment hem.  To alleviate this, a 25mm fold has been added to the underlining approximately 15cm above the finished hem.  This creates a jump hem so the underlining will not pull against the garment fabric over time.  The fold was added before the final tacking of the underlining to each lower garment piece and to the sleeves.

Tip:  Make a diagonal stitch when turning corners.  This stitch can be snipped later for easy removal of individual sections during construction. 

Notches are marked with short running stitches.

Dart points and dots indicating the ends of pleats are marked with a single stitch tailor’s tack.  Continuous tailor’s tacks have been used to mark the fold lines for pleats.

To ensure layers of fabric stay together when sewing pleats and darts, a tacking stitch was applied down the centre of these elements.

For later removal of the tacking, a pair of thread tweezers is a very helpful tool.


Clover thread tweezers are perfect for removing stubbon thread tracing threads

Staystitching and Stay Tape on Bias Seams

Machine staystitching using a small stitch length (1.5) was applied close to the seam line, directionally around the neckline.  This was also done close to the diagonal seam lines to minimise stretching of bias grain when seams were pinned in place.

Narrow strips of lining selvage were tacked in place along diagonal seam lines and were permanently attached as seams were sewn.  This will help the garment to keep its shape and avoid stretching in the skirt when it is being worn.

Finishing Darts

Darts have been sewn before being slashed open and edges catch stitched to the underlining so that they remain flat and in place.

Since the garment is not lined, a strip of straight grain lining fabric has been hand stitched over the opened darts.  This gives a neat finish and prevents future fraying of the cut edges.

Seam finish

The pattern instructions suggest that the front bodice seam is pressed towards the centre and diagonal seams and waist seam are pressed towards the top of the garment.

This results in quite unattractive bulky ridges in all of these areas, especially when using a fabric with a springy hand and a shiny surface.


Top seam with seam allowances pressed open; bottom seam with seam allowances pressed to one side – very bulky in this fabric

A better way with this fabric was to bind all the seam edges with bias strips (Hong Kong finish) and gently press the seam allowances open.

The strips were marked on bias cut lining fabric and carefully cut with scissors before being pre-shrunk.  I started with 4cm strips but this needs to be tested on scraps of fabric first as not all fabrics will shrink to the same degree.

I used a 25mm bias maker to make the strips


25mm bias maker used to press strips and shape as needed

So that the seams remain open during the life of the garment, the seam edges have been catch stitched to the underlining.

The result is lovely smooth lines on the right side of the garment.


An invisible zipper has been inserted.   Lining up the diagonal seam was rather tricky though.  I usually  attach one side of the zipper and mark the tape on the other side to make it easy to line up as the second side is stitched.

However, with diagonal seam, the position of the seam line changes with the alignment of the roll of the fabric towards the zipper coil once the zip is sewn in place.


Oops – diagonal seam does not align


Zipper tacked in place on second side so alignment can be checked again


Success! – much better alignment

It took a couple of tries with tacking the second tape in place before stitching to gauge the exact position of the second side but the result was worth it.


The left front of the skirt features pleats at the waist.  Careful marking made it quite easy to position the folds in the correct direction before the folds were tacked in place.

Tip:  When folding pleats or tucks, it is important to remember that the directional arrows on the pattern apply to the fabric right side up. Thread marking makes accuracy so much easier.

The folded extension from the bodice is sewn into a pleat on the skirt.  Positioning of this element is also critical.  Once the end of the extension was pinned in place, it was fell tacked so that it would not move when stitched from the wrong side.

Fell tacking (sometimes called slip basting) is a very useful hand technique to control the exact positioning of fabric layers.  The needle is inserted along the upper fold and then the piece to be joined, making sure that the needle penetrates right through all layers.  Once the tacking is completed, an accurate stitching line has been marked on the wrong side of the fabric.


Fold of pleat fell tacked from right side to mark the sewing line for the stitching inside the garment


Pleat stitched in place


Use bamboo point turner as a pressing tool to open small seam in tubular pleat extension



Front extension detail completed


Sleeves were inserted and the armhole seam allowances finished with double binding, hand stitched in place.


Armhole binding stitched in place on garment side of armholes


Armhole binding folded inside sleeve and fell stitched in place


Finished armhole

Neckline Finish 

Facing pattern pieces are provided.  However, to avoid show through on the finished garment, these have been replaced with wide bias binding made from the underlining fabric and applied by hand to give a softly rolled neckline finish.


Neckline has been staystitched and clipped before being soft pressed to inside – catch stitched to underlining to hold it in place


Bias strip has been shaped first with the iron before being fell stitched in place just inside the neckline and the outer edge to the underlining.


The sleeve and skirt hems have also been finished with bias binding made from underlining fabric which has been attached as it was to the neckline.


Hem and sleeve hem allowances have been turned up and a strip of 25mm bias fell stitched to the hem allowance and to the underlining.

Extra Photos of Finished Inside of Underlined Garment


Upper back


Finished neck edge


Finished front bodice seam catch stitched in place to underlining – this same method was subsequently used on all seams

A Note on Pressing Specialty Fabrics

With a fabric such as this, careful “soft” pressing is the key:

  • A silk organza press cloth makes pressing much easier – it protects the fabric but allows visibility to see what is being done
  • All seam allowances, darts, tucks, etc. have been pressed using strips of manilla folder between the layers of fabric to protect the front of the garment from marks which can result from overpressing
  • In many areas, just steam has been used to relax the fibres without the iron touching the fabric – hands are then used for a soft, gentle press to coax the fabric into position (Photo 15)
  • Outer edges (neckline, sleeve and skirt hems) are steamed and hand pressed for a softly rolled finish.


While not all of these techniques will be used with all projects or fabrics, I hope knowing how to get the best from special and expensive fabric will hopefully encourage anyone who is not familiar with these methods to give them a try.






Sizzling Summer Style – Vogue 1498

The stylish sophistication of this dress designed by Nicola Finetti is just perfect for the long, hot Australian summer ahead.  With the illusion of a halter neck at the front, the full back bodice with its edgy metal zip is a stylish surprise.


Vogue Patterns recommend this style for triangle and hourglass figure types and a good fit is critical for maximum comfort in this figure enhancing dress.

Recommended fabrics are Ponté knit, crepe, gabardine and piqué.  The fabric I have used is Lycra™ ponté purchased from The Fabric Store in Brisbane.

Even though knit fabric is recommended, there is no knit gauge on the envelope.  So to ensure a good fit, I made a trial garment using calico and fitted it close to the model’s body.  This worked very well and there was only minor alteration needed to the shape of the side seams in the skirt.

How To Maximise the Benefits of Making a Toile:

When making a toile, it is worth taking the time to mark all seam lines, grain and horizontal balance lines and match points with dressmaker’s carbon.  Just making a trial garment without marking these points where they can be seen makes fitting assessment and pattern alteration more difficult.

Accuracy at this stage is very important.  To stop the possibility of fabric layers moving against each other I mark each layer individually.  The method I use to do this is:

  • Mark seam lines on the pattern (Tip: Use the edge of a 15mm /5/8” tape measure placed against the cutting line as a guide.)
  • Place carbon with marking side up and lay fabric (single or double layer as required) with the pattern pieces pinned in place on top
  • Using a pointed tracing wheel, trace seam lines – to protect your table surface, use the wrong side of a rotary cutting mat to ensure clear marks on the fabric
  • If working with double fabric, carefully remove the pattern and pin the fabric layers together; flip the fabric over and lay it on top of the carbon paper.
  • Use the first carbon marks as a guide to mark the second layer.

Stay stitch neckline and armhole edges with a small straight stitch (length 1.5) right along the seam line.  Clip seam allowance to the stitching to allow the seam allowances to fold back.  Using this technique will allow the outer edges to sit flat on the wearer which makes the degree of any alterations easier to assess accurately.

When sewing the toile together, I used the marked side of the fabric as the right side and piece the garment with a long straight stitch (4.0 to 5.0).  This makes it easy to check that the garment is hanging on grain and the seams can be quickly ripped to let the garment out or pinched to take it in.

The insertion of a zip will also help to give a true picture of the fit with a close fitting garment.

Tip: When fitting the toile, the undergarments to be worn with the final garment should be worn.  As it is fully lined, the dress may be worn with or without a convertible bra and that decision needs to be made from the outset so that it can be fitted accordingly.

When the fitting is completed, the marks on the toile guide the placement or alterations on the pattern.

The Pattern:

The pattern features a close fitting, lined bodice which needs to be perfectly fitted to avoid gaping at the armholes and centre front.  The length of the bust section may need to be altered to achieve this.

The skirt is fully lined as well.  The back bodice features slightly cut-away armholes and the shoulder seams need to meet exactly at the wearer’s shoulder line so the angle from front to back is not distorted.

The back skirt is darted to a waist seam while the front skirt falls in two overlapping panels from a seam directly under the bust.  The front panel edges and all hem edges are finished with a separate facing to which the lining is attached.

The left side front crosses over the right.  The right side panel has an inserted panel of lining on the section that sits under the crossed over left panel.  This is to lessen the bulk in the under bust seam.

Because the garment fabric is a knit in a close fitting garment, it was necessary to use a knit lining.  I used a flesh coloured knit tricot from Sckafs Fabrics.  This fabric is very soft, light and perfect for eliminating bulky seams.


Tricot lining

However, this caused an issue of show through with the fabric I used.  The shadow of the seam joining the lining insert to the right side was visible through the left side panel.

Unfortunately I did not discover this until the first fitting and there was not enough fabric left to cut a new right front panel.  To solve the problem I cut the upper right front lining from the garment fabric and attached it as well as the previously inserted lining.  To eliminate a bulky seam right across the front, the bottom edge of this extra layer has been allowed to lie flat over the bottom section of the skirt before stitching and the edge of the seam allowance caught by hand so that it will not move.


Upper section laid over lower section of right front side

If the garment was made in a plain dark colour or print, this may not be an issue but is definitely something to think about when selecting fabric and cutting out.  I would suggest that using a darker or patterned fabric would prevent this problem.

The second issue with the pattern was the cutaway hem section on the right side panel.  At first fitting I discovered that the finished hem of the short section was at hip length.   For modesty, especially when sitting, an additional 15cm was added to the length of the extension.


Additional 15cm added to lower edge of right front garment and lining


For accuracy in piecing, all match points (centre front position, notches and dots) were thread traced using two strands of embroidery floss.  This left no residual marks on the fabric and the thread was easily removed during construction.


Thread tracing

Even though the fabric stretches lengthwise and crosswise, it is not slippery and surprisingly stable and easy to sew.  I used a small zigzag (SW1.0; SL2.0) to stitch all seams.

To prevent stretching at the armhole and neckline edges, I applied fusible stay tape on all bodice edges.

The zipper opening was also stabilised to prevent any rippling of the heavy metal zipper.

The seams are quite thick so all horizontal and outer edge seam allowances have been graded which has resulted in smooth, flat neckline and armhole edges.

Facings were fused with lightweight tricot knit interfacing and seam allowances graded and under stitched.

Handling the tricot lining presented a number of problems.  It is very fine and the edges cut edges curl making accurate cutting and pinning critical.  Even with careful grading, pressing and under stitching, the outer edges were quite spongy.   To keep the edges flat I have added edge stitching (straight stitch with length of 4.0).

The tricot lining was laid out on tissue paper with the pattern pieces pinned through all layers to allow straight cutting and no slippage.

It was surprisingly easy to work with – except for the cut edges which continued to curl.  So to control the curling and ensure accurate seam allowances, the cut edges were pinned through twice which kept everything in place while machine stitching.

All lining seams were double stitched and trimmed to prevent them curling during wear.


Double stitched seam trimmed back to avoid curling

I was unable to source a regular metal zipper so metal open end zipper was used.  It has been shortened and the bottom end and unnecessary teeth removed.  Petersham ribbon has been used to finish the cut end of the zipper.  (Tip: Use the hand wheel if stitching across metal teeth – with care the needle slips easily between the teeth.)


Bound edge of shortened zipper

A Petersham ribbon zipper shield has been applied to prevent the teeth abrading the wearer’s skin.


The skill level for this pattern is noted as “Average”.  Lots of concentration and great care need to be taken to follow the guide sheet cutting layout so that right and left pieces are not reversed.  It is not a project that can be rushed.

I changed the order of construction in the bodice section so that the lining was applied in the manner of a pull through all in one construction.  This resulted in a much neater finish at the shoulder seams.  Care was needed so that when the back pieces were attached they allowed for the crossover in the bodice.  Having the pieces laid out on a flat surface when pinning was a great help.


Join shoulder seams of lining and garment


Stitch lining to neck edge; grade and understitch


Stitch lining and garment at armhole edges


Grade seam allowances


Pull front sections through shoulders

This is one pattern where it would certainly be unwise to omit careful reading of the guidelines before starting the project.  It is quite critical to follow the order of construction for the front skirt pieces, particularly regarding the application of the lining.


Why sew your own clothes?

As another very busy year of teaching dressmaking and pattern making draws to a close, I would like to share some of the reasons my students offer when they are either starting to learn to sew or are getting back to sewing.

Number one across the board is nearly always that they cannot find ready-made clothing that fits well and not twist after it is washed. This is closely followed by being unable to find clothes in colours or styles that they feel suit their age, taste and lifestyle.

My younger students are looking for an opportunity to display their individuality and creativity and the mature age students for good fit, comfort and style.

How lucky we are that, with a little patience and practice, nearly forgotten skills can be resurrected and new skills mastered.  There is nothing like the confidence boost of wearing a custom-made garment in the knowledge that it is your own creation.

Apart from the end result, the experience of creating a wearable garment from your own chosen fabric and pattern is very satisfying.  While we are sometimes frustrated when a mistake results in having to unpick stitches, a little break and a few deep breaths usually restore the equilibrium to enable a second (and sometimes, third) try. Patience and perseverance do pay off and become easier to achieve as time goes by.

In the fast pace of life in the 21st century, taking time to slow down and actually enjoy the process of tasks is indeed a luxury and, in the case of sewing our own custom fit garments, it is time well spent.

I have missed writing and posting my blogs and will be making every effort to get back to regular posts in the coming year.

I am always delighted to receive suggestions for techniques to cover so please let me know if there is anything you would particularly like to see in more detail and I will certainly do my best to oblige.

Happy sewing!




Initial Flat Pattern Adjustments and Fitting the Shoulder

In my last blog, I illustrated where to take the body measurements needed to check the paper pattern before starting to cut out the fabric for a trial garment.

So what to do now!  How and where do we compare the body measurements with the paper pattern?

Using this method takes some time and patience in the beginning but it is well worth the effort in terms of saving time in the future – as well as saving fabric, our sanity and good humour!

The first step involves marking all seam lines and reference points on a traced copy of the basic pattern.  The pattern is then measured at various points to see where body measurements vary from the generic pattern.

In this blog I will show where to mark and measure a bodice starting with the angle of slope at the shoulder.  I discovered this method last year in Issue 178 of Threads Magazine.  Judith Neukam wrote an article called “Preparing Patterns for Fit” in which she demonstrated how to use an angle locator to determine the degree of the shoulder slope.


Angle Locator

As I have narrow, sloping shoulders, I could have shouted, “Eureka!!!!”  – I did restrain myself and went immediately to Google to see where I could buy one of these amazing gadgets.

The reason for my jubilation was that I had finally learned a way to measure the  shoulder position accurately which is vitally important to how the garment will fit.  If this angle is not correct, the garment hangs badly with prominent folds – just like it would on a wire coat hanger versus a properly padded coat hanger.

When I located the supplier through Amazon, unfortunately they did not ship to Australia.  However, one of my lovely students was going to the United States and she purchased one for me.  There was much excitement when it arrived and I have been measuring shoulder slopes accurately ever since!

(I have since found a similar item offered by an Australian supplier through Ebay –


Working on front bodice, extend centre front line and square a line from the highest shoulder point to the centre front. When using a pattern with a narrower shoulder seam and lower neckline, extend the shoulder seam to the base of the neck stem and use this new point to square a line to the centre front.

After checking the shoulder angle on at least 20 commercial patterns, I have discovered that they all use an angle of approximately 15°.  From checking the angle of quite a few of my students, I have found only one with that shoulder angle – they mostly range from around 18° to 24°.


An inexpensive angle ruler can be used to measure the original shoulder level which is measured along the line squared from the centre front at the highest shoulder point.


Digital angle ruler set to 21 degrees. Draw new shoulder line position.

After marking the new shoulder line on the front bodice, trace the same new shoulder line on to the back bodice pattern.

You might think, “What difference does a couple of degrees make?”  Correcting this first means that often more complicated and unnecessary alterations are not required.  Yes, it will decrease the armscye circumference and raise the underarm but these can be easily changed if such an alteration is needed.

Having the shoulder seam placed correctly can reduce (and sometimes eliminate) the amount needed for a full bust adjustment.  This is a good by-product of the shoulder angle adjustment.  If the amount needed for the full bust adjustment is reduced, it helps to avoid a lot of distortion caused by large darts.

Once the shoulder length and level has been established and marked on the pattern, the following points are checked, first on the front and then on the back:

Front Check Points:


Front bodice with seam lines added and showing horizontal reference lines and vertical measurement points.

  • Shoulder to shoulder:
    •  extend the centre front up beyond the neckline point
    • measure from where the shoulder seam meets the armhole seam and across to the centre front line
    • multiply this by two to find the whole measurement

Shoulder to shoulder from end of shoulder to centre front – multiply measurement by 2 for total width.

  • Chest Width:
    • measure from seam line just above the notch at the armhole to the centre front
    • multiply this by two to find the whole measurement

Chest width from arm hole to centre front – usually 10-15cm (4″ – 6″) down from shoulder point.

  • Shoulder to bust point:
    • measure from the base of the neck stem where it meets the shoulder to the level of the fullest part of the bust
    • many patterns mark the bust point however, if this is missing, draw through the centre of the bust dart (and under bust dart if there is one) to a point approximately 2.5-3cm / 1″- 1 1/2″ beyond the point and use this as the measuring point (most commercial patterns position the bust point approximately 5cm /2″ below the level of the underarm seam)

Highest shoulder point to bust point.

  • Bust separation:
    • this is the distance between the fullest point of the breasts
    • divide the amount by 2 and mark the point in from the centre front line
  • Bust point to under bust:
    • taken from the centre of the bust at the fullest part to level with the chest under the bust (usually at the bottom of the bra underwire)

Bust point to under bust – straight measurement down from centre of bust to the level of bra underwire.

  • Under bust to waist:
    • from the base of the bra to the waist (at the bottom of the elastic around the natural waist)

Under bust to waist measurement.

Back Check Points:


Bodice back with seam allowances and horizontal reference lines marked.

  • Back width:
    • measure from seam line just above the notch at the armhole to the centre back
    • multiply this by two to find the whole measurement
  • Shoulder to shoulder:
    •  extend the centre back up beyond the neckline point
    • measure from where the shoulder seam meets the armhole seam and across to the centre back line
    • multiply this by two to find the whole measurement
  • Back length:
    • measured from the nape of the neck (highest point of the spine) to the bottom of the elastic marking the natural waist

You will notice that, except for shoulder to shoulder lengths, chest and back widths and bust separation, the remainder of these measurements are vertical.

Completing vertical alterations first before horizontal adjustments are assessed is very important so that any additional width will be placed in the correct position on the pattern which will make the first check of the toile much more meaningful when  the need for any further changes is being assessed.

Since ease is very minimal at the shoulder to shoulder and chest width points these measurements provide an excellent guide when selecting which size pattern to use.

My next blog will cover the method for comparing body measurements to a skirt pattern.


Ease and Pattern Sizing

About a month ago I came across a blog post from McCall’s Patterns which included a discussion about the confusion expressed by their customers about size selection when they are buying patterns versus ready to wear.  There was much discussion about whether the pattern companies should align their sizing with ready to wear to avoid confusion when selecting the right pattern size (???)

As most people would be aware, there are no sizing standards in ready to wear clothing in Australia (or elsewhere I suspect).  Even if the industry is using standardised slopers/blocks, the preferences for grading between sizes and ease vary widely from brand to brand (which is why when we find a brand that “fits” we usually stick to it).

The subject of pattern sizing comes up with all students sewing their own garments – “What size do I buy?”, “I can’t be a 12 – I only buy size 6 in tops!”, “I buy the right size pattern but they are always too big when I make them up.”

Most of these issues can be addressed by gaining an understanding of ease.  There are two types of ease.  The first is wearing ease which is added to the basic body measurements so that the wearer can move and breathe in a very fitted garment.  This is the base from which all designs are then developed.

The second type of ease is called design or fashion ease.  The amounts used are at the discretion of the designer or pattern company to achieve the “look” they want or that fashion demands.

Another consideration is the fact that garment styles (including design ease) change over time:

  • tiny waists and full skirts of Dior’s “new look” in the 50’s
  • short, minimally shaped garments of the “mod” era in the 60’s
  • loose fitting, flowing styles of the “boho” era in the 70’s
  • over the top closely fitted garments with wide shoulders and deep armholes in the bling of the 80’s
  • pared back more structurally “simple” and oversized styles in the 90’s
  • the active wear as day wear styles of the early 2000’s
  • spandex in everything and close fitting styles of today

Through all of this fashion change, body shapes have evolved as well.  A lot of young women are much taller than those of us born in the 1940’s-50’s.  Women’s lifestyles have also changed enormously. There is much more focus on exercise as well as many more sedentary jobs and leisure pursuits.

Unfortunately today we live in era of mass production and the demand for ever cheaper clothing.  Most people are not aware of how wonderfully comfortable it feels to wear a custom made to measure garment compared to “if it zips, it fits” – no matter what the price!

It is totally unrealistic to expect that patterns will fit each individual straight out of the envelope.  The cost alone would be prohibitive and this has been the case since paper patterns were introduced for the home sewer in the late 1900’s.

The crux of the matter is whether our own individual body measurements coupled with our preferences regarding the amount of ease we are comfortable wearing matches the finished sizing of the garment (or indeed commercial pattern).

Major factors affecting the fit of garments are skeletal frame and body posture, often to a far greater degree than body size.

So where does this leave us as sewers?

We have the ability to take the elements of the current fashion and incorporate them into stylish, comfortable garments which flatter and are made to fit our own individual body shape and proportions.

It does not matter what size or shape we are, by accepting what is (we cannot change our skeletal frame!) and making friends with the tape measure, we can learn to adjust commercial patterns for our own individual requirements.

My post on 20th July, 2015 covered how and where to measure the body; selecting the best pattern size; the order of making pattern alterations and the vital importance of making a trial garment (called a toile or muslin).Body Measurements

In this post, I will discuss how to prepare a commercial pattern to assess what initial changes can be made before cutting the toile.

Additional Body Measurements:

When taking measurements, wear the undergarments you intend to wear with the finished garment and a close fitting garment (leotard) if desired.  Also wear the type of shoes you will wear with the finished garment.  The height of the heel affects the spinal alignment and posture.

To assist when taking these measurements, mark the true waist with tape or elastic tied into position – ensure that it is parallel to the floor all round the body.  (This position may not be where you want the top of pants or a skirt but it is an absolutely vital reference point for alterations.)

Also use sticky dots to mark the position of each side seam level with the full bust, waist, and high and low hip positions.  Be sure to keep the alignment of the side seam perpendicular to the floor.

As well as the usual circumference measurements (bust, waist, hips, etc), there are additional horizontal measurements which will greatly help flat pattern alteration:

  • shoulder length (from base of neck to directly up from arm crease)
  • angle of shoulder slope/shoulder depth (align a square with the base of the neck and measure depth below that squared point)
  • shoulder to shoulder – front and back (shoulder bone to shoulder bone)
  • cross chest width (where the arm joins the body)
  • cross back width (where the arm joins the body
  • front and back waist from side seam to side seam
  • front and back high hip and low hip from side seam to side seam

Front vertical measurements are taken from:

  • depth of cross chest position – high neck point (where neck meets shoulder) to cross chest (level with where arm joins body)
  • depth of bust position – high neck point (where neck meets shoulder) to bust point
  • depth of under bust – from bust point to bottom edge of bra cup
  • midriff – from bottom edge of bra cup to waist
  • depth of high hip along the side seam – from bottom edge of waist tape to high hip position
  • depth of low hip along the side seam – from bottom edge of waist tape to low hip position crotch depth (tie a cord or shin elastic around thigh at highest point and measure from bottom of waist tape to this position)
  • thigh depth from waist – on side seam position
  • knee depth from waist – on side seam position
  • calf depth from waist – on side seam position
  • ankle depth from waist – on side seam position

Additional back vertical measurements are:

  • length of upper back – from nape of neck to cross back position (level with where arm joins body)

Marking the Pattern:

To preserve the original pattern, it is a good idea to trace each pattern piece, (complete with all markings, grain line and seam lines) on to grease proof paper or your preferred pattern making paper.

On both front and back bodice, skirt or pant pieces, use a coloured pencil and markers to draw in horizontal lines relating to the position that body measurements are taken.  All lines need to be at right angles (perpendicular) to the grain line on the pattern pieces.


Torso reference points


Skirt reference points.


Sleeve reference points.


Pants reference points.

In my next post I will discuss how to compare your measurements to the pattern measurements as well as how and where to make alterations so that, when you try on the toile, you will have the pattern shaping in the correct position and enough width to start with.  Even though minor adjustments may still be needed, the fitting process will be simpler.


A Good, Clean Cut

There are two things that make a huge difference to the success and appearance of a finished project – careful pressing and the removal of bulk.

Accurate cutting is the foundation of every garment; not only is the importance of accuracy with the initial cutting of the fabric critical to a good result, but also during construction when clipping, trimming and grading to reduce bulk.

Using the best tool for each cutting task makes it much easier to cut and trim accurately; rip and remove wrong stitching and remove temporary threads without damaging precious fabric.

These are my favourite fabric and thread cutting tools:

  • Long blade paper scissors – short blades can tend to chop the pattern tissue
  • Shorter blade household scissors to cut boning, millinery wire, etc
  • Soft Canary 210cm dressmaking shears – they are light and easy to handle with arthritic hands and they cut like a hot knife through butter!
  • Soft Canary 230cm serrated blade dressmaking shears – the serrated blade keeps slithery fabric in place resulting in nice clean cuts rather than ragged edges which make construction inaccurate and difficult

    Paper scissors and Soft Canary Dressmaking Shears and Serrated Shears

    Paper scissors and Soft Canary Dressmaking Shears and Serrated Shears

  • Soft Canary pinking shears – an oldie but a goodie! Sometimes any additional treatment to a seam edge can eventually show through to the right side of the garment.  These little bias cuts prevent further fraying of the fabric and keep the cut edges soft and light.

    Soft Canary pinking shears - use when a smooth finish is needed

    Soft Canary pinking shears – use when a smooth finish is needed

  • Gingher 5” Craft scissors (Tailor’s Points) – I could not do without these. I discovered them when watching a Kenneth D King DVD from Taunton Press.  They have one knife edge blade and one bevelled edge blade and a very strong spine which makes them perfect for precious cutting and trimming, even on very thick fabrics

    Gingher Tailor's Points - my very favourite - wonderful for clipping, trimming and grading - very sharp right to the point and very strong.

    Gingher Tailor’s Points – my very favourite – wonderful for clipping, trimming and grading – very sharp right to the point and very strong.

  • Gingher thead snips – I resisted thread snips for a long time until I found these. By placing the opening over my middle finger I achieve excellent control, especially when trying to clip elusive thread tails
    Gingher thread snips - very strong and sharp

    Gingher thread snips – very strong and sharp

    Control thread snips by placing finger through opening.

    Control thread snips by placing finger through opening.

  • Gingher appliqué scissors (Duckbills) – very useful when doing heirloom sewing, these very versatile scissors are excellent for grading and when it is necessary to trim close to an edge on one layer without cutting the under layer – great for machine rolled hems
  • Havel’s lace scissors – these tiny gems are excellent when working on hand application of delicate laces

    Gingher Duckbill applique scissors and Havel's lace scissors

    Gingher Duckbill applique scissors and Havel’s lace scissors

  • Buttonhole chisel and wood block – mine are over 40 years old and have successfully cut lots and lots of buttonholes without ever needing to be sharpened – a wonderful clean, on grain cut stops thread pulls during wear and care of the garment

    Buttonhole chisel and wood block for great clean and accurate cuts

    Buttonhole chisel and wood block for great clean and accurate cuts

  • Rotary cutters – 45mm and 18mm blade – I have always used these wonderful cutters top cut straight waistbands, buttonhole lips, pocket flaps and bias strips. The smaller blade is excellent and more accurate for cutting curved edges.
    45mm and 18mm rotary cutters - smaller blade great for cutting around curves

    45mm and 18mm rotary cutters – smaller blade great for cutting around curves

    Perhaps if my arthritis worsens, I will try cutting out my fabrics as I know there are many sewists who swear by this method.  I will need to practice first I think as it can sometimes be difficult to change the habits of a lifetime of sewing.

Another important cutting task is the dreaded unpicking.  Using patience and the right tools for the job can make this inevitable task much less stressful (on the sewist and the fabric!).

These are my favouring “unstitching” tools:

  • Gingher seam ripper with retractable blade – super sharp but with safety device built in – using this tool requires a light hand and the patience to cut a little at a time from the reverse side of the fabric – wonderful for removing a buttonhole which is not in the right place (BEFORE it is cut!!!)
    Gingher Retractable Seam Ripper and Unpicker with thread remover on top of lid

    Gingher Retractable Seam Ripper and Unpicker with thread remover on top of lid

    A buttonhole mess - gently and slowly pass the blade over the underside of the stitching

    A buttonhole mess – gently and slowly pass the blade over the underside of the stitching.  I place my wooden block underneath so there are no accidents!

    Turn work to right side and gently release the thread which was cut away underneath; remove remaining fluff with thread eraser.

    Turn work to right side and gently release the thread which was cut away underneath; remove remaining fluff with thread remover.

  • Unpicker – a good size handle grip which fills your hand together with the “red dot” is an invaluable tool.
    The way most sewists were taught to use an unpicker - slide the blade under and break the stitches.

    The way most sewists were taught to use an unpicker – slide the blade under and break the stitches.

    Third hand bird and clamp

    Third hand bird and clamp

    Clamp fabric and pull the seam to be unpicked until it is taut

    Clamp fabric and pull the seam to be unpicked until it is taut

    Insert red ball on the end of the unpicker between the stitches and push forward to open the seam.

    Insert red ball on the end of the unpicker between the stitches and push forward to open the seam.

    Seam opens ahead of the unpicker.

    Seam opens ahead of the unpicker.

    Because these tools are used regularly by most sewists, they can become really blunt so treating yourself to a new one every few months will save strain on your fabric and sanity

  • Thread tweezers for removing those pesky threads which are difficult to remove once the ripping is finished

    Clover thread tweezers - a new acquisition and they are superb!

    Clover thread tweezers – a new acquisition and they are superb!

  • Thread eraser or masking tape – these are excellent for cleaning up fluff and stray bits of thread after unpicking

As with all of our precious tools, care and maintenance is paramount to ensure their long and useful life.

  • Prevention is better than cure so be careful not to drop your scissors on to a hard surface; do not expose them to moisture and do not try to cut other than fabric with your fabric scissors. The occasional use of fine tissue paper to aid with cutting slippery and fine fabrics will not usually cause a problem.  Cardboard, boning, plastic etc is another story!
  • A lot of fluff occurs when fabric is cut and sewn so lightly polishing your tools with a soft cloth after each session is very beneficial.
  • A tiny drop of light machine oil where scissor blade join can keep them from becoming stiff – be sure to wipe them afterwards and cut through some scrap fabric to be sure no residual oil will mar a future project
  • Should you have a small burr from the accidental striking of a pin, a gentle rut with fine grade sandpaper can provide a temporary fix
  • Scissor sharpener to remove burrs

I am often asked about having scissors sharpened and I have to say that finding someone to do this has become harder over the years.  I usually suggest enquiring where quality knives are sold.  However, with diligent home maintenance and having a few pairs of scissors to rotate, I usually don’t have any problems.

Anyway, because I love scissors, an excuse to replace a pair would not necessary be a bad thing!

Some Wonderful Sewing Books

As visitors to my studio will attest, I love books!  Over the years I have accumulated a wide variety of books relating to dressmaking, pattern making, fitting and alterations, fashion styling and assorted fabric and embroidery techniques.  I have always enjoyed reading and, whenever I find an intriguing technique, I love to make a sample and think about how I can work my new skill into the next project.

I am often asked about the best book for beginning sewers.  A couple of reasonably priced and very good selections are “Teach Yourself to Sew” and “Easy Guide to Sewing” – both published by Taunton Press.

Teach Yourself to Sew

Teach Yourself to Sew

Easy Guide to Sewing

Easy Guide to Sewing

They are both well illustrated comprehensive and with easy to understand information about basic sewing techniques.  “Teach Yourself to Sew” comes with an instructional DVD as well.  They are also both available as E-books.

For those interested in assessing fit and making alterations, there are many books on the market.  All of them offer great information and illustrations and will most certainly guide you to a good result.  I have been using the following publications with great success over a number of years – “Fit for Real People” by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto and “Fast Fit” by Sandra Betzina.

Fit for Real People

Fit for Real People

Fast Fit

Fast Fit

When it comes to information about fabric, my go to books have been Claire Shaeffer’s “Fabric Sewing Guide” and “More Fabric Savvy” by Sandra Betzina.

Claire Shaeffer's "Fabric Sewing Guide"

Claire Shaeffer’s “Fabric Sewing Guide”

More Fabric Savvy

More Fabric Savvy

Both of these books contain descriptions of many different fabrics with suggestions for their use and what equipment and techniques will work best when using them.

My newest acquisition is “The Mood Guide To Fabric and Fashion”.

The Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion

The Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion

which has been published by Mood Fabrics in New York.  This store came to prominence as the supplier of fabrics for Project Runway in New York.

At first glance I believe it will be another excellent reference book.  It has lots of information to consider when buying fabric and deals with a lot of the newer textiles which are rapidly coming on to the market.

Another recent new addition to my library has been “Knits for Real People” by Sue Neall and Pati Palmer

Knits for Real People

Knits for Real People

– I believe this is the definitive book for working with knit fabrics and a must for all sewers.

In recent years, there have been several books published which as well as providing excellent, well presented information also include patterns which can be traced off to make a selection of garments featuring different technique elements.  These are well priced and have a lot of appeal to younger sewers.

“Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing” and “Gertie Sews Vintage Casual” by Gretchen Hersch include excellent technique instruction based on tried and true techniques which focus on accuracy and quality results.

Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing

Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing

Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

She has also recently published “Gertie’s New Fashion Sketchbook” which is great for budding designers as it contains 300 figure templates which are proportionally true to the female form and adaptable to different body types.

Gertie's New Fashion Sketchbook

Gertie’s New Fashion Sketchbook

When it comes to good reference books that I could not do without, this would be my selection:


Vogue Sewing Revised and Updated

Vogue Sewing Revised and Updated

Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer

Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer

Couture Sewing Tailoring Techniques by Claire Shaeffer

Couture Sewing Tailoring Techniques by Claire Shaeffer

Shirtmaking - Developing Skills for Fine Sewing by David Page Coffin

Shirtmaking – Developing Skills for Fine Sewing by David Page Coffin

Threads Sewing Guide

Threads Sewing Guide

Cool Couture - Construction Secrets for Runway Style by Kenneth D King

Cool Couture – Construction Secrets for Runway Style by Kenneth D King

as well as my old favourite, very first sewing reference books:

Commonsense Dresscutting and Drafting for Adults; Simplicity Sewing Book; The Vogue Sewing Book

Commonsense Dresscutting and Drafting for Adults; Simplicity Sewing Book; The Vogue Sewing Book

I hope you will also enjoy some of these books – perhaps Santa might like a clue or two!

Some Thoughts On Fabric Layout and Construction Order

Do we really need to follow the fabric layout and construction order in the pattern guide sheet?

All patterns (except for Marfy designs) come with a guide sheet offering a suggested fabric layout and instructions to guide sewers through the construction process.   While it is wise to study the information to identify all the pattern pieces and how they fit together, the layout and order of construction can often be changed for more efficient use of your sewing time and easier handling of your fabric.

Fabric Layout:

Before deciding what fabric layout will work best for your project, consideration of a number of aspects the fabric being used is vital:

  • Do you have sufficient yardage and is the fabric wide enough? This is especially important if the pattern has been altered for fit.  The fabric yardage required can also be affected if wider seam allowances and hem allowances are needed.  Wider seam allowances can be required if fabric is likely to fray easily.
  • Does the fabric have a nap or one way pattern? If not, the layout may be changed so less fabric is needed.  Facings and bindings may be able to be cut from a similar weight but different fabric as they will be on the inside of the garment.
  • Similarly, does the fabric have a pattern or weave which needs to be matched? Many patterns state that they are not suitable for one-way designs; however, it can still possible to use such a fabric provided extra yardage is available.  Using a single layer layout is really the best way to maximise success when matching prints and patterns.

Preparation of Garment Sections and Interfacing:

  • Will the fabric be easy to work with? If it is likely to fray easily, fusing the edges of each piece with a thin strip of fusible interfacing may be necessary so this does not occur.  With very loose weave fabrics, overlocking the edges is often insufficient and the stitching can actually fray away with the fabric.
  • Does the fabric have enough body to support various elements? Different areas of the garment will often need different types of interfacing and the instructions suggest the very bare minimum of interfacing as a guide only.

Construction Issues:  

  • Does the garment contain construction elements which you have not attempted before? Even if you have had experience with the included techniques on other garments, it is really worthwhile to practice on scraps of the fabric before tackling the actual garment.
  • Is the fabric easy to press? If not, pressing each seam/detail as you go is doubly important so that when the garment is finished, a light steam may be all that is necessary.
  • Does the fabric mark easily when being pressed? Testing how the fabric behaves when seams, hems, etc are pressed is important so that a more appropriate technique can be chosen if any problems are highlighted.
  • When sewing garments in smaller sizes, it is often much easier to change the order of assembly to minimise the wear on the fabric if it has to be manipulated in a small space. For a waisted dress, or a garment with a band joining separate pieces, these elements should be constructed for the front and back and the zipper installed before side seams are joined.  Simply leave the last 5cm/2″ of each horizontal seam unstitched until the zipper is in place.  Vertical seams can be sewn and pressed and the remaining horizontal seams finished as mentioned in the guide sheet.
  • If any elements are repeated or mirror imaged, complete them in tandem. This is particularly important with welt pockets, bound buttonholes, patch pockets, etc. so that they will be the same size and be positioned properly.
  • Check that buttonhole positions are going to suit the body of the wearer and change them as needed.

Regardless of whether changes are made, I find I get the best results if I always:

  • endeavour to be as accurate as I can at each step of the process
  • read the guidelines a couple of times before making any changes to be sure I am making good decisions
  • use a ruler during the layout phase and be doubly sure that all grain lines are accurate along the whole length of every pattern piece
  • transfer all pattern markings, not forgetting centre front and centre back
  • stay stitch outer edges
  • stitch and press directionally
  • use a press cloth
  • press every seam as sewn, open and to suit my seaming method prior to any piece being joined to another
  • work on like tasks in batches – sew all the darts, stitch all easing lines, press as required
  • complete at the same time all elements which must match.

I hope this information is helpful as you start your summer projects.

The Importance of Inner Structure Part 2

As mentioned in Part 1, the fabric used in a garment will always need underpinnings to support its structure.  This blog covers which are mostly used in more complex, structured garments such as very fitted and/or strapless bodices, low or wide necklines, the hem on full skirts as well as in tailored jackets and coat.


  • Boning is used to support sections of the garment that cannot be held in place from above
  • This includes bustiers for strapless and off the shoulder garments, but can include close fitting bodices as well
  • Boning can also be used to support raised waistlines on skirts and pants and to keep waist details close to the body
  • Boning comes in covered and uncovered form – the ends of uncovered boning need to be covered (grosgrain ribbon is a good choice) so that the small tubes of polyester will not scratch the wearer or work through the fabric and make a hole

    Ends of boning are covered for the comfort of the wearer.

    Ends of boning are covered for the comfort of the wearer.

  • Spiral steel boning, which moves with the body, is the most comfortable to wear with a very close fitting garment – cotton tubing is sewn to a foundation with capped steel pieces slid into place before the tubing is stitched closed.

    Spiral boning with capped ends; insertion tape.

    Spiral boning with capped ends; insertion tape.

  • Polyester boning can be stitched to a foundation which is incorporated into the garment or applied to seam allowances, or slid inside a fabric tube which is stitched in place first.
    Polyester boning 12mm wide.

    Polyester boning 12mm wide.

    Smooth side lies against fabric; machine stitch in narrow lip on either side.

    Smooth side lies against fabric; machine stitch in narrow lip on either side.

Horsehair Braid:

Made from polyester webbing, horsehair braid is a flexible tape which comes in various widths.  It is used to stiffen and support hem edges on full skirts, helping them to stand away from the body.

Polyester horsehair braid in various widths will support hem of full skirt. 5cm width can also be used to support top of strapless bodice.

Polyester horsehair braid in various widths will support hem of full skirt. 5cm width can also be used to support top of strapless bodice.

It is quite malleable and soft and can also provide additional support at the top of strapless bodices.

Basic instructions for its insertion follow; however, I  prefer to use an additional piece of lining or garment fabric to cover the braid so that it is not able to be seen once the garment is completed.  The top of this additional fabric can be handstitched in place to the underlining.

Basic instructions for using horesehair braid.

Basic instructions for using horesehair braid.

Staying Edges:

Garment edges need to be supported to prevent them from stretching out of shape during wear, for example necklines and armholes; jacket fronts and rolled lapels; at zipper openings.  There are various methods to accomplish this:

  • Directional stay stitching – using a small straight stitch and widest to narrowest (see blog post 27th April “Staystitching and Understitching”):
    • towards centre front and centre back for curved necklines
    • from V to shoulder with V necklines
    • from neck to shoulder
    • on armholes from shoulder to armhole
  • Application of a fusible tape – cut on the straight grain – on the wrong side of the garment directly over the seam line
  • Lightweight fabric selvage – silk organza is excellent – or narrow, soft grosgrain ribbon or cotton tape can be machine stitched just inside the seam line
  • To prevent gaping in deep or wide necklines, an elastic stay using 3mm elastic can be applied to the seam allowance between the garment and the facing – simply attach the elastic at one end and catchstitch over the elastic to form a casing; tighten the elastic without drawing up the neckline and finish the remaining elastic end with back stitches.

    Neckline/shoulder stays hold the shoulder and sleeves in place with a wide deep neckline in the front and back. They are made from narrow braided elastic couched in place with catch stitch and fastened at each end.

    Neckline/shoulder stays hold the shoulder and sleeves in place with a wide deep neckline in the front and back. They are made from narrow braided elastic couched in place with catch stitch and fastened at each end.

  • Stay tape can also be used to shrink and stabilise gaping areas, for example deep and V necklines, roll lines on lapels and the front edges of an unlined cardigan style jacket.

Waistline Stays:

  • If a garment has no defined waistline seam, a grosgrain ribbon waistline stay can be applied to keep the garment in place during wear
  • A grosgrain ribbon stay is also added to the lower edge of an inserted foundation
  • The stay is hand stitched in place at seam allowances or along the bottom of a foundation and hooks and eyes are applied to each end (they should be positioned towards the garment and not the wearer)

    Rayon Petersham waist stay fastens around the waist to keep the skirt in place and take the strain of the zipper when it is being opened and closed.

    Rayon Petersham waist stay fastens around the waist to keep the skirt in place and take the strain of the zipper when it is being opened and closed.

  • When fastening the garment, the stay hooks are fastened followed by the zipper or buttons

Shoulder Pads and Sleeve Heads:

Shoulder pads are used to support the shoulder area of garments – they are a must in jackets and coats

Shoulder pad styles

Shoulder pad styles:
Top left: straight shoulder edge
Top right: raglan shoulder with attachment tab
Bottom right: moulded raglan
Bottom left: moulded raglan

Straight shoulder edge pads - long end goes towards the front of the garment.

Straight shoulder edge pads – long end goes towards the front of the garment.

  • Take note of the size pad that the pattern specifies and if using a smaller or larger shoulder pad, the garment shoulder seam will need to be altered
  • If a pad is too long for the shoulder seam, it should be trimmed at the neckline edge so that it finishes 1cm from the neckline seam
  • Pads are made mainly from polyester wadding or needle felted cotton and can contain a foam inner core – the foam will deteriorate with dry cleaning and pads will need to be replaced
  • Pad shapes vary according to current fashion and can be shaped at the shoulder line over top of the arm or be straight cut at the armhole edge
  • The shoulder point on the shoulder pad should extend 15mm into the sleeve and is attached along the shoulder seam
  • Pads in unlined garments need to be covered using soft fabric with the bias grain running at right angles to the shoulder edge of the pad and the underside darted/tucked to accommodate the under curve of the pad

Sleeve heads prevent the top of the sleeve collapsing against the arm and give a smoother line

  • Sleeve heads can be made either from a strip of wadding cut on the bias (2 inches by 7 inches) or to the shape of the garment sleeve – they are usually made from cotton or wool quilter’s wadding and are stitched into the sleeve by machine after the sleeve is inserted into the garment

    Custom fitting sleeve head with shoulder position marked with a snip and corners rounded.

    Custom fitting sleeve head with shoulder position marked with a snip and corners rounded.

  • In evening or daywear dresses or tops with full gathered top sleeves, sleeve heads are often made from silk organza or tulle


  • The purpose of using a lining to conceal the inner construction of the garment and allow it to glide over other garments without catching
  • For this reason it is best to use a slippery fabric for jackets and coats
  • Soft cotton lawn or batiste can be used for summer dresses but would catch on hosiery with winter garments when a slippery lining is needed
  • Linings are cut to the finished length of the garment
  • Jacket linings are attached to the garment at the hem – an exception to this is where the jacket has a pleat in the back or a pronounced swing back and the lining may impede the drape of this detail
  • Linings in dresses, pants, skirts and coats are hemmed separately
  • In dresses and coats a wider hem on the lining (at least 5-6cm) gives a better drape to the lining
  • Small weights can be added within the hem allowance on linings which are left loose at the bottom of a garment
  • French tacks can be used to attach the lining to the top of the hem of the garment
  • If a garment is made in a heavy or very textured fabric, cut a strip of lining the depth of the desired hem (usually 5cm) plus seam allowances and apply this to the bottom of the garment to act as the hem
  • If making an unlined jacket or coat, consider inserting lining into the sleeves and upper back to make it easier to wear over other garments