1930s Sew-along with Norma: Bias binding instead of facings

Update on my participation in 1930s Sew-along with Norma

Please check out Norma’s blog to see her pretty 1930s skirt.

1930s Sewing Technique Challenge:  How do I finish a neckline and the armholes of a sleeveless dress?

I found the answer to why so many 1930s patterns do not have facing pieces for necklines and armholes on sleeveless garments.  The pattern that inspired my project also does not have any facing pieces in the pattern diagram.  I went through one of my reference books “Paris Frocks At Home” to see what was an acceptable finish.  It turns out that bias binding was often used.  There isn’t a diagram or mention about armhole facings although there are some facings for necklines.  I have decided to use either organza or a poly china silk for the binding once I start sewing with the fashion fabric.

The binding of my copy of “Paris Frocks at Home” is fragile.  I won’t scan it but can photograph the pages I referred to.  I’ve typed the pertinent text in along with close-ups of the illustrations mentioned.

I’ve decided to put the toile together by hand. This gets me into the groove for sewing the dress.  Many of the finishings in the 1930s were done by hand.  In this sense dressmakers in the 1930s were closer to the spirit of haute couture than I previously realized.

Photos of what I’ve done so far follow at the end of the posting.

Paris Frocks At Home
Published by The Butterick Publishing Company, New York, 1930.
From “Chapter 10: A Good Start Deserves A Good Finish”

“True bias is a smooth article

“Bias strips used as facings and bindings both for trimming and finishing edges are constantly being used in all good dressmaking. We seldom complete a dress without cutting some bias finishing pieces.  Bias may be bought already cut and sometimes folded also.  Bias is more often, however, cut from material from which the dress is made.  The way to find a true bias is described on page 46.  Having found the true bias line, measure from it the width you expect to cut your bias strips.  Mark as many lines all the same distance apart as you can and cut along these lines.


Illustration 85

“When joining bias strips lay the straight end of the two pieces together with right sides toward each other. You will make a right angle with the strips.  Extend the point of one piece beyond the other as far as the width of the joining seam.  After these two pieces are stitched this way, (Ill.85), when the seam is opened both bias pieces will be seamed diagonally; the bias edges will form a straight line.”

 –Text from Page 102-103
–Illustration 85 from page 102


“We are bound to like our necklines

“The most attractive and suitable neckline finish is bias binding, either single or double. If the dress is of wool or heavy cotton use a single binding.  Silks, chiffons and light weight cottons may be finished with double bindings since double binding stretches less and is easier to handle.  The trick in putting on binding is to keep it from twisting as you sew it on.

“Double binding is no trouble.


Illustrations 88 and 89

“To make double binding, cut a bias strip four times as wide as the finished binding plus an allowance for a seam on each edge of the binding (usually ½” to 5/8” extra). Now fold your long bias strip through the center and press the fold, but be careful not to stretch it on the ironing board.  Baste and stitch the two raw edges of the binding to the right side of the edge of the neck that is to be bound.  Sew on the seam allowance line and hold the binding toward you.  Now roll the binding with a light deft touch to the inside of the dress and sew the creased edge of the binding to the outside of the dress.  Do this sewing by hand with a straight hemming stitch.  (Illustration 88)”

 –Text from Page 104
–Illustration 88 from page 103

The dress toile:  Neckline and armhole finish with double bias binding

“Paris Frocks At Home” did not give many details about how to handle the double bias tape once it was ready for steam pressing.  I followed the instructions to go lightly when pressing.  Nothing was mentioned about pulling the tape slightly and curving it as you steam press it.  I learned this at French Fashion Academy and show how to do it in the posting where I prepared organza bias tape for hemming a circle skirt.  I was taught that bias tape will shrink slightly as it is handled.  The stretching and slight curving done while steam pressing makes it easier to work with and keeps the width of the tape from becoming unstable as it is handled.  Since I bypassed what I know works to try what “Paris Frocks At Home” recommends I learned many things about trying to stay true to vintage sewing techniques.  It can be summed up as:  when your experience has taught you a better way, do the commonsense thing and use the one which will give better results.

The double bias tape I used did not handle the curves of the armholes and neckline well in all places.  It got narrower in some and a little wider in others. Since the entire toile is being put together by hand you’ll see the tiny running stitches holding the tape in place after it was turned to the inside.

The bias tape I cut was 2″ wide before being folded.  The finished width when turned inside and stitched into place should have been 1/2″ all around.  This didn’t work out well because the tape had not been properly prepared.  When I sew the fashion fabric I will cut the strips 3″ wide and then fold them in half.  As I press I will stretch slightly and make sure to shape into a slight curve.

I do not know if bodices or skirts were underlined in the 1930s.  I’ve decided that underlining will be good in this case since I do not want the hemming stitches of the neckline and armholes to be visible on the outside of the fashion fabric.  I know underlining is a couture technique and is also used in tailoring.  Even though I’m not sure how popular it was for dressmaking in the 1930s, I will apply this technique anyway since it will produce better results.  There comes a point where I believe we should use all the wonderful information we now have available to us.  It’s good to stick to the vintage techniques as much as possible but that doesn’t mean we should ignore a way to do something that will improve the outcome.

So yes, I ‘m going to make the bias tape the way I know will produce good results.  And since I’ve had good results with underlinings when they’re needed I’m going to use one for the bodice of the dress.

Close-ups of the dress toile neckline and armholes finished with double bias binding

Overall I like this technique very much.  The dress feels very light.  It is a good alternative to the popular all-in-one facing we use today when sewing a sleeveless dress or blouse. If you look closely I hope you can see the parts of the neckline and armhole where the bias is wider in some places and narrower in others.


Close-up of sleeveless bodice, front of dress.


Double bias binding finish, back neckline.


Double bias binding finish along right armhole near chest level.


Double bias binding finish along right side of neckline finish, front of bodice.







18 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Bias binding instead of facings

    • You’re much to kind, Naomi. It’s just a toile. But I accept the compliment with happiness. It means my hand sewing is getting better. I’m coming out of a flare-up of tendonitis. The inflammation affected my elbows and wrists but I’m getting my movement back. Your feedback encourages me. Thank you!

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  1. Your technique for pressing and stretching sounds great. I’ve found it is also necessary to allow for turn-of-the-cloth especially for double bias binding. I don’t think I will ever cut out yards of bias tape without making a test sample first.

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  2. This is similar to a technique I used as described on an original 1930s pattern I have. Instead of bias tape it suggested rayon tape, which you sew onto the seam line and then fold inside and hand stitch. It was recommended around the neckline and armholes and I actually loved this technique. It barely shows on the outside because it’s so light, whereas modern facings would’ve been noticeable. I use this wherever I can now as I much prefer it.

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  3. The comment I made earlier seems to have vanished. Maybe I didn’t press send – anyway, I’ll start again….
    I really like the bias finish; it looks beautiful, whereas facings tend to look clunky. Your toile looks lovely. Some vintage methods are much better than the usual ones used now but of course they take a lot more time.
    I think it’s ok to use a modern method where the result is likely to be better. After all, the design isn’t compromised and nor is the vintage look. I wish I had stay stitched rather than doing as 30s sewers did.
    I have been thinking about it & realise that if I want to stay stitch, I will have to make a bigger seam allowance at the waist – 1/4″ is not enough. I don’t think it will change the look of the skirt and it will make attaching the Petersham much easier.

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    • Thank you for understanding. And yes, I’m going to stay stitch–I’m glad you reminded me. The v-neckline is so clearly on the bias and it got a little loose as I worked the bias binding around it. I love the way your skirt came out. These techniques are very, very insightful. They are one of the reasons why the skirts and dresses of the 1930s look so fluid when we watch old movies.

      I think it’ll be fun to add screen shots from old 30s films to my postings in-between things. The ones I’m thinking of are pre-code and at YouTube. Pre-code films are very different from the ones we usually associate with the era.

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