Planning a V neckline

Carol offers a timely posting that is helping me re-think the V-neckline treatment for my 1930s inspired dress. Please check out the different techniques she has gathered together. I can think of a way these will help me. Perhaps they will prove useful to you in the future.


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October 1935 Hazleton, PA newspaper ad

Here are a few scans that show how stay tapes and directional stitching may help preserve the shape of the V neckline.

I am thinking of making a sleeveless pull-over top or vest that would have a V neckline. Rather than using a bias binding or a bias facing, I would like to use a facing cut with the grain of the garment. My plan was to have the front of the facing show on the front of the garment. I could also make a wider decorative V in this way possibly with multiple stripes like a tennis sweater.

The facing itself may be faced so I could just slip stitch it in place on the front. The lower raw edge of the faced facing would end at the cut edge of the V neckline or the armscye and I could hold it to the garment with a running…

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1930s Sew-along: Flowers for you & supplies for me!


Here’s a photo of some garden flowers from Brooklyn to all of my readers, friends and sister sewistas.  Thank you for all your encouragement as I slowly make progress in the 1930s Sew-along with Norma..

The fabric is ready for cutting but—I’ve neglected my stock of supplies.  I must order a roll of dressmaker’s tracing paper, stay tape, and interfacing.  The rayon challis is very soft and will need a gentle support at the wrist and along the neckline.  The Dritz nylon stay tape worked well for the toile but will not work on the challis.  It’s really meant for knits but I think it has some use on woven fabrics, too.

Caroline at La Robe a Caro has me rethinking the stabilizing of a v-neckline.  She’s made a gorgeous Bridgette Bardot dress with a curvy v-neckline.  Caroline used ribbon to keep the neck from stretching and overall it has worked out.  My v-neckline is not complex but still I’ve had it stretch when working on the toile.  Stay stitching alone was not enough.

Never once did my 1930s guide book, “Paris Frocks at Home”, mention stay stitching or stay tape.  I wonder how the sewistas of that decade coped with stretching necklines and waistlines.  Today I always read that the selvedge from silk or poly organza is an all around stay tape of choice.  I just do not think it will be enough for the rayon challis I’m using.  So I’m thinking of using a 1/8″ or 1/4″ wide stay tape in cotton.  I used this once when making a tailored jacket.  It was hand stitched to armholes and roll lines.  I think this might work for the dress.

I also need dressmaker’s tracing paper.  I only know of one source where I can get it by the yard.  That is from an old school supplier to the garment trade, Steinlauf & Stoller.  Otherwise I’d be stuck ordering packets of Clover tracing paper that contain colored tracing paper I never use.  The beauty of dressmaker’s tracing paper is that the white markings vanish after you steam press the seam or dart.

I’ll keep you updated on the supply order.  I also have to find one ball button for the back closure at the neck.  I’m hoping to find one in green glass or Lucite to match the buckle.  And then there is the belt.  The vintage glass-like buckle I’ll use requires a belt that will go through it but not have any eyelets.  So that’s another adventure in making a belt.





1930s Sew-along with Norma: Variations of the sleeve with vertical dart


Further information about the sleeve that is part of the dress I’m making for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

The photos in this posting complete the details of my previous posting.  Here I explained how I finally traced the reasons why previous versions of the sleeve with vertical dart failed.  I hope that the photos in this posting show the inspiration that kept me going.  This sleeve is the basis of so many pretty and elegant variations.  No further text from me is needed.  I’ll let the photos do the talking!

Modern versions:  Photos of illustrations from the third edition of “Patternmaking for Fashion Design” by Helen Joseph Armstrong


Vintage Version:  Used as a blouse sleeve and described as a ‘bishop’s sleeve’ in “Precision Draping” by Nellie Weymouth Link


Photos of my patterns:  Basic Elbow Dart Sleeve and Sleeve with Vertical Dart

I used the French Fashion Academy to draft the basic sleeve.  Any system can be used to create the basic sleeve and work it up to the sleeve with vertical dart.

The sleeve with elbow dart was created from the basic unfitted sleeve.  The darker lengthwise line is the new grainline after making the alteration to split the cap ease evenly between front and back.  It looks a little odd that the back of the cap is more than the front but the fit worked out.  I notice different pattern drafting systems result in different armhole and sleeve cap shapes.  A lot also has to do with the measurements and figure type the pattern is drafted for.

Notice how the shape of the back sleeve seam and wrist change when the vertical dart is opened.  This sleeve is now the starting points for the variations shown in the photos above.  I think I can create the variations Helen Joseph Armstrong shows even though hers is a different drafting system.  It’s the transformation itself that I have to get into.  Once the principles are clear I’ll experiment with muslin.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Success! We have a sleeve with a vertical dart at last!


Thank you to Norma, Carol, Naomi and my other blog readers for your ongoing support.  Thanks to all the encouragement through my flops with drafting this sleeve.  You gave me the drive to keep going.  I’m am so happy to say that not only has the latest version of this sleeve succeeded but I also know where I went wrong.  What follows is the process of evaluation I went through.  At the end is a brief tutorial on how to create this sleeve from an existing pattern for a sleeve with an elbow dart.  I did not take photos of the process but I will upload a photo of what my finished pattern piece looks like as soon as I can.

Special Shout-Out

Norma, for getting this project going.

Carol, for the many scans of vintage pattern drafting instructions at the start of this project.

Every bit of info has helped from you and the readers.

Photos of the Half-muslin of the successfully completed sleeve

I used a half-toile since the bodice, neckline and flares have worked out in earlier versions of the toile.  The sleeve was all I needed to focus on now.




This ongoing loop of working with fitted sleeves raised my awareness of many points I had forgotten about.  This is because we tend to use unfitted sleeves so much more in modern sewing.  Points I realized are:

1.  Sleeves with vertical and horizontal darts will run straight on the lengthwise grain until the point at which the dart is placed.

2.  From the dart and downward, the lengthwise grain line shifts slightly towards the front.

3.  Above the elbow, the horizontal grain lines at elbow and cap level will run round the sleeve and remain parallel to the floor.

4.  This sleeve keeps the sleeve seam at the same point as the bodice side seam.

Why a sleeve with a vertical elbow dart?

Such a sleeve was used in some of the 1930s dresses I studied prior to drafting my pattern.  I was especially attracted to the contouring of this sleeve in Margaret Ralston’s book “Dress Cutting by the Block Pattern System”.  She recommends placing the seam of the sleeve 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam.  I took note of that.

This sleeve has a very old fashioned look to it.  But the main reason why I have wanted to persevere with this patternmaking exercise is because this sleeve is the basis for two variations I think are very elegant.

One variation is the sleeve that comes to a point over the wrist and right above the middle finger.  This is such a romantic and 1940-ish kind of sleeve.  I think with a few other details it could be the focal point of an elegant evening gown or day dress.

The second variation I really love is one where the dart is changed into an opening consisting of numerous ball buttons on one side and fabric loops for closure on the other side.  The possibilities to make the buttons a statement are endless.  Rhinestones, crystals, vintage Czech glass buttons, Lucite, pearl and so many more.

So with these visions dancing in my mind I continued to deal with several versions of the sleeve that did not work out.

Analyzing the problems and failures

Ralston’s recommendation to shift the sleeve seam 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam threw everything off.  The vertical grain at biceps and elbow level were not parallel to the floor.  The sleeve looked like it had swung around the armscye a few times and randomly settled into a position I’ve never seen on a sleeve before!

Another version of the sleeve with the sleeve seam matching the bodice side seam fared no better.  This time the cap had too much ease to deal with as well.  The vertical grain lines were not as off but the sleeve cap itself was a mess.

Alterations to reduce the cap width made for complications elsewhere in the sleeve.  As many of you know a big alteration in one part of a pattern piece always affects other parts of that piece and often other pattern pieces as well.

So I knew something was wrong with the pattern all the way from the start.  The starting point and origination is the basic sleeve draft.  That works up to the fitted sleeve with elbow dart.  From the elbow dart is derived the sleeve with vertical dart.

So I started going back to the beginning of the project.

The source of all the problems:  Too much style ease resulting in too much cap ease

The original dress I based my pattern on was a chemise with set-in sleeves, a low neckline and no closure.  Based on the illustrations only I assumed the dress was a pull-over.  Even the pattern instructions in the book the illustration came from “Paris Frocks at Home”, did not show any side snap closure.

I thought 4″ of style ease would create a roomy dress.  It did but the width was too much around the biceps level.  This resulted in a very wide sleeve cap that had almost 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ inches.  The alteration to reduce the cap width did not help.  It threw the sleeve off an resulted in the strange hang once it was in the armhole.

Things improved when I realized that a pull-over dress in a woven fabric is difficult to achieve when there are set in sleeves.  I think short kimono sleeves and a roomier kind of shape is better and more comfortable.  I’m thinking of the blouson type of dress with an elastic waistline, low U-shape neckline and short kimono or short dolman sleeves.

I decided to make an adaptation of the dress instead of sticking to a purely 1930s approach by foregoing the center back zipper. Changing the dress to one with a center back zipper meant I didn’t have to add so much style ease.   This freed me up to use the standard 3″ of style ease which always provides a good fit and comfort for smaller Misses sizes and Junior sizes.

With just three inches of ease at the biceps level the excess cap ease was just 5/8″.  I made the adjustments to the sleeve by moving the lengthwise grain line where needed.  This resulted in the balanced sleeve you see in the photos of this posting.

Tutorial:  How to create your own fitted sleeve with vertical dart

It is essential to have as the basis a fitted sleeve with horizontal elbow dart that fits you very well and is comfortable.  The bodice is best from the same pattern that uses this sleeve.  If you’re going to use pieces of different patterns do a good review of the measurements of the arm holes and the sleeve cap to make sure things will balance and the ease will be correct.

Once you have such a fitted sleeve with horizontal elbow dart proceed as described.

  1.  Trace your pattern without any seam lines.  You can add these later.  I find it makes for easier cutting.
  2.  Transfer all grain lines and markings and the dart.
  3.  Measure the curve of the wrist from back to front side seam.
  4.  Divide this measurement by 3.  Note the amount.
  5.  From the side seam of the back of the sleeve measure along the wrist the amount derived in Step 4.  Mark with a dot.
  6. Draw a line from the apex point of the elbow dart down to this dot.  It might be slanted.  That is ok.
  7. Cut open the vertical line.
  8. Cut the lower dart leg and close the horizontal dart.  The vertical dart will open.  Fill the space with paper and mark the dart legs.
  9. Lower the apex of the vertical dart about 1″.  Redraw the dart legs.
  10. The seam of the back part of the sleeve will need to be evened out above, below and at the point of the pattern where the horizontal elbow dart was.  The shape will be slightly curved.  This part of the sleeve will be eased into the front part that is straighter.
  11. You can use a curved ruler if you want to make the dart legs slightly curved if you want.  The outward curves can make the dart look like a wishbone.  The curve should just be slightly outward midway at the dart leg but end right where it should at the wrist.  Do not make the dart wider.
  12. After stitching the dart, run a second line of straight stitches 1/4″ above the dart leg.  Then trim and steam press towards the center.
  13. A tailor’s ham is very helpful when pressing the dart.


1930s Sew-along with Norma: Preparations (part one)

Now that I have the neckline finish mapped out, the next step if finalizing the sleeve.  I’ve drafted a sleeve with elbow dart that worked our perfectly.  It is the back-up plan in case my last effort at the fitted sleeve with vertical dart fails.  Then onto the sewing–finally!

I’m still considering if the Dritz nylon stay tape is right for the rayon challis fashion fabric.  I may need something with a little more support in it.  So I’ll experiment on some scraps using organza or light weight muslin as a stabilizing strip along the neckline.

It’s always good to read up on the type of fabric one will use before cutting and sewing.  Even though I have reference books I check online sources, too.  Here’s one you might find useful should you try sewing with rayon challis:


Free downloadable fact sheet:  Sewing with Rayon Challis

“Sewing with Rayon Challis”
by Rose Marie Tondl, Extension Clothing Specialist
Cooperative Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Concise summary on supplies and finishes that work best with Rayon Challis.


1930s Sew-along with Norma: The NEC Technique for applying a bias binding to a V-neckline


At last the neckline is bound with a bias binding.  This technique evolved over postings and comments to which Norma and Carol contributed:  Details follow the photos of the neckline as completed on the latest toile.

I am still tweaking the sleeve pattern.  I went back and reviewed the very first basic toile I made for the dress form.  I also checked my patternmaking books.  Anytime a sleeve has an elbow dart, whether vertical or horizontal, the crosswise grain must balance.  Below the elbow the lengthwise grain will not align with the side seam.  The dart causes the fabric below the elbow to swing to the front.  So here is part of the answer I need for why the sleeve with a vertical elbow dart swings forward.  I just need  now to work on some more details to get the rest of the sleeve right.



I have to practice my slip stitching a little more to get this just right but I think this is a good start.


I will use a lapped zipper application.  The back of the neckline will have a hook and eye or snap closure.  For decorative purposes I may also use a glass button and silk button loop as well.

The NEC Technique for applying bias binding to a V-neckline

NEC stands for Norma, EmilyAnn and Carol.

1.Stitch shoulder seams.  Press open.

2.On wrong side of the fabric, pin and baste into place a length of Dritz 791 1/2″ wide nylon stay tape.  The tape will go from Center Back to Center Front on each side.  Do not overlap at the point of the V-neckline.  The tape is placed between the edge and above the 1/2″ sewing line.

3.Use medium length straight stitch to stay stitch and fix the stay tape into place.  Stitching should be above the 1/2″ sewing line.

4.Clip and finger press the neckline seam allowance to the right side of the fashion fabric.

5.Cut a length of the fashion fabric on the true bias that is 1 1/2″ wide.  This length should be equal to one side of the neckline plus 2″ for seam allowances and stretch factor.

6.Cut another bias strip in the same manner.

7.Turn under each side of the bias strip 1/2″ to the wrong side and steam press each side.  When both sides have been pressed like this, steam press again from the right side gently stretching and slightly shaping into a curve.

8.Baste the neckline of the bodice into place making sure the edges are trimmed.  Press the neckline.

9.It works best to pin the bias tape in place by having the bodice on a dress form.  Work from the Center Back at the beginning of the neckline by wrapping 1/2″ of the tape to the inside.  Then pin on an angle all along the neckline making sure the tape covers the fabric that has been turned to the right side.

10.At center front, angle the tape so that it forms a point at the end.  Allow 1/4″ to turn to the wrong side and pin in place.

11.Repeat for the other side.  Make sure that at Center Front the tape lines up vertically.

12.Slip stitch both edges of the tape to the neckline and bodice.

13.To join the tape at the center use the drawing stitch.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Breakthrough! We have a bias bound V-neckline at last!

The heat and humidity continue to slow down my sewing and time on the laptop each evening.  But, last night after my sewing session was completed I wanted to sing, “Good golly, Miss Molly!  We’ve got a v-neckline with bias binding at long last.”

Thanks to Carol and Norma I’ve been encouraged to persevere in Norma’s 1930s Sew-along.  Their support, research and sharing of techniques helped me come up with the way of solving the problem of  the V-neckline for my 1930s dress.

I believe that our collaboration has resulted in the development of a technique that others will find useful should they run into the problems I had when using more conventional methods of applying a double or single layer bias binding.  I’ve done most of the sewing by hand following Norma’s recommendations based on her lovely handmade linen top for the One-year-one-garment challenge.  For these reasons I consider the technique a fusion of dressmaking and couture.

This leaves only the zipper as a deviation from the 1930s garment construction.  It is necessary, though, because the entire garment looks so much better now.  Since the dress doesn’t have to be pulled over the head I reduced the amount of style ease and raised the V-neckline to a more modest level above the bust.

I will create a formal tutorial once the dress fabric is cut.  Photos of the new toile with the pretty v-neckline and sleeve finished with bias binding will go up as soon as I finish the side seams and put the sleeve in.

The interaction and discussions I’ve had with Carol and Norma are similar to what we used to do in French Fashion Academy.  If anyone is curious about what it’s like to take a dressmaking course or workshop, the postings and comments about this neckline are something like that.  You’re constantly challenged and encouraged.  What you read in books is put to the test and often one person’s insights, another person’s suggestions and your own thinking process come up with ways to interpret the findings and reach a solution.