Neck & Neck


Prior to joining our crew in Milan, I wanted to pause for another tutorial on neckline treatments. For a long time, there hasn't been anything special (aside from one shouldered gowns) with necklines. Increasingly however, I'm beginning to see dresses and tops sporting a variety of necklines. What really prompted me to do this project was the sublime gown by Balmain worn on the Oscar red carpet by the iconic actress, Jane Fonda.

This dress is really super simple....a body grazing sheath with a two eye-popping details: square shoulders and a sharply cut neckline. Before we get to that dress, let's first look at how different necklines are designed into a garment.

We must go back to our basic slopers. Whatever happens in the front will impact the back in most cases.
Square Neckline.
1. Place the front and back slopers end to end at the shoulders.
2. Make a mark at the mid point of the shoulder line, another on the center front (as far down as you want) and another on the center back (as far down as you want). Make a horizontal line across the bodice from the mark on the center front and the center back Those lines should run perpendicular to those vertical lines. Draw a diagonal line to join the first two lines as shown in diagram #2.
3. The pattern will look like this.
4. Add seam allowance.

Sweetheart Neckline
5. This is pretty much the same method. It begins by placing a mark roughly 1" (2cm) down from the neck on the shoulder and another as far down the center front line as you want. Draw another line perpendicular to the shoulder as far down as you would like, and then a curved line from that point to the mark on the center front.
6. Place the back sloper end to end along the shoulder of the front sloper. Draw a horizontal line on the center back (where you made a mark). Starting where the line falls on the shoulder from the front sloper, continue that line until it intercepts with the horizontal line extending out from the center back.

Bateau neckline
It is hardly noticeable. But actually, this is a wide neckline with just the right amount of rise in the front over the throat and a graceful dip at the nape of the neck in the back.
7. Mark the mid-point on the shoulder line of both the front and back slopers. On the front sloper, make a mark that is 1/8" (3mm) above the center front point at the neck. Draw a new line
8. On the back sloper, make a mark that is 1/8" (3mm) down from the neck on the center back and draw a new line.
9. Trace off. Then add seam allowance to complete the pattern.

Finishing Touches: Fold and sew (or glue)
Now that you know how to do necklines, how do you finish them?  A full, edge to edge lining is  ideal, but not always practical. Moreover, depending on the style, not all clothes need to be lined. So you have two other options. If the lines are simple and the fabric isn't too complicated, you can simply turn the edge down and stitch or (fabric) glue down and iron. Tip: Join the garment together at the shoulders. Press, then turn and stitch or glue while the garment is flat. Then sew the sides and complete the garment.



Finishing touches: Facings
I hesitate to recommend facings because often, they add bulk around the neckline. But if you don't want to line the outfit and the design is such that you cannot simply fold and stitch (which is the case of our sweetheart along with more complex necklines), then a facing will suffice.


 1. Facings are created by tracing off the top part of the pattern while avoiding darts. In diagram one, the red dotted line indicates the part of the original pattern I will use to create the facing for this bodice. Make sure the length at the side seams are equal from front to back.
2. Here's the pattern for the facing.
3. When you have a pattern with a more involved design--like the sweetheart neckline pictured here--you should mark the design directly onto the wrong side of the fabric because you really must respect the sewing lines. Sew the facing along the shoulder line only. Sew the garment along the shoulder line only. Press the shoulder seams flat. Place right side of the facing to the right side of the garment and pin. Then carefully sew the two elements together.
4. Very carefully clip around the neckline. Turn right side out.
5. Press well, one section at a time.
6. Baste or pin along the neckline edge.
7. Make tiny cuts around the armholes of both the facing and that of the garment. Press each inwards.
8. Pin the edges of the armhole facing together with those of the garment.
9. Using a single thread (needle and thread) sew the two together. Press well.

10. Once you have finished the neckline and armhole edges, fold the garment down and stitch the sides (and back).

When you have finished, you will have a neckline that is shaped like the top of a heart over the bustline and is square in the back. This was a very popular look in the 1940's, especially coupled with puffy "leg of muffin" short sleeves! Sometimes over the years, it tends to fall out of favor. But you can modify it to serve your needs. For the gorgeous velvet dress below, designed by New York designer, Brandon Maxwell and worn by Viola Davis for this year's Golden Globes, a lot of you (and me) fell in love with the look.
Creating what appears starts out as a "slip dress" in 1/6 scale, particularly in velvet, is quite a challenge. So I made a modified version of the "sweetheart" neckline. And since stretch velvet doesn't fray, I didn't need to do anything special to finish the edges. Note: only seam allowance has been added to the shoulders and the sides. There is enough stretch in the fabric for the doll to slip into the dress without the need of a back opening. So the dress is only made of two pattern pieces!
I started with the (dartless) knit sloper. Then modified it by redrawing the neckline using the same "heart shaped" design, but with slim "straps" over the shoulders.

Behind the Design: That Balmain Dress
Okay, I know....you came here to find out how to make THAT dress......

Even though Jane Fonda's dress has a bit of a train in the back, I decided to keep the basic dress as a long sheath. If you really want, you can add a wedge of jersey (in the same color) into the center back just under the knee. But for me, the drama of this dress is really the power shoulders and the dramatic neckline.
1. This is one of those rare occasions where the design of the front doesn't impact the back. That is because the dress is close to the back of her nape in the back and drops down and wide in sharp points in the front. So, I begin with the zig zag design in the front. Be careful not to draw the zig zag too small or the design won't be too visible when you have finished.
2. The back sloper remains unchanged.
3. Because this dress has square power shoulders, you must lift and square off the original shoulder line. Line up the front and back slopers so that the shoulder points align as shown.
4. The top of the shoulders run horizontal (and perpendicular to the rest of the sloper. Extend the curve of the armhole to meet the top of the shoulder.
5. Take the redesigned front and overlap it with the back along the center lines. Note the difference in height. Raise the front and lower the back so that both slopers are equal in length at the shoulder line.
6. Redraw the pattern.

7. Line up the front and back bodice patterns along the new shoulder line. We cannot have the armhole come to a point, so make a mark about 1/8" (3mm) from the widest point on the shoulder.
8. Make a mark 1/8" away from the bottom of the armhole on both the front and back pattern. Draw a line from that point back down to the waist of the pattern. Now redraw the armhole
9. Because these are padded shoulders and we have lifted the shoulder line, we must lift the cap of the sleeve. Whatever the amount your shoulders were lifted--1/2" (1 cm) in this case, you add to the top of the sleeve. The best way to do this is by tracing off the original pattern. Then sliding the sloper 1/2 along the center line and tracing off part of the cap. Redraw to that the lines blend.

Here is my finished pattern. Unless your fabric has a lot of body, you will need to make and sew in shoulder pads. You can find them HERE.


Well, the girls are waiting for us in Milan to show us their faves from the Italians' Fashion Week. We'll see you all there in a few!!!

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