Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Drafting Part VIII - Necklines, Facings and The Sleeveless Armscye

Hello back from the weekend, everyone! We're in the middle of our series on drafting now, so let's do a recap for those just joining us. We've talked about drafting and measuring, and made our front and back slopers. Then Jen from My Measuring Tape took us through sleeve drafting, sleeve fitting and sleeve adaptation. In this brilliant next post, Jen will discuss necklines! But there's more - read on and learn
  • why facings are as much a part of drafting as they are of sewing,
  • how to adapt the basic sloper for different necklines and
  • how to concurrently adapt the sloper armsyce for sleeveless patterns.

Here's Jen!

To me, necklines are the unsung heroes in drafting and clothing design. A neckline is a very simple thing to change up, and each modification can very dramatically, or subtly, create a whole new look to the same dress/blouse pattern. As I said, a neckline is a very easy thing to change. You just draw a new style line, literally. Following from the sloper draft shown by LiEr in the early posts, your basic bodice block has a round-neck, or jewel, neckline. You can change this to any number of different necklines by the end of this tutorial, I think!

But before we talk about how to change a neckline, I need to explain to you about facings. A neckline facing is a piece of fabric that is sewn to neckline edge in order to retain the shape and to create a neat finish at the neckline. There are other ways to finish the neckline edge, like binding and overlocking (as a decorative element also). But to me, using a facing guarantees a very clean finish and neckline shape.

How to make a facing

1. On the front bodice pattern, draw a line, following the shape of the neckline, about 1.5" to 2" wide of the original neckline.

2. Do the same on the back bodice.

3. There you have your facing pattern. Trace onto another piece of paper and cut out the facing.

4. When cutting out the facing from fabric, add a seam allowance on the neckline and shoulder seams exactly the same amount as on the bodice neckline and bodice shoulder seams. There is no need to add seam allowance to the bottom of the facing. Just serge or overlock with a zig-zag stitch to contain the raw edge there.

5. When making up the facing, attach the facing pieces at the shoulder seams first, before attaching the facing to the bodice neckline.

6. If you intend the dress/blouse to be sleeveless, then you should bring the shoulder point in by about 3/8" (before making the facing). Redraw the armscye.*
*Note- you need to bring in the shoulder point to accommodate a sleeveless blouse/dress so that the garment hangs properly on your shoulders. Have you ever tried to hang a sleeveless dress or blouse on a hanger that doesn't stick out far enough beyond the armholes? The dress or blouse tends to slide off the hanger on one side doesn't it? This is because there isn't enough width on the hanger to properly balance the weight of the garment pulling down from the hanger. This very same principle applies when wearing a garment that is even just slightly too wide for your shoulders. The garment will pull down more on one shoulder than the other. Theoretically, a custom-drafted shoulder width on your sloper shouldn't be too wide, but based on the hanger principle, your true shoulder width (between the two shoulder points) isn't wide enough to balance the weight of the garment hanging from your shoulders. Since you can't increase your shoulder width without going for extensive surgery, it only makes sense that you should therefore reduce the shoulder length on the garment itself. This problem doesn't occur in a sleeved garment because the sleeves themselves act as balancing counter-weights, pulling the garment down from both shoulder points as well as from the lengths of the shoulders. So why don't we just draft the sleeved sloper with an already-reduced shoulder length, you ask? We don't because then the garment will look obviously too narrow across the upper chest, with sleeves that will look like it is straining over the ball of your shoulders and also pulling the fabric horizontally in both directions across the upper chest.

7. You then incorporate an armscye facing with the neck facing to create a single facing which will accommodate both the sleeveless armscye and the neckline.

8. Do the same for the back.
9. Add seam allowances (SA) to the facings as described above. Also add SA to the armscye as well.

Now let's move on to drafting various necklines.


1. On the front sloper, mark a point about 1" up from the shoulder point on the shoulder seam.

2. From this point, draw a gentle curve to meet with the Center Front (CF) point of the neckline.

3. On the back bodice, mark a point about 1" up from the shoulder point on the shoulder seam. Then mark a point 1" (or less or more, depending on your design) down from the jewel neckline on the Center Back (CB). Connect the 2 points with a gentle curve.

4. Make the facing for the front (and back), following the line of the boat neck. Remember to double up at CF for the front and make 2 separate pieces for the back. Add the SA to the facings.

5. If you intend the dress/blouse to be sleeveless, then you should bring the shoulder point in by about 3/8" (before making the facing).

6. From this point, draw a smooth curve to a point about two-thirds of the way down, on the armscye. Do the same for the back.

7. Make a single facing for the neckline and armscye.


1. On the front sloper, mark a point about 1.5" down from the bottom of the neckline at the CF.

2. Next, measure and mark a point 3/8"-1/2" down from the side neck point.

3. Connect the 2 points.

Note: if you skip step 2, you might end up with a line that cuts across the original jewel line...
...creating a very tight fit at that point around the neck, and make a mess of the fit on the upper torso. So please move the side neck point (step 2) when drafting a v-neck. You can reduce the distance to 1/4" at a time if you prefer.

4. Cut out the new neckline.

5. Draw in the facing.

6. The back neckline can remain as a jewel neckline or you can make a V-neck similar to the front, or with a longer/shorter depth at CB. Make the back facing in the same way but in 2 pieces to accommodate a CB opening.


1. Move the shoulder point in 3/8" and redraw the armscye.

2. From the new shoulder point, mark a point 1" (or less/more depending on your design) up on the shoulder seam.

3. Mark a point 2" (or less/more) from the bottom of the jewel neckline on the CF. Draw a reference line across the bodice from this point.

4. From the point marked in step 2, you can either draw a vertical line (A) straight down or an angled one (B) to meet with the reference line. The angle of the line depends on your own taste/preference/design.

5. Curve out the corner created.

6. Make a facing by drawing a horizontal line straight across the front bodice, about 2 inches below the bottom of the armscye.

7. Repeat all steps for the back. You can increase or decrease the back neckline depth according to preference.

Do you see a duplicatable pattern emerging?

You can really create a LOT of different necklines quickly and with very little fuss. To me, the facings are the key. Yes, binding the raw edges work, but you won't get a sharp, clean finish if you want more interesting shapes to your neckline.

Like these, for example:

LiEr: Brilliant post, Jen! The basics of neckline adaptation with all the important principles so you can take off from here to make your own patterns - scoop necks, square necks, keyholes, limited only by your imagination!

A small sewing tip: There are times when, despite your best efforts to stay-stitch unfaced necklines (eee, I disprefer), understitch facings, or otherwise stabilize your necklines, you might find that your necklines gape a little. This could be the result of several factors including but not limited to
  • original sloper draft was too roomy in the upper chest
  • neckline was cut too low and/or too wide for your particular body shape/degree of endowment
  • too much messing about with the neckline prior to facing it
  • general bad luck, poor room fengshui or someone hexed your sewing space

There are many ways to cure this, including burning the garment and starting over and taking in the shoulder seams (but this means possibly adjusting many other places as well, like darts, armscye, waist etc). If the gape in the neckline is small, a quick fix is pintucks. I've used this with a recent scoop neckline that ended up needing to be taken in by 1/2". It was not a lot, but too much to be left unchanged. So instead of making a huge 1/4' wide dart in the middle and sticking a hideous applique over it, I split it into 4 evenly-spaced pintucks and made a design of it. I'll show a photo of it at some point in some post to come!

Last word on necklines: we're choosing not to do a section on collars and leaving it at just adaptable necklines. One reason is that many children's dresses are good with just interesting necklines. Also there are already many tutorials out on the internet on drafting a basic shirt collar, or collar with stand, or peter pan collar. It's a very simple process - so just google discerningly and you should be able to find what you're looking for.


  1. Thanks Jen and Lorraine. This is some really nice information to keep in mind..Lorraine, I recently did pintucks on a dress for my daughter.

  2. wow, this series is amazing! you cant imagine how long i dreamed someone would come along and teach sloper/drafting basics - hurray!

    pretty please, won't you give some tips on drafting for women after this is done?

  3. I am so grateful to you both. A pattern cutting class I was hoping to start this month isn't going ahead after all. I would have been an awful lot more upset if I hadn't had this series to keep me going. Brilliant work.

  4. WOW that was so extremely helpful. I'm 15 and I just learned how to sew ( by myself ) and seriously nothing turned out wear-a-ble. But now I kinda realize that those little measurements do make a difference. Anyways thanks for taking the time to make this for everyone.

  5. Loved reading all these posts, just about ready to start on eldest daughter but wanted to know if you are going to cover trousers/leggings as well? Long story short - I need to make a costume for school and intended to use the block I'm going to end up with for the top but bit concerned about 'winging' it for the bottom. Theres the tummy bulge to consider as well as the bottom and need to provide enough room for little girl antics such as leaping, prancing & climbing, so I thought I would see if you are going to be answer to ALL my prayers!!

    P.S If you could manage to do the same sort of thing for drafting womens clothes I'm sure I could reward you in some way..... maybe a kidney or first born child?! Maybe........ no pressure!

  6. Thank you for this series! I am learning so much!!

    I linked to your tutorial over at Craft Gossip Sewing:


  7. I recently discovered this series and immediately added a link on my blog. I am learning to make my own patterns... so this is a nice addition to the books I already have.

  8. I disagree with how you show to make a duplicate of the neck and shoulder line for the facing. Sure, you can make a one-off work but over time, you'll notice that the facing will bubble at its outside edge. The reason is readily known in drafting for sheet metal, I.D. and O.D. (inner diameter vs outer diameter). The facing needs to be smaller than the outside in order to roll smoothly to the inside. Typically you pare the shoulder line back or you pivot an eigth out of center front/back (dress weight fabrics) but heavier materials require more. This becomes more obvious if you work in heavier goods (I'm a leather pattern maker). I worked on one 6 oz leather jacket that need *3/8* removed. That was a real eye-opener. Professional caliber pattern books illustrate this process.

    Btw, your illustrations are very nice, very clear and detailed. Authors of pattern books could learn a lot from you!

    Then, drafting facings for zipper closures is a whole other animal. I don't expect you to believe this but there should be no added seam allowance at the stand.

  9. Brilliant, thank you!

  10. Huge appreciation to you both for taking the time to steer us geometrically challenged individuals (who insist on designing/sewing their own clothes) in the right direction! :-)

  11. I thank God for people like you, who take time off from their day to do this for people like me who wants to learn and is not financially able or who don't have the time to sign up to take a class. I truly appreciate this and you, and you made it so simple, very understandable. I love that you used inches and not centimeters, this just kills me when I see someone makes things even more difficult for you. Keep doing what you do for others. I would have loved to see though, you turning one of those necklines into a button up front, using buttons or zipper. Would you do the honors? Would love to learn how. I've been looking awhile for this on the internet and so far has been unsuccessful, I thought I would have found it here, but I am still not disappointed, you taught me a lot. Thanks again. God Bless you and may He continue giving you the knowledge to give back to others.

  12. Thanks for such an informative series! I'm learning a lot from you.
    I have one question though - I hope you won't mind answering.

    You say that "you need to bring in the shoulder point to accommodate a sleeveless blouse/dress"

    I'm working on modifying a pattern (Simplicity 2917) to create a basic princess seamed bodice I can then use in a variety of ways with different fabrics and necklines. This pattern has three dress views, some with sleeves, some without, but the shoulder point is the same regardless as to whether there are sleeves or not.
    How should I approach this? Make it up as drafted and fit from there? Or move the shoulder point and have two pattern pieces, one for sleeved, one for sleeveless? What would you do?

    Any help is VERY much appreciated!

    1. I'd say make your foundation bodice (the fitted, basic, featureless princess-seamed one that you'd then adapt to different princess-seamed blouses and dresses) with sleeves. Or, rather, draft it as if it had sleeves. So keep the shoulder points as they are - drafted to exactly the shoulder width. Then try it on without sleeves and see if you like it. Personally, I think it would look too square and broad across the shoulders i.e. it would look exactly like a sleeved dress that someone forgot to attach sleeves to, and not a deliberately-designed sleeveless dress.

      Then bring in the shoulder points to 3/8" to even as much as 1" and see how you like that look. The more you bring it towards the neck, the more it would approach "halter neck" ness, which can be flattering to people with bigger arms and chunkier shoulders than, say, people with thin arms and bony shoulders. So test it out and see. But definitely draft your first foundation bodice without taking in the shoulder point, so that you can use it with sleeves if you wish.

  13. Thanks LiEr! I just tried taking in the shoulder point just 3/8 and I like it better already, although I might bring it in a bit more and see how I like that too.
    You've really blown my mind with this information. Admittedly, my pattern collection is small and my sewing experience is limited, BUT shouldn't this information come marked on commercial patterns where there are sleeveless/sleeved options - like my Simplicity 2917 pattern?
    I'm very keen to learn more. I've started reading a bit about pattern drafting, hopefully I can learn quickly!

    Thanks again for your help.

  14. This has been really helpful!!! Thank you!!

  15. Thank you for this, this is super helpful.

  16. Fabulous information you have provided that has answered my questions of long duration about necklines/shoulder points. So thankful am I for you taking the time to thoroughly explain the process. Thanks also to the other folks who have replied. Their input is helpful also.

  17. what measurements are needed in drafting necklines?

    1. Start with the jewel neckline (the close-fitting one) from your sloper. Then draft the different shapes of necklines from it. I usually use a combination of measuring the actual wearer and simply visualizing the finished product. On the wearer, I'd measure the
      (i) vertical distance between the hollow-of-throat to where I'd want the neckline to lie above the bust (so it's not too low nor too high),
      (ii) distance from the base-of-neck to the where I'd want the neckline to intersect the shoulder seam so it's not too wide. The position of the shoulder point is a good boundary to use in your calculations.
      (iii) vertical distance between the back-of-neck to where on the back I want the neckline to go. The position of the wearer's bra strap is a good boundary to use in your calculation for the depth of the back scoop, for instance.


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.