Adjusting the neckline and adding ribbon tutorial

This week on the Simple Sleeveless Top Blog Series as part of my Me Made May Challenge I’m going to show you how to adapt and change the neckline if the Simple Sleeveless Tpo from my book, along with how to alter it to get a much better fit.

You can catch the first post about Bust Adjustments in this link and if you still need a copy of the pattern you can order a signed copy of the book from the shop (link here) or on Amazon (link here).

The cut of the neckline on this top is fairly wide and high – sort of boat like. It has narrow straps and the neckline should be sitting just below your collarbones and just below the base of the neck at the back.

As the top is so simple – just a front and back bodice pattern piece with no fastenings, it’s really easy to alter the neckline to a different shape – or if you find it’s gaping or a bit baggy at the neckline then we can fix that too, I’ll show you how.

There are a few important things to remember before embarking on pattern alterations to get a good fit.

  • First one is, this top is designed to be made with woven fabric – which doesn’t stretch. If you are used to wearing stretchy tops, which can mould and fit to your body much easier, then getting the fit right on a non-stretchy woven top can be tricky and that’s totally normal, not a reflection of your body shape or abilities to sew at all.
  • The second thing is that if you are making quite a few alterations then making a toile to check these alterations is a must. It’s just part of the deal, and again, not a reflection on your body being out of proportion or anything. It’s totally normal and will ultimately lead to a much lovelier finished garment.

Making a toile for this top is easy, just remember to still stay-stitch* the neckline (so that it doesn’t stretch out of shape as you try it on).

Next, sew in the bust darts then sew the shoulder and side seams. There is no need to finish off the raw edges or apply the binding. You could even get away without doing the hem - unless you want to test the length too.
I recommend using a lighter weight calico (some can be too stiff really), or a poly-cotton.

*Stay-stitching is a line of stitching done within the seam allowance, most commonly at the neckline. It is sewn on a single layer of fabric – so you are not actually sewing anything together. It helps to maintain the curve and shape of the fabric so it doesn’t stretch out of place. Try NOT to pull on the fabric at all as you sew and let the machine pull and feed the fabric though slow and steady.

Altering the shape of the neckline

First of all I want to show you how easy it is to adapt the shape of the neckline. This alteration shouldn’t affect any fitting adjustments that you may be doing, so it’s a great way to add a nice personal design detail.

The tools you will need are

  • Dots and cross pattern paper (find it in the shop here)
  • A 6 x 24 inch quilt ruler (available in-store)
  • A French curve or flexible curve (you can get both of these from Morplan).
  • Pencil
  • Measuring tape
  • Paper scissors

Making the shoulder seams wider

If you want the shoulder seams to be a bit wider, leave a bit of extra pattern paper around the neckline after you have traced your size from the master pattern sheets. Extend the line of the shoulder seam towards the centre of the bodice by how ever much you want to widen it by. In this example I elongated it by 1 inch.

Then redraw the curve of the neckline by connecting the shoulder seam line with the centre front using a French curve, flexible curve or free hand.
Remember to replicate any change to the back bodice shoulder seam too.

Making the neckline lower

If you want to make the neckline lower, just measure down the centre front line by how much you want it lowered by. Remember, if you want the binding to be hidden you’ll loose about 0.5cm more, if you want it on show you won’t loose any further height from the neckline.

Draw a line at a right angle to your mark for 1cm or half an inch, this will prevent there being a sharp point at the centre of the neckline and keep it a nice smooth curve. In this example I lowered the neckline by 2 inches.

Merge the line up to your shoulder seam free hand or using a French curve or flexible curve.

You can do all the same things to the neckline at the back too if you want.
Or just lower it at the front and leave it at the original level at the back.

I made the neckline on this top 3 inches lower at the front neckline and made the shoulder seams 1 inch wider.

As I was using a plain cotton I decided to add some lovely ribbon to the bottom. I just topstitched it on with the machine before I stitched the side seams so that the edges of the ribbon would be caught to the inside.

Adjusting the fit at the neckline and across the back

When trying to work out if you need to make any alterations to the fit of the top at the front/back neckline or over the back of the top, I recommend having a think about RTW (Ready To Wear) clothes that you have bought and other clothes you might have made before.

What sort of problems have you had with them? Does the neckline stick out a lot or hang down. Does the top feel right across your chest or back? Do the armholes gape?

Eliminate the need for a Bust Adjustment

First of all I want you to check if you need a Bust Adjustment or not. Quite often if you have a bust size larger than a B or C cup and DON’T do an adjustment to accommodate your boobs (we are all friends here, I can say boobs right?) then you end up making a size that is really too big for you – which results is gaping at the neckline and the arm holes.
Conversely if you have a smaller bust but a broader back, then you may end up making a size that is too small to accommodate the width of your back and what you really need to do is make a larger size and do a small bust adjustment.

If this is ringing any bells, I’m going to direct you back to last weeks post on how to do an adjustment (link here).
Do the adjustment and it might just fix other problems at the same time.

Dealing with a broad back

Once you have done the bust adjustment as required the next measurement you need to take is you’re cross back measurement so we can compare it to the pattern piece.

Call in a friend. Stand with your arms by your side and at the top of the crease where your arm meets your body, measure across your back.

Clothes need to be a bit bigger than our actual measurements so we can move in them so we will add 1 inch or 2.5cm to the measurement you’ve taken.

Once you have done that split that value you have in half as the pattern piece we are working with is cut on the fold.

We are now going to compare this to the back bodice pattern piece. First of all we need we need to measure the pattern piece for the size that you are making and take off 0.5cm for the seam allowance.

Compare the two measurements.

  • If your actual measurement is larger than the pattern we will need to extend the pattern by this amount.
  • If your actual measurement is smaller we will need to take in the pattern by this amount.
  • JUST A NOTE – the difference shouldn’t be huge – as in more than about 2-3cm. If it is then it’s more likely that you need to make a different size and do a bust adjustment.

When you come to place your pattern piece on the fold of the fabric, simply move it away from the fold line by the required amount, or fold back the pattern by the desired amount and that’s it. Cut out the fabric and continue the rest of the construction as normal.

The next stage is to make your toile as I mentioned before.

Once you have it on, put your favourite tune on and dance around, wave your arms, move them up and down, wiggle around, then relax with your arms by your side. Try to stand as you normally would and be realistic. Don’t stand with a bolt upright posture if that’s not how you would normally stand. Your natural posture has to be taken into consideration too as how you stand or sit affects how the top will sit on you.
Take a look in the mirror and see if the neckline looks like it is bagging out a bit or not sitting flat against your body. That’s what we can fix next.

Working out how much to adjust the neckline by

Ask a friend to pinch in the excess fabric at the centre point of the front and back neckline as necessary so that the fabric is sitting flat against your body. It’s likely that this will look like a little wedge or reverse dart. Keep the pins in place and just check that you can still get the top off over your head.

Measure the distance between the fold the line of pins on one side – this is how much we will adjust the pattern by.

Transferring the adjustment from the toile to the paper pattern

On your paper pattern, draw a line parallel to the centre fold line. Close but not interfering with the shoulder seam area. Make sure the line extends past the armhole curve. Draw another line at 90-degree angle to that one, extending out towards the side seam, below the armhole curve.

Make a cut from the neckline down to your other line. Continue this cut towards the side seam but don’t go all the way, leave a little paper hinge.

Now overlap the paper at the neckline by the amount that you want to reduce by. For our example this was just over 1cm or half an inch.

Tape everything in place.

Now just round out the step in the neckline free hand of with a French curve and trim to even it out.

Hey presto – all done! Just follow the same steps if you also need to adjust the the front bodice neckline.

Remember it’s normal to have a bit of trial and error with these fitting adjustments so it is worthwhile practising and checking with a toile first.

See you next Friday when I'll show you how add a front and back yoke section to the top - it's great for using contrast colours and patterns!

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