Sunday, January 3, 2010

Roberta Carr's "Mystery Binding"

I love Roberta Carr. Her book, "Couture, The Art of Fine Sewing" is wonderful and definitely one of my go-to's. On Page 89, if you have it, is a wonderful technique she calls "Mystery Binding". She also gives Chanel credit for this technique which can make an undercollar look like it wraps around to the upper collar. I had used this technique some time ago. For the Cranberry Dress I needed a contrast between the collar and the yoke of the dress. I could have gone the piping route but really wanted something stronger. I remembered this technique and thought it would be just right for implementing the contrast.
I will do a tutorial here of the method. One thing I found is that I am working with cotton and this is what I call a "hard" fabric. This technique would be much more easily used with a wool crepe or other type of soft fabric.

The goal here is to make it look like the undercollar wraps around to the upper collar. You will need the upper collar, my lighter print, an undercollar, the cranberry print, and a bias binding in the same fabric as the undercollar.

The bias binding needs to be twice the desired finished width plus the seam allowance you are using. So I did a half inch x two plus 1/2 inch seam allowance. I ended up sewing a 5/8 inch SA so the finished binding came out more narrow, but that was fine. Next you turn under and iron one raw edge the width of the finished binding, half inch in my case. Some time back I made myself this oaktag "ruler" to use for accurate pressing of small widths. It has turned into a real essential in my sewing room. I fold the fabric to the proper line, and then steam press right over the oak tag.

Now Roberta suggest that the binding be steamed to the shape of the collar. This is easier said than done. My fabric is a 100% cotton and "hard" to ease,  but I gave it my best shot. I pinned and pulled and steamed as best I could. The folded edge that was just pressed in goes toward the neckline of the collar and the raw edge meets the raw edge of the collar. It took me a moment to wrap my head around this one but you need all that width because of the SA. 

I found the best results came when I used my dauber and soaked the folded edge with water and then pressed. This took a lot of fiddling. I am not sure I would have been better off just stitching the bias binding R sides together to  on the collar but I wanted to give this technique a shot. 

Once the binding is pinned and steamed into shape around the collar you  need to slip stitch it to the collar on the fold and then press. You can see the results above. 

Once the binding is shaped, pressed into place, and slip stitched, you fold it back and stitch with the machine on the inside of the fold as you see above. After this stitching was completed I trimmed back  and graded the 3 layers of fabric involved. It all got a good hard press.  Next the undercollar was put in place and the collar was matched against the pattern piece. I had to do a little trimming at this point to accommodate the stretching of the upper collar from all the futsing. With right sides together the collar, top and bottom, was stitched right sides together. The collar was then turned and pressed and here are the results. Because of my trimming to match it all up to the pattern piece it is thicker just in the areas of the berries at CF. That is OK with me. It all blends in. I really like this technique but am sure it would work much better on a fabric not quite so unforgiving. A piece of wool or crepe would use this technque wonderfully. In the meantime I am pleased with the results and now have the contrast I wanted between the yoke and the collar.

I highly recommend Roberta Carr's book. It is so clearly written and actually very readable. What legacy she left behind. I wish I had been able to take a class with her. They say she was a pistol........Bunny


We picked up a foot of snow last night and that was on top of an already good amount. I will leave you with this tranquil picture.

I took this this morning.


  1. What a great technique. I have that book and will be looking it up. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I have the book. Haven't tried that particular technique, but your collar looks wonderful.

    The snow is pretty but--well, you know!

  3. The collar looks great. I've read her book about a zillion times and this is one of the techniques I want to try. Beautiful tutorial, thank you.

  4. Roberta Carr's book is one of my favorites and this binding method is on my list of sewing techniques to try. I really appreciate your tutorial with detailed pictures of each step. I love how the binding fabric blends into the collar fabric in some areas. Very interesting effect.

  5. Happy New Year!
    I have been a 'lurker' on your blog for a while now and really love your beautiful work. I particularly like the children's clothing you make. Everything is so perfectly thought out and detailed. I've learned a lot from you! Thank you!

  6. I have her book too. Great book. Beautiful snow picture.

  7. What a coincidence that you mentioned Roberta Carr's book as I was just reading about this technique over the weekend. Having seen your beautiful result, I'll have to give it a go.


  8. Beautiful result. I have that book also.

  9. I love that collar and that scenery is breath taking!!!!

  10. I love that technique! I have her book, too, what a great treasure of ideas and techniques. Love that snow, too.

  11. I love the technique you have shown. I haven't seen the book but it must be great. Thanks.

  12. Great technique, love the fabric combination. Just a hint I picked up from Gail Doane, if you trace the upper collar shape on to the fabric but do not cut it out it eliminates the stretching when adding trims etc.

  13. Thanks for the demonstration. I don't have that book, but am adding to the book wish list. Happy New Year!

  14. You know there is always a way to do something better. Thanks, DawnB. I did use that exact technique while doing the embroidery on Carly's little red coat. I was so intent on trying her method that I never thought to do differently. But you are so right. That is a great idea. Thanks.

  15. I was all signed up and set to take a class from her. She ran a class out of her studio/home. Then I talked with someone who had taken the same class. Apparently Ms Carr smoked like a chimney, and when someone in the class objected because it affected her health, Ms. Carr continued with the class and her smoking. The student had to leave the class and forfeited her entire class fee, which she felt was unfair as the studentfelt she should have been notified before class so the she could have made a responsible decision about whether to attend the class. At the time smoking cessation was just a new "fad", and in the group where this was reported, we were more concerned about the smell of the smoke in our clothes than our health issues.

    That's changed now 3 decades later. So don't feel badly if you missed one of her classes.

    I love her books, and they are so clearly written, that fortunately you can get all you need from them without the smoke! I choose not to take the class, and don't regret it.

  16. Me too: I have the book and read about the technique, but not tried it yet. Your result is beautiful.

  17. The sewers must be in sync today. I just read about Robert Carr on another blog about binding methods. I did a Google search to learn more and found your blog with this post! I've book marked your post and am getting the book from Amazon.

  18. Me too. I love this book. Don't look at the heinous fashions, but the techniques are just wonderful. I use a number of things from the book. I've read this a bunch of times and never used it, so I enjoyed seeing you make this collar up. Nice photos and great collar.

  19. I often flip through this book for ideas and have used the technique to make a bound patch pocket for a pair of lightweight linen trousers just recently. I sewed on the mystery binding then self lined the pocket, then stitched-in the ditch to attach them to the back of the trousers. This meant the bound edge was not stitched flat which gives quite a nice and slightly different look to the pockets. It was also less bulky than using a double-fold binding and gave a very neat finish on the top edge. Thanks for a great blog Bunny :-)

  20. Thanks Bunny for your tutorials. They are fantastic. Am learning so much from lots of people - it's great.
    By the way, where did you purchase the grain line cloth. I am in Australia and we don't have anything like that here. Am really interested in purchasing, even from o/s. Many thanks.

  21. I did take a class from her at a Sewing Exposition in Virginia a number of years ago. We focused mainly on unusual buttonholes and pocket openings. She was terrific. Later that evening I walked into the hotel dining room and she was having dinner by herself. She invited me to join her. I was very impressed. I have had her book for many years and have consulted it frequently for ideas and techniques. She smoked heavily at dinner, but in those days, almost everybody smoked.

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