Monday, January 5, 2015

Symmetry and Collars and Pockets, OH MY!

Symmetry - what exactly is it? It means an object is the same left or right of center or as the dictionary says "either side of a plane or line." What's that have to do with sewing? A lot.

In doing these lessons I try to think of subjects that will take a new or returning sewist to a higher  level of skill, one where their garments don't scream "I just made this." Collars can come out with their short sides different lengths.  Pockets can get placed unevenly on bodices and blue jeans. Unintentional asymmetry, not matching, is one of the lower rungs on the sewing skills ladder and easily fixable. So let's have a go.  Our goal here is to learn to make collars that have both sides perfectly matching. The same techniques can be applied to pockets or any other part of the garment that needs a mirror image either side of the center line.


This is my tried and true blouse pattern that I have made many times. I will be using it's collar for demonstration purposes.


First, iron that pattern piece. Once ironed, fold it in half and make sure that the pattern piece is perfectly matching all around. Cut to correct if it is not. As we go along think of 1/16th  of an inch being added each time. You will see by the time the collar is ready for insertion, there has been a lot of opportunity to muck it up.

If this is a Peter Pan collar with two separate sections, very popular in twee fashion today, do the same  as we go along but do it to each piece so the in the end all layers and edges match on both sides of center front. Actually, Peter Pan collars are more notorious for non matching shapes as it is easy to get into a mind set of working on each section as a separate piece. They need to be matched up each step of the way.
ETA:  Here's a pic of a Peter Pan Collar for clarity. They are usually separated in the back to accommodate the closure and therefore cut out with four sections, two for each side, lots of matching to do. They can go all around with a CF opening garment.




Cut out your fabric. Here is the next opportunity to pick up a sixteenth of an inch. You can see on my collar the right side only is about a sixteenth of an inch wider. I shaved that baby off with the rotary cutter and now all is matching again. 


The collar has now been interfaced and sewn. Ackkkk...what do I see? another sixteenth of an inch peeking out! When installing a collar we want the UNDER collar to be a sixteenth of an inch narrower so that it will pull the outer seam to the underneath once sewn. That's not the case here. My undercollar is longer! Another time to shave this puppy back to symmetry. That's the fourth opportunity for error!


The collar has been made even again so let's check it against the pattern piece. Well, looky there - the bottom collar is wavy. It's stretched out. Its the one with the interfacing here. I will steam this back into submission.  I often find the piece with the fused interfacing is the one that stretches out. You can see how important up and down pressing as opposed to back and forth ironing is. It makes a difference. 

Up until now we haven't checked our outside edges, the short sides, of the collar. Let's check that.


Hmmmmm.... seems I am off another sixteenth of an inch here. I am photographing at an angle so the points look uneven but they aren't. But the neck edges definitely don't match. This is probably the most critical test of the collar shape as once installed this is the part that will provide the front of your garment with two different lengths of collar and we don't want that! So aside from everything matching, it's important to fold that collar in half and check those short sides as well. I shaved this off to make it even. Do you see how many opportunities we have had to make this collar an uneven hot mess?

Not having to do with symmetry but on the subject of collars, now that all is symmetrical and sewn and ready to install, I will shave off the undercollar about a sixteenth of an inch starting about two inches from the ends.  On heavier fabrics, like for jackets, it would be an eighth of an inch. The seams will be matched when sewn to the garment or better yet basted together.  This will pull the seam slightly under and prevent any peeking out of the seam or under collar to the public side. Patterns that offer separate upper and under collar pieces have taken this already into consideration.


We now have a collar with a lovely roll, no under collar peaking out, no seam lines showing at the edges and ready to be installed in the garment.

The same care needs to go into pockets or any thing on a garment that needs critical matching.  Also, under the tutorial tab, is another method for matching pockets you might find helpful. After a while you will do this OCD checking of cloth against pattern pieces and each other without thinking and your garments will have a much more professional look. Let me know how it works out for you.

One more thing, about stay stitching. Sacre Bleu! I rarely stay stitch, Years ago I took a class from Diane Hoik, reputed to be the best dressmaker in New Hampshire and former textiles professor at UNH. She told us she never stay stitches and and we shouldn't' either. Couture sewists don't stay stitch either. They use steam to keep things in the right shape. Ms. Hoik's argument was that we handle our pieces of the garment roughly and too much and if we didn't they wouldn't stretch out. Her words were that the act of stay stitching alone was enough to stretch any bias edge so she didn't do it. We watched as she was teaching us something about this particular garment and I swear she carried the pieces so carefully and always flat, if at all possible. They hardly moved either. I've picked up her habit and it has worked for me for the most part and I know other good sewists who agree and most who don't. I say do what works for you. That is always the bottom line. But it might be worth a try to go the non stay stitching route for a bit just to see how it works out.

Please feel free to add your thoughts and experiences.

Till next Monday on Next Level Sewing............Bunny

33 comments:

  1. I made a shirt for my hubby for Christmas. It all went together well, but despite interfacing the collar and stand still seemed to soft. Would you ever interface both the upper collar and under collar and both collar stand pieces?

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    1. Men's shirts generally require a pretty stiff interfacing. You could do both collars with a softer interfacing or one collar with one stiffer than what you used. I like to use what is sold at Fashion Sewing Supply. The owner is a professional tailor of custom men's shirts and she has just the right interfacing for your needs. I would prefer to see you do just one collar but with a better quality interfacing meant specifically for a tailored shirt.

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  2. I never stay stitch either
    My grandmother was a dressmaker and she never did, so I never do either. I felt like such a rebel until I saw this post! If you don't do it, I feel better

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    1. It's our little secret, now, isn't it?

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    2. I don't staystitch either and always wonder if I'm crazy for not doing that. I just try to be careful, do not pull at the fabric and press to maintain the shape.

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  3. Thanks for sharing the secret....................always learning.

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  4. Such a helpful post. I really needed to "hear" the part about handling those cut pieces like a baby bird. I never knew that and I suffered the consequences: a boucle jacket's neckline really stretched terribly. I'm taking a new approach. Thanks!

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    1. She would carry the pieces flat like a waitress and a dinner plat. And she barely handled them until she had to. I figured if it worked for this esteemed dressmaker it was worth a shot. I like your baby bird visual. Thanks.

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  5. This post really speaks to me. I often wonder how many millimetres are lost/gained along the process of tracing, cutting, handling, stitching etc. As far as stay stitching goes, I omit it in favour of fuse-taping. It saves a crapload of time and, if done carefully, ensures that the pieces stay exactly the same dimensions as the pattern. I'm far too klutzy to rely on delicate handling of the fabric to avoid stretching!

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Siobhan. Great idea.

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  6. At first I was surprised to hear you refer to this as a Peter Pan collar, as I always thought the points on a Peter Pan were rounded. Wikipedia defines it as having rounded points (an oxymoron!), but a photo of a Peter Pan costume, for which the collar is named, shows a pointed collar. A quick Google search showed styles both rounded and pointed. So maybe it's more about the cut of the collar and how it lies, rather than the points. You helped me learn something tonight. Thanks for another great post!

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    1. I'll have to go back and read my post for clarity. The collar shown is definitely NOT a Peter Pan collar. When I suggested the same technique be used for a Peter Pan collar I was referring to a collar that would have four separate sections: two tops section and two bottoms, one for the left and one for the right. So you are constructing two separate collars that are separated in the back of the garment by a closue and meet in the front of the garment at the CF neckline seam. They are often used and seen in childrens clothing and "Twee" clothing, which replicates childrens clothing but on grown women. The collar used in the demonstration, from the pattern shown, is all one piece, from center front, around the back of the neck and back to CF on the other side. I do agree that Peter Pan collars have a rounded finish on their corners but I'm open to interpretation on that one. Hope this clears things up. Anyone else read me like Dixie? I will go back and try to make the post more clear. Thanks for letting me know this, Dixie.

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    2. I just put a pic up from google to show the difference with the Peter Pan collars. I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to clear this up, Dixie. thanks.

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  7. A very interesting post. I'm not a fan of stay stitching either. As for handling fabrics etc. I have a large plastic box in which I place a project and this takes care of me picking up pieces and disturbing them. I only have 3 boxes, as I like to limit my projects to this number. I agree that the more you handle your fabric, the more there would be a tendency for problems.

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    1. I do the same, a big plastic box for the project in process and another for the next project. Keeps me organized and my workspace clear. I don't have to go digging for the next spool of thread needed or the snaps and buttons when they are due to be dealt with either. Thanks for sharing your hint.

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  8. Thanks for another great post Bunny! Collars that aren't the same, or are supposed to match/kiss in the center front and don't are 2 of the most obvious and annoying things on a garment. A bad collar can make or break it and will definitely scream home-made. Great tutorial on how to ensure that they match perfectly!

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    1. Being front and center they are definitely an opportunity for distraction if not matching. I know you've made a ton of these in your sewing lifetime with all your wonderful children's designs.

      Kathy designs the most amazing and well made children's clothing and has recently decide to take on the adult sewing world. I can't wait to see what she comes up with.

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  9. Another reason to measure measure measure! If we can see your collar is uneven in a photo, then imagine what we can see in person!
    Some folks cut the collar section out of thin cardboard aka cereal boxes or poster board as those little pieces can get scrunched up in the envelope and lose their shape too. I was taught that the undercollar had to be "slipped" 1/8 of an inch like you trimmed yours. They just hug the neck better and no wrinkles.Thanks again, Bunny for all your thinking time and great photos!

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  10. A nice reminder for paying close attention to symmetry during the process. I am guilty of rushing through a project, only to be horrified at my collar AFTER under stitching and clipping. Trust me, that mistake will never happen again. Also important note about the undercollar size. I have made several collars where the pattern piece is the same for both. A newbie wouldn't know to trim the under collar.

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    1. Thanks for pointing that out, Su-z. I've also had those uneven collar nightmares. That's why now I pay a little more attention.

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  11. I learned a lot from this post. I thought I was being pretty careful but hadn't realised the were so many opportunities for error. Thanks.

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  12. Speaking of handling cut pieces carefully: A few weeks ago I was showing my boyfriend some skirt pieces that I had just cut out, and when he reached to pick one of them up, I swooped in and took them all back! No one touches my cut pieces except for me, LOL. :)

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  13. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. All of these tips and techniques will be ones that I will practice. I have one question: When attaching the collar, I have had two patterns with instructions to machine sew the collar from the inside of the shirt yoke and hand stitch on the outside. I had never heard of that. I tried it, and found that, although the stitching on the outside did not show when the collar was worn down, it was obviously not machine sewn. I was wondering what your practice is for attaching the collar to the body of the shirt.

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    1. I have put in collars where I have attached the finished collar to the neckline and covered the join with a bias binding or facing that may or may not have been hand stitched. It would have been on the inside neckline. I am having a hard time imagining directions to hand stitch the collar on the outside.
      I have seen garments made of boiled wool or double faced fabric that had collars that were sort of stitched like you mention but I haven't done it or seen it in a pattern. Do you have a pattern number or name? I would love to check it out.

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    2. Under the tutorial tab above are two posts on installing collars: The Collar Band and the Nancy Zieman collar. Maybe they can help you further.

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  14. I used to stay stitch until a few years ago, but you are so right, it really is more opportunity to stretch a curve too much. And yes, my sewing improved when I was gentle with those cut pieces and stopped pulling and twisting them. Good careful pattern work and consistent stitching make all the difference.

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  15. Bunny, As always I enjoyed your interesting article and especially appreciate your comment on stay stitching. I've wondered about the very problems you mention, but since this is how I was taught I've always stay stitched. Holding the fabric carefully to reduce stretching, I stab stitch hoping this will minimize stretching from my stitches... but in the future I'm going to skip all but the careful handling. Thank you! Linda Snyder P.S. I hope I haven't posted twice...my last attempt went "poof" into cyber space somewhere.

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  16. Well, no wonder I've always had such difficulty getting collars to look nice! Great explanations, Bunny & not OCD at all.

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  17. Fantastic post, and a great reminder to take extra care with the details - I will be referring back to this post next time I sew a collar :) Thank you! :)

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  18. Love this post Bunny. I used your method recently of folding the collar to check each side for symmetry. And they were only off slightly but off nonetheless. I will try the no stay stitching method too. Thank you!

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  19. Bunny, thank you for these lessons you are doing. They are so appropriate and clearly written.

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