Monday, January 23, 2012

The 1938 Dress: Tutorial Built-up Neckline

Dear Readers: Happy 2012!

I want to apologize for my long absence, but really, it was for the better. And I don't only mean for the better of myself, but for you, too ;-)
The blogging got quite stressful, because I couldn't keep up with my own ideas and instead of enjoying my hobby, it became pressure. So I stepped back, thought about where I wanted to go with this blog - and came back.
Well, I will bring you even more information. I will not merely "show and tell" what I've sewn, but I will provide you with more details - things I am learning along the way, techniques I am picking up, patterns I'm creating. Maybe less posts in total, but the posts will be filled with information that hopefully inspire you and give you useful information.
I promise to try and make better pictures (it's difficult with the low-light winter season...), answer questions (as always!) and only write when I feel like it. I can't promise that my fingernails will always be perfectly manicured, but hey, my priorities lie elsewhere ;-)

The beginning of my 2012 blogging is this 1938 dress I have had on my list FOREVER. I was just going to sew it up and show you, but what's the point? As you might know, vintage instructions are usually minimal and say little more than: put it together. In this instance for example, it says to leave the left side open within the marks and prepare it for snap-button closure. But how exactly is a snap-button closure done? Well, here enters my 1935 sewing book!

It has a lovely signature from the previous owner that says 1958, but the copyright of the book is 1935, so a match made in heaven. And while I first only planned to give you the snap button tutorial, I decided we'll go top to bottom.

So let's get to it!
This dress features a gorgeous built-up neckline which is achieved with a slit and facing.

 The pattern pieces will look something like this:

These pattern pieces are both cut on the fold

Above is the facing. You see the indications of the slit (the line along the fold on the green front bodice piece). Don't cut it open right away!
Lay the pieces on top of each other and baste them together, exactly along the slit line:

Sew the facing to the bodice from the shoulder along the neckline, until you are about 2mm (1/8 inch) from the marked slit, and sew along it keeping that distance. Sew back up on the other side, then along the neckline to the shoulder. I didn't start at the shoulder, but I could have, as I later realized, so ignore that my sewing starts in the middle of nowhere :-) For more stability you could add some fusible lining, but be careful that it doesn't turn out too stiff.

Try NOT to make stray crooked stitches like me...

 At the bottom of the slit, sew a tiny triangle. About two stitches toward the center, then - important! - one stitch across the very bottom of the slit, then two stitches diagonally out to the other side. You'll be going stitch by stitch, using the hand wheel:

Sew that line once again, right on top of the first one, for added stability, especially if you didn't use fusible lining.
NOW you can finally cut the slit open. Careful though, really close to that bottom stitch, but not too close. Cut back the seam allowances at the top, especially in the curved areas:

Turn it around - ta-daa!:

Iron it so that the seam is seen only from the wrong side; roll the edge with your fingers and give it a good press:

This is the wrong side/facing side:

And this is the right side:

 Iron open the seam allowance at the top (which I finally sewed at this point). You also want to finish the edge with a zigzag if you haven't already done that

Now open the facings again and lay the front and back pieces right sides together:

FIRST sew only the front facing to the back facing, starting at the seam and going to the edge (the section on the left in the picture below), matching the seams exactly. Then go back and sew what is on the right of the seam in the picture below, which is the shoulder seam, front bodice to back bodice - you might have to ease in the back shoulder, depending on your pattern:

Iron open the shoulder seam, (and I promise, at this point I finally finished the edges. The reason I hadn't done this before is because I wasn't sure whether or not I would line the bodice or not):

Now fold the facing back again and give it a good iron.

Now lets take care of the inside of the facing:

 At this point, I also want to defend myself for not having finished any edges before. Not only did I not decide whether or not to line this until this point, but there is also another reason. With fairly light fabrics, zigzagging can warp the edge and take off several millimeters. You won't know how much though, which really makes everything less precise. It's true. It's not just a bad excuse. If the fabric doesn't fray like crazy, I like to finish edges quite late in the game.

So I decided NOT to line the whole bodice and zigzagged along the edge of the facing:

Then you iron the edges under by about 1 cm (3/8 inch):

Sew the edge under - it's like hemming the facing, basically, so you are NOT sewing it to the front! You only attach it to the front at the shoulders and in the bottom corners of the facing, as indicated by pins in the photo below. I suggest you do that with tiny hand-stitches, as they are much more soft and flexible than machine stitches. It's a good idea to do that on your dress form, so everything will lie nice and flat.

In this case, I have that slit on the front and on the back. The back is meant to be closed with hooks, and I suggest you don't leave that until the very end. If you try it on and the slit opens in the back you forfeit the fitting of the sleeves. 


So add any hooks right away so that the future fittings will be correct. Put on nice music and breath slowly. This is one of those things you really don't want to rush. Everything has to be placed very very precisely... Attach the hooks only to the facing fabric.
From the inside:

 From the outside:

As you see in the extreme close-up above: I let one stitch per hook go all the way through both layers, so that the facing and the shell fabric are set in place, and the hook doesn't slowly just pull the facing further out and expose the seam, which we so carefully rolled under previously...

Step back and admire your neckline. Clean up your sewing room so that you can start afresh with the next steps: The stripes and the sleeves...

We will learn how to ease in the back sleeve and will first baste in the sleeve before sewing it in.

UPDATE! HERE you get to the post of the finished dress, where you find all the links for the other tutorials/posts for this dress.

And I still owe you the last post of the making of the diva coat, which will come up TOMORROW!

Feel free to ask questions or give suggestions.


  1. Ooh, the neckline on this looks lovely on you! Can't wait to see the rest!

  2. I love that neckline...very modest. I'll have to try that out. Thanks for sharing.

  3. That is beautiful. I LOVE the style and would love to sew as well as you do!

  4. I love this neckline. So great tutorial, I pinned it to Pinterest. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. Danke für das tolle Tutorial! Der Kragen schaut super aus!

  6. I just stopped in to see what you have been up to. This is very interesting - I can't wait to see more. I'm also working on some patterns from 1930's, but they are not as gorgeous as this dress you are working on.

    German Pattern Experiment: Day 4

  7. Vintage
    tutorials are hardly ever seen on the web that’s why I’m very thankful that you’ve
    posted this. I’ve wanted to create a vintage dress but don’t know the step by
    step procedure.