Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to get a neckline not to gape - the art of taping (Tutorial)

I promised Lauren I'd do a tutorial on taping because it was too hard to explain, but taping seams is the MOST amazingly useful technique for all kinds of outcomes:
  • strapless necklines no longer gape on the side front or over the bust
  • wide scoop or v neckline won't fall off the edge of the shoulder
  • Watteau pleats won't pull the neckline down at the back of the neck
  • faced waistbands won't stretch
  • armholes won't gape at the bust level
etc. etc. Taping is a way of drawing in a seam, usually a faced or bagged in seam, so it sits closer to the body than it would otherwise do, and will STAY THERE. Without any puckers or funny gathery bits too.
In this post, I am using tape to stop the top of a strapless wedding dress from standing away from the bride's body, which is a common problem with strapless dresses. The taping helps the bodice to curve in more than the flat pieces would do otherwise, so they follow the curves of her bust.
You can tape seams that you've already sewn (like I am in this case) or if you are really canny, sew the tape into the seam as you go. Just ease stitch the seam first.

When to tape and when to adjust the pattern

 If you're making from scratch, you may need to adjust the pattern and there seem to be heaps of tutorials on that. But I know from experience that this can only get you so far in some situations because it is a flat adjustment. Taping allows you to introduce a little bit of 3D to the seam, which helps to cling and grip around the body's curvy bits, like busts and necklines.

What tape is tape?
Cotton tape is best, always straight woven not bias. Bias defeats the entire purpose. For curves such as armholes and necklines, use the narrow 1/4" kind and use the wider ones for strapless, off the shoulder and waistlines.
In the photos I am using the wider one which I think makes it easier to see.
 Now I apologise but I am left handed, all you North paws out there will have to think backwards!

Step 1: Open out the facing or lining to expose the seam allowance. In this case, the lining is organza so it's hard to see it, and the seam has piping set into it - works just as well with or without. Place one edge of the tape right up against the stitching line and pin it to the seam allowance.
Step 2: Gently but firmly lie the tape along the seam allowance, matching the top edge to the stitching of the seam, and pull it as taut as you can, letting the seam stay relaxed. The seam will be a little looser than the tape - only a tiny bit but that's all you need. Pin.
 Step 3: Keep doing this every 1.5" or so, easing the seam onto the tauter tape. It's hard to tell but the seam and dress are curving inward quite nicely even now.
  Finally, a section completed. The tape is at least an inch shorter than the original seam was, but there are no big folds in the seam - this is easing not gathering. 
 Step 4: Now using a double thread and smallish stitches, start to stitch the tape to the seam allowance hard up against the top edge, ensuring that the bodice seam stays fairly flat.
 The is the section sewn in, and the next section also.
With the lining folded back into place, you can't see any evidence of the tape except for a hint of a curve in the bodice.
 See how the bodice now curves almost as if it is molded onto cups. It's just taping that does it.
Nice curved bustline
You can tape without so much easing if you're just using the tape to stop a seam from stretching. Tape sewn onto the seam allowance (no easing required) of a puffed sleeve helps it to sit up, or sewn on the underside, to sit out.
It's one of those techniques that, once you get the hang of it, is useful for a range of finishing fixes.
For a watteau back, tape the whole neck edge, from waist at front right around to waist left. This reinforces the seam and helps it to bear the weight of the back without stretching.
Happy stitching!
No gaping on this bodice! :)


  1. This is a great tutorial - I will definately be giving this a go when I come across a misbehaving neckline!!!

  2. Thank you - I read it back to myself and wondered if it made sense, as I guess we all do! I'll take that as a sign that it does. :)

  3. I bought a dress today (shock, horror!!) and the neckline thingy is sortof a bit loose but I need to wear it tomorrow night.. so it just will! Your tutorial is wonderful.

  4. I'm going to have to give this a go, certainly. It's a little confusing to conceptualize - gotta get my hands on it and just try it, but thank you SO much for this tutorial! I had never heard of this, but I'm self-taught, so go figure, lol. I have bundles of things that could benefit from this method!

  5. @Kayjay - love the dress! Not sure tape will fix that neckline but I bet it looks gorgeous anyway. Such good colours for you :)
    @Lauren, me too! I came up with this idea when trying to deal with wide scoop necklines, and initially I tried elastic but tape is better. Of course like all good ideas, it was a wheel I reinvented, but I have given it my own twist - not literally of course hehehe. Even these days after 30+ years of sewing, someone shows me a technique I've never seen before, or I look inside a dress in a shop and think wow, that's an interesting way to do that. I reckon the more we learn the more we learn that we don't know much! :)

  6. Very interesting! What I want to know (of course!) is if there are any historical examples of this technique being used? 1950s strapless? Real robe a la francaises?

  7. Weell, we need to peer into the insides of vintage clothing and check. But I suspect it would have been used - involving a very traditional haberdashery product and common sense ;-)

  8. Thank you so much for referring me to this - I am keen to make the dress again (in a nicer fabric) and will try this out as I otherwise liked the pattern I used very much. xxx

  9. Wow, this is a little mind-blowing and new information. I'm going to store it in my head and when I run into a problem I'll remember your fabulous tutorial!

  10. This tutorial is super helpful for a project I'm currently working on. What sort of handstitch do you use to attach the tape to the garment?

    1. Hiya - anything you like. I over cast along the edge, being careful not to go through the layers to the front, but a small running stitch would also work.

    2. Thank you, Maryanne! It worked perfectly for the dress I needed to alter!

  11. Thank you for the post. It saved my project.