Good morning, lovelies! When we first planned the Curvy Sewing Collective’s shirtmaking month, I had grand plans. Not only would I make a half dozen shirts in celebration, but I would also create a thorough tutorial on collar construction, covering every step of my process. This was a lovely idea, except…my process is pretty much everyone else’s process. We all read Andrea’s brilliant tutorial and there’s no sense reinventing the wheel, when it comes to that method.
However, I do have opinions on collars. Lots of them.
This is inevitable. After devoting much of my sewing to shirtdresses, I’ve made dozens of collars and lived to tell the tale. By incorporating techniques that made my life easier and getting rid of those that added nothing but work and worry, I narrowed in on the tricks that work for me. Instead of a tutorial, today I’m going to share those same practical suggestions. These are the ten things that keep my corners sharp, my collar stands even, and my work consistent from garment to garment.
1. Consider Sew-In Interfacing
While I love high quality fusible interfacing, it’s not always the right choice for a collar. You want the fabric to mold easily, stand up on its own, and have the correct amount of support for its weight. Choosing an appropriate sew-in interfacing allows you to control these variables to a much higher degree. Depending on the fabric, I’ve used everything from plain muslin (for heavier fabrics) to silk organza (for fluid silks and rayon) to commercial sew-in interfacings (for any woven or knit fabric). While I still use fusible interfacing with sturdy cottons, nothing ups my collar game like using the correct sew-in interfacing. You won’t believe the difference in how your collar rolls!
For more information on types of interfacing, check out the Handy Chart of Fusible and Sew-In Interfacings from Threads. It’s an indispensable look at matching interfacing with fabric type.
2. Trim Your Pattern Pieces
Do you struggle with pressing collars? Does your collar just not want to curve into shape? Trim your pattern pieces! Y’all, I cannot stress this tip enough. Perhaps the greatest collar trick of all is trimming the under collar and inner collar stand pattern pieces. Before you begin collar construction, trim 1/8th inch (some people prefer 1/4th inch) off the outer three sides of these pieces. When you go to sew your collar together, gently stretch the pieces to fit the full size upper collar and outer collar stand. This will give your collar a natural bend and make it easier to shape around the curve of the neck.
Additionally, trim your interfacing! Mark the seam allowance on your collar and collar stand interfacing, then cut it off. Having the interfacing only within in the seam lines will crisp up your collar’s edges and reduce bulk.
3. Turn Your Collar with a Thread Loop
If you regularly battle blunt collar points, put down your point turner. Instead, turn those collar points with a thread loop! Switching to this method guarantees a sharper point and fewer headaches. There are a couple of great tutorials on this method, but I like this in-depth one from Off the Cuff.
Note: If you have trouble with catching the loop securely in the stitching, tie a knot on the inside, before pulling the thread. This prevents your thread from slipping out as you’re turning! I love that extra bit of security, when using this method. Once you’ve finished, just pull the loop out from the inside.
4. Choose the Right Thread and Stitch for Top-Stitching
One of my favorite shirt-making details is top-stitching. Not only does it look smart on the final garment, but it lets you avoid miles of pesky hand sewing. You can also get many different looks from your top-stitching, simply by changing the variables up.
For subtle stitches that blend right into your fabric, choose a regular weight thread and lengthen your stitches only slightly. Use a thread that is the same color as your fabric or just a few shades darker. Our eyes find slightly darker stitches more restful than slightly lighter ones, which act as a highlight.
For more visible top-stitching, there are a couple of great tricks. You could, of course, use a heavier weight thread made specifically for top-stitching, but those only come in a small range of colors. Instead, thread two regular weight threads through your needle, or use the triple stitch on your machine. This setting makes three passes on each stitch, instead of one, which gives you a much bolder line of color. Metallic thread is also a good choice for bold top-stitching, since it comes in more saturated colors and has a subtle sheen on the final garment.
5. Use an Edge Stitching Foot
If you are going to top-stitch, it’s best to use a guide. Place a length of painter’s tape on your sewing machine, marking your top-stitching line, or just change over to an edge stitching presser foot. These presser feet come with a built in fabric guide that keeps your lines straight and even. Snap it on, move the needle to the far left or right, and calmly sew away. My hands are notoriously shaky, but using a special presser foot gives me a perfect line every time. I would be lost without mine!
6. Make a Collar Stand Template
I recently came across this tip from Tasia, formerly of Sewaholic, and it’s been a game changer. Simply trace a few inches of your collar stand’s outer pattern piece onto something sturdy, like cardstock or a bit of thin cardboard, and trim the seam allowances. Then, alter the shape to your desired final collar stand look. Whether you prefer tapered ends or straight ones, this allows you full control of your final collar stand. Trace around it onto your collar stand’s wrong side, before construction, and use the tracing lines as a sewing guide. Voila! Perfectly symmetrical sides.
7. Double Check Your Placement
When sewing collars, it’s best to work slowly and play it safe. I compare my two sides at every step of construction, checking collar angles, distances from the edge, and final shape. Just 1/8th inch off on either side can completely throw off the look of your final garment. Basic pin basting, before sewing anything, saves time with a seam ripper later on.
8. Don’t Overtrim Your Seam Allowances
When sewing collars, there is a temptation to trim all your seam allowances as much as possible. It makes sense. No one wants a bulky collar, right? Absolutely, but…first, a word of caution. Do not overtrim your collar stand’s seam allowances, specifically.
For a clean finish, you need a slightly larger collar stand seam allowance to act as support. A tiny seam allowance makes it harder to neatly top-stitch your collar stand and makes facing it with your inside stand a nearly impossible task. A larger seam allowance (I like around 3/8th of inch or up to a 1/2, depending on fabric), is actually easier to manipulate on those outside corners, to get a smooth, clean finish. Inevitably, overtrimmed seam allowances need to be saved with hand sewing, so that they don’t peek out or unravel. Grade the seam allowance, to prevent bulk, but do not overtrim.
9. Use Fabric Glue for a Neat Finish
Oh, fabric glue, you modern marvel. I was slow to get on the gluestick bandwagon, but I am a total convert. If you want to guarantee the cleanest finish possible and nice, even top-stitching, grab a glue stick. I use them to secure everything from button bands to collar stands, when sewing. Not only do they make pins a thing of the past, but they keep the fabric layers firmly in place. No shifting from the feed dogs or seam allowances poking out! If you want to top-stitch with utter peace of mind, pick up fabric glue. It washes away so well that no one will ever know your secret.
10. Press on a Tailor’s Ham
I know that you’ve heard this a thousand times, but proper pressing is everything, especially with collars. If you want to get the best curve possible on your garment’s collar, press it on a tailor’s ham. When making shirts, I will do this step two times: once, after the initial collar is constructed, then again on the final garment. I pin the collar around the ham’s curve, mimicking the curve of my neck, then press it and let it cool in place for ten minutes. This encourages the collar to curve with the neck, instead of standing away from it.
Those are my favorite tips for sewing collars, but everything is personal. Some people will prefer fusible interfacing, or cringe at the thought of using fabric glue. So, what are your favorite collar making tricks? Do you have any interfacing preferences or pressing tips that make collar construction easier? Knowing our readers, there are a mountain of good tricks out there, waiting to be shared. I can’t wait to hear yours!