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Adapting the neckline on a commercial pattern

Adapting the neckline

This guide to adapting the neckline on a commercial pattern is the second in a series of technique guides written by Nicola Chadwick – a former senior fashion lecturer. Her business is aimed at providing designers, adventurous dressmakers and pattern cutters with the tools they need to create their own patterns from their own designs. You can find out lots more at www.modelistecreative.com

Nicola also has a website Wabi-Sabi Studio – where you can create 7 dolls with their own wardrobes.

In this article I am going to look at adapting the neckline on a dressmaking pattern. This topic and that of my previous post are complimentary – once you have adapted your neckline pattern you may well need to create a new facing pattern too!

You may need to adapt or change a neckline to solve a specific fit problem, for example if your existing neckline is too wide or too narrow or just not sitting correctly. You may want to get creative and change the look of your favourite top pattern; this article will show you how.

You can have such fun changing neckline shapes on your existing patterns, let’s take a look!

Adapting the neckline on a pattern is a straightforward pattern adaptation to make, if you follow a few basic guidelines.

Making a toile will help. What is a TOILE?

Toile is the French word for canvas – this is a common term in the fashion industry and all designers and pattern cutters should make a ‘toile’ when they create or adapt a pattern.

Making a toile means sewing up a trial garment, sometimes also referred to as a muslin, to test the fit of the pattern. Sometimes a designer will make 2 or 3 or more toiles before they are satisfied with the design and fit of a garment.

You may think that making a toile is a time consuming thing to do, however in the end it can save you both time and money. Toiles are often made in a cheap calico canvas – for woven designs. Stretch garment toiles should be sewn in a fabric as close to the finished fabric as possible.

All fit adaptations and design modifications are made to the toile and then transferred to the pattern. This means that when you make your pattern up in expensive fabric, your fit will be perfect.

You can even draw directly onto a toile with a pencil or pen, so changes to necklines can be made easily and you can assess the changes instantly. If you would like to know more about toiles then take a look at my blog page for a detailed guide.

Points to consider when changing a neckline – general guidelines

  • You can raise or lower a front or back neckline independently, however changes to width must be made equally so that the shoulder lines still fit together.
  • If you raise a neckline and the garment has no opening at the neck, then you will need to make sure that the neckline still fits over the head. The general rule is that a neckline circumference for an adult should be no less than 57cm, remember to measure on the stitch line and not on the edge of the pattern seam allowance.
  • If you lower a neckline drastically you may need to make some additional changes to the fit of the garment so that the neckline does not gape.
  • If your garment is symmetrical then work on half the pattern, then transfer any style lines over to the other side of the pattern by tracing. This gives a balanced design.
  • If you are designing an A-Symmetrical neckline then you will need to work on a whole pattern piece, mirrored at the centre front.
  • You will need to re cut your facing pattern to finish the neckline neatly – see last month’s feature on facings.
Pattern drafting tools

Tools & Supplies you will need when adapting the neckline

The existing pattern you want to adapt

Pattern cutting tracing paper

A ruler – and a French curve or flexi curve if you need one to draw curves!

A pencil 2H is best for pattern cutting

A rubber

Paper scissors

Sellotape to fix any parts

Calico if you want to sew up a toile and of course your machine and all your sewing tools

Neckline Types

There are many types of neckline styles – here are some of the most common ones and some tips on adapting your patterns.

How to add a round neckline to a garment

Round neckline styles are of course round. The most common round neckline is a crew neck these are often seen on t-shirts and usually finished with a ribbed band. They need to be able to pull over the head.

When you plan a crew neck in a jersey or stretch fabric, make sure your fabric is stretchy enough to pull over the head. The fabric must recover to its original shape so that the neckline doesn’t appear baggy and out of shape after one wear.

If you would like a fractionally deeper or higher round neckline than your pattern style allows, plan the new neckline on the pattern piece to your own design, It’s as simple as that. You will need to lengthen or shorten any neck ribbing to match. I use a calculation to estimate the exact quantity of ribbing or stretch binding I need to attach to a neckline. I measure the neckline and multiply that number by 0.8 – this gives me 80% of the finished neckline measurement as a neck binding length. I have a handy video on YouTube that shows you how to measure and apply elastic binding or FOE, watch it below. 

If you are planning a crew neck in a woven fabric you will most likely need some sort of opening for your head to travel through, if your pattern doesn’t already have one.

See my article on facings for ideas on planning a keyhole opening, if you need to introduce an opening, this is a great one.


Raising or Lowering a neckline

How much can you raise or lower a neckline?

It really all depends on the fit of the original neckline. One important point to note is that when you are trying a garment on during the making process in order to assess the fit, the garment may well have seam allowance at the neckline. This means that the fit you see is not a true reflection of how the garment will look once completed. 1.5 cm seam allowance is quite a lot when you realise that the seam allowance will be turned back once sewn and the neckline will be that much lower. The seam allowance also prevents the neckline from sitting properly, so the fit can be hard to assess.

How to raise the neckline of a top
Pattern drafting tips and advice

To raise a neckline simply place some pattern cutting paper under your existing pattern and plan the new neckline shape – use some tape to secure the extra paper in place. If you are just raising or lowering the neckline then you don’t have to make any changes at the back of the pattern.

How to change the neckline on a garment

Scooped and U neckline styles as the name suggested are usually shaped like a U. They should be deep enough to enable you to pull the garment over your head, but not so deep that you need to make any special adaptations to your main pattern piece. Draw on your new style line, add the seam allowance, then plan a new facing or neckline finish. You can be as creative as you want to be with the shaping.

If you make a neckline wider at the front you must carry the shaping around to the back to ensure the shoulders still sew together.

How th change the neck style of a top

It’s also good practice to make sure that when you plan a line to the centre front or centre back that the line meets the centre line at a right angle, to avoid any nasty bumps.

Changing the neckline on a commercial sewing pattern

Boat or bateau neckline styles, shaped like the bottom of a boat. These are wider styled necklines that are high at the front. They tend to emphasise the bust. If you don’t want to draw attention to this area then this is a style to avoid. They can be planned on the pattern piece and the new shape traced.


Pattern drafting - V line necks

V shaped neckline styles are a great choice for most figure types and can be finished neatly with a facing.

They are a little more complex to create and adapt whilst maintaining a good fit. Let’s look at what you can do to stop your garment gaping with a V neck shape.

If you are working on a pattern piece that has no darts the first step is to plan the new neckline shape. Simply cutting this shape and sewing it up will not work. This is because most patterns have extra ease incorporated into the pattern, so once the neck is cut away the neckline will gape. We can solve this problem by taking out a small dart at the neckline.

Adding a v-neck to a dressmaking pattern

1. First plan the new neckline shape.

2. Place the pattern to your body and mark a small x where your bust point lies. The bust point (BP) is the greatest prominence of your bust.

3. Place the pattern flat on the table and draw in a small dart mid neckline. How much you wedge out is trial and error, so for the first try take about 1 cm and then make small adjustments.

4. Now plan a straight line from about 4 cm down from the underarm and connect this line to the bust point. Cut up this line.

Pattern drafting tutorials

 5.Fold out the neckline dart and re draw the neckline to smooth out the slight bump.

         6. You will see that a small dart has opened up under the arm. This can be sewn as a dart, but it should be taken back from the bust point by at least 2.5 cm. Sewing right to the bust point would create a nasty point.

If you are making changes to a pattern that already has darts the wedge you take out at the neckline can be placed into an existing dart. You will need to find your bust point as described above and extend any existing dart to the bust point. Next slash up the centre of the existing dart and take out a wedge at the neckline. I have lots more information about moving darts on my blog.

Square neckline styles, sometimes known as French necklines are frequently seen on feminine t-shirts and tops. The techniques covered above can be applied to very low square necklines if required.


How to sew an asymmetrical neckline

Asymmetrical necklines must be planned on a whole pattern piece, rather than half the pattern piece. You may need to mirror the pattern piece at the centre front in order to plan an a-symmetrical style if you have half a pattern piece that is placed on the fold.

TIP – when creating an A-symmetrical style make sure you plan an exaggerated line, otherwise you run the risk of the style line looking like wonky sewing!

Pattern drafting tutorial for beginners

The green line shows you an A-symmetrical neckline shape.

Hopefully you now have the knowledge to make some changes to your neckline styles. If you need any help adapting a style then just head over to my blog page at www.modeliste-creative.com and post a question, I am always happy to help.

Read Nicola’s previous article on creating facings to finish edges.