A tale -and tutorial- of three collars

This entry will explain:

  • Why ignoring this advice can make you a target for a knock off.
  • Why home patterns will not work in production.
  • How the pattern governs product quality and prevents sewing mistakes.
  • Why pattern makers and sewing contractors ask you questions that make you paranoid.

By way of introduction to today’s post is Deconstructing a sewing class:

[One example of a planning workaround] was the instruction on how to press collars so the seam would fall to the underside. The way Leslie showed how to do it was what a presser would do in a lower value product. A contemporary or better quality product would have the turn of cloth feature built into the pattern and executed by stitchers before it got anywhere near the pressers. My point is this: a work around is defined by workers having to bail out a failure in a process upstream from them. Since the collar example is so easily defined, I will write an entry about this to explain more fully.

To open, we need to discuss collar pattern drafting. I’ve made it simple so non-sewers can follow along. No pattern or sewing experience is needed.

In school and in books, we are taught to do whatever shaping by whatever means to come up with our collar’s shape. The type and shape is immaterial for this example so our collar is represented by this rectangle.
Before the collar can be completed, we must know if it is a lower or higher cost product. If it is lower, the collar pattern is finished (above). One cuts two of them, sews around outside edges and either under-presses as Leslie instructed or simply flat. We will call the collar above, collar “C” for control. It is our controlled example (I have sewing examples further down).

If it is a higher cost product, we are instructed to add a bit of ease around the collar’s edge to allow for turn of cloth. We are taught to add 1/8″ at the top and side, tapering to zero where the collar joins the neckline.


The larger piece is the top collar, the smaller one the undercollar. For extra fashiony goodness, we cut the undercollar on the bias. These are sewn exactly like the lower value collar but it’s more of a hassle in that one must stretch the undercollar to match the larger top collar. I can’t tell you how much this collar drafting method annoys me because you can get a better result for 98% of the collars out there without grieving the stitchers with ease. I have not sewn an example of this one so we won’t call it anything because we’re not going to see it again. It is basically collar C with a lot of additional hassle and no compensatory gain.

For most collars, I prefer to make the undercollar in one of two ways depending on which seam is boss. If the shorter edge is most critical, I’ll use method #1. If the outside edge is boss, I use method #2. I mostly use #2. I also use a hybrid of the two but that’s a topic for another day.

Here’s method #1:
Superimposing on our original collar, I make a top collar by adding 1/8″ to the short collar edges. I make an undercollar by reducing the same edge by the same amount. Here’s what that looks like (below):

Method #2 (below) is the same principle except the outside (longer edge) is boss:

Before I forget, the figure of 1/8″ is merely a starting point. It is not fixed in stone. It depends on the thickness of your goods. I have worked with materials so thick I had to use 3/8″ to get the desired effect.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding so below are the sewn examples of each one step by step. The top collars are cut in grey. Under collars are white.

Only the control collar can be sewn in one pass. Collar 1 & 2 are sewn in two steps. The additional step is why these are for higher priced goods (below).

An aside: if you use the control method (collar C), you still have extra work during pressing if you want to turn that seam under so it is debatable as to which costs more. It is never as efficient for a downstream process to bail out an upstream process. Sewing is upstream from pressing, iron work should not bail out sewing. Just my opinion but there are some who are proud of using iron work to compensate for upstream shortcomings. Iron work should only be used in this way if there is no other alternative.

And below is the sewing of the second seams. You want to fold over the first seam to catch it in the second.


Once these are sewn, you can press them. Note (below) how the seams fall neatly to the underside and no iron work needed.


Now it’s time to compare our sewn sample collars. As you’ll see below, collars 1 & 2 are virtually indistinguishable from each other. The same can’t be said for the control collar. By the way, I did try to press the seams of that collar under -all due annoyance aside. Anyway, below is the control collar with Collar #1 on the right. The undercollar seam of the control collar is peeking out.


And below is Collar #2 on the right, side by side the control collar.


An additional proof is needed for collar #2 because its long edge was the one cut farther back and turned under. So here that is (below):


Before I get to my conclusion, there is still another refinement at your disposal -under stitching. You can understitch the first seams of collars 1 & 2 before closing them with the second seam. You can also partially understitch the control collar seams, falling short of that corner. And don’t think I don’t know that has been a source of frustration for many.

1. Returning to my points in Deconstructing a sewing class, the best planning involves analyzing processes sequentially. In home sewing, lower cost goods and among the uninitiated, it is common that a downstream process like pressing is used to solve a problem created in the pattern process which is itself, upstream of sewing. This collar is an example of why it is problematic to use “couture” (expert home) sewers to make samples. Without re-training in areas they think they’ve mastered, they’d do it their usual way.

2. Good pattern design is the tool for quality results. It does not matter how excellent one’s stitchers are, they cannot tender the quality result of collars 1 & 2 by using the collar of the control pattern.

3. A pattern maker needs to know your anticipated price points and who you intend to hang with on a rack so they can design the pattern to meet market expectations. They’re not asking questions because they’re spying on you.

4. If something isn’t sewn as easily or as well to meet your expectations, it is more likely that the fault lies with the pattern (no matter how much you love your pattern maker) than with the stitchers. Don’t blame the party who had it last.

5. Since the pattern’s design dictates how something can be sewn, a generic pattern (store bought) is not designed with these features in mind. This is the simplest and clearest example I can think of to show that using home sewing patterns for production is a mistake. And maybe this isn’t something you’ve ever noticed or care about but plenty of other people do. It’s one of the tell tale signs you’re a target for knock off.

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