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.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Sarra Bess says:

    Thank you for this! I value all your tutorials, but this has the additional value of perfect timing for me, as my task for the weekend is to (finally) sew myself a formal shirt, which I mocked up and made the fit changes for several months ago. I’ve already incorporated many of the production pattern tricks I’ve learned from you (seam allowances, etc.) into my altered pattern; this is one more piece of the puzzle.

    I do have one question, though. A home sewing book I have (yes, yes, I know) suggests cutting the under collar 1/8″ or so smaller lengthwise than the upper collar and then stretching it to fit the upper collar while sewing, so that once it is sewn it will curve inward, i.e., around the neck. Is this a good idea, or an example of poor pattern drafting?

  2. Renee says:

    Kathleen, I love that you did this experiment. I’ve been meaning to post a photo in the forum of a baby dress a sewing contractor gave me as a gift. The collar flips up incessantly and I was sure you would know the reason why. I did assume that the top and under collar were cut from the same pattern piece, and I was trained to make the upper collar as you described for the higher cost product.
    One question, though. The dress collar in question is rounded at the ends. It seems as though that would be difficult to stitch in a 2-step process, and where would you break the seam? I would prioritize having the longer seam roll under.

  3. Xochil says:

    Would there be any reason to use method 1 vs. method 2? I learned to make top/under collars using method 2. I see you get the same result here, but is there any reason to do it one way or another?

  4. Marie-Christine says:

    Aaah. I had learned 1 but not 2, and I see it may actually give the best control over the whole of the collar. Thanks! As always, precious information. It’s so -refreshing- to see scientific methods applied in areas where most people think they don’t belong.

    Signed: the one who doesn’t like the idea of boot camp:-).

  5. Chris says:

    Thanks for such a clear tutorial and explanation of the process. This is something that keeps catching my eye in handmade clothes I have seen online – they can be beautifully and carefully sewn, but if the pattern is wrong to start with, it can never look perfect. Coat collars especially look bad, because the thicker fabric just highlights the problem of the collar sticking out at an odd angle.

  6. Quincunx says:

    There were a few entries on the topic of “dominant seams” which might help with what is called here ‘which seam is boss’, and it was covered again not long after the Refine My Line entry for Lilah Children.

    The real lesson here is that your home sewing doesn’t have to look as home-made if you apply some corrections first. I, for one, welcome the implicit pat on the head that tells me it’s OK to sew the outside edges of the collar in more than one step.

  7. Thanks so much for this post, Kathleen!

    2. Good pattern design is the tool for quality results.

    !!! Amen and Halleluiah !!! In my custom Shirt-making world, a precise draft that renders quality results (like collars and cuffs with no “seam-peek”) is one of the reasons my clients keep coming back for more of my very expensive shirts.

    In my studio, we use a variation of collars 1 and 2. Collar C …one of the “home-sewing methods” often touted as the “right” way {big sigh} …usually results in wonky collar points because errors are common when trying to trim-and-taper at an angle…not to mention trimming the seam allowances too closely after sewing (rather than drafting the pattern with the correct allowances in the first place) and trying to “poke” the points out rather than “turning” them …but I could go on for an hour about these collar peeves of mine…I’ll stop now. :)

  8. Reader says:

    Looks like an interesting post. Once again I have to salute the bravery of anyone who would let you attend and critique her class. :-)

  9. Lisa Blank says:

    This is a very timely entry for me as well. I’ve got a blouse setting in the sewing room waiting for collar and stand to be attached. I’ve been so dissatisfied with every method I’ve tried for attaching stand to neckline that I think I should just stop and make a new collar while I can.

    I’ve been making my collar pattern pieces more or less as per the textbook example. I’m looking forward to trying something new. Thanks!

  10. Linda says:

    I can’t follow the progression of collar #2 from “first seams” to “second seams.” In the first instance there is 1/8th extra in gray along the bottom, and the seam is sewed along the top. In the second photo the extra is gone. What am I misinterpreting?

  11. Pepper says:

    I am so grateful that you take the time to post these lessons on your blog. This is very very timely for me. I just told my husband that every one of your posts contains AND links me to invaluable information (I still consider myself a newby because I never want to stop learning the most efficient way). If only you lived in my city and had classes, I would be a student for sure!

    I also have the same question as Renee. A peter pan collar would be Collar 2 with the one long seam (no second shorter seam) or is there a different way to approach this type of rounded collar?

  12. theresa in tucson says:

    In defense of home sewing, your method is not entirely unknown since I have it in several of my Nancy Zieman books as a “wrapped corner”. It does not, however, show up in the “how to sew” literature and you are very correct about the collars in the published pattern company packages. As a shirt wearer/maker and home sewer I welcome any opportunity to improve so keep up the analysis. Your posts are always enlightening and my sewing has definitely improved.

  13. Deanna Tanner says:

    Would you recommend these methods #1&2 for pad stitched under collars as well? Or by using &1or #2 you wouldn’t need to pad stitch? The cutter I used to sew for would cut the collars one straight one biased but identical size, and I would sew it to shape based on how much turn of cloth I thought it should have. But that was one of a kind – not production…
    I just wonder if the seam allowances leave weird lumps?? (I’ll stop now)

  14. Katherine says:

    I have been thinking about this some more. Could you also use this technique for the short edge of contoured waistbands? I always get a bit of peek of the contrast facing out the front of the waistband, above the fly.

  15. Elle says:

    Thank you very much for sharing.
    I’ve been taught the textbook method at school unfortunately, and pressing is often a pain in you-know-where (I even resorted to cutting out paper jig to help the pressing)
    I look forward to trying both method out.

  16. Quincunx says:

    Linda: The extra 1/8″ in collar 2 is pushed into the collar and causing buckling so faint I can’t even point it out. What I think you’re misinterpreting, though, is that you think you can still see the 1/8″ beyond the seam in collar 1 once the second seam is shown. Those seam allowances have also been matched and the extra pushed back into the collar to make it not lay quite flat (only this time we can see it, on the left side there’s a ripple between the box and the word ‘collar’). Collar 1 just has a faint shadow at the side seam allowances, which looks like a single thickness.

    Reader: Oh, it gets worse. Remember that the class was taken so she’d have an idea of what us -students- thought and/or didn’t think about while being taught. ;) Must’ve been a gulf between what we do with keyboards at our fingertips versus pre-cut samples in hand.

  17. Another Kate says:

    This is so interesting. But I’m afraid I haven’t understood “Why ignoring this advice can make you a target for a knock off” – are you saying that if your clothes look homemade then they are likely to get copied? Maybe I haven’t understood what you mean by the term “knock off”.

  18. Esther says:

    Thank you for the collar explanation Kathleen. This is timely for me too as I am working on my own shirt pattern pieces and I have been stymied by the collar. In a larger context, I didn’t know how the “turn of cloth” idea was applied in a sewing application. I understood from a theoretical point of view how a turn of cloth was added to a pattern but did not know how to accommodate it in sewing. The products I’ve made in the past were a lower price point and thus did not need it. Thank you for showing this – now off to work on my collar patterns.

  19. Lisa Blank says:

    I’m back to report that my first try with this method produced a lovely collar. I had a little trouble getting the points exactly the way I wanted, but that’s related to my skill and not the method described here. I’m very pleased with how the upper collar rolled under, and it didn’t require tedious iron work!

  20. Pingback: Dots at Liberty

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.