21 April 2021

Ten Tips for Sewing a Neat Shirt Collar

Ten tips for sewing a neat shirt collar - Tilly and the Buttons

When you advance your sewing beyond the basics, making a shirt or shirt dress can make you feel like a sewing ninja! And there's something particularly satisfying about the intricate steps involved in crafting the perfect shirt collar. Sure, it may be one of the fiddlier aspects of making your own clothes, but it's also super rewarding to put on that collar and know that you made it yourself.

I'm going to share my top ten tips with you for how to get great results when sewing a shirt collar. You can use these tips when making our Lyra shirt dress pattern, Rosa shirt and dress pattern, or basically any other shirt with a two-piece pointed collar and stand. 

Ten tips for sewing a neat shirt collar - Tilly and the Buttons
Rosa shirt dress sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

If you'd like more help with shirtmaking in general, I recommend our Sew Your Own Shirt or Shirt Dress online workshop, in which I take you through every step of making the Rosa shirt and dress, with video lessons giving you a front row seat in the class.

Anatomy of a sewing collar

Before we get stuck into the tips, let's get our heads around which pieces of the collar are which, and what direction they are cut and whether they are interfaced in our sewing patterns:
  • Top collar = the outside part of the collar that's on view when you wear it. Cut on the straight grain and interfaced to give it structure.
  • Under collar = the inside part of the collar that's folded under when you wear it. Cut on the bias grain so it sits nicely around your neck, and not interfaced (in our patterns at least - it can be interfaced sometimes).
  • Outer collar stand = band that sits under the collar, and which is visible from the outside. Cut on the straight grain, and interfaced for structure.
  • Inner collar stand = inside of this band which sits against your neck. Cut on the bias grain so it curves nicely around your neck, and not interfaced.
Got it? Okay! Now onto my tips...

Trimmed under collar and inner stand curves

1) Trim the under collar and inner stand to hide the seams

When you've been to all the trouble to sew your own shirt, the last thing you want is the collar seams to be visible when you wear your finished creation. 

To stop them peeping out, start by trimming a teensy bit off the short ends and long outer edge of the under collar, as well as the curved ends of the inner collar stand (remember - these are the uninterfaced, bias-cut ones). Trim by 2mm (1/16in), tapering to 0mm at corners. This will encourage the seams to roll towards the underside. 

When you pin the top collar to the under collar and the outer stand to the inner stand, just be sure to  bring the raw edges together to make your trimming worthwhile, rather than laying them flat against each other.

Pivot points marked on top collar

2) Mark turning points on the top collar

To help you get the two pointed corners of your collar looking symmetrical, it can be helpful to mark pivot points on the wrong side of the top collar after you've interfaced it. This way you know where to stop sewing one edge - with the needle down through the pivot point - and pivot the fabric to sew the next edge.

We include these markings on our Lyra and Rosa patterns to make this super easy for you :) If you're using a different pattern that doesn't include these markings, measure 15mm (5/8in) - or whatever the pattern's seam allowance is - from each edge at one corner and mark the pivot point where these markings intersect. Repeat with the other corner.

While we're on the subject of interfacing, it's a good idea to sew with the interfaced layer face up on your machine to stabilise the layers as they go through the feed dogs. This is particularly important since the underside layers are bias cut, so they are at risk of stretching out.

One stitch sewn across collar corner

3) Take one stitch across the corners

There are a few different approaches to getting a sharp point on a corner with an angle less than 90 degrees. The method I was taught on a professional sewing techniques course at the London College of Fashion is as follows...

When you reach the pivot point, use the handwheel or needle up/down button to sew one single stitch across this point, sewing diagonally towards the next seam - see the photo above It may sound counterintuitive, as it looks like your corner is going to end up more blunt than pointy, but what you're doing is giving the seam allowances something to turn against when you turn the collar out, so they don't just bunch up into a mess.

Which brings me directly onto my next tip...

Collar tip folded downCollar seam allowances folded down

4) Fold – don’t snip – the corner

You may be used to snipping diagonally across seam allowance corners to reduce bulk. However, when sewing light- to medium-weight fabrics, it's sometimes better to fold the corners rather than snipping them - particularly on sharp corners like these ones. Folding will create a strong corner that's much less likely to form holes. 

An exception would be thicker fabrics like corduroy which will be too bulky if you don't trim the corners.

Do trim the seam allowances parallel to the stitching lines first, grading one layer narrower than the other to reduce bulk. Fold the corner straight down over the stitch you created in the previous tip - preferably with the interfaced layer on top to add some extra structure to the seam lines. Holding this corner down, carefully fold the seam allowances parallel to each stitched edge over it. Turn the corners right side out, then use a point turner and/or a pin to gently ease out the fabric into a neat point.

Collar sewn, corners being compared

5) Check the collar corners look symmetrical

Once you've stitched the collar, compare one corner with the other and check they look symmetrical.  If you want to adjust one side, you can unpick and resew a few stitches. Also make sure you're pulling out the corners well - take a bit of time with a pin to gently ease out the fabric into neat points.

An important caveat on this tip - how symmetrical you want to get the collar is of course up to you! No one is going to call the the sewing police if your collar looks a little wonky ;) The important thing is that you made it yourself. Bear in mind that drapier fabrics like viscose are going to flop a bit anyway when you wear them, so you can get away with a bit of asymmetry here...

Edgestitching on a collar

6) Edgestitch if needed

Once you've turned your collar out and given it a good press, rolling the seam lines slightly to the underside, if your fabric presses well, you can leave the collar as is. But if your fabric isn't behaving itself and the seam lines are trying to peep out, you may want to edgestitch around it to hold the seams in place. 

Edgestitching simply means toptitching close to the edge. From the right side, carefully stitch 2-3mm (1/16-1/8in) from each stitched seam of the collar.

You can of course use a matching thread for a subtle look but, if want to make a feature out of the edgestitching, use a contrast colour topstitch thread, and a slightly longer stitch length (3mm) so it stands out - as we did on the Rosa shirt shown in the photo above. You can find more tips on topstitching in our video and blog post.

Curved stitching line marked on collar stand

7) Mark the stitching line on stand curves

The part I personally find fiddliest of sewing a collar is stitching symmetrical curves on each end of the collar stand. These curves are pretty tight, so aren't the easiest to navigate accurately. So I find it really helpful to mark the stitching line on the curved ends before sewing, to act as a guide. 

You can use a tape measure for this - or cut a teeny strip of card and mark the seam allowance on it, 15mm (5/8in) from one end, and then use this as a more accurate (as it's narrower) tape measure. On the (interfaced) wrong side of the outer collar stand, go around the curved ends holding the 15mm (5/8in) measurement parallel to the raw edge, marking the curved stitching line with chalk pencil or a washable pen.

When you're ready to sew, it can also be helpful to use a slightly shorter stitch length to navigate this tight curve. I find 2mm is short enough to get a smoother curve, but not so short the stitches end up looking jumpy.

Curved end of collar stand trimmed close to stitching

8) Trim – don’t notch – the curves

Once you've stitched the upper and lower stand together, rather than notching triangles into the stand curves, trim the seam allowances close to the seam line. 

This achieves the same goal as notching - reducing the circumference of the raw edge so it doesn't bunch up when the piece is turned right side out. Unlike notching though, trimming close to the stitching line can give you a tidier result, without all those little flaps of fabric bunching up inside the stand.

Smoothing out curve of collar stand with butter knife

9) Smooth out the curves before pressing

It's worth taking a bit of time to get the curved ends of the stand looking similar to each other - firstly by comparing them to each other after stitching, and later once you've turned them right side out. 

I like to use a blunt butter knife to smooth out the inside of the seams into nice curves before giving them a good steamy press. (And again, you'll want to roll the seam slightly to the underside so it's not visible from the outside of the garment.)

Arrow showing direction to sew stand when attaching it to bodice - sew in towards the corner

10) Join the stand to the neckline in two stages

When stitching the stand to the bodice neckline, it can be tricky to get the needle lined up with the start of the seam, without accidentally shifting the carefully pinned stand out of alignment with the shirt opening, as the back of the presser foot gets in the way. 

So what I like to do is start sewing a little way in from one end. I stitch all the way to the other end, then flip the project around and sew back over the gap left at the beginning, overlapping the first few stitches to secure them. It's much easier to sew in towards these ends rather than out of them.

Lyra sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

So those are my top ten tips for sewing a neat shirt collar. I hope you've found this post helpful. It may sound like a lot of things to remember at first, but once you've put them into practice you may well find them second nature. In any case, the important thing is not to stress (it's only sewing!), enjoy the process and feel proud of what you've made. 

If you do make the Lyra or Rosa patterns, we would love to see, so please share with us on Instagram @TillyButtons #SewingLyra or #SewingRosa.

Author: Tilly Walnes
Photos: Jane Looker and Fanni Williams
Sewing patterns: Lyra shirt dress and Rosa shirt/dress