How To Underline A Dress Bodice

I knew underlining existed, but never understood the need for it unless you’re working with sheer fabrics. After reading Couture Sewing Techniques, I learned that most couture garments are underlined, but most aren’t lined! I was surprised – wouldn’t you rather line something and hide all of the construction details? It was an interesting and backwards way of thinking for me.

However, after making the muslin for Simplicity 3965, I thought the bodice could use some extra support. Especially because I chose a lovely vintage rayon fabric, and didn’t want the strain on the fabric, or to possibly damage it from perspiration. (On that note, Couture Sewing Techniques has no problem discussing perspiration and builds the possibility of it into the garments: underlining or ‘backing,’ dress shields, etc.)

In couture, the designer considers the comfort of the person wearing the garment. What would feel nice next to the skin? Imagine an extra layer of silk added to a garment, just to make you feel nice. How incredibly thoughtful! And the more I wear RTW clothes, the more little things I notice that definitely don’t feel nice. Scratchy tags, stiff labels, rough seam allowances, and fabrics that should definitely be lined and not touch the skin! That’s my new goal, for all of my sewing projects to feel nice on the body. We’re worth it, don’t you think?

Ok, so back to the underlining. For this dress, I chose cotton muslin as backing. I wanted a little more structure to the bodice as it was very snug fitting, and I liked the idea of soft washed cotton muslin next to my skin, as well as to protect the pretty vintage rayon.

First things first: pre-wash the muslin! This will make it softer and easier to work with, as well as remove any sizing or finishing from the fabric.

For the underlining, I cut out the bodice front and bodice back pieces in muslin. It’s the same theory as cutting lining, but the application is done differently.

If you look at the photo above, you can see I’ve also cut my facing pieces as well! I decided to use muslin for interfacing as well, I’ve started to move away from fusible interfacings in favour of natural fabrics like muslin. They’re breathable and cooler in the summer, plus then you don’t run the risk of the fusing un-gluing itself from your pieces later on.

After you’re finished cutting, you should have a bodice front in both self fabric and muslin, and a bodice back in both self fabric and muslin as well.

Lay each self fabric piece on top of its corresponding muslin underlining piece. Pin around the edges, smoothing out any bumps and wrinkles. (If your pieces are really wrinkly, be sure to give them a good press first!)

Baste around the edges of each piece. I’ve flipped one piece over so you can see the basting lines more clearly.

Run the stitching off the edges, instead of pivoting at the corners. (This helps to keep the layers smooth and stops them from shifting when turning the fabric still attached to the machine.)

When you’re finished basting around the edges of all pieces, we will start working with each piece as a single layer! You can see how this is different from lining, where each layer is handled separately. Give each piece a quick press after the basting is complete.

For the darts, we will make them through both layers of fabric together!

Take the original pattern piece and line it up over the fabric piece. Mark the tip of the dart through all layers with a pin. I use pins with a small head, so I can easily pull the pattern piece off without moving the pin.

Remove the pattern piece by gently pulling it over the pin head, keeping the pin in place.

Flip the piece of fabric over, making sure the pin stays put. You should see just the sharp end of the pin sticking out.

Measure the centre of the dart along the waistline edge and mark it.

Draw a straight line from the centre of the dart to the dart tip, using a ruler. Don’t worry about the legs of the dart yet, just the centre line.

Now, stitch a line of machine-stitching along the line you just drew. This will anchor the two layers of fabric together and prevent slipping when you sew the dart! Now your dart will be perfectly even through both layers.

To sew your darts, fold along this newly-stitched centre line and pin.

Draw in the dart stitching lines with a marking pen.

Stitch darts along marked lines. (So easy to see markings on the underlining – the lines don’t get lost in the print!)

Press darts towards centre.

Repeat with bodice front: baste layers together, mark dart points, stitch dart centre line, and stitch darts.

From now on, you can work with the bodice front and bodice back pieces just as you would if they weren’t underlined!

Although I have to say, working with underlined garment pieces just feels nice. Each piece has more body and is fun to work with, plus the edges are stayed and stabilized by adding the extra layer of fabric. I’ve never used an underlining before but so far, I’m really glad I did!

It’s starting to look like a dress now! It’s quite exciting to work on this project knowing the fit has already been corrected. It’s faster too, since I’m not constantly trying on the half-finished project.

Stay tuned for more work-in-progress as I tackle the rest of this dress!

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47 Responses to How To Underline A Dress Bodice

  1. Eithne October 13, 2010 at 6:25 am #

    I’m really enjoying reading about your progress. Even though I’ve read about fitting and underlining there’s something about your tutorials that make them super easy to understand. I’m defintely going to have to pull out a vintage dress pattern and give these techniques a go.

  2. Sam October 13, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    Thanks for the great tips! I never would have thought of stitching the two pieces together in the middle of the dart – I bet that makes it SO much easier. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

  3. Karin October 13, 2010 at 6:40 am #

    Great post! I appreciate all the pictures. How surprising that expensive handmade garments often aren’t lined. How will you finish your seams in this dress?

  4. Diane October 13, 2010 at 6:52 am #

    Thanks so much for this series of posts! I’ve always felt overwhelmed by trying out these sort of details and muslim making but your tutorials make it seem very manageable. You make me want to try this out :)

  5. EL October 13, 2010 at 7:24 am #

    This is so helpful! What kind of marker are you using? Are the marks going to stay inside the dress? I’m looking forward to the future posts on this project. Would really like to know when and how you’re going to finish the seams.

  6. Tasia October 13, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    Hello everyone! To answer your questions – the marker fades away after a couple of hours so the marks aren’t permanent! It’s a Prym trickmarker from my local fabric store and it does suggest you test on a scrap piece to ensure the marks fade..

    I’m going to serge the seam allowances, because the layers are a little bulkier now that I’ve underlined the dress, serging finishes the edges without adding bulk and blends in with the print.
    Glad you find it all interesting! :)

  7. Becky October 13, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    I’m loving following along with your progress– I have that same book and the resulting interest in couture techniques, and it’s nice to see one of them in action! I’m also interested to hear how the muslin-as-interfacing goes–I’ve run into projects involving lighter weight fabrics where the fusibles just seem to screw up more than they help, or show too much through the fabric. Plus that would be a great way to recycle some bits of my fitting muslins, because I always feel so bad for throwing those pieces away once I’m done testing them out!

  8. Darci October 13, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    Fascinating! I’ve got that same book but was focusing on other details. Your process will be fun to follow!

  9. Clare October 13, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    Thinking about it, underlining makes a lot of sense as my linings always seem to take on a life of their own when i’m wearing skirts / dresses! A very helpful tutorial and that red print is gorgeous.

  10. Jaime October 13, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    Interesting point about interfacing with muslin, but I instantly agree with you. Fusible is a quick fix when you’re in a hurry or are new & don’t fully understand the purpose of it, but the more I sew and want to sew well, the more I’m thinking sew in interfacing isn’t as bad and scary as I thought it to be. I’ll be trying it out with Lady Grey…when I get back to it!

    The problem I’ve had in my limited trial with underlining was that the fabrics seemed to shift in the sewing them together and then the result was a twisting and turning of the fabric – it didn’t lay flat. I suspect sewing off the edge would help, instead of pivoting – as you mentioned. Any other tips?

    Thanks!

  11. Tasia October 13, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    Hi Jaime! To keep the layers from shifting, sewing off the edge helps but you could also pin both layers together throughout the centre of the pieces. Or, baste the layers together through the middle. You could also try spray adhesives to temporarily glue the two pieces together before basting… I used the spray once on a pair of mesh gym shorts, I try to avoid spray glues since they’re toxic and non-eco-friendly but they do the trick in a pinch!

  12. Corinne October 13, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    Great tutorial. My favorite lining is a light to medium weight batiste. It is available in chain sewing stores as well as on-line and comes in several colors. Of course, I machine wash, dry then press it. I find that a little basting through larger pieces stabilizes the layers just fine. Depending on the fabric however. Silks don’t like all that needle poking, then I use a little spray on fabric sizing, and press the two layers together. That seems to hold them intact until I finish sewing. With so many of us trying to make quality garments this project couldn’t have better timing! Also, wear and seam stress is reduced with this method. Thanks Tasia!

  13. Maureen October 13, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    Great tutorial Tasia! I never thought to sew through the centre of the dart to hold the pieces together – that would have saved a lot of ripping darts out when the two fabrics shifted. Thank-you for the clear pictures.

  14. Nancy October 13, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    That fabric is so pretty! Love how this is coming out!

  15. B @ Sweet Limes October 13, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    Loved this post Tasia, thank you! I think I might have to try underlining a skirt I’m going to make rather than lining it, just to try it out. AND I requested that book from my local library because I’m always a sucker for a good sewing read.

  16. amber October 13, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    Great tutorial! I’ve only underlined with silk organza so far, but have some liberty of london lawn that I’m considering underlining with muslin for a straight skirt. I think this just gave me the push to finally do it. Thanks! :)

  17. Shannon October 13, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    I am enjoying following along on this project. I am adding to my sewing knowledge. Thanks! Can’t wait to see the dress finished and on you. It is going to be so pretty.

  18. louise October 13, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    your dress is coming along really well…
    i’ve the same book sitting on the arm of the chair beside me ready to dip into!
    nerdy comment alert but i love your metal angled ruler – i only have a crappy plastic set square :)

  19. Sandy O'Leary October 13, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    Hi Tasia, I subscribe to your emails and just love them! Your fabric is gorgeous and your tutorial on underlining couldn’t have come at a better time. I am making a pair of organic cotton p.j.’s. The fabric is flimsy to work with and underling is just what they need!
    I can’t wait to get back to sewing them. What fun!!!

  20. Samina October 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    Tasia, how thin is your underlining? Since your vintage fabric is so lightweight, don’t the darts from being overly bulky when they’re sewn? I’m not sure if I’m asking the question clearly, but I’m curious!

  21. Handmade October 14, 2010 at 2:36 am #

    Very interesting and very comprehensive!

  22. Funnygrrl October 14, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    This is a great series! I love the idea of making clothes comfortable for the wearer. We do deserve it for sure. Especially if we’re sewing the clothes.
    Great job. If you don’t get a book deal outta this…

  23. Sofia October 14, 2010 at 10:10 am #

    I just wanted to tell you that this is incredibly awesome, sewing off the edges is probably the best tip. This is such an interesting post and something I think I’ll try with some of my new dress patterns!

    I love you and I’m proud of you!

  24. psh October 14, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    I started underlining when I started sewing for my daughter: she was very persnickity about what touched her skin. I like your suggestion for the darts and sewing off the edge, though: going to do that next time. Thanks.

  25. Tasia October 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    Thanks everyone! So glad you’re enjoying the inner workings of the dress. I’m inspired now to do more construction and how-to posts in the future!
    @louise: Ah, good eye for noticing the ruler! It’s actually a half-size ruler from college, as in the measurements are in half-centimetres. But I like that it’s small and sturdy, much easier to work with than a full-scale square ruler!

    @Samina: My underlining is average weight muslin, it’s slightly heavier than the dress fabric but not by much. The darts are a little bulky, but I like how they feel. They feel nice and sturdy – and still press nicely to the side! The dress fabric is slightly lighter than a quilting cotton but much more drapey. I hope this answers your question!

    @Funnygrrl: Haha, wouldn’t that be exciting! I’m thrilled that some of the bloggers I read are going to be writing books, I’ll be picking up Gertie’s book for sure! You’re right, we’re totally worth the time it takes to make our clothes comfortable.

    @Sofia: Aw thanks! How awesome that you see me all the time and STILL think my writing is interesting and useful!

    Thanks for all the comments back on this post! I love to read your comments :)

  26. quietandsmalladventures October 15, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    thank you thank you thank you!!! i would never thought to sew up the center of the dart to prevent slipping. also, i never actually thought about using fusible interfacing for facings except at the neckline of a dress (cause i didn’t want to stay stitch it!), i just figured the pattern meant for me to cut out a fabric facing. i am learn so much every time i read your blog!

  27. Seersucker Sally October 16, 2010 at 3:35 am #

    I’ve always wondered about this! Thanks for showing all the steps.

  28. Pam October 21, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    Hi! Loved the tutorial. I have spent time on my last three dresses lining – and I just bought Couture Sewing Techniques. I loved the tutorial on underlining the bodice. I also took the hand sewing class offered on PR. Your tutorial really makes it clear how to underline.

  29. Nancy October 22, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    Wow! This is just awesome, I never really knew what underlining was before. I will definitely keep this tutorial in mind when I go to try it myself. Thanks!

  30. rensz October 26, 2010 at 2:10 am #

    Hi Tasia, I just bought the book you mentioned, what a coincidence. Thanks for the tutorial, it motivates me to finish my clothes even better too! I already decided to only wear my own designed clothes, so why not make them as close to couture as I can.

  31. Nancy January 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Hey Miss Tasia, just sending you a comment to let you know that I just used this tutorial to underline the bodice of my January Dress. Thanks for the tips!

  32. Tasia January 28, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    @Nancy: Fantastic!! So glad this post was useful :)

  33. Catherine March 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    The finish of this dress on the inside has stuck with me since I first read your posts. I’m looking towards making some of my own dresses (I’m terrified of dresses and anything with a zip!) but I loved how this one looked with the underlining, and the facings catch-stitched. Anyway, I’m curious about the muslin you used for interfacing. I have regular cotton muslin I’ve purchased from my local fabric store, but it definitely does not look as soft as yours, and I wouldn’t put it next to my skin. Would simply washing mine up do the trick? Or should I be looking for a nicer grade muslin?

  34. Tasia March 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    @Catherine: Hi Catherine! It is just regular cotton muslin from my local fabric store, you’re right! I did wash it, which made it way softer and less paper-like. I use the cheapest muslin they have, it’s about $2.99 for over 60″ wide. Cheap! But it does soften up after washing. You could try washing your muslin, and see how it feels. (Since you’ll likely use the muslin for something else if you change your mind!)
    Cotton batiste or voile will give you a softer feeling, with the same cottony feel without as much weight or body. The thing I like about using cotton for underlining is that it stays in place much better than, say, a lining fabric.
    Does this help? Good luck making your first round of dresses! Just go slow when you get to the tricky bits, make a muslin first so you aren’t surprised with the outcome, and have fun!

  35. Catherine March 3, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks, Tasia! I’m going to throw some of mine in the wash tonight and see how it turns out! Hopefully at least half as nice as yours! :)

  36. Tasia March 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    @Catherine: Awesome! Good luck!

  37. Catherine March 4, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Ahhh, it turned out beautifully – fortunately I found a random length that looks to be a similar colour to yours, so that will be perfect. It’s good to know that any pieces I use in the muslin, I can always re-use as lining. Thanks for the encouragement – I’m off to get started! :D

  38. Tasia March 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    @Catherine: Oh great!! Yup, you can reuse old muslins for lining, or interfacing even! I like using muslin as sew-in interfacing when I don’t want fusible. Good luck and happy sewing! :)

  39. janet May 8, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    I make flamenco dance dresses and the bodice part is always underlined – I guess it’s to help support the weight of the skirt and all the frills.

  40. Linda Kennedy October 27, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Thank you very much for a brilliantly explained tutorial. I’ve never underlined anything before and wanted to find out how to sew darts in the underlining and now I know! Good idea about using muslin for facings. I’ve never had much faith in iron on stuff and even with pre shrinking the blooming stuff still puckers! Grrrr!

    Anyway, thanks again.

    Linda xx

  41. Amelie March 25, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Thank you for this very clear tutorial! Will try this for the woolen dress I want to make.
    What do you do for the skirt? Regular lining? Thank you!

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