Why Add Twill Tape to the Shoulders? Plus Possible Substitutions

Hello, everyone! Today I’m talking about twill tape. What is it for? Why do we put it in the shoulders of the Renfrew Top? And what could we possibly use as a substitute if we can’t find twill tape locally?

Let’s start with why we add the twill tape, then talk about possible options if twill tape is hard to find.

Why add twill tape?

The twill tape is added to strengthen the shoulder seams. In most knit tops with a set-in sleeve, the shoulder seams are cut along the horizontal grain, the stretchiest direction. This is great for getting stretch around the body, but we’ll want to stabilize the shoulder seams or they’ll stretch, sag or break. If you look in your tee shirt drawer, it’s likely that your tee shirts have some sort of stabilizer across the shoulders.

You might see self-fabric binding go around the back neck and across the shoulders, common in men’s undershirts and basic tees. There might be a clear, stretchy elastic sewn into the seams, this is common in manufactured tee shirts. (Though I’ve seen the clear elastic break over time.)

(one of Mr Sewaholic’s old tee shirts with self-fabric binding stabilizing the shoulders and back neck)

So why does the pattern specify twill tape? I chose twill tape because I thought it would be the simplest, most common notion to find around the world. It seems that it’s challenging to buy in some places though, so we’ll talk about what you could use in place of it to get the same result.

What could we use instead?

Basically, the whole purpose of the twill tape is to keep the shoulders from stretching out. I always find it’s easier to think up a substitute when you know what the original purpose was. So we just need to add something to that seam that doesn’t stretch.

That could be any number of things:

  • selvedges left over from your fabric
  • twill tape as directed
  • stay tape, which you can trim down the middle for less bulk
  • ribbon
  • seam binding – the thinner the better
  • clear elastic if you can find it

What else could you use? (I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!) When you’re thinking of a substitution, you’ll also want to consider the bulk you might be adding. Or the itch factor. For example, stay tape is super light and sheer, great for lightweight knits and just about any knit fabric. If you’re subbing with selvedges, make sure they aren’t too bulky and stiff. Thinner is better. Stay away from bias tape as it’s stretchy and won’t support the seam. Whatever you sew, when the seam is sewn it should not stretch at all. (Or if you used clear elastic, it will stretch but return to its original dimensions.)

For my purple top, I’m using stay tape. That’s what I have on hand, and I’m trying to use up the supplies I have on hand as much as possible. (My notions box has become a bit of a scary pit and I’ve been buying new trims instead of digging through my disorganized stash. I really need to clean that up and make it functional. That’s a project for another day though!)

Here are more blog posts about the Renfrew Top. (Get the pattern here.)

How do you usually stabilize your shoulder seams? What’s your favourite stabilizing material to use?

, , , , , ,

39 Responses to Why Add Twill Tape to the Shoulders? Plus Possible Substitutions

  1. Rachel-Lou October 15, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    I used to use vilene stay tape as per the advise of burda magazine – its a thin strip of interfacing with a line of chain stich sewn down it. I had to get mine over the internet (not good for inpromptu sewing sessions) and found it quite expensive. Now I just use whats on hand – twill stay tape if I’ve remembered to buy any, or left over bits of bias tape. I always end up with a random strip of bias tape thats to short to use for a project, but that I don’t want to throw away, so I feel better about using these up.

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      Good idea to save those leftover bits of tape that are too short to use for anything else! That happens frequently if you buy pre-packaged tape.

      I’ve never used vilene stay tape, thanks for the suggestion!

    • Keiko February 2, 2015 at 6:50 pm #

      I just wanted to thank you for posting the photo of the Collins stay tape. I had about half a roll for many years and today I used it to give support to the unfinished hem of a modern dress I got. Midprojet I ran out of it and when I went to my local notions shop (were I had bought it more than 10 years ago) they had discontinued it. I had no idea of what it was called so I typed “net tape” in Google images and thanks to you I was able to find it online. I have ordered 2 and are so grateful!

      • Tasia February 3, 2015 at 8:06 am #

        Oh good! Glad to help. I’ve had my roll for almost five years, it really does last forever!

  2. June October 15, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    The clear elastic meant for swimsuits (Lastin brand) holds up quite well. I’ve used that for stabilizing stretchy fabrics and have been pleased with the outcome. I’ve used the Dritz Stay Tape pictured above and found it extremely itchy, to the point where I had to undo the seam and trim it down to less than 1/8″ so that it would be covered up by the seam allowance. Selvedge from a woven fabric is a great idea!

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      Yeah, the stay tape can be scratchy if it ends up next to your skin. Thanks for the recommendation of clear elastic and for mentioning the brand name! It’s easier to search out when we know what it’s called.

  3. Gabrielle October 15, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    I use narrow clear elastic in my shoulder seams for knit tops – I don’t recall how I got started using it, but probably based on another blogger’s suggestion. I like that clear elastic gives a little with the fabric, for example when you’re stretching a top as you put it on.

    I can definitely envisage twill tape or fabric selvedges working really well in shoulder seams where a heavier knit is being used… I’ve used twill tape as a waist stay, but somehow never thought of using it in shoulder seams! Thanks!

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

      The clear elastic is what I often see in ready-to-wear women’s tops, you’re right it does give with the fabric as you’re putting the top on! I thought it would be hard for people to locate, but it’s encouraging to see that many of you are finding it, no problem. Glad the post was useful!

  4. Erika October 15, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    I use a woven, nonstretchy, very thin and light tape. It adds strength without adding much bulk. Best of all: it goes through the band-feeder in my overlock, making it super-easy to insert! It’s slim enough to rest just inside the overlocked seam, not interfering with whatever way you want to fold the seam.

    I wrote a post about it, with a link to a video that shows how to use a band-feeder on an overlock. Sadly, I don’t know any international sellers who carries this tape, only a Swedish one.


    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

      That stuff looks great! The way you’ve applied it looks really easy to do, and so tidy. You’re making me think it’s time to play with my serger a little more and see if I could feed tape through it just like you’ve done. Thanks for the link!

    • Lelie - A Bouquet of Buttons August 11, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

      Thanks for reminding me about my band-feeder. I never used it, I will be very usefull now :) Maybe it’s also possible using left over ribbons this way.

  5. New Ribena October 15, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    I use Vilene flusible stay tape. When I went to London on vacation I bought back boxes of the stuff.

  6. Corinna October 15, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    I’ve used the satin-y ribbon hanger I cut from a rtw top on one renfrew and s strip of bias tape on the other…so I basically just use what I find in my sewing box :D

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

      Nothing wrong with using what you’ve got on hand! :)

  7. trumbelina October 15, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    I would love to know the proper way to install twill tape in the shoulder seam.

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

      Ok, I’ll see what I can put together! There are many different ways you can do it, if you look at Erika’s link she’s serged it right into the seam, I like to sew it beside the seam so the seam can still be pressed to one side, or you can sew it directly on top of the seamline.

  8. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) October 15, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    I save the selvedges from nice linings and from silk organza. it works great and is economical. I always find that packaged tapes seem a bit too stiff. Good info.

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      I agree, the packaged tapes are a bit stiff. Sometimes they get a bit softer after washing but not significantly. (I washed some 100% cotton twill tape and it did get a little softer afterward.) I like the idea of saving silk and lining selvedges, what a way to add a softer touch to something like a plain tee shirt!

  9. lisa g October 15, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    i used to use the clear elastic, but have found it so unruly to stitch in properly i’ve given up on it. nowadays, i just cut a narrow strip of fusible on grain (homemade stay tape, i suppose) and fuse it at the shoulders before stitching. it’s thin, super easy to do and now i don’t have to wrestle with tapes as i stitch those shoulder seams!

    • Susan October 15, 2012 at 9:33 am #

      That sounds like a good idea. I’ve given up on clear elastic for the reasons you give. However I find the renfrews I’ve made with no stay tape are absolutely fine.Of course I’m not doing anything more strenuous than light housework in them.

      • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

        For sure, the Renfrew top would be fine without stay tape. Especially if your knit is stable and you’re not doing a lot of lifting or stretching. It’s one of those things that helps over time, but you could skip if you wanted. (For example, if you’re using a delicate knit that isn’t going to be long-lasting anyways, you could easily skip the shoulder tape as the fabric will wear out well before the seam does.)

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      That’s a good idea too – fusible stay tape! As long as it doesn’t show on the right side, the line where the fusing ends I mean, and the area isn’t under enough strain so that the fabric stretches and pulls away from the fusing. Seems like a good alternative for less stretchy or woven fabrics! (My stay tape isn’t fusible, it sews it, though it does look like interfacing!)

      • lisa g October 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

        i just fuse it to the wrong side of the front piece along the shoulder seam first thing after cutting. that way i don’t forget once i start sewing!

  10. clothingengineer October 15, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    I’ve used the Stay Tape before and while I loved how non-bulky it was I found it very itchy and irritating. I will only use it in lined garments. Now I mostly use twill tape or Design Plus fusible stay tape. It is 1/4″ wide and comes on a roll, so it is much quicker than stopping to cut out strips of interfacing.

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback! I’ve used the stay tape many times in unlined garments but now that I think of it, the facings covered the shoulder area so it didn’t ever touch the skin. The other way to avoid scratchy tape is to sew it on the side that’s going to be pressed down, so if you’re pressing the shoulder seam to the back, sew the tape to the back of the seam allowance, and when you press the seam allowances back, the scratchy tape is hidden.

  11. maddie October 15, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    what a great post! I never would have thought to use selvedges but it makes sense – they’re the most tightly woven portion of a piece of fabric. Thank you!

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

      Exactly! And while other parts of the fabric might stretch slightly, the selvedges don’t.

  12. JoAnn Beroiz Ely October 15, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Stay Tape, while a bit costly is great for cutting down the middle for very narrow applications. I buy mine from http://www.wawak.com as it is half price, minimal shipping charge and depending where you live in the US (sorry Canada) 3-4 delivery. Order a catalog and enjoy browsing everything a sewer would need and some things we don’t but HAVE to have.

    • Tasia October 15, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

      It is a bit costly, although it has lasted me a long time. That’s the same roll I was using back in October 2010 when I first posted about stay tape.

      That site looks interesting! I totally want to order a catalog now. We have a place here called A Great Notion, I get their catalogues and love flipping through, learning about new gadgets I didn’t know about but now want to play with! (Luckily it’s Canadian so much faster shipping and no cross-border hassles. It’s where my thread racks are from.)

  13. Trisha October 15, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    I use 1/8″ ribbon. You can usually buy tons of it cheaply. It is thin, so it works well to stabilize shoulders in a knit top. AND it works well to sew in as hanger straps.

  14. Lucy October 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    I just use selvages from cotton yardage (metreage?). It would go to waste anyway, and it works fine. I also use it for stay tape around necklines.

    I have a question about the seam tape. In the pattern instructions, it says to put it on the front shoulder seam (from memory – I haven’t got the pattern in front of me) and then to press to the back. Why would you put the stay tape where you can see it? I actually put mine so it was underneath the seam when it got pressed back, and it seemed fine, but looking at some of my RTW tops they have the seam tape visible as well. Just curious!

  15. Janette October 15, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    What timing! I started my first renfrew yesterday and was a little stumped at that step. I’m still very much a beginner so it was a new skill for me. Not sure still if I did it right but the top is done except for the bands. Would love to see a photo of your twill tape placement on the seam. Unfortunately my machine decided to go on strike and eat my fabric and with work travel I’ll have to wait to finish the bands this weekend. It’s so cute – I wish I could have brought it on my trip! Can’t wait to make more!

  16. Sarah October 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    I used narrow ribbon for the ones I made, and that worked quite well. I always end up with little ends of ribbon lying around, and as a bonus I know there’s a little pretty colour pop inside, even if no one will ever see it :)

  17. GorgeousThings October 16, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    I swear by selvages of silk organza. I trim the selvages from my organza, and I keep them in a basket. Even though I buy cotton twill tape by the 50-yard package (from Sew True, NAYY), I prefer organza for lighter knits, because it doesn’t add any bulk to the seam.

  18. Levone October 16, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    I love using the Design Plus fusible stay tapes (fuse it on the seam line before sewing or serging)…have been using those for years in knit tops. I am trying to conquer the clear elastic since that’s what I see mainly in RTW, however I have trouble sewing that. I bought a walking foot recently so hopefully that will help..

  19. carolina November 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    Do you think you can explain later how to do it? i tried to do twice but wasn’t good.

  20. Robson April 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    I know this an old post but I came across your highly informative site after I searched for ‘t-shirt neck binding’ on Google.

    I would just like to say that in jersey t-shirts where the neck opening is the same as (or smaller) than the head circumference then the binding tape cannot be cut from the straight grain. The stitching would break and hence why the self binding commonly used in t-shirt manufacture (as in your picture) is cut across the bias of the fabric. I imagine the binding is also used to disguise the overlock (serging) and to counteract from the possible irritation of rubbing against the skin as well as supporting and strengthening the neck and shoulder seam.

    I appreciate that what you are doing with your tops here is quite different – I think you are sandwiching the twill tape in the back seam and not stitching it flat on top – so the tape will still have some useful movement when worn.

    Kind Regards


  1. Sewaholic Renfew: In Search of Musical Notes « Sewin' in the Rain - November 17, 2012

    […] Tasia wrote a post recently about where she likes to put the stay tape at the shoulder (check out her “Renfrew tips” series). She prefers it on the front seam, but I actually like it on the back seam since it’s hidden when you press the seam towards the back. For this top, I used off-white twill tape and serged the seams afterward. The rest of the top is serged, but just keep in mind you can sew this top with a regular sewing machine. […]

  2. Sewaholic Renfrew: In Search of Musical Notes « Sewin' in the Rain - November 17, 2012

    […] Tasia wrote a post recently about where she likes to put the stay tape at the shoulder (check out her “Renfrew tips” series). She prefers it on the front seam, but I actually like it on the back seam since it’s hidden when you press the seam towards the back. For this top, I used off-white twill tape and serged the seams afterward. The rest of the top is serged, but just keep in mind you can sew this top with a regular sewing machine. […]