Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sailor Style: Drafting a Sailor Collar

Vintage sailor dress patterns often fetch high prices on ebay and etsy, but it's actually not difficult to convert any regular pattern into a sailor dress simply by redrafting the collar.

These instructions are based on the 1942 book "Modern Pattern Design" by Harriet Pepin, from which the diagram above is also taken.

I'm starting with Hollywood 1552, the same pattern I used for my Big Apple Dress. First I traced the the front and back bodice pieces (omitting the self facing from the front piece, as I don't intend this version to be button-up). I then drew on the actual seam lines (based on the pattern's 1/2" seam allowances), giving the dress a V-neckline instead of the original high, rounded neck. If your pattern is already V-necked, you can obviously follow the original seam lines.

I sketched the outline of the front of the sailor collar in black pen, starting about an inch in from the edge of the shoulder, and giving the outer edge a slight curve.

I did the same for the back bodice piece, sketching on the back of the collar, again in black. You can make the collar as long or short as you like; mine is about 6" long. The width at the shoulder has to match the front piece. My pattern features three darts in the back of the neck, so I subtracted the width of these darts from the edge of the collar pattern. I also gave the collar a very slight taper, so it's not based on perfect right-angles.

You could just stop here - simply trace round the collar pieces, adding the seam allowances back in (except at centre back, which will be cut on the fold), and you've got a sailor collar which lies flat against the dress.

However, it softens the neckline a little if there's a slight 'stand' at the back. I've transferred the shape of my sailor collar to a new sheet of tracing paper just for clarity in the tutorial; if you continue on the same sheet it might be worth using a different colour to avoid confusion.

To add in a stand, first decide on the height of the stand (for a sailor collar, between 1/4" and 3/4" is best). I've gone for 5/8" - I've never done this before, so we'll see how it looks at the muslin stage. Extend the centre back line upwards by twice that amount. So for a 5/8" stand, I've added 1 1/4".

Next, take a horizontal line the same length as the back neckline out from the top of the line you just drew.

Connect this with the outer edge of the collar.

Position the front piece so that the shoulders line up, and trace the outline - you may need to make some adjustments to the front neckline so it meets the back neckline smoothly. Depending on your pattern and the height of stand you have chosen, your front piece may angle outwards - that's fine.

Trace around the whole collar piece, adding the seam allowances back on (except at centre back, which will lay on the fold for cutting out), and continue making your dress.

Stay tuned for progress on my own sailor dress muslin, as soon as I start work on it!


  1. Best post EVER! Vintage pattern drafting AND sailor collars? LOVE! Can't wait to see more!

  2. Awesome! I so needed this, I just got HORRENDOUSLY outbid (dang snipers) on ebay and am still quite crabby about it. ;)

  3. wow! exactly what I've been looking for. The diagram makes it nice and clear.

  4. Exactly what I was looking for too! Did you finish this and how can I see the finished garment?


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