Understitching is an understated and often overlooked technique, but one every dressmaker should consider. It is often found in pattern instructions for neckline facings and sleeve facings and is a method for holding facings flat. Try these simple steps to learn how to understitch and see how easy it really is.
Why Do Understitching?
Understitching just gives a facing that really professional finish and prevents the facing from rolling over to the front of the garment. When you have on your beautifully sewn top or dress, you don't want the facing to keep riding up at the neck.
The advantage of using this technique is that you can hold the facing in place while keeping a clean and unstitched look around the outside of the neckline or armholes.
Understitching will also give a top-class finish to duvet covers and frilled edges or other projects that require a turned edge to sit flat.
Another common place understitching is found is in waistband edges especially in lined skirts where the lining can ride up.
General Supplies: All you will need is your regular sewing tools - pins, iron and your garment. (Further reading: Beginner sewing kit)
Understitching Foot: Understitching is sewn with an all-purpose sewing foot so you don't need any specialty foot.
Understitching Thread: If your facing is a contrast color, match the thread to the facing rather than the outside fabric. The row of understitching won't show on the outside of the garment.
In my samples, I used a cream thread that almost invisibly blended into the orange patterned fabric I used for the facing. In most commercially sewn dresses and tops with facings, the facing is a matching color. This not only makes it more invisible but uses up some of the scrap fabric that is usually left along the edges.
How to Do Understitching
Step One: Prepare the Facing
- If necessary, stay stitch the edges of the facings and neck. Since the neck is cut on the bias it can stretch out of shape as it is being handled in the sewing process. Stay stitching prevents the neck from stretching and wrinkling.
- Sew the facing front and back at the shoulders with the right sides together.
- Sew the garment front and back at the shoulders with the right sides together.
- Press open all shoulder seams.
- Place the facing over the neck with right sides together, matching the shoulders and stitch around the neckline.
- Clip all the curves of the neckline. This is important as otherwise your facing and neckline will be all puckered and twisted.
- Press the facing away from the neck at the seam. The clipping should release most of the tension allowing you to press the seam flat. It may look and feel a bit bunchy but the area to understitch will be pressed and ready to sew neatly. When you press the facing open. the seam allowance should be underneath the facing and not the garment.
Extra Understitching Preparation Tips:
If your seam allowance is really thick and bulky, it may be necessary to grade your seam. This means cutting back the seam allowance in layers to reduce bulk. If you are using a cotton fabric this will not be necessary.
Further Reading: How to Sew Facings
Step Two: Understitching the Facing
With your facing open and separate from the main part of the garment, machine stitch the facing on the right side, following the curved edge.
Keep the machine stitches close to the edge but on the facing at all times.
Extra Understitching Tips
- You will be stitching through the facing and catching in the seam allowance underneath.
- The row of understitching will be approximately ⅛ inch (3mm) from the seam on the facing side.
- Try a stitch length of 2.0. Smaller stitches tend to look neater and hold the facing in place better.
- If you really want a perfectly aligned seam, you can use an edgestitch foot that has a guide to travel along the seam. The needle will be pushed to the left. Considering that the stitching is going to be on the inside of the garment anyway, I always just use my regular sewing foot instead.
- If your understitching area has a corner or sharp turn, just stitch as close as you can then stop. It will still do a great job of holding the facing even with a gap.
Step Three: Press the Understitching
Press the finished facing inside the garment and see how beautifully flat the neckline sits with the understitching edge.
The understitching will allow the facing to roll very slightly to the inside so that it is not visible from the outside.
Understitching will prevent any rolling edges and the facing will lie flat and well behaved. A really smart and professional finish.
Alternative - Bias Tape vs Understitching
If you are looking for an alternative to understitching then consider bias tape. Bias tape is an alternative way to finish necklines and armholes and also gives a really clean finish.
If you look closely at the round neck photo below, you will see that a row of stitching approximately ½ inch (12mm) from the edge of the neck is visible. This is the main difference between using bias tape for necklines and understitching.
Understitching is invisible on the outside of a finished garment, while bias tape will result in a row of stitching. Which finish is best is just personal preference and will often depend on the fabric you are using.