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Understand Turn-of-Cloth

Jan 02, 2009
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Learn how to compensate for turn-of-cloth— when an outer curved layer of fabric is slightly longer than an inner curved layer.

by Judy Barlup
from Threads #131, pp. 71-76

Place two identically sized fabrics one on top of the other, then roll, bend, or fold them. The top layer appears shorter than the bottom layer and once identical edges no longer match. This is because of the turn-of-cloth- simply put, an outer curved layer is slightly longer than an inner curved layer. To compensate for the curve, you need to adjust the size of the fabric layers before you start sewing. I’ll show you how to determine the amount of extra fabric needed to keep your edges matching and where to add it.

Turn-of-cloth tutorial

Turn-of-cloth tutorial

Beautifully fine-tuned lapel edges rely on adequate turn-of-cloth.

In sewing, many parts of a garment can be influenced by the turn-of-cloth- center front edges, cuffs, pocket flaps, to name a few- but it’s most obvious in rolled collars and lapels, so those are the examples I’ll use to explain how the turn-of-cloth works.

Every fabric has different turn-of-cloth requirements. The heavier the fabric, the more turn-of-cloth is required. For the best results, calculate the amount to allow for turn-of-cloth based on the fabric you’re using. Once you’ve applied turn-of-cloth considerations, see how this simple effort pays off.

Why does it matter?
On a beautifully sewn collar and lapel, the enclosed edges turn neatly under to the wrong side, and the seam is not visible from the “public side” (the side that shows when the garment is worn). If the turn-of-cloth isn’t taken into consideration, the upper collar and lapel area of the front facing “steal” some fabric from the under collar and lapel, causing the seams to curl back to the public side.

Favoring the public sideWhen the layers are adjusted for the fabric’s turn, the underlayer edge stays behind the outer edge. The sample at left shows layers meeting equally on the edge. The sample at right shows a longer fuchsia layer favoring what will become the “public” side.

Don’t depend on patterns to supply the turn-of-cloth

On blouses and dresses with a rolled collar, commercial patterns generally have only one pattern piece for both the upper and under collar. Turn-of-cloth is not taken into consideration. Even though patterns for tailored jackets and coats often have separate pattern pieces providing extra turn-of-cloth fabric for upper and under collars, it’s often not enough nor in the right places.

Commercial patternSome commercial patterns have a turn-of-cloth allowance built into their patterns, but make sure it’s enough for the fabric you’re using.

Most commercial patterns also don’t provide turn-of-cloth fabric at the center back of the upper collar, where it is needed most. Shawl collars are notorious for this problem. Facing pattern pieces on tailored jackets and coats generally have some turn-of-cloth built in such as the lapel pattern shown at left, but you need to make sure it’s enough for the fabric you’re using.

Fabric choice makes a difference
Even the best patternmakers cannot predict what weight fabric you’ll use for the pattern. While you’re checking for the right turn-of-cloth, you can also find other pattern errors. I’ve actually found patterns with smaller upper-collar patterns, which is obviously a patternmaker’s error and could lead to sewing disappointments.

Understanding turn-of-cloth, checking the pattern, and knowing how to adjust it for your particular fabric will improve the quality of your fashion sewing.

Begin by determining fabric amounts
Heavier fabric requires more fabric for the turn-of-cloth.

Let your fabric tell you how much is enough. Cut two equal rectangles of your fabric approximately the width of the collar at the center back and interface as you will the collar. Pin the layers together along one edge as shown below. Then roll them over your hand and measure the difference that occurs between the free edges. This is the amount needed for the correct turn-of-cloth for this specific fabric. Add this amount to the center back on the upper collar and at the center back of the neckline edge, tapering to zero at the front ends. On light- to medium-weight fabric, 1/8 inch difference between the upper and under collars is usually enough to ensure the enclosed seams stay turned under.

Turn-of-clothThese two fabrics are the same size, but when one is curved over the other it appears smaller. The difference is the turn-of-cloth and the amount to trim from the underlayer.

Adjust the pattern for turn-of-cloth

Find the extra cloth your fabric needs by trimming the underlayer- here are two ways:

1. Cut the amount off the pattern. (If your pattern has an upper and under collar, cut two upper-collar pieces.) Use a rotary cutter with a gridded see-through ruler to trim 1/8 inch off three outside edges of one collar piece. Use this smaller piece as the under-collar pattern.

Adjust the pattern

2. Cut the amount off the fabric.
Use the upper-collar pattern piece to cut both the upper and under collars. Hold a see-through ruler 1/8 inch inside the cutting lines on the three outside edges and trim along the fabric edges. Do not reduce the neck edge.

Cut the fabric

Stitch a collar

Allow the feed dogs to ease the turn-of-cloth along the edges.

First, pin the edges as shown in the photos below, then stitch with the upper collar on the bottom to allow the feed dogs to ease in the excess fabric. If your machine has differential feed, disengage it since it works against you. Begin stitching at the neck edge, across the short end to the corner, easing the excess fabric as you sew. To keep the corners accurate and symmetrical, stitch off the end. Then stitch the other short end using the same principles, starting this time at the outer edge and stitching to the neck edge.

Align the center backs and pin together. Do not use any more pins. Let the feed dogs control the ease. Start at one end of the long outside edge and stitch to the other. Note: When applying the collar to the neck edge, I stitch directionally. But on the outside edges of the collar, it’s more important to stitch with the larger piece against the feed dogs than to stitch directionally.

Match and pin the neck edgeWith right sides together and the under collar on top, match and pin the neck edge together.Match and pin the short endForce the outside edges to match on the short end and pin. Notice the excess fabric, which will accommodate the turn-of-cloth.Reinforce the cornersReinforce the corners: Set the stitch length to 1.5mm, and stitch on top of the previous stitching for 1/2 inch on either side of the corner. As you approach the corner, stop with the needle down, pivot, and take a couple of diagonal stitches across the corner, stop with the needle down, pivot, and stitch on top of the previous stitching for 1/2 inch.Remove the original stitchingRemove the original stitching from the seam allowance in the corners. Note how the points of the collar turn up. This ensures that the points will turn down when you are wearing the garment.Press and turnPress the seams open, grade, and turn the collar right side out. With the under collar facing up, steam the seams and mold the edges with your fingers so the seam is visible. (If you can see the seam when you are pressing it, the public won’t be able to see it when you are wearing it.) Press the edges well.Fold the collarFold the collar as it will lie on your body. Don’t force the neck edges to match, but allow them to fall where they may. Baste the neck edges together. When applying the collar to the garment, use the outside edge as a guide for sewing. This collar application ensures that the seams will stay hidden. What a simple way to get a professional look!

Professional tip: Use a narrower seam allowance
I usually reduce seam allowances on enclosed seams and neck edges to 3/8 inch wide. This reduced seam allowance makes it easier to match the neckline and collar stitching lines without clipping into the neckline seam allowances. I can stitch faster and more accurately, as well as eliminate grading (trimming seam allowances to stagger the raw edge) entirely for lightweight fabrics and grade only one seam allowance for medium- to heavier-weight fabrics.

This is how I adjust for the 3/8-inch seam allowance and provide for turn-of-cloth all in one operation.

• Trace the upper collar to make a new under-collar pattern. Then remove 1/4 inch from the outside and the neck edges.

• On the upper collar, remove 1/8 inch from the three outside edges. Remove 1/4 inch from the neck edge.

• Cut the upper and under collars from your fabric.

• Check your work. Place the under collar on top of the upper collar with neck edges matching. Observe the difference. The upper collar should be 1/8 inch larger on the outside edges.

Modify facing on lapels
The same principles apply for front facings when lapels turn back. The facing needs to be larger than the front pattern piece.

Check the pattern by matching the collar termination point and the break point (the top button) of the facing and the front. There should be close to 1/8 inch difference at the corner of the lapel, tapering to zero at both the break point and collar termination point. If there isn’t, add the required amount to your pattern as shown.

Check the pattern

The corner of the lapel is just like the corner of a collar, so apply the facing in the same manner. Remember that the public side is the facing side from the top button up and the garment side from the button down. This facing is applied in two steps: From the break point down, stitch with the front against the feed dogs. Then, flip the garment and stitch from the break point up with the facing against the feed dogs.

Special considerations
For synthetics and densely woven fabrics that don’t ease well, you might not be able to ease in all the excess at the front ends. If that is the case, trim as much as necessary from the upper collar at the front ends.

Trim from the upper collar at the front ends

On this notched lapel, the contrasting public side shows up as a subtle line on the hidden side, ensuring the perfect turn-of-cloth.

Fold the collar

Judy Barlup, owner of Unique Techniques, teaches and operates her mail-order business out of her home studio in Bellevue, Washington. Visit

Photos: Scott Phillips

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  1. User avater RosaWallace September 10th

    Thanks and Great article........

  2. Susan_R September 18th

    This information alone is worth half the subscription price to your magazine. I am saving my nickels. Thanks!

  3. AZwanKenobi April 5th

    Now I get it! I read the article "Understanding Underlining" and from that article didn't understand how to adjust for the turn of the cloth. This article cleared it up. Thanks! Great article!

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