[Module 6] Creating the Flexible Pattern | 4c. Bodice Necklines

The Neckline shape can make or break a dress and it is a good idea to choose one that you are comfortable with and that you think will be flattering for you or your client and don’t forget the Back. The Back does not have to be the same shape as the Front and with our Flexible Pattern idea you could draft a number of Back draft options for your Front, or of course a number of Front options for your Back. I would recommend that you actually do this as you are drafting while you are concentrating on the pattern, it does not take long to whip one up so while you are focusing all your brain power on your draft then try out different options each time with a view to creating a Test Garment that you can swap Backs and Fronts to test out all of your drafted options. Yes it does take longer but you will have invested time into a very Flexible Pattern that will just keep on giving.

To some extent the previous Unit Dart Manipulation goes hand in hand with decisions on Necklines for example a wide Neckline and shorter Shoulder will mean that there is no room for a Shoulder Dart on the Back or on the Front. So you may need to refresh on the last Unit as you will need to manipulate Darts all the way through this Unit.

After you have drafted your Neckline you will need to move on to choose another Drafting option to continue until your pattern is completed;

  • A suggested place to go is to look at Facings, Linings and Bindings as your bodice drafting will be fresh in your mind it makes sense to consider how you are going to finish the edges of the Neckline and Armhole and those pattern pieces will need drafting.

  • Another place to look is pleating and gathering just in case you want to do any extra drafting changes to the shape.

  • Also fastenings will be useful as you may need to understand how to draft in a zip closure to a bodice.

There are a few other decisions that you will need to make in order to draft a Neckline;

  • Darts - Which Darts you would like or need to use, this was covered in the last Unit.

  • Low Neckline Darts - To Determine if the Neckline Chosen needs a Neckline Dart to stop the Neckline gaping. Also if you want to use Neckline Darts, or create space for gathers or pleats or tucks then it is probably best to manipulate everything out to the Side Seam as a holding point then draft the Neckline shape then draw a Style Line in the new Neckline and then shift the Dart space back into the Neckline, it is better this way than trying to get the right shape on a Neckline that you have already placed Darts onto. I guess what I am saying here is that you can shift Darts alter outlines and then keep shifting Darts until you are happy with the result. Sometimes you change your mind and your design it’s that simple.

  • Neckline - Which Neckline Style do you want to create and how low it is going to be on the Front and the Back.

  • Shoulder Width - How wide does the Shoulder need to be to support the fabric for the silhouette.

  • Finishing - How is the Neckline/Bodice going to be finished internally e.g. facing, lining, binding etc. because that can have an effect on the drafting or vice versa.

  • If your neckline is < 23” all the way around you will need to consider using a fastening such as a zip so that you can get into the garment, review Auxiliary Reference Information - Draft – Closures.

In the interest of saving paper the illustrations below are done using the Close Fit Positive Ease Working Template but you would use your Working Template Copy, unless of course you want to have a play with the Mini Drafting Template versions supplied on the Downloads page which is really great fun to try out any ideas you may have before you cut into your painstakingly copied out Working Template.

Also coloured pens have been used here to make things clearer where you would be simply using your pencil.

You will need to true up your draft and it’s a good idea to do the truing as you draft or you can leave it all to the end. Refer to Auxiliary Reference Information - Draft - Truing a Draft if you need to review how to do this for all seams, Notches, Awl Points and Grainlines. I will not be adding these in in this chapter as the Auxiliary Reference information covers this off.

Some Considerations Before you Start Drafting

Neckline Width

You should consider Neckline Width for every Neckline that you draft.

As we know from looking at alterations, as you change one pattern piece it can have an effect on an adjacent pattern piece and by changing the Working Template Neckline you are potentially changing the fit.

When repositioning Necklines you will be affecting the drape of the garment as everything hangs from the Shoulders. By changing the High Shoulder Point you are removing fabric from the Shoulder and reducing the amount of fabric used to drape from the Shoulder if that makes sense. Therefore the Back still needing to drape across the Back Shoulders and support the Front with less fabric which can cause the Front to gape.

As the Front Neckline increases in width away from the Centre Front Line, the Back needs to increase by slightly more to help with the curve of the Back and to draw out the Front pieces thereby holding them back. Gaping in the Front is usually fixed by either bringing the Front High Shoulder Point Closer to the Centre Front Line or by shifting the Back High Shoulder out further to pull the Front tauter across the Neckline. This was covered in Auxiliary Reference Information - Test Garment Creation - 6. Fitting a Test Garment.

After that convoluted explanation all that this means is to some extent on each body this is a matter of trial and error and a Test Garment is really the best way to check all of your Necklines so it is definitely recommended to do this once the Flexible Pattern has been drafted.

Whilst drafting though it is a good idea to keep this in mind for all Necklines. The wider the Front Neckline gets from the Working Template the more measurement you add to the Back Neckline to draft it and it is a sliding scale.

It is a simple process and you will do it time and time again. You need to work out how wide the Front Neckline width is by extending a guideline straight up from the Centre Front, then squaring a line over to the new High Shoulder Point and then measuring this line.

So this photo shows the extended Centre Front Line in Blue and a perpendicular line from this to the new High Shoulder position shown in red, this is what you would measure.

The Back Neckline width must be larger than the Front Neckline width, and you would need to determine by how much it is larger by looking at the new High Shoulder Point position on the Shoulder Line and you will be adding on anything up to 3/4” to get the Back Neckline width.

  • If the new High Shoulder Point on the Front is close to the original Working Template High Shoulder Point then you would add only a small amount say 1/8” to the Front Neckline width to get the Back Neckline width.

  • If the new High Shoulder Point is around halfway across the Shoulder Seam then you would add on around 3/8” (i.e. half of ¾”) to the Front Neckline width to get the Back Neckline width.

  • If the new High Shoulder Point is closer to the End Shoulder Point then you would be looking at adding around 3/4" to the Front Neckline width to get the Back Neckline width.

Anything in between these measurement and you adjust the amount accordingly from 0 – ¾” or more if you feel you need it.

The measurement for the Back Neckline width can now be determined as = Front Shoulder Neckline + the extra for the Back + and if you are sewing the Back Dart you will need to include this too and add it on so that the Back Shoulder Line does not end up smaller than the Front.

This should get clearer as you work through the instructions for each Neckline Category below, it is enough right now just to know that you will need to do this to set the Back Neckline width. At the end of the day it is not a big deal if you forget as it will become quite obvious during fitting the Test Garment if you have any gaping in the Front. It only becomes an issue if you don’t do it and don’t do a Test Garment – you have been warned!

Low Necklines

If you have a low Neckline then you will need to be careful that the Neckline does not gape away from the chest as it drapes over the bust. The way you determine if the Neckline is low is to draw in the Radius on the draft. The Radius measurement is on your measurement sheets, and you will need your compass to draw it onto the draft. Set the compass to the measurement for the radius and placing the point of the compass on the Bust Point simply draw out a circle. The circle on the draft roughly shows you the breast position on the draft, I say roughly because the Radius was the measurement from the nipple to where the bra boning would be but some peoples breast are bigger above than they are below.

If the Neckline that you have drafted at its lowest point is lower than the top of the radius you will add a dart.

The size of the dart is determined by how low the Neckline is so draw a line across from the radius to the Centre Front.

In this photo the Neckline is red and the line in blue shows where the top of the radius hits the Centre Front.

Then measure down from this point to the base of the Neckline.

Take that measurement and roughly divide this amount by 1.5”. For each 1.5” that you have you have add on 1/8”. So for example if your measurement is 3” then you will need to use 2/8”.

To this measurement you will then add on your Shoulder Dart width which is on your measurement sheet to get the total size of the Neckline Dart.

The Dart is drawn to either the Bust Point or the Lower Bust Point, when determining where to draw it to consider how large your Side Dart currently is, if it is already large then you will probably want to take the space from the Neckline Dart and shift it into the Waist Dart so taking it to the Lower Bust Point might be a better option.

The Dart is drawn away from the base of the Neckline by at least around 1” and it’s better to place it somewhere below the top of the radius.

The Neckline Dart is then cut and closed.

The Neckline will then need to be redrawn.

Here is what the shape would look like with the Waist and Side Darts trued.

However when the Neckline Dart was closed the Centre Front line was skewed out and you don’t want a flare of fabric at the Centre Front Waist so it is a good idea to take ½” off the Centre Front Waist up to the Centre Front Neckline. This basically reduces your Waist by ½” so you could take this back off the Waist Dart to get the space back.

Now the Centre Front is not perpendicular to the Waist so you would not be able to cut the Front on a fold as the other side would be on a tilt or bias you will therefore need to cut 2 Front pieces and create a seam at the Centre Front.

Here the photo shows the extra ½” taken back out of the Dart.

Now just a word about a low neckline in the Back Draft as you do not have a radius to work with and also less Darts to play with. But you still want to ensure that the Back does not gape the lower you get (unless that is a look you are trying to achieve of course).

The thing to do is to bring in the Side Armhole in closer to make the Back tighter and similar to the front it is a sliding scale, as the Back Neckline gets lower the tighter you get with the Side.

The scale drawn in the Side here shows an approximate amount to use to determine how far to bring in the side and it depends where the Neckline base is.

This photo shows three V Necklines drawn onto the Back, I have also drawn in the Base Armhole line out to Centre Front as this was not included in the Working Template that this mini sample was taken from.

You can see that the red Neckline has not had any change as it is approximately in line with zero on the side on the scale.

The green Neckline hits the ½” point on the scale so the Side Base Armhole is brought in by ½” and the blue Neckline goes all the way down to the Waist so the side is brought in by around 1”. Now this is not an exact science so you will need to test this out when you create your Test Garment. The Armhole is redrawn from the new position on the Base Armhole Line.

Back Shaping

Before we get down to drafting just a quick word about the Back Shaping. On the Working Templates with wearing ease you will still have Back Shaping and a Waist Dart.

If you determine that you do not want to use your Back Shaping then you will need to add on this measurement to your Waist Dart otherwise your Waist will be too wide so keep this in mind as you draft your bodices.


There is a myriad of alternatives that you could choose with Necklines and I am sure that you have some great designs that you want to try out. In order to explain how to draft different Neckline shapes they have been grouped here into categories and by no means is this list of categories all-embracing its purpose is to illustrate some of the more common Necklines and as time goes on I will add in more to the list so apologies if your specific design is not on here yet.

Refer to the Download page for Style Sheets to see which styles are currently documented here with instructions, as I said this will change over time, they are marked with a green dot.

For the purposes of the instructions below no sleeves are being added therefore all Armhole Darts have been manipulated out.

Boat Neckline

The Boat Neckline is a higher and wider Neckline compared to other Necklines and is I think flattering to all age groups and gives a glamourous finish to a top or a dress. I think of ‘Breakfast in Tiffany!’, although when you actually look at Audrey Hepburn’s dress the Neckline is actually more rounded than Boat Neck.

The Boat Neckline is similar in appearance to the bottom of a boat in that it goes flat along the Neckline then curves up to the High Shoulder Point generally. It has a shorter Shoulder Seam than other Necklines although the Shoulder Line needs to be wide enough to support the fabric, around 1 ¾” is a good width to start working with.

To draft the Boat Neckline;


  • Copy off the Working Template from the Waist up on the Front and Back Drafts a close fit bodice does look good with a Boat Neckline you have to work out how close is the most comfortable for you. I think 1 ½” – 2” wearing ease for a Working Template is a close but comfortable fit, although if you have a smaller body type say less than a size 12 you might want to reduce this.

  • Manipulate out the Shoulder and Armhole Darts on the Front draft into either the Side Dart or the Waist Dart depending on the dart lines required on your design. A Boat Neck looks good if it is kept clean so moving everything into the Waist Dart is a good look although a Horizontal Side Bust Dart does replicate the line of the Neck and may help with fit on a larger bust. If using both the Waist and the Side Darts I would take the Side Dart to the Bust Point and back it of around 1” and potentially bow out the Dart and take the Waist Dart to the Lower Bust Point, back if off also and potentially bow out the Dart.

Here are the Shoulder and Armhole Darts manipulated into the Side Dart.

  • Keep the Centre Front Neck Point high. Usually where it currently is on the Working Template is a good position.

  • Decide on the width of the Shoulder Line measuring from the End Shoulder Point. To start with try 1 3/4” if you are not sure, you can always change this during a fitting if you change your mind.

Draw in the Neckline from the new High Shoulder Point to the Centre Front Neckline, shown in red below.

Here another option has been drawn, you can play around with the curve until you have a shape that you think you will like.

  • The Front Neckline width needs to be measured to help work out how wide the Back Neckline width should be. Shown in blue below.

  • As explained above draw a line to extend the Centre Front straight up, then the squared off line to the new High Shoulder Point. Measure from the Centre Front out to the new High Shoulder Point, this is the new Front Neckline Width and the extra that you will need to add on to the Back Neckline will be around 5/8” to 6/8” looking at the position of the New Front High Shoulder which is just a little further out than half way.

  • As the Neckline is high no Neckline Dart is required for extra shaping.


  • Before starting remove any Back Shoulder Dart extension that was made previously truing the Dart on the Working Template by drawing a straight line from the Shoulder End Point to the High Shoulder Point.

  • To work out where the new Back High Shoulder Point should be and therefore the Back Neckline width as before extend the Centre Back Line and square off from this line. Now the amount you square off by will be the Back Neckline width = Front Neckline Width + Extra measurement for the Back say 5/8” in this case as the Front High Shoulder Point was further out from the centre Shoulder Line + the Back Dart width as we are sewing this Dart.

  • So draw a line perpendicular and squared off from the Centre Back line out by the new Back Neckline width amount, the ruler will need to end on the Shoulder Line so you will need to slide it up or down the Centre Back line until you hit the Shoulder Line at the correct measurement. Shown in blue below.

  • The Neckline at Centre Back will give a better curve or Boat shape if it is lowered a little try ½” to ¾” down to start with and draw in the new Neckline and see how it looks. Draw the line squared off for ½” at the Centre Back then a gradual curve up to the High Shoulder Point. You can always redraw it until you like the shape and position.

A few attempts were made here before a decision was made.

  • Next consider the Back Shoulder Dart. It is a good idea to keep the Dart in the Back to help with shaping around the shoulder, it can also give you a place to take in any further excess on the Back if you did need to. Obviously the Dart is now no longer in the centre of the Shoulder Seam as the start of this has been moved and it may even be partially in the Shoulder Seam and partially in the new Neckline as is the case in this example. Considering the new position of the High Shoulder Point and the fact that there may be binding or facing, seams and Dart bulk it makes sense not to have the Shoulder Dart too close to the Shoulder High Point, visually it will look better if the Dart is at least 1” further away from the High Shoulder Point so redraw the Dart further into the Neckline if you need to move it but do not change the width of the Dart.

Here you can see that the Shoulder Dart has been totally redrawn on the old Shoulder Line further into the Neckline and keeping the Dart the same width as before. The old Dart has been crossed out.

The photo below shows that the Dart that will actually be sewn is now very small but this is fine unless you still have a very wide Dart in which case you may want to consider lengthening it a little for aesthetic reasons.