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Underlining Dance Costume Pieces

A fabric underlining adds stability and weight to the fashion fabric.

You can use delicate or loosely-woven or stretch fabrics in pieces that undergo a lot of stress (vests, belts, halter tops) if you underline the delicate fabric with a fabric layer that has the characteristics you need in the costume. Essentially, you are making two layers of fabric into one, overriding the undesirable characteristics of the top fabric to make a costume piece that holds its shape under all conditions.

Underlining joins the two layers together so they can move as one piece without bubbling or pulling of either piece. For fashion sewing, this almost always involves pin or needle basting the fabric at the edges. For costume sewing, you can often connect the two by sewing long parallel lines in the body of the pieces, like quilting without a batting, since the extra seams will not detract from the lines of the costume piece. These lines can be up to 6" apart. They just have to hold the fabrics together.

Selecting the Underlining

Silk organza is the most commonly-used fabric for underlinings, but think outside the box and help your underlining make your costume.

Underlining can be used to adjust the color of a lighter-weight fabric.

Using the Underlining

Preshrink your underlining fabric. Steam or washing is the usual method.

Underlining a Costume Piece

This technique will work well for items where the eye will not be distracted by extra seam lines, such as vests, belts, yokes for skirts or pants, headresses, and coats. If you need to underline a dress or a skirt which needs to retain a more delicate effect, use the dressmaker's traditional underlining technique, below.

Underlining a tie belt that will have both a silk top and a silk lining of drapey fabric is a straightforward example of costume underlining.

Step One: Prepare

  1. Choose an underlining fabric with the qualities you want in a belt. Denim, a heavyweight muslin, twill or drill are good. If the top fabric is not completely opaque, then choose an underlining color that is compatible with the top fabric color.
  2. Cut underlining and top pieces one-inch longer and wider than needed.
  3. Place the top piece on top of the underlining with the right side up.
  4. If you are not going to line this garment, the underlining should be right face DOWN against the table if you want to see the 'good' side of the underlining when you are finished. Otherwise, it does not matter.
Underlining, step 1

Step Two: Stitch Top and Edges

  1. Starting from the center top, stitch the two layers together at the top and side edge using a 1/4 - 1/2 inch seam allowance.
  2. Repeat from center top in the other direction.
  3. Do NOT stitch the bottom together. You are likely to make it bubble.
Underlining, step 2

Step Three: Stitch the Body

  1. Carefully fold the belt in half, then into quarters, then eighths, pressing each fold.
  2. Working from top to bottom, stitch down each fold.
  3. Press the fabric flat and trim to size.
Underlining, step 3

The distance between the stitch lines on the body is arbitrary. I would say keep them no more than six inches apart, but it is really up to you. In this case we are dividing the belt into eighths because someone who is following my directions for making a tie belt will then have the positions for the darts marked without any extra effort.

Underlining a Garment or Costume Dress

If you decide you like underlining and want to apply it to fashion sewing or costume pieces such as fitted dresses, be mindful that underlining a garment that curves around the body (such as in a fitted skirt or jacket) will require that the underlining be slightly less wide (1/8 - 1/4 inch) than the fashion fabric because the circumference of its curve is less... by just a bit, but enough to cause bubbling. It is up to the costumer to decide if this is an issue. For excellent information on this subject, see Threads Magazine article on Understanding Underlining.


Susan Khalje, Underlining Principles, Threads Magazine, April/May 2011.
Maura Enright, Proprietor
©2013 by Maura Enright
Updated December 2015
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