Helen Haughey Designs – Guest Post

Just how important is your neckline selection?

One of my sewing mentors contacted me after reading my latest Sheath Post and offered a few helpful comments particularly about the design of my sheath.

Helen Haughey, of Helen Haughey Designs is a Certified Master of Sewing and a true master of sewing couture sheaths.

I met Helen in Tampa last year and again in Boston at the ASG Convention. In February 2020, I took a French Jacket Class with Helen and Mary Funt. It’s one of those classes that forever changes the way you sew. (Read Posts HereHere and Here.)

After reading Helen’s comments, I invited her to write a guest post on the subject of sheaths to which she graciously agreed.

From Helen…………..

F I T ,  F A B R I C  &  F I N I S H I N G 

Have you noticed that an elegant sheath dress is a treasured part of the curated wardrobe for many women? Hopefully soon we can again enjoy an elegant lunch out or participating at a cocktail party, bridal or baby shower. And a sheath dress is perfect for such occasions.

A sheath dress can be defined as a well-fitted dress, that skims the body to give an elegant, classic look. This garment easily transitions from day to night with the addition of jewelry or scarf and a pair of pumps. The combinations possible give an endless variety of looks and can easily be adapted to your particular style.
Over the years that I have been constructing, writing, speaking and giving workshops on the Sheath dress, I have found there are three elements that distinguish the stylish from the ordinary.



It is the reason many women come to class! Fit begins with a good basic pattern and a well fitted toile. In choosing a pattern for your dress you will want to consider the best look for you:

  •  A princess dart or a combination of bust and waist dart.
  • Sleeveless or a small cap or short sleeve. And in the colder climes a 3/4 or long sleeve.
The McCalls group  size patterns using the front armscye to armscye measurement.

13” > > > > size  8

13.5” > > > > size 10

14” > > > > size 12

14.5” > > > > size 14

15” > > > > size 16

By choosing the right size as above the neckline area will need little or no adjustment.

My go-to pattern Butterick 4386 is now out of print but a pdf can be downloaded Here.

  • Neckline shape -what gives you a balanced look. For this aspect consider the shape of you jaw line.
  • Balance is a strong desire for most of us in our lives – our schedules, relationships and homes.  It is also strongly present in our clothing.  Balance in our garments is achieved through knowledge of the balance points of our bodies as described in the wonderful book
The Triumph of Individual Style by Carla Mathis and Helen Connor.  As well, finding our ideal neckline shape (also described in this book) comes by examining the shape of our jawline.  This does not mean that there is only one neckline appropriate for each of us.
In Sarah’s  garment using Kwik Sew 4261, for instance, her neckline is in sharp variance with her jawline but her jewelry mimics the shape of her jawline and falls at her body’s lower balance point bringing an overall balance to her garment.
I noticed that the vast majority of what she has chosen over the years for her neckline mimics her jawline. It’s strange but we do this almost instinctively!

Once the fit is established and the alterations made to the pattern it can be used over and over again, and every time it will look fresh and new.


I always recommend purchasing the best quality fabric that your budget will permit. My go-to fabrics are are always natural fibers: linen, cotton, wool or silk but my favorites are Boucle and Italian Silk Shantung.

Below is a the front view of the Cotton Boucle sheath pictured earlier. (Fabric: Mendel Goldberg)

And it is always a good idea to choose a color that lights up your face!

Good quality fabric is timeless! It will not bag or sag and will ensure you can enjoy your dress for years to come. I made some of the dresses in my closet 10+ years ago and they continue to look fresh and new.

Always underline your fabric with silk organza or cotton batiste. I do not use polyester organza as it will completely change the drape of the fashion fabric. My favorite lining is silk charmeuse -it makes my body feel pampered! And even though I live in Florida I do not find the layers add bulk or heat.


My Mother was a great sewing teacher when I was young. Although I did not love some of her rules at the time, they have been a great guide for me over the years. Mother was particularly stern about the finishing of a garment. She thought you should be able to wear your garment inside out! This is only possible if you pay close attention to the finishing.

• No lining will peek out from a beautifully finished garment
• The armscye will nicely conform to the shape of your body and not dig in
• The neckline will be smooth
• Both sides of the zipper will end evenly at the neckline
• The seam below the zipper will not gape
• The hem will be perfectly parallel to the floor
• And always remember the embellishment should give balance to the garment.


Many thanks to Helen for this helpful and inspiring post!

Helen Haughey Designs offers classes in sewing construction. Learn more at www.HelenHaugheyDesigns.com.   Also, visit Helen’s ETSY store HERE.

PS………………. I’ve noticed a few Butterick 4386 patterns available on ETSY Here, and below are a few additional sheath patterns.

McCall’s 7861

Kwik Sew  4261  (sold out on company’s website but available at JoAnn’s)

Vogue 1536

I also suggest ETSY for locating discontinued Sheath Classics. Here is a link for Princess Seam Sheaths.


Sheath Inspiration from Saks.


Helen Haughey Designs – Guest Post