Helen Haughey Designs – Guest Post

04 Oct 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.


  • Karen Helm
    Posted at 08:00h, 04 October Reply

    What a great post. Thank you, Helen and Sarah.

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 08:49h, 04 October Reply

      It was a treat for me , Karen!

  • Carole Thompson
    Posted at 08:37h, 04 October Reply

    May I share your post on my local ASG Facebook group? (FL Sumter Lake County).

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 08:48h, 04 October Reply

      Yes, please feel free to share!

  • Anne Kendall
    Posted at 09:33h, 04 October Reply

    WOW! Who needs to bother reading the Boston Globe while having breakfast on a Sunday morning! This is a great way to begin my day with all sorts of beautiful images, ideas, and sewing inspiration. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 09:52h, 04 October Reply

      I like how you think, Anne! Thanks so much for your comment😊

  • Donna Trask
    Posted at 11:04h, 04 October Reply

    Wow! This is a great post and so informative – especially the comment about the jaw line and the balance points to consider when choosing a neckline shape. Thank you so much for sharing her comments as anything to help improve my sewing is much appreciated. Sarah you are a jewel!

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 15:08h, 04 October Reply

      Ah….. thank you, Donna!
      Isn’t the jawline and neckline relationship interesting? And….. how to create balance with the necklace?
      Helen is very well studied in design and inspired informed artistic choices 😊

  • Linda L
    Posted at 11:37h, 04 October Reply

    I appreciated this post! I definitely took some takeaways from Helen’s post! I never thought about the jawline and it was most helpful.

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 15:09h, 04 October Reply

      Thank you, Linda ! The jawline/neckine relationship is so interesting isn’t it?

  • Kathryn King
    Posted at 11:44h, 04 October Reply

    Excellent info – thank you both!

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 15:10h, 04 October Reply

      My pleasure, Kathryn! I very grateful to Helen 😊

  • Becky Thompson
    Posted at 13:52h, 04 October Reply

    The idea of a neckline that compliments your face is priceless and so true! I never thought of it but always wondered why I look better in princess or square neckline with my square jawline. Thank you so much for this guest post. Very enjoyable!

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 15:12h, 04 October Reply

      Thank you for the comment, Becky! I thought it was interesting to read we are intuitive in our neckline choices 😉

  • Lisa jones
    Posted at 17:33h, 04 October Reply

    Reading this “made my day”. So much knowledge and information from two talented sewists… I have lost count as to how many sheath dresses and variations I have done, Nothing like a TNT pattern.

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 21:21h, 04 October Reply

      Thank you, Lisa! Helen is simply incredible 😊

  • Vaune Pierce
    Posted at 21:55h, 04 October Reply

    Wonderful article, Helen, and thank you, Sarah, for inviting her to share with us!

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 21:17h, 05 October Reply

      Thank you, Vaune! I hope Helen will make a return appearance😉

  • Mary Funt
    Posted at 07:13h, 05 October Reply

    Excellent info. I agree that a basic sheath dress pattern that fits you well is invaluable. Just like your tunic variations, the design details on a sheath dress can be changed for many different looks. You have so many beautiful ones.

    • goodbyevalentino
      Posted at 21:16h, 05 October Reply

      Thank you, Mary! All of the sheaths are Helen’s 😊

  • Karin Kelly-Burns
    Posted at 20:11h, 06 October Reply

    Thank you. I love what you have to say about fabric and liner choices…..and neckline. Thank you!

  • Maryellensews
    Posted at 10:08h, 07 October Reply

    Such a great post – Helen has so many helpful tips . I’ve also had the pleasure of taking a class with Helen – Lace Blouse . I also was in dress form class with Helen & Mary Funt .
    Thanks Sarah for another great post – much needed inspiration for me right now as my sewjo is a bit lacking

  • Andrea Birkan
    Posted at 12:10h, 08 October Reply

    I took Helen’s shift dress class. I learnt so many new techniques. I have since used my perfectly fitting muslin to make up a number of shift dresses using fabrics from boucle to cotton. The choices are endless. I would highly recommend taking this class.

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