How to Alter a Boat Neckline (Cut, Sew, Make It Smaller)

Movie star influenced. It does happen as movie stars do display new fashions and their name or the name of the movie gets attached to the fashion design. In this case, it was the movie Sabrina that got attached to this neckline and Audrey Hepburn was the star wearing the design.

How to alter a boat neckline: One way to alter this neckline is to use a straight edge ruler and match the seam. Then draw a line towards the center to extend the shoulder seam inward toward the center. The alteration is not that difficult to do and a little work is involved to make sure it looks great.

To learn more about a boat neckline and why it is called that just continue to read our article. It has that information and more. take a few minutes to see if the alteration styles will work for you or not.

What is a Boat Neckline?


This is a neckline that was inspired by the French navy. Its loose design was intended to help French sailors remove their shirts quickly when they fell overboard. This design was created in 1858 and within a few years, other navies followed the French lead.

Basically, the boat neckline runs horizontally from shoulder to shoulder following the contours of the collarbone. You can see this design in sweaters, blouses, dresses especially cocktail dresses as it highlights key features.

Although, you may not see this design on many clothing items made for winter. Too much of the neck and shoulder area of the body is exposed and this design will be a lot colder outside of the warm days of the year.

It is an elegant style that complements just about any woman’s figure and it makes for a great eye-catcher when walking through a room filled with men.

Why is it Called a Boat Neck?

There are many reasons why it is labeled with this unattractive name. One reason is that the design originates from the French navy. The navy uses boats hence the tie-in. Also, the word bateau, another name for this fabric design, is French for the word boat. Bateau sounds more romantic than boat does.

Then the shape is similar to a boat’s hull design. The curved bottom may remind many people of the curved hull of a boat or even a large ship. That is not abnormal to think that way. It is what comes to some people’s minds when they look at the shape of the collar.

After the 19th century, Hollywood started to make this neckline popular. Coco Chanel wore it before Audrey Hepburn did and that was back in the 1930s. Certainly, the movie Sabrina, another name for this fashion design, did not hurt its popularity and actually enhanced it.

The only drawback to this design may have come in the 1950s and 60s when the beatnik culture started to use it often in their clothing. The outfit is still popular today as more famous people continue to wear this design.

How to Alter a Boat Neckline


The good part about this design is that it can be very easy to alter. One sewer just made a second t-shirt but brought the neckline in about 3/4 of an inch. She also lowered the front an inch and a half to get a better look at that T-shirt.

There is a lot of freedom here when you want to alter the boat neckline to something more fitting to your body style. How much you alter it is up to you. You can use the boat neckline as your pattern and then decide how much you want to change it.

It is possible to simply raise, lower, or narrow the neckline according to your personal preferences. There will be a lot of measuring and other math abilities needed to make sure you alter correctly. How much you measure, etc., will depend on the new style of neckline you want.

Use a ruler to draw in the shoulder seams evenly and make sure you get the right fit.

How do I Make my Boat Neck Smaller?

The first step would be to use a transparent quilting ruler. roughly 6 by 24-inch size, and mark where the center of your neck is, the edge of your neck, and how far your bra straps are from the neck.

Then you place the ruler over the fabric to see how much you need to come in and have a narrower collar. The rule of thumb for most people is that the collar opening should be as wide as the widest part of your face.

But that is flexible and you can come in as much as you like. Use a ruler to help you draw in the shoulder seams to the point where you want them to lie. Then mark your pattern and begin your cutting.

Always measure twice and cut once. That way you can avoid simple calculation errors.

How to Cut a Boat Neckline


The first thing that you need to know is that you can change just about any T-shirt pattern into a boat neckline design. The first step is to draw your t-shirt pattern and extend the CF line up to the shoulder.

Next, the shoulder seam can be marked at 2 1/2 inches from the outside and the neck at 3 inches down from the shoulder point. However, you can make this any size you want.

Step three, use a French curve to draw the new neckline in the pattern and the new neckline can be considered the cut edge so no seam allowance is needed. Now, on the back, you match that with the front using the same measurements. Use the French curve again to draw the new neckline.

Before you cut, you should draw your facing to make sure the cut edge looks good. Then either use a rotary cutter or a nice pair of scissors to make your cut. A lot of work needs to be done before you do the cutting portion.

After cutting the neckline and the facing, sew the two together and you should be fine.

How to Sew a Boat Neckline


Now that you have your fabric pieces cut, it is time to sew them together. One of the keys to having a good fit when you sew is to cut little notches in the facing and the neckline. This will make it easier to line up when you go to sew them together.

The first step after aligning the pieces will be to sew the shoulders together. After that, you sew the shoulder seams of the facing onto the boat neckline shoulders. The third step will be to pin the facing right side towards the right side of the boat neckline.

Double-check to make sure the notches line up before you sew the facing in place. Now sew the facing edge to the neckline and then flip the material over the cut edge. Press to make sure you have a nice look and to keep the facing on the inside of the neckline.

When that is done, use a nice cover or straight stitch to secure the facing to the neckline. 1/4 inch from the edge is the best place to sew then secure the cover stitch and trim off any excess.

A Little Guide to a Great Looking Neckline

Not every body type fits every neckline. When you want to look your best, you do not have to buy the latest fashions, you just need to match these necklines to your body style.

The following guide will give you the neckline and then the body styles that work the best with those designs.

  • 1. Crew neck - small to medium bust; long neck; wide shoulders.
  • 2. Boat neck - small to medium bust; pear shapes; slender shoulders.
  • 3. Button up - small t medium bust; small to wide shoulders; athletic, curvy, or pear shapes.
  • 4. Halter - medium to full busts; wide shoulders; straight or hourglass midsection.
  • 5. Scoop neck - small to large bust; athletic, pear, hourglass, and petite shapes; shorter neck or decolletage.
  • 6. V-neck - small to large bust; petite, apple, athletic, and curvy shapes; small to wide shoulders.
  • 7. Off the shoulder - small to medium bust; pear, athletic, petite, and hourglass shapes; slender or narrow shoulders.

(This list was taken from this link and that website also gives you suggestions as to what to wear with these necklines)

Some Final Words

The boat neck label may not sound attractive or very romantic but the look will if you pair the neckline with the right outfit. When you wear it, you won’t look like a French sailor but more like Audrey Hepburn.

That is the motivation for wearing this neckline even when it may not always fit in with your personal preferences and desired fashion look.

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