Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Cowl

More than one person has suggested I do a cowl neckline. I have had reservations about cowl necklines before. Somehow the idea that putting a bunch of fabric in a heap on top of a full bust will somehow flatter it seems counter intuitive.

But I'm up for a challenge.

As it turns out, I have been pleasantly surprised.

I've got 4 posts on this project. This first post is to show off some pictures and talk about how cowls work. Second, I will present a simple way of drafting a cowl. Thirdly I have one on constructing the cowl neckline and finally one on creating a long sleeve (since it's getting cooler here). It should be a good week! Obviously the separate elements of neckline and sleeve could be applied to a range of different garments - certainly whatever shirts or dresses are based on the original t-shirt or tank, which is part of the reason I'm looking at them separately.

Cowls are not one size fits all, or one size flatters all. Far from it! There are deep cowls and shallow cowls, there are cowls which sit right under the bust, (or lower) and some which only just dip. Some are an extension of the fabric, and others are sewn on separately. I did a bit of research first, including looking at some drafting books / tutorials, and heaps of examples online. Here's my pinterest board if you're interested. I'm actually feeling a bit inspired by all of this, and I am definitely getting my sewing geek on! It's possible these 4 posts will be followed up by a couple more, depending on how much time I have. ;)

I wish I had the time to do a detailed study on the different shapes! They are so interesting, and there are several different ways to approach drafting them. The basic concept is that you are stretching out the pattern to make the neckline a straight line (or thereabouts), which will then drop into a curve on the body. The stretching out has to come from the place where the drape will sit.

Here's a rough sketch.
I should point out that this sketch is highly simplified - that the shape of the cowl will be controlled by the cutting and spreading. Certainly I have seem examples where the pattern is spread through multiple slashes, some straight, some curved, and that will affect the drape in the final garment. I've also seen one with no cutting at all. But this is the general idea in terms of how big the cowl will be.

I decided that I wanted my cowl to sit on the bust. I want it to narrow down at the waist.

So because I don't want to have drapes over my tummy, that part needs to stay the same shape. All the action takes place above the waistline.

For my first attempt, I measured the neckline on my tank top, and used that as a guide for the length of the cowl.

When I tried it on the first time, the cowl sat too high, and strained a bit too much over the bust, as illustrated by this unflattering selfie.

 Luckily, I had followed my own advice and basted first. Just kidding! It took ages to unpick. I realised that the cowl sat higher than my original neckline because it wasn't stretched or weighed down, so I needed to make the cowl longer than I originally anticipated.

This fabric, incidentally, has some kind of magical powers. When I selected it in the store it seemed like a nice, manageable coral colour. Somehow in the bag on the trip home, it transformed and took on a candy pink hue. It gets pinker every time I look at it. The 'matching' thread does not, and thread and fabric are now clashing.

Since I only really had enough for a second go at this (I would be able to cut the sleeve out of the rejected front), I pulled out some of my remaining green print fabric for a trial run. I really liked this fabric when I saw it, and bought way too much. I'm bored with it now, and I'll be glad to see the end of it.

I extended the cowl out another 4cm. Felt a bit bold...

... Now we're talking!

The green fabric is thicker and softer than the pink. I also really like the effect of the pattern, the bold lines in the print de-emphasise any minor bumps, and the cowl itself becomes the dominant shape. I decided to complete the green version without sleeves.

I tried it with the basic skirt, and that kind of made me like the basic skirt a little bit more.

Going back to the coral/pink shirt, I re-cut the front with the deeper cut. I then drafted a close fitting 3/4 sleeve from an existing short sleeve pattern, and as mentioned above, I will do a tutorial on that soon. It worked, but I think I would possibly go for a slightly looser fit next time - not too much because I don't want the overall effect to be baggy. Maybe as little as an extra 1cm of space, purely because I have a bit of fullness in my upper arm, and this fabric isn't particularly high stretch.

Even so, that's just me being fussy.

I am quite pleased with the result here. I would add that if I intended to wear this shirt anywhere I would be bending forward, I would include the standard tank top front layered under the cowl neck for modesty. Possibly in a contrasting colour.

In any case, I feel like I've got the hang of it now, and will be sharing more details soon.
Stay tuned!


  1. Zoe you are on fire! How do you have the time to sew so much? I wish. I am sooo loving your blog.
    I love the Green top and dress they are awesome, and very flattering colour and style wise. What is the fabric selection like over there?
    Love your pintrest board, some are awesome and would be very cool to make. (how do you like Pintrest?)
    I have some pics I should send you of cowls on skirts (vintageish, is that a word?)!! Plus a beautiful pic I have of a dress I WILL MAKE ONE DAY!!!! It has this amazing back drape cowl that goes all the way down the back in a long backless dress style, so beautiful and I would have nowhere to wear it but who cares. When the warehouse is complete and I can find it I will send them too you.
    Looking forward to another chat on FB one day.
    Take care

    1. Yeah it's something of an obsession at the moment. :)