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How to Create a Draped Cowl Neckline

A deep cowl at the back neckline transforms a basic tank into a party-ready top.
A deep cowl at the back neckline transforms a basic tank into a party-ready top.

A deep cowl at the back neckline transforms a basic tank into a party-ready top.

Photo: Jack Deutsch

Draped cowl necklines are always graceful, and they flatter many figures. You can transform any basic knit T-shirt or tank design for daytime looks or eveningwear by adding this lovely element.

All it takes to create a cowl neckline are a few pattern changes and some special-but simple-construction techniques. Add a cowl to the front or back neckline of a top, or to both for double the elegance.

In this quick to make project from Threads #170 (December 13/January 14), Londa Rohlfing shows you how to establish the cowl depth and make the pattern changes, and offer tips for sewing and finishing. For a single or double cowl-neck knit top, start with a crewneck T-shirt or a tank pattern that fits well.

Determine the cowl length and depth
First you must decide on the finished cowl's depth, which determines how low the neckline falls and how much the cowl drapes. Front and back cowls can be made using the method described on the following pages.

1 Trace any pattern for a basic knit top, such as a T-shirt. Mark the pattern's original neck point at the shoulder seam (at the base of your neck where it joins the top of the shoulder) with a large dot.






2 Lower the pattern's neckline, if it is a high-jewel or crewneck. The neckline shown was lowered at center front to sit 5 inches below the collarbones, and the curve was redrawn. Cut away the original neckline.

3 On your body, drape a measuring tape with each end positioned at your neck points. Loosen or tighten the tape measure's drape to determine your preferred cowl depth. Note the measurement from neck point to neck point, and divide it in half. This is the amount of change applied to the pattern in the next steps. For example, if the total desired measurement is 20 inches, then the amount of change to the pattern is 10 inches. The front cowls of the red velvet top, at left, and the blue top, on page 24, are each 20 inches long; the red top's back cowl is 24 inches long. Check out this Teach Yourself to Sew article for more pointers on obtaining accurate measurements

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Comments (14)

Ciyaa Ciyaa writes: Nice & beautifully made. I’m so impressed with the back neckline pattern!!
Posted: 4:07 am on June 21st

Evmart Evmart writes: I am trying to create low cowl for the back of a wedding gown for my daughter. the pattern is pretty much backless, so the back bodice is very narrow. She wants the cowl to sit at the back waist (about 18" from her neck bone. I'm not quite sure how much of an arc I need. Any pointers would be appreciated.
Posted: 4:44 pm on January 28th

CarolFresia CarolFresia writes: Hi, Karen74. In step 7, the illustration is showing the "after" view--after the pattern has been trued, and I think this is where your confusion lies. If you follow the instructions through step 6, you'll have a pattern that's got jagged edges where the cut-and-spread sections extend beyond the center front line, and the shoulder and armscye seams won't have smooth curves, either. All you need to do is use a ruler (straight or curved, depending on the line you're drawing), and redraw those edges to make them either straight (for the center front), or smoothly curved (for the shoulder and armscye). After this, your pattern should look pretty much like the one shown in step 7.

Be sure to fold down the cowl facing on the fold line before doing this, so the facing shape matches the cowl portion exactly.

I hope this helps! We'd love to see your top when it's completed--I encourage you to post a photo in our gallery.
Carol Fresia
Posted: 12:53 pm on June 16th

Karen74 Karen74 writes: Hi, I think I've done everything correctly, but I'm struggling with step 7. I don't understand what I need to do to true the seams. Can anyone help please.
Posted: 7:17 am on June 16th

SewInBrighton SewInBrighton writes: Great tutorial! I'm running a Design Your Own Dress course soon and wanted to see if could find a simple way of explaining how to do a cowl.
Much appreciated.
Kat, Sew In Brighton sewing school
Posted: 3:51 pm on April 30th

LizG73 LizG73 writes: I have vogue pattern V1218 and rather than have the neckline featured, I want to add a cowl to it. This is my first dress I have made and have never sewed a cowl... Any suggestions on best way to approach this?
Posted: 2:02 pm on June 29th

AnnaRae AnnaRae writes: Why not cut the resulting pattern on the bias? It would probably hang more beautifully. If you did, can I assume you must cut both front and back on the bias even if the back did not have the cowl neckline.

Also where would you put lingere guards? It seems they would be visible from shoulder seams across the front (or back) to prevent slipping off the shoulder.
Posted: 1:45 pm on November 21st

Helen_in_Toronto Helen_in_Toronto writes: Hi: Thanks very much. I think these instructions are great. I intend to try this. This kind of neckline falls beautifully if you use a lightweight, fairly thin knit fabric.

Posted: 12:58 pm on November 21st

ASiverson ASiverson writes: Where does one view the 360 view? And I think the drape on this cowl is fabulous. Thank you so very much!
Posted: 9:16 am on November 20th

user-2880813 user-2880813 writes: REALLY Really fabulous fabulous

Posted: 2:13 am on November 20th

Lorea Lorea writes: Cowl necklines are much more beautiful cut on the bias.

Posted: 9:17 pm on November 19th

Polarpal Polarpal writes: After looking at the 360 deg. view of this top, I am disappointed. The back drapes beautifully. The front does not and there is an annoying horizontal 'drag' or 'pull' line at the bust level.
Posted: 9:02 pm on November 19th

Isa19 Isa19 writes: Hi,

great, thank you. But I don´t understand.. when I see the 360degree photo, it is a cowl on the front, too.

Where can I see the Tutorial for the front?
Thank you.
Posted: 8:47 pm on November 19th

user-1109870 user-1109870 writes: Wow! Just when I needed this tutorial for a wedding dress I was making!,
Posted: 5:59 pm on November 19th

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