Create an Elegant Draped Cowl NecklineA deep cowl at the back neckline transforms a basic tank into a party-ready top.
A draped neckline is always graceful, and it flatters 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.
Alter the Pattern
Using the slash-and-spread method, extend the pattern’s neckline and add drape for a cowl.
1 From the pattern’s center front, draw three arcs. End the two uppermost arcs at the shoulder seam and the lower arc about two thirds down the armscye. The exact position isn’t critical, but each arc must intersect the center-front line at a 90-degree angle.
View this knit top in 360-degrees
2 Cut along all three arcs from center front to, but not through, the seamlines. Also, snip from the cutting line to the seamline, leaving a hinge at the seamline. Back the pattern with a large sheet of tissue or pattern paper.
3 Draw a vertical line from the centerfront neckline edge upward and about 8 inches long. Anchor the pattern’s bottom center-front corner to the tissue with a pin or piece of transparent tape.
4 Spread the pattern along the three slash lines. Spread the sections equally, swinging the neck point away from center front, until the distance between the neck point and the extended center-front line equals the cowl length established in step 3. (For more voluminous, longer cowls, swing the entire pattern away from center front as you spread the slashed lines.) Tape the spread pattern to the backing tissue.
TIP: ADD A COWL WEIGHT. Keep cowls hanging gracefully and prevent them from flipping inside out by sewing a fabric pocket for a drapery weight and attaching it to the cowl facing’s center on the garment’s interior.
5 Draw a straight line from the pattern’s neck point to the center-front line. It should create a 90-degree angle at center front. Mark it “Cowl line.”
6 Create a self-facing. Measure 2 inches above the cowl line at center front. Draw a line parallel to the cowl line, extending it beyond the shoulder point.
7 Cut along the facing’s edge. Fold the pattern along the cowl line, and transfer the shoulder shape onto the cowl facing section. True the shoulder line and armscye curves, as well as the centerfront line and the side seam. If necessary, true the hem by drawing a gently curved horizontal line from the side seam to center front, creating 90-degree angles at the side seam and center front. CONSTRUCTION TIPS
Sewing a cowl top is straightforward, but here are some tips for handling the cowl and its facing:
- When cutting the fabric, make sure to clearly mark the cowl line on the fabric’s wrong side.
- For a single-cowl top (a frontcowl, for example): Finish the back neckline as desired (facing, binding, or turned edge). Align the front and back shoulder seams, right sides together, fold the self-facing along the cowl line, wrapping it over the back neckline so that the facing’s right side is against the garment back’s wrong side. Pin and sew the shoulder seam, catching the facing in the shoulder seam allowances. When finished, turn the facing over the seam allowances to its finished position, enclosing the shoulder seam allowances.
- For a double-cowl top, sew the front and back together at the shoulder seams, matching the front self-facing to the back selffacing. Fold the self-facings in along the cowl line, wrong sides together, covering the shoulder seams. Either tack the edges to the seam allowances or stitch in the ditch of the shoulder seam from the right side, catching the facing.
- Add lingerie guards to the interior shoulder seams of a double-cowl top to prevent it from slipping off your shoulders.
Do you plan on adding a cowl neckline to any of your garments? If you have any tips, leave them in the comments section below!
A deep cowl at the back neckline transforms a basic tank into a party-ready top.