Monday, August 30, 2010

Guest Post: Draping a Knit Cowl Dress with Alyson Clair

This is the start of a fascinating new series with our favorite knits expert and all around awesome lady Alyson Clair. Check back soon for the rest of the series. And hey! Go look at Alyson's lovely new Fall/Winter line. It's fab.Gertie

Greetings again from Portland, Oregon. I hope all of you are getting to enjoy summer time. The weather here has been more than a bit funky, and I really hope Mother Nature will provide me with a few more lovely days that are warm enough to go swimming. As soon as it's over 75 degrees I'm a total river rat, I even keep a towel and floatie toys in the back of my station wagon. I'm the first one in the water and the last one out. Since the weather has not been so nice to Oregon, I have spent a bit more time working that I usually do.

So a little bit ago Gertie had a post about cowls. This got me all excited because I LOVE cowls, and I have one in my Spring / Summer 2011 line plan. (Sidebar: yes, I am working that far ahead to be ready for market. Sometimes it's a bit hard doing that, since all I want to do is make cozy sweaters and dresses for fall.) But back to the important thing at hand—pretty cowls! I am going to walk you through the process—sketch to finished garment—with draping a lined knit dress with a cowl.

When I design, I will usually have a general idea or concept in mind. I may sketch out a few things, but really I don't finalize anything until after I have hunted and gathered all of my fabric. When I go to buy fabric I take what sketches I have, and swatches of any fabric that I have on hand that I think I may want to use in the collection that is brainstorming in my head. (Which is usually fabric I fell in love with that didn't fit anywhere cohesively in whatever collection I was working on when I bought it. This can also lend to a rather large hole in your wallet.)

This dress in particular I did not have a design for until I saw the fabric. Here is the fabric:

The content is 67% Wool and 33% Lurex. It's soft, and pretty, and shiny! It's also semi- sheer, which is the fabric's only fault. Luckily I found a fantastic coordinating fabric that can be used as a lining that is also part wool! My bolts are in the mail so I don't have a photo, but it matches really nicely.

Now that I have the goods comes the sketch.

I'm much better at dress making than sketching. I don't feel like I successfully get a dress out of my brain until I have the garment done.

Normally when you drape a cowl you do it on the bias. After thinking about this garment for some time, and knowing the fabric, I decided to try something different. This fabric is not exactly unstable, but is not super stable either. I want the waist to be on the correct grain for maximum stability in the garment.

I chopped off a square of fabric and began to drape! (I have been told I cut like a chainsaw when I am excited about fabric, so no nice perfect square here.) Note that I'm draping in the actual fashion fabric here. With a woven, you might drape in muslin. But with knits, it's a good idea to drape your test garment in a similar knit fabric to your finished garment, if not the actual fashion fabric. That way there are no surprises with differences of drape or weight.

The form I am draping on is not my ideal. It is my lovely studio mate's form, and a rather small size 4 or what I call my size XS. I usually begin on a size Medium, since that is the center of my sizing.

I started by getting the fabric centered on the form, to establish the waist first. This is not the typical method, but since I wanted the grain to be on the waist, that is where I began. I pinned with a bit of ease, knowing the waist on this form is a bit smaller than how I size my garments.
Hmm, by happy accident it made this nice shape. For this garment, I didn't want the cowl to be too large, more of a subtle overall look, not too drapey.
So I went with it, and started pinning the shoulder points.

 Then I checked my side view and bust. Not too shabby.
Next, I established how wide I would like the shoulders to be. For now I am going with 2 1/2". I may alter the armhole later on to be more off the shoulder. I'll check it after I make the pattern off of my draping.
Once my shoulders were pinned, I trimmed off the excess, so the additional fabric was not pulling on the neck or cowl in any way.
All pinned and trimmed, I lifted my cowl up to see how it was doing. Looks pretty symmetrical, which is what I am looking for. Not sure if this is a "correct" technical thing, but I enjoy pulling and playing with things.

Then laying back down, I see that it's draping rather nicely, but I know that I need to trim off the excess, since my design doesn't have that high of a neckline. To do this, I want to take my fabric off the form. Not without marking it of course.
I used a marker to indicate the side seams and armhole of the bodice.
Not always the best method, if you don't want marker to seep through to your form. I tested the fabric first and used a light hand (plus I wanted it to be easily seen for you guys). I traced the armhole around the dress form's armhole plate. When I'm draping I tend to do that, and then alter the pattern later. That way I don't forget how much I dropped the armhole when draping. When I make sleeveless garments, I don't always drop the armholes the "standard" way. A pet peeve of mine is to have gaping, so I usually err on the side of more fitted.
Here's what it looks like so far laid out flat on the table. If it's not 100% symmetrical, I can fix that when I transfer it to a paper pattern.
Now it's time to figure out where to trim off the fabric. I found the shoulder points, gave myself 1" above, used my handy yardstick, and trimmed. Then I re-pinned to the bodice, and voila! this is what it looks like.

This is about the look I am going for. Of course there will be a lining, which I'll need to make a test pattern for as well. That's when I will check the overall cowl shape.

Next, I'll be tackling the skirt. Skirts are my favorite thing to drape. Yay! Stay tuned.


  1. This is so fun to see the steps documented! :) I'm rather delighted to see Alyson's method for draping, as it's similar to the one I've used in the past. I've never draped knits though, but this could prove helpful as I'm determined to spend part of my sewing time this fall replenishing the knit tops in my wardrobe! :) Thanks for sharing your invaluable knowledge, Alyson!!!

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  2. I haven't draped knits before but am interested in making a swim suit. I am going to have to look into it and see what pattern making tutorials are on-line for swim. Maybe after I make 4 winter jackets for my family during the sew along.

  3. What a fantastic post! I love seeing someone else draping with their fashion fabric, especially since with many knits-rayon/jersey especially, I find you don't have to go on the bias to get a nice drape AND you can incorporate stretch into the pattern at the same time.

    I can't wait for the next installment!

  4. Excellent tutorial and fabulous Fall/Winter collection, Alyson! Thank you.

  5. awesome. I am getting a custom dress form so that I can experiment - exactly like this. great post and thanks!!!

  6. This. Is. Fantastic! Thank you for taking the time to do this for us! You make it look so simple and easy!

  7. Loved this tutorial. Thanks.


  8. Thank you so much for posting this! It's fascinating to see how things come together like this.

  9. This was fabulous! I love draping cowls, so I'll have to try this method soon.

    Thanks so much!

  10. Great post. I've been waiting for part 2; is that going to be coming soon (I hope!)?

  11. This. Is. Fantastic! Thank you for taking the time to do this for us! You make it look so simple and easy!

  12. What a fantastic post! I love seeing someone else draping with their fashion fabric, especially since with many knits-rayon/jersey especially,

  13. I enjoy reading your blog and viewing draping a knit cowl dress. I got a great understanding on how to drape. Thanks for sharing! Frances


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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