Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Guest Post: Draping a Knit Cowl Dress, Part Two

Hey everyone! Remember this post on draping your own knit cowl dress? Well, our knits expert Alyson is back for a second installment. Enjoy! Also, check out the flier for Alyson's trunk show this weekend in Portland (see flier below). --Gertie

Hello folks, so sorry for the delay on the follow up from the first installment of this draping a knit dress. My life got away from me for a minute there! Got hitched, bought a house, adopted a 3rd dog (adopting senior dogs is the best thing ever), and have been traveling. Don't fret though; I've finished writing up the entire thing now. As Bob Ross would say - I've encountered a few happy accidents with this dress, and I'm finally pleased with how it turned out.

Last time I left you here. (Oh my, it's been a while!)

When I started this dress I had it slated for my Spring/Summer line. As you can see from my website, it didn't make it. After talking to several of the shops I sell in, I decided to move it to the Fall/Winter collection (out soon!). It felt too fancy for the Spring and Summer and I thought it would make a fantastic holiday piece, and sort of a nice sparkly version of a winter white.

So now that the front is done, I went for what I consider the easiest part - the back. Again, I am using the  actual fabric for this dress, since I have a large roll, and because I want to make sure I get the drape correct from the get go.

Once the fabric is pinned on I started marking the back portion.

I measured and marked the shoulder width based on my front measurement. I tend to make the back neck drop a little lower and have a nice curve shape. Next onto the armhole and side seams.

Like the front, I am marking the armhole right up to the plate. I can adjust later if I decide that it is too close to the wearer's armpit. I personally have trouble with armholes being too large and gapey on my body - so I like to start with them more snug and then take out where needed. This is also a knit, so it has some give and move that I woven wouldn't.

Next down to the waist, leaving a bit of ease, as the form is a bit more petite than my fit. (And also an off-brand that doesn't have the same measurements as Wolf ones).

Now onto the pattern table.

Looking at the shape of the pattern I may need to take in the waist a bit, since to my naked eye it it looks a bit too boxy. I'll address that once I get it transferred over to a pattern piece.

Time to start on the skirt! I'm starting off by marking my grain line, since I am planning a flare, and I want to keep sight of that while I'm forming it.

I pinned it at the bottom of the twill tape on the form (where I draped the top down to) as my starting point. When draping skirts I like to give myself lots of extra fabric around the actual area, so I can have room to play if I want to.

In the points I want very secure when draping I use two pins, a trick I learned in school. I angle them in opposing directions so it's harder for the fabric to try to get away.

Then I start pinning down the center front line of the form.

Typically on this kind of skirt I only pin to the hip level at center front, so I have more fluidity in the fabric as I am forming the skirt shape.

I've been trying think of the best way to explain how I draped the skirt front into this shape. My best explanation is that on the Center Front point where I began the crosswise grain of the fabric is at a 90 degree angle. Once I formed the skirt shape - letting it drape down from the waist - the side seam at the waist's grain is now at a 45 degree angle. While doing this, I manipulated the fabric to lay smoothly across the hip area forming two similar flares, being careful not to stretch the fabric while I drape. It's good to note if you plan on doing this, make sure you have some excess fabric above the center front to allow for the fabric to get to that 45 degree angle. I've had an unfortunate incident or two when I get to my side seam and am out of fabric for the waist. 

Once happy with the shape, and everything is all trimmed, it's on to marking with my trusty black marker.
On the side seams I pin down more of the leg than on the Center Front. I find that it gives me more control over my drape and how it turns out. Plus it gives me a place to strike a straight line to from the side to the hem.

At this point in time I am not drawing in the hem length, rather just extending the line for the side seam, since the CF already runs the edge of the fabric. I like to determine my hem length when I'm all done with front and back. It gives me time to look at both sides while draping at how the fabric is falling and how I envision someone wearing it.

Now on to the back!

The fabric that I am using is rather wide, and a pet peeve of mine is wasting and throwing away fabric. So I'm using a bit of an unorthodox method on the skirt. I'm using the same piece of fabric to drape the front and back, letting the side seams overlap a bit (this won't matter since I'm just transferring it to paper after this). Only do something like this if you feel comfortable. Since I already like and am used to using too large of pieces of fabric, it won't be an issue for me. As you can see I drew in my side seam to the front, and then struck a line for the Center Back.

Draping wise it's basically a rinse and repeat of the front. Sometimes I will put less flare in the back, but on this style I want to have the same amount of flare in the front and back. Since the body is not shaped the same on both sides, there isn't an easy mathematical way to achieve this using the front pattern. The most technical way I know how to do so is eyeball it until it looks pretty.

A note about draping and cutting on the form. Since my nickname is sometimes "the chainsaw," I have to warn you about geting overzealous with snipping into the waist. I did get a little scissor happy and cut almost too much on the back. My general rule of thumb is to not cut any closer than 1/4" away from your line, which would be the bottom of the twill tape on the form I am using. In retrospect here I should have been a little more careful on this fabric since it is not super stable and a knit.

After the back is all marked, it's time to take of off the form and mark the skirt. I always mark my Front and Back, and then extend my side seams much longer than I will actually need them. I also make sure I am happy with the waist shapes at this time.

Now it's time to determine the hem length. I usually do so by measuring the dress form, myself, and anyone in my immediate proximity! In my imagination I'm envisioning the dress hitting about 1" below the knee. For the first proto I have decided to use 22".

To apply this to the pattern I mark on the side seam lines, along with Center Front and Center Back. Then I mark it from the waist in 2" increments until I have a shape I can color in, either freehand or with the help of a curved ruler. When marking on fabric I don't worry too much about the precision of this, because it can be trued up to perfection when transferring over to the paper pattern.

Check back soon for the rest of the process!


  1. Thank you for the beautiful lesson in draping Alyson! Stunning dress! Did you mention what kind of fabric it is that you used? I may have missed that. It does look very festive and possibly a nice fabric for a holiday.

  2. Hi Tracey. The fabric is a wonderful wool/lurex (the gold sparkle part) blend. It's super soft and pretty!

  3. This is so interesting, I read it three times already. Thank you for giving so many details and excellent photos. I think I could actually do this!

    One question: you said you marked the grainline, but I wasn't able to see how that worked into the draping process. Is it the same as the center front line?

  4. Hi Katrina - Draping is so much fun. Do try! When I marked the grainline, I used that as the center front line. It's the best way to know if your drape is getting off grain when working with something with lots of flare or cowl.

  5. So elegantly done, thank you for sharing.

    My concern is starting a knit project properly, how do you recommend straightening & cutting the fabric to keep the grain line correct?

  6. With knits you don't really need to, or at least I don't. In large scale manufacturing you take them off the bolt/roll to "relax". Meaning that if they have been stretched out when winding on the roll they can return back to their natural state.
    You don't need to block the fabric like you do wovens. If you do feel your knit was warped on the bolt, let it relax 24-48 hours before you begin working with it.
    Knits are very resilient, which is why I love working with them.
    I also "play" with any fabric before I purchase. Check the stretch and return, and make sure it's not something I'm going to go nuts working with! If you are new to knits, maybe try something with out a ton of stretch like a 100% cotton T-shirt knit.
    Good luck!

  7. Thank you Alyson. I am not new to knits but I once made a dress that twisted so this is why I ask. I always prewash & attempt to line up the salvages & follow a rib so it looks straight.

    The key must be in the quality of the knit. You said you check for stretch & return. Do you have any other suggestions?

    Thank you so much.

  8. Hi Linda - When I am working with knits, I usually do not pre-wash ,unless it is a very stable 100% cotton. With my laundry I hand wash cold, or machine was cold and line dry everything except towels and jeans. I have found with smaller pieces of knits, sometimes this causes the fabric to roll, or become distorted on the agitator of your washing machine. If it’s a synthetic content then you really don’t need to worry about shrinkage in the garment.

    I find it's easier to work with knits this way, that way they don't get distorted in a washing process as a piece of fabric, vs. a finish garment.

    I'm terrible, but honestly a fabric jobbers (wholesale of odds and ends of bolts of fabric) worst nightmare! I stretch and play pretty hard with any samples before I commit to buy. I would say look at the fabric you are thinking of purchasing and imagine it in your closet, and what kind of wear you are going to do to it. A lot of times I also will rub the fabric on my forearms to feel how soft or scratchy. Or run any rings or jewelry along it to see if it snags easily.

    I will admit I’ve purchased fabric and then cursed a blue streak while working with it. Good luck!

  9. Thank you Alyson for the further details. You have a good point concerning the pre washing method. That is probably were I went wrong & distorted the fabric.

    I was remembering after I made my post yesterday concerning denim I heard not to straighten the grain prior to cutting to let it be, just bring the selvages together.

    I get the feeling this is your choice with knits, bring the selvages together & then cut.

    I really appreciate your input. I have been looking for good information on preparing & cutting knits.

  10. Thank you for the lesson. You have an easy way of teaching that makes it seem possible for me, the novice. I look forward to reading more.

  11. Susan it is possible! If can learn, any one can. In all seriousness I was banned from using the sewing machines in home ec in the 7th grade for breaking a few (on accident). I stapled my little apron project together, and didn't touch another one until I hit college. Just have patience, and I look at any mistake I make as a learning experience, because there is always more fabric.


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

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