Introduction: Cowl Draped Infinity Dress
In my opinion, creating an awesome outfit often revolves around finding a good balance of loose and tight, revealing and concealing. I love the draped folds of a low cowl neck, or the sexiness of an open back dress, but it’s sometimes hard to figure out how to actually wear these kind of clothes out in the world. Are you supposed to wear something underneath them? And if so, what? If you’re going to design a dress that requires a certain kind of undergarment, why not make the undergarment an integral part of the design.
With that in mind, I designed this simple jersey cowl neck halter dress to pair with an even simpler infinity wrap that gives you support while also letting you wear the look in many different ways. The style and cut of this dress and the fact that it can be made in two contrasting fabrics gives it a very different look than the usual infinity dress. The result is a sexy yet comfortable and can be easily dressed up or down for different occasions.
I was also interested to see if I could figure out how to make the entire body of the dress using only one piece of fabric, and, thanks to the amazing malleability of jersey, I succeeded. It is a fairly simple dress to drape, and making it will give you a basic idea of how this kind of draping works.
Step 1: What You Need
-3 1/2 yards of 60” wide solid jersey for the body of the dress
-2 yards of 60” contrast or print jersey for the wrap
-3 yards of the cheapest 60” wide jersey you can find that is a similar weight to your actual fabric, for draping
*For the final garment you want to use a good quality, lightweight jersey with a lot of stretch. Something close to the weight of a T-shirt is best, but I recommend using something with some spandex content. 100% cotton won’t hang as well. I actually went through two different kinds of fabric in making this dress. The first was too light and didn’t provide enough coverage, but most of the dress has two layers of fabric, so you don’t want it to be too thick either.
-Thread in the colors of your design. (If you are using a serger, and want to match your thread you will need to get at least 3 spools, probably 4 depending on how your serger is set up.)
-Sharp scissors for cutting fabric, and preferably a different pair for paper
-A ruler and a hip curve
-Tailoring chalk and a pencil
-A tracing wheel
-Hand sewing needles and a contrast thread
-A dress form in your size or close (this design is pretty forgiving)
-A sewing machine
-A serger (If you don’t have a serger, you can use a zigzag or another stretchable stitch on a sewing machine, but a serger makes a much cleaner finish).
-An iron and an ironing board
-A large table or somewhere to lay out big pieces if fabric
-A sketch of what you are draping (or just look at mine)
Optional but highly recommended - A cutting wheel and a surface to cut on (great for cutting clean un-hemmed edges in jersey, you will never get as straight an edge with scissors).
Step 2: Draping the Wrap
This step is not strictly necessary, but it really helps you determine how deep you want your cowl to be, and lets you see the overall look of the dress more clearly.
Lay out your draping jersey on a large table or the floor. If it has any wrinkles in it, iron them out first. Take one corner of the fabric and fold it across diagonally so it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle which is a perfect 60” x 60” square folded in half diagonally.
Cut this folded triangle away from the other fabric, and set it aside, this is what you will use to drape the body of the dress.
Fold the remaining fabric in half diagonally and cut along the fold so you get two long, weirdly shaped triangles. You are going to use these pieces to mock up your bra/wrap for draping purposes, this is not the shape that your final wrap pieces will be, but we don’t want to waste fabric by making a full mock up of that.
Drape these two triangles over the bust of your dress form so the thin ends meet in the back of the neck.
Pin these two pieces securely at the back of the neck.
Cross the pieces over eachother twice, about half-way between the bust and the neckline, so they basically hook eachother, and then continue around to the back of the form.
Cross the pieces in the same way in back of the form.
Tie the pieces around the waist in front of the form. Now you have the basic shape of the bra wrap which you can reference when you’re draping the dress.
Step 3: Draping the Dress Part 1
Draping cowls is a lot of fun, and once you understand how to do it, you can experiment with it and create different shapes and styles. This step will give you a good basic understanding of how to do this.
I draped this cowl neck dress on the bias, but once I saw how big the pattern was, I realized I couldn’t actually cut the final dress on the bias. In jersey this design works just as well on straight grain, but most woven cowls are draped on the bias because they hang best that way, so it is helpful to see how that is done. I draped this dress on a size 8 dress form, but since jersey is very stretchy, I am guessing that almost the same pattern will fit most people from a size 4-10 with some alteration at the center back seam.
Fold your equal 60” x 60” square of jersey in half diagonally.
Chalk along the folded edge with your tailoring chalk, marking a line down the diagonal of the square. Unfold the fabric and lay it flat.
Fold a corner of the square down until the folded edge is about 42” wide (this length will depend on the size of your dress form, but it should be close to this), keeping the point of the fabric aligned with the chalked in bias line as it folds down.
Drape the fabric around the neck of your dress form by holding each corner of the fold, standing in front of your dress form and reaching around to place these corners so they just meet at the back of the neck from each side, creating a deep cowl drape in front. (Before you do this you should untie the ends of your wrap that are tied around the waist of the form and just pin them onto the back of the form to get them out of the way.)
Pin the top corners of your cowl in place at the back of the neck.
Stand back and examine your drape. This is a very important part of draping. Creating patterns this way allows you to make design adjustments in real time, and getting the look of your garment right in this stage will save you time later. How does the line of your cowl look? Is it the right depth? Are the folds hanging smoothly? The chalk line you drew should be hanging straight up and down in the center of the dress form, perpendicular to the floor. If any of this doesn’t look right, unpin it and do it again. Playing with these shapes is the fun part of draping, but don’t go crazy trying to make it perfect.
Shift the fabric back over the shoulders on each side to release some of folds until you can smooth the fabric down around the underarm to the waist. Pin at the waist. Unpin the ends of your wrap from the back of your form and tie them around the front of the waist again this time on top of the dress drape.
Stand back again and compare your drape to your sketch. Does it look the way you wanted? Does it expose enough of your wrap/bra underneath? This is a bit of a tricky balance in this design because you want to show as much of the undergarment as possible, but you don’t want to let the cowl go below the waist. Keep unpinning and readjusting until it looks the way you want, but again, don’t go crazy, jersey is very forgiving.
Step 4: Draping the Dress Part 2
Once you have your cowl drapes looking the way you want...
Mark your halter style line with chalk or a pencil from the back of the neck, down over the front of the shoulder to the waist. If you are draping something symmetrical, you often only need to work on one side because you can mirror what you do here onto the other side of the pattern.
Cut away the excess fabric that is draped over the shoulder. (Try to leave about an inch around your halter style line to allow for mistakes.) This releases the fabric so you can continue to smooth it down around the back of the waist.
Pin your fabric at the center back, adjusting it until it lies as smoothly as possible around the hips in the font and back. There will be a certain about of ease around the waist in the front, that is just the nature of a cowl drape.
Mark the the continuation of your halter line around from the waist down to the center back. Be sure to keep the center back point of this waistline high enough that is won’t expose anything you don’t want to expose, and remember that jersey stretches, so make it a little higher than you think you should. Trim away the excess fabric about an inch above this new line.
Stand back again and look at your design from all angles. How do you like the way everything is hanging? At this point I realized that I had drawn my halter style line too far to the front, and cut away too much fabric. This is when you can use the other, symmetrical side of your design to alter any mistakes you might have made on the first side. I’ll show you how to do this in a minute. But if you are happy with the rest of your design….
Mark your drape by taking your chalk and running it along the edge of your neckline cowl fold all the way from the back of the neck down the front and around to the other side of the neck. Mark where the ends of this piece meet at the center back neckline. Also mark at the center back waistline point. On the uncut side of your drape, mark the waist/side seam.
At this point I also looked at the halter line I had cut on the first side and indicated with marks where I wanted to alter the line when I transferred this line to the second side.
True your drape by unpinning it from the form and laying it out flat on the table. To create the new halter style line on the second side of the fabric, fold it in half along the center bias line and use the cut line of the other side and the marks you made to create a new style line. Try to make the curve of this line look smooth. Using a hip curve can help here.
Cut along your new style line, now you should have a piece of fabric that looks a little like the bat signal…. Place your drape back on the form, pinning it to the form at the back of the neck and the center back waist line. Stand back again and make sure you are happy with how everything looks. Do you like your new halter style line?
Mark your center back seam where the two sides of your fabric meet in back. You should mark this line on the new corrected side of your drape and it should be pretty much perpendicular to the floor.
At this point I think it’s wise to try your drape on to see if it’s fitting right and looking the way you want. If there’s anything you want to change, mark it and make adjustments.
Step 5: Transferring Your Pattern to Paper
Lay out a piece of pattern paper on the floor. Fold under about 3 feet of the paper so it is doubled on itself, this will create the facing/lining of the dress. If you want to line the entire dress, you should fold over enough paper to fit the entire pattern, so the whole thing gets doubled. This will use more fabric, and is not totally necessary so I made mine with only a partial lining.
Place your drape on the paper (if it has any wrinkles in it, iron them out first). Line up the center bias line of your drape with one long edge of the paper and line up the cowl line with the folded edge of the paper so the center back neck point is resting right on the fold. Secure your fabric to your paper with pins in a few places.
Trace the edges of your fabric using a ruler, a pencil and a tracing wheel where necessary. Remove your fabric from the paper.
True your curved lines with a hip curve, then add 1/2” seam allowance to the center back neckline and halter line.
Cut away the the triangle that you have left sticking out past the center back seam. I left this fabric there at first because I thought it might look good left hanging like a little bustle. When I put the dress together though, that didn’t work out, so at this point you can just cut that part off and leave a 1/2” seam allowance along the center back. (I hadn’t done that yet when I was cutting out my dress, so my photos still show that extra piece.)
Trace the sewing lines through with a tracing wheel so they transfer to the part of the paper that is folded under.
Cut your pattern out with the paper still folded over, making sure to cut through both layers evenly.
Unfold the paper and lay the pattern flat. The part that was folded under is your facing/lining. True in your traced lines on the facing side of the pattern with a ruler, a hip curve and a pencil.
Label the bias fold line of your pattern with the pattern name, the number of pieces to be cut, and the symbol for cutting on the fold. It’s good to always label your patterns, especially if you plan to keep them and use them again.
Step 6: Cutting Out the Dress
Lay out your fabric on the floor, folded in half. Jersey likes to stick to itself so it will take a little finessing to get it to lay flat.
Place your pattern on the fabric with the bias “cut on fold” line of the pattern lined up with the folded edge of the fabric. Your pattern will probably be a bit bigger than your fabric on the center back side (opposite the fold). That’s ok, you just need to trim off some extra skirt material from the pattern. Just measure and cut off an even piece of the pattern along the hem of the skirt starting from the point where the center back skirt seam line meets the edge of the fabric. Pin your pattern down to the fabric.
Cut out your pattern with sharp scissors.
Remove the pins and the paper pattern.
Step 7: Sewing the Dress
Lay out your fabric pattern piece on the table or floor with the right side of the fabric facing up. Fold the facing piece down down along the cowl line so the edges of the facing and the body match perfectly. Again, this may take a little finessing to get it to all lay flat.
Baste along the curved edges of the halter line in contrasting thread, sewing the facing and the body of the dress together about 1/4” in from the edge of the fabric. This holds the fabric together better than pins an insures an even seam when you are serging. (If you are sewing you can just use pins, but it is best not to use pins when you are serging, because if you forget to take one out, it can break the blade of the serger and/or hurt you).
Serge your halter line seams with a 1/4” overlock stitch, letting the cutting blade remove about 1/4” of material, so your seam lends right on the 1/2” sewing line.
Turn your sewn garment inside out so the seams end up on the inside.
Lay out your sewn piece and gently press the edges flat. Press from on the facing side of the garment. Use a press cloth between your iron and your fabric to avoid shiny spots, don’t press too hard and mostly use steam.
Match the two ends of your halter that meet at center back, make sure the edges are facing towards the front so the seam will be clean from the back. Pin them together, or baste them if you're feeling like a perfectionist.
Sew the ends together 1/2” from the edge. Press the seam open. I left this seam unfinished because you will never see it when you are wearing the dress, but you could fold the edges under and top stitch them down.
At this point it is a good idea to try your dress on to get the fit of the back skirt seam right before you sew it. I found that I had to take my seam in a little from where I had marked it because the fabric is so stretchy. Mark the place where you want to put the seam with a pin then take the dress off.
Match the center back skirt seams with the facing layer on the outside, then baste along this seam with your contrasting thread. I made a mistake at this point which I was mostly able to correct. I basted these pieces together and started serging with the facing folded down, which doesn’t create a clean edge at the center back waistline. Instead….
Unfold your facing and keep basting the two pieces together up into the facing so that you can serge one clean seam all the way along the center back and into the facing, which will then be folded down inside to create a clean finish.
Serge your center back skirt seam.
Press the seam flat from the inside.
Fold the facing down so it lays flat on the inside of the dress.
Topstitch about 1 1/2” down the center back seam through both the outside layer and facing layer to secure the facing so it doesn’t ride up. (When you topstitch into an existing seam like this it’s called “stitching in the ditch”).
You are done sewing your dress!
Step 8: Making the Wrap and Final Touches
I ended up with two separate pieces of printed jersey fabric for my wrap, which wasn’t ideal, and in retrospect I would have made the wrap longer. Because the printed jersey looks different on the back side, I chose to make my wrap as a tube. If you were using solid jersey, you could just use a raw strip of material, but I think the tube looks cleaner. I made my wrap 13” wide (doubled) and 120” long. Making it longer would give it more versatility in terms of tying options, but I ran out of fabric. You just need to make sure your wrap is wide enough to avoid wardrobe malfunctions when you are wearing it as a bra. A 13” width worked for me (34 C) and doubling the fabric gave it more stability. If you decide not to use a tube, I would make the strip more like 18-20” wide.
To make it my way:
Lay out your fabric, folded in half, right sides together, and cut two 13” wide, 60” long strips on the cross grain.
Serge one end of each set of strips together, and unfold them so now you have two 120” long strips.
Place one on top of the other, matching the center seams and edges, right sides facing towards eachother.
Serge along both edges, leaving the ends open.
Turn the tube right side out, and cut angles along the ends so they will hang better.
Now put the whole thing together! Try the dress on with the wrap underneath. I think it’s good to wait until now, when you have the whole look together to decide what length you want the skirt to be. I chose to make my skirt a little shorter and give it a curve in the front rather than a point. To do this I just tried it on, marked where I wanted it to end, then laid it out on the table folded in half. I cut a new hemline with a metal ruler and a cutting wheel, using a hip curve to soften the line of the center front. This is where the cutting wheel really comes in handy because it gives you a perfectly clean hemline that you could never get with scissors.
Now comes the fun!
Step 9: Dressing Up
When you’ve adjusted your hemline, put the dress back on and play with the many ways to tie the wrap! I think I’ve found about 8 different good configurations so far, and I’m sure there are more. You can choose to use it as a bra, just a belt, or both. Varying the way it’s tied can give the dress a quite different look, from casual to more sophisticated. I found that tying the wrap around the waist generally gives it a dressed up look while leaving the cowls draping freely gives it a more daytime feel. Now that you've seen how easy it is to make the wrap, you could even make more in other colors or patterns for more exciting dress-up variety!