The thoughts, sewing projects, and fabric oglings of a dedicated sewist.

Free Sewing Tutorial: Draft a deep cowl neck top

UPDATE: I've added a post about drafting a facing for this cowl neck here.

My tutorial on drafting a high cowl neck top has had a lot of pageviews in the last week (this always makes me happy).  So at the request of at least one reader (see? that's all it takes with me!), I'll show you how to draft a cowl neck top starting with a pattern that has a dart.  This will produce a deeper cowl neck like this one:

I started with Silhouettes' Pattern #195 as I have already made alterations to the pattern for a good fit (changed shoulder slope, took in waist/hip as they are smaller size than my shoulders).  It has a French dart, but these instructions should work regardless of where you dart is placed.

And I need to give a big thank you to Peggy Sagers for her help in figuring out how to draft this pattern (from Silhouettes).  I took a couple of classes with her at the sewing conference I went to recently (Original Sewing and Quilting Expo) and she encouraged people to contact her with questions.  So when I was trying to figure out what to do with the dart, I emailed her.  Within a couple of hours I got a very helpful response.  And this was on a Sunday.

*1 - 1.5 yards of drapey fabric with stretch (jersey, knit, stretch charmeuse, maybe even stretch poplin)
*Tracing paper (I use Bienfang Canary Sketching and Tracing Paper, the 50 yard/24" roll)
*Clear ruler
*Top/bodice pattern with a dart

Step 1: Move dart to neckline.
Trace your orginal pattern onto another sheet of tracing paper as you'll need to do a lot of cutting.  To move the dart to the neckline, draw a straight line from the dart point to the center front neckline.

Now cut along this line until you are about 1/8" away from the dart point (this will be your "hinge"). 

Now close and tape the orginal dart which will cause the pattern to spread at the new dart point.  It should look like this:

All right!  Step 1 is done.  You have moved a dart!

Step 2: Cut & spread neckline
Draw a curved line under the neckline, 1.5 inches down from the original. Cut along this line until you are about 1/8 inch from the shoulder line.

Draw two lines that meet at a right angle on a new sheet of paper. Place your cut pattern piece along the top line on this piece of paper. Spread the neckline so that both points touch the top line. Angle the remaining bodice so that the bottom center front corner touches the side line. Tape into place.  If that sounds confusing, it isn't - I think it's just easier to understand with a picture:

Smooth out the angle created at the shoulder line:

(Please ignore the second layer of pattern - that was my first try and it wasn't correct so I just taped take 2 over the top.)

Step 2, check!

Step 3: Turn half pattern into full pattern
You need to cut on a bias for this design, so you will need a full instead of a half pattern. Take a big piece of tracing paper and draw a T with lines meeting a right angles. Trace your half cowl neck pattern onto one side of the T and then flip and trace it onto the other. It should look like this when you are done:

I know this looks like something that would never fit a human body, but trust me, it will work!  And please ignore the wide band in the middle - I had to tape two pieces of tracing paper together to get one that was big enough.

Good work - the hard parts are all done!

Step 4: Place and cut your fabric
Spread out your fabric. Place the front pattern piece on the bias and the back pattern piece on the straight grain. It will look like this:

Cut and sew the top as you would normally.  You can serge the edges, turn them under by 1/4" and topstitched them into place or leave them just serged for an edgier look  You can add any kind of sleeve or even a hem band.  This top will fit and look great.  Devon calls this my sexy top and looks suspicious when I wear it out with friends!

20 comments on "Free Sewing Tutorial: Draft a deep cowl neck top"
  1. Fantastic!
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. nice tutorial :) i want to draft a cowl neck top.. but i dont have a pattern with dart .. how else can i do it ? -diya

  3. Thanks, Diya! There's a couple of ways you can draft a cowl neck without a dart. I have a tutorial for a high cowl neck here:

    There's another tutorial over at Adithi's Amma Sews that uses a dart, but I think her tutorial would work for a a pattern without a dart, too:

    Good luck, and let me know how it works!


  4. okies let me use your other tutorial and try a cowl neck! surely will add a link love to your tutorial when i finish mine on my blog.

  5. Wonderful. I have some lovely materiel that I bought for another project that I am going to nuse for this.

  6. Yea !! DOne with mine :) Here it is : tp://

  7. @Diya - Beautiful job!

    @Zoompad - I'm hoping to put an update on these tutorial this weekend about drafting a facing for a more finished edge, so keep your eye out for that! Thanks for visiting my blog!

  8. that is an amazingly clear example and instructions - thanks!

  9. Wow thank you so much this is exactly what I wanted, you're a star!

    1. You are so welcome, Greta! Send me a picture of what you make and I'll post it on the blog!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this... I want to make a draped/cowl back dress and I was trying to determine the best way to do it without buying a pattern... I want the dress to have a deep dramatic drape for a backless effect...Thank you!!

    1. You are welcome! I'd love to see what you make!

  11. QUick question. What is the advantage of re-drafting the pattern vs placing the centre line at an angle to the fold? (assuming grain isn`t a huge deal) Both would add volume to the middle of your top...

    1. Hi, Mrs P - I'm not sure I understand your question, so please forgive me if I'm off base here. If you mean why do I move the dart, it's just to create a deep cowl neck than you might achieve by just re-drafting the neck. Not sure if that really addresses the question . . . What do you mean by "placing the centre line at an anble to the fold?"

    2. (This is assuming grain isn`t a big issue) Instead of placing the center (fold line) of your pattern (assuming its symmetrical) directly on the fold of the fabric, you`d line the bottom of the pattern up with the fold of the fabric, and pivot the top of the pattern away from the fold of the fabric. Creating a wedge shape of fabric (cowl) between the folded edge and the edge of the pattern. I`m sure that`s as clear as mud! LOL

    3. Okay, I think I see it! The problem with doing it the way you described (based on my understanding of these things, which is limited), is that for the cowl to drape well, you need it do be both wider and taller, and only wider/taller in the upper chest area (not all the way to the hem). That said, I'd be interested to know what happens if you do it the way you described! If you try, please let me know.

  12. How do you pattern a low back cowl that shows your back up to the waist line? I've been searching the net but I just don't seem to get it.

  13. How do you pattern a low back cowl that shows your back up to the waist line? I've been searching the net but I just don't seem to get it.

  14. Mrs P's way works too, just shift the centre line outward from the neckline and draw with a curve ruler to blend to the center hemline. Then that becomes your center seam and you cut the fabric on bias. This is an easy way, however here is the professional way of drafting a cowl pattern:

    1. Yes, the method shown in that article is a great way to do it when you don't have a dart.