Pattern Puzzle: Fixing a cowl neckline pt.2

Well that was fun, we got several responses to yesterday’s pattern puzzle challenge. Let’s go over today’s responses. First out of the chute was Ken Simmons -a professor!- who said

I get nervous on the quizzes but here goes:

If the cowl depth is the fitting issue you are speaking of and you want to halt the exposure of bust cleavage, then I would do the following:

fold neck facing down into it’s folded position, then fold the entire blouse front along it’s center front line, align this on a new sheet of folded paper with the folds on top of each other. Using the center front bottom corner as a pivot point, slide the original pattern away from and off of the fold of under paper. This to decrease the length of the top cowl edge. Blend etc.

I just had to mention he’s a professor because he said he’s nervous on quizzes. Ken is also one of my most favorite people. He’s retiring this year. Here’s a photo of us together.

Ken’s solution was what I would do with caveats (at close) depending on the needed bust fullness. I’ve posted a step by step tutorial after all the commentary.

Anir then said (snipped a bit):

I concur with ken simmons solution except that the CF decrease has to start above the bust point. Probably the easiest way to do that is, fold the facing down, slash the CF facing to the bust and make a slash horizontal to or a little above the bust, then move the cowl down to the new position. Then tape in place and redraw the pattern. Personally i would drape the change rather than draft it. But to each their own.

I could see this possibly working too. I’d be nice to have an illustration. This would bring the shoulders in while retaining bust fullness. The only (possible?) downside is losing vertical length at that horizontal slash in that it could reduce cowl fold depth. One could compensate by adding again (bowing out) at the neck edge. However, I would draft rather than drape it -and I really don’t want to get into another argument as to whether drafting or draping is superior (squish, stab, repeat) because some of us can get to the final result faster by drafting.

Then Beverly suggested yet another possibility:

I’m more of a flat patternmaker than a draper but this is what I see: The shoulder width is too wide, the front armholes are too curved and the shoulder slope is too vertical. I’d correct this by straightening out the upper part of the armhole by bringing in the shoulder point about 2” or so (just a guestimate as I don’t have the actual pattern in front of me). I’d also increase the angle of the shoulder slope about ½” more toward the center front. This will reduce the excess amount of fabric drape.

Below is the illustration she provided. I’m thinking this is what the final result of what Anir’s suggestion could look like (less the loss of vertical length as this is an illustration rather than a quarter scale draft).

Alison commented:

The facing doesn’t need to go to the armholes, but it looks like the garment might need a cowl stay. You can see the front of the shirt falling off her shoulders, so a lightweight stay in the shape of a tank top sewn into the shoulders and side seams would help the garment stay on straight.

This comment isn’t directed at Alison, a lot of people didn’t seem to like that long facing sewing into the armhole but I kind of liked it. Oh well. It would have used a lot of piece goods for sure so I probably wouldn’t do it in production. However you do it, cowls do need a deeper than average facing on a more expensive garment.

The Susan said:

I believe the cowl should have an upward hump (from the shoulder to the center front). Currently it is straight from shoulder to shoulder. I would drape this adjustment in order to find the desired neck drape.

If you want extra folds at the neckline, you can do this, it also adds a bit of weight. There’s only one issue with it, that you’ll have a seam right there at the neck edge. Because it won’t be a straight line anymore, you can’t have a fold over facing that is mirrored at the neckline edge. I suppose it would depend on the effect you were looking for. Personally, I prefer a softer look (a seam can create a hard edge) and wouldn’t want to be fiddling with it to make sure the seam stayed hidden in the topmost fold. But then, it could be kind of cool if your facing was in a contrasting color, providing a subtle splash of color.

One design effect used in cowls we didn’t mention was tucks at the shoulder line. I really like this look. That way you can get in extra fullness but also have your fold over facing at the neck edge. I’d written about this before (how not to design a cowl neckline) using this vintage home pattern as an example. We don’t make things like this anymore. Below is yours truly and off to the right is a scan of the quarter scale pattern piece.


This is what I’d prepared to show you, similar to what Ken suggested because Lisa said the cowl was finishing too low (she had the edges folded over for modesty).

First fold the neck facing down or cut it off. To the left below, the facing fold line is illustrated.

To the right above, is what’s going on when the facing is folded into place. Below (left), we’re going to get rid of that facing. The illustration on the right shows just half the pattern piece which is all we need to work with.

You’ll notice the right illustration above has a dotted red line. That will be our new center front line.

The illustration below shows the new pattern superimposed on the old pattern (dotted line). The lines in the center of the piece illustrate the overlapped paper edge. As you can see, like Beverly’s sketch above, this has the effect of bringing the shoulder line in together closer.

Above to the right, you can see how you need to finish off the pattern. First you need to straighten that neck edge, that shortens the depth of the neckline. The hem you’ll need to curve and blend in a smooth line.

1. Yes, I am aware that in making these sketches, the bottom right edge of the blouse pattern of the new version extends beyond the original draft. The piece I was working from wasn’t mirrored either but I think you get the point.

2. If you are working in wovens (I prefer them; the barre of required precision is higher) and you’re fitting someone larger busted, you might consider consider adding fullness to the bust line in the usual manner and then maintain the streamlined look by adding a french dart, similar to the photo of the vintage blue top above.

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  1. Elaine Good says:

    First off, what a great photo, Kathleen and Ken! Kathleen, thanks so much for pulling together all this info and integrating the responses so well. Brain food…

  2. laurie says:

    I would do it the Anir/Beverly way. The shoulder looks too wide to me, and I agree about the armhole.
    The bust is already looking a bit small. BTW, that top looks great on you Kathleen.

  3. Babette says:

    Once again, Kathleen you make what seems inexplicable so clear. I did like Beverly’s explanation however and her reshaping of the armhole – this is consistent with the armhole on the vintage pattern. I think that the original very curved armhole and shoulder line would be OK in a 2way stretch knit as it is drawn around by the body but might be difficult to make sit nicely in a woven or even 1 way stretch. Using up lots of the bias “give” in a woven above and to the side of the bust leaves less “give” over the fullness of the bust.

    Love the look of that design on you Kathleen – if you’re of a mind to do a review of a vintage pattern from time to time with these details that are missing from modern design I’d love that.

  4. betty says:

    After reading all of the comments posted, I have decided to trash the front cowl neckline pattern I purchased. The pattern I had was to be cut on the bias. Also the instructions were unnecessarily difficult to understand. Do you think I could have cut the pattern without cutting it on the bias according to the instructions and had success?


  5. Kathleen says:

    Hi Betty, bias makes a cowl so much lovelier altho it can depend on the fabric. If your fabric is a loose weave or a knit, you don’t need bias as much. However, a more tightly woven piece will drape so much nicer on the bias.

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