[Module 7] Draping | 6. Draping advancement - Volume Control Approach- Part 1 Gathers and Pleats

So far most of what we have done with Draping could have been drafted on the table top. But when you look at adding in more fabric for a more dramatic effect then things start to get impossible on the table and you really need to drape on the dress form and find ways of controlling and releasing the fabric at various points across the body.

I am no master draper but here we can have a look at a few techniques that build on each other to see how you can visually drape and control the fabric to make shapes including the classics.

  • In Part 1 - To review Gathering/Tucks/Pleating we look at a Cowl Neckline for a Top or Dress.

  • In Part 2 - To look at Twisting and Folding fabric we look at a Top with a folded Base and also how to twist fabric centrally in a garment to create a knot like effect.

  • In Part 3 - To look at Origami draping we look at how to create a pattern for a dress using just one pattern piece.

  • In Part 4 – To look at Zero Waste Patterns.

Gathering, or Tucks/Pleating – Cowl Neckline Top/Dress

We have seen how you can create a Cowl Neck by drafting 2 dimensionally on paper (Module 6 - Create the Flexible Pattern - 4c. Bodice – Necklines) but it is difficult to add in surplus fabric on a 2 dimensional form and to see the immediate of effect of what you have added visually.

If you have a beautiful flowing fabric and want to get a very slinky Cowl look with perhaps a deep Cowl in the Front or the Back with lots of flow to it then draping is going to be the way to go. Take a look at this group of drawings, they are all using a Cowl Neckline and by playing with the width of the shoulder, the amount of fabric to drape, the depth of the Neckline and excess fabric control techniques a Cowl Neckline can take on a variety of shapes. Obviously there are far more options than what is shown here regarding Cowl Necklines but you get the idea that there are so many looks you could make just by working on a Cowl Neckline.

Being realistic and without putting a dampener on it I know that I or most people would hardly ever wear a Cowl really low, but never say never! The sample here will be a decent wearable option but a Cowl is never boring.

Here is the design I have in mind, a rather comfy light weight knit Cowl top with a drop shoulder. A skirt could be added at a later date to extend this pattern into a dress. This pattern is going to be initially draped with a light weight knit fabric and so this pattern will not be viable to use with a woven fabric and if a heavier fabric is used in the final version then the drape and fit will be very different to the draped garment shown here. If a heavier knit is to be used in the final fashion fabric or a woven fabric then this should be the starting fabric that you should be draping the pattern with.

Cowls can be made in a number of different ways you can create a straight fitted top and then drape a gathered rectangle piece of fabric over the top of it along the Neckline to make it look like it is draped. You can make the top in two pieces with a fitted top underneath and then a more draped piece on top to get some depth to the drape but still be covered up on the cleavage from the piece underneath. You may also want to consider lining the piece, so things can get more and more multifaceted.

For this example we will be keeping things as simple as possible. The draped fabric on the Neckline will folded to the inside of the garment as a sort of self-facing and it is up to you how far inside the garment you go with the facing you could just go down a few inches or go down over the bust or even face the whole top and cut a double layer of fabric for the whole thing. You will need to consider construction and design and fabric choices when making this decision. A short facing might flip back over and be visible which is fine if intended but it will need to have some sort of finishing such as a rolled hem. A facing that is a few inches long could be seen underneath the garment if the fabric is semitransparent, a facing that goes all the way down to the base of the garment on the inside could cause a few construction dilemmas that need consideration. We will look at facings later at the point of transferring the pattern to paper.

We will be looking at draping a Top with the Cowl in Front only although you could also drape a Cowl in the Back as well. However if you do double Cowl then you may find that the garment may start to fall forward/backward or off the shoulders due to lack of support.

The Cowl design will be an effortless but chic and stylish classic Cowl controlled using some gathering of excess fabric into the shoulder seam. The design challenge here will be where to put the gathers as the design will have both gathers and extended shoulder and the design needs to flow and be controlled but still look effortless. I wanted to extend the shoulders a little to create a little optical illusion. I have a very square body shape and by extending the shoulders it does show a little more definition to the waist I think. Have a look at the difference to these two drawings – the second version just looks so much more curvy, do you think the waist looks thinner? Yes I like this trick!

To drape the sample I am using a cheap thin knit fabric and I apologise in advance for the colour but it was cheap and I can use it for dusters afterwards! If you have something on hand that is a similar drape to your Fashion Fabric then all the better.

Don’t forget that Draping Cowl shapes is not just for the Neckline Front or Back you can also drape like this from the Waist of the Skirt in the side or wherever else you like.

Expect to spend some time draping and playing, the more you play around with the fabric the more ideas you will have about how you want this to look and how it will be constructed. This is a fluid process and you may wish to make different design choices to the ones I have made here in draping or also different decisions in comparison to your original design and that is fine.

Things to consider when draping are, how low do you want the drape? How much volume of fabric do you want to have? Are you going to control excess fabric in the shoulder or lower a Style Line such as a yoke? How wide is your shoulder going to be? How much volume is going into the main body of the top or will you be considering negative ease if using a knit fabric. Will you be using darts? How deep is the armhole going to be? Are you using pleating or gathering? How deep are you going to have your facing. Whats happening in the Back? So if you have your basic design drawn out that will be a good guideline, but don’t let that stop you playing around with this.


The whole of the Front will be draped in one piece for obvious reasons. You can drape on the straight grain or on the bias, a Cowl does tend to drape more beautifully on the bias but it is your choice, now is the time to experiment. Cut about a meter of fabric we don’t want to restrict the amount of fabric we are working with here so a meter will give you lots of fabric to work with. Lightly mark out the Bias Grainline and create a fold around a third of the way down the grainline to create a rough facing for the Cowl.

Have a little fun with it, hold up the fabric in front of the Body Form with the Grainline at Centre Front. Keeping the Grainline Cental dip the middle down creating a Cowl shape and pin the fabric at around centre of the Shoulder seam to start with. Have a play with different depths and different volumes of fabric. I love Cowl Necklines although I don’t have the body for a very deep Cowl but don’t let that stop you.

Once you think you are happy with the depth of the Cowl then pin at the central shoulder position to hold it for now.

Now you could leave it like this for a very slight Cowl or if you prefer more volume, more folds in the Cowl then you can play around with pinning in more of the fabric onto the shoulder this will bring further volume into the Cowl and allow you to control where the volume is placed.

Here you can see on one side more of a Gathered technique and on the other side a couple of simple Tucks/Pleats. To create the gathering simply pinch a little fabric on the shoulder push it up and pin it down, pinch a little more and pin and so on to replicate the effect that drawing up stitches would have in the fabric. If you find pinching such a small amount a little tricky then you can use your pin to drag the fabric across, if you just push it in a little way you can drag the pinch of fabric into position. To create the Pleat/Tuck pinch a little further down and bring the fabric up and pin down, so the same as before only you are pinching a larger amount of fabric, if you follow the natural flow of how the fabric wants to lie this will help determine how wide a pleat you need and what effect this has as the pleat shifting around the Neckline. Help the pleating fold around the Neckline with light fingers creating the waves of fabric in natural and relaxed positions, notice if you try to force anything it will fight against you.

Can you see the difference in result between the gather and the Tuck/Pleat even though a similar amount of fabric volume is being used the results are substantially different. The Tuck/Pleat option is more like the gold drawing above and you can see how with further manipulation and control that you could drape this more into a square shape such as the acid yellow drawing.

Here is a little experiment for you to try. The drape with a Bias Grainline will also have an effect on the Cowl, and how it flows through the rest of the garment. Take a look at this photo where both sides have Tucks/Pleats. On one side the Tucks are positioned upwards towards the Neckline and on the otherside the similar sized Tucks/Pleats are placed facing in a downwards position going down towards the Shoulder End point. Can you see what effect this has as this particular fabric how the fabric drapes not only in the Neckline but all the way down the garment let’s call this a rippling effect for want of a better word. There seems to be more little folds on the side where the Pleats turn outwards on the shoulder but also the draping clings more to the body on this side than the other side, can you see how the other side although smoother looks wider. Of course the width on the smoother wider side could be controlled when the side seam is pinned in.

Just to continue this experiment to help understand the Bias Grainline a little more and how it effects flow of fabric from one side of the body to the other, in this photo the Tucks/Pleats have been swapped around from one side to the other trying to keep the initial size of the pleats the same. Can you see how in this photo there is slightly less rippling with the downward Tuck/Pleat on this side, how the Bias Grainline is affecting the drape of the rest of the garment rippling as it goes down and draping in closer to the body and the other side is much wider and smoother much like in the first photo.

Now of course this will be more or less noticeable depending on what fabric you are draping with and you can always simply pin a little with your fashion fabric to get an idea of how it drapes.

Though this little experiment you can see that draping is a very creative process where you can make decisions on the fly depending on the results of your experimentation. Every piece of fabric is created with different fibres that will drape differently in some very unexpected ways sometimes. I think that the magic is in spotting the detail, standing back, taking photos, comparing, taking consideration time, musing upon it, as you would with a piece of artwork you are creating. This is wearable art, albeit in a very simple form right now.

Back to the task in hand. If you are considering using Tucks/Pleats you will need to decide which way the Tucks are going to lie on the shoulder.

You will need to play around with the fabric depth and volume until you feel you have created the silhouette that you are looking for in the design. If you are getting lost in the creativity that is fabulous at some point you will need to make a decision. If in doubt go back to your design drawing.

For my design experiment just to check I re-draped less fabric in a gathered side and to compare on the other side I draped smaller upward Pleats/Tucks and compared it to my original design.

I think the gathers win out in this one as they feel less forced and more natural.

So here it is with gathers on both sides.

The next step is to determine what happens over the bust to get the fabric draped into the side seams, you may even decide to use darts. All of these things we have covered in the previous units, by smoothing and pinning out. With a knit fabric you may even tug a little with the fit to take the top into negative ease or if you prefer a more casual look and continue the easy flow of things just smooth the fabric into place in the side seam. Here you can see how on one side the fabric has been tugged a little into the side to create a more fitted piece so you have flow and control, on the other side a more casual look where the fabric is allowed to fall naturally over the bust and is allowed to fall into position at the side which gives more of a Tunic feel to it.

Consideration about how long this garment should be may help you decide how much ease to allow in the sides, if it is going to be a top how long will it be and how will it be finished off. Will it be worn tucked in or will it be outside. Should it be more tunic like or more fitted? What kind of silhouette are you going for, what is your design?

One good question is how much should you tug to get it into the side if you would like to go more fitted? How do you know if you have pulled too much? Remember your fitting and alterations Unit? If you are seeing drag lines, it’s too tight.

Here you can see how by releasing some of the negative ease so it’s no longer too tight how much different it still looks to the other side. So it can be held back by just enough to get the right silhouette you don’t have to overdo it. A little manipulation with the draping can have quite a large effect on the overall silhouette so don’t disregard the importance of playing around with it even for the tiniest alteration.

With this design I needed to decide on a base level and cut it off just above the Lower Hip Guideline to decide on which side I liked the best.

Voila a little bit more magic happens and I am loving how the base kicks out a little on the more fitted side, there is a little more definition in the waist and less drag lines happening underneath the bust. Don’t you just love this? The slightest action creates something, all you have to do is stand back and open your eyes to see it!

A little finessing on the other side to match whilst at the same time attempting to keep the Bias Guideline Straight down the Centre Front and we can move on.

The side seam can them be marked and excess trimmed away, this time I will leave at least a ½” Seam allowance for pinning to the back piece when draped. Do the same for the other side for now just to balance everything up a little.

Moving on up to the shoulder mark out the High Shoulder point (where the fabric is to fold for the facing). Then mark the shoulder seam, don’t forget to use your guidelines on your Base Template cover on the Body Form. Mark where the gathering is going to start and end and measure the distance between these two points, and write it on the fabric.

Just double check that you are happy with these measurements on the other side as you don’t need to mark both sides. If you feel there is a big difference on the other side then pick the one you like the best or split the difference. From this point on we are just working on one side of the garment.

When happy trim off the excess from the shoulder seam.

If you have Tucks/Pleats mark along the fold of the Tuck/Pleat and mark the exact point it lays on the fabric below, repeat marking for all Tucks/Pleats on this side. Essentially you will have two Notches to mark for each Tuck/Pleat when transferring the pattern.

Moving down the shoulder we next need to determine where the shoulder seam ends and in this example we are going to go extenddown onto the arm a little to create a drop shoulder. If it helps you can add a little pin cushion to the body form to emulate the mass of the arm for now or just create a ball of off cuts and get ready to pin it in place.

To make a little space the armhole can be pinned and clipped so determine the position of the Base Armhole, mark and pin out the armhole to the bottom of the drop shoulder and trim off all excess so that you can see the exact position of the Armhole. Then you may have space to pin your little ball of off cuts into place.

Mark off the Base position of the drop shoulder and trim off all excess.

Extend the shoulder seam down the end of the drop shoulder.

Then the shoulder seam can be trimmed.

Here is what it looks like so far from the front.

I think the drop shoulder is a little long and I am sure that I will reduce this but I am going to leave this alone for now.

One thing to remember to do is to mark a line along the Cowl right on the fold edge where the facing folds to the inside, the Cowl/Facing Fold Line, you can do this for just the half front that you have been working on for the shoulder.

The Back should then be draped taking in consideration the wearing/design ease added into the Front and the Neckline will need to be high enough to support the Cowl in Front and also to join up to the Shoulder seam, a Boat Neckline works quite well in the Back stretching elegantly out to hold the cowl in place.

Before draping the Back it’s a good idea to do a quick running stitch through the gathering in the Front Shoulder just to hold it all in place so that you can release the pins and move it out of the way a little while you work on the Back.

As the Front was cut on the Bias then cutting the Back on bias makes sense so that the sides hug the body in the same way. So prepare the fabric in the same way as for the Front piece although you don’t need quite as much fabric as there is no Cowl to deal with, ¾ of a meter should be enough and mark on the Bias Grainline. We only need to drape half of the Back although if you prefer to drape a full back as the fabric is on the Bias then that is understandable, sometimes is difficult to trade off wasted fabric with getting the design accurate but there are always those dusters (I did notice when ironing today that I do have quite a few with holes in some of my current dusters so they will be degraded to floor cloths!).

Attach the fabric pinning at Centre Back on the Neckline ensuring that you have enough coverage at the shoulder (if you only pinned out one shoulder on the Front then work on this side). Then secure the rest of the Centre Back with Pins at 2” to 3” intervals. Start pinning in the shoulder and trimming off the excess in the Neckline.

Mark out the shoulder line and then trim off down to the Seam allowance which can then be folded under and pinned on to the front shoulder.

Then the Neckline shape can be marked out and all excess trimmed off.

Working on the Side Seam unpin the Front piece in the side while you position the Back piece, and smooth the Back into place, and pin down the seamline every 2” to 3” allowing for the same amount of ease that you added to the Front. Consider if you will need to use Back waist darts and you can pin these out now to control some of the ease or a little later if you want to think about it. Mark the Seam and trim but leave over an inch of excess just to ensure that when you join back to the Front that you are happy with the position and have enough fabric to change it if you want to change your mind, especially if you want to consider pinning the darts later. Ensure that you do not trim too high and remove fabric that you are going to need for the Armhole.

Fold back the Front Seam and pin it to the Back to secure it in place.

With the best will in the world you may not get your seam straight especially with a knit fabric on the bias, but no worries a little plumb line pinned to the shoulder seam will give you a little guidance.

Ahhh that’s a little better!

Well this is a little closer, this line will change a little when transferring the pattern to paper anyway.

Add the darts in the back now if you are going to use them and have not pinned in until this point.

Remark the side seam, mark the darts and trim the Base.

Mark the Base Armhole in line with the front and mark the armhole shape following the line up the Back Armhole to a similar point to the Front where the drop shoulder starts. Trim off the excess fabric in the Armhole and below the base of the drop shoulder.

Mark to extend the shoulder seam down into the drop shoulder area and trim off excess on this seam folding under the Back shoulder seam allowance and pinning to the Front, you may need to readjust the whole seam to get it straight. This will be firmed up when transferring the pattern anyway.

Here is a photo of the Back. From a Design perspective I may cut the Back on the Fold to match in with the Front so to have these two darts as style lines it will break the back up a little. If I have a print fabric then I could always skip sewing these Darts go keep the print intact without changing the design too much. This note could be added to the Pattern Record Card….

After folding in the drop sleeve I prefer this shorter length and it’s more like the original design, so it will be marked at this length.

Here it is in the Front, a little out of focus (for some reason my camera does not like this colour!) but you can see the silhouette.

Drafting the Cowl Pattern

Before removing the fabric from the Body Form ensure that you have marked all seams, Front and Back, any darts, the edge of the Cowl and outline any gathering.

Here are the two pieces fresh off the Body Form. They are a little hacked about, not to worry this will all come back into control again.

As you can see I cut off half of the front and kept the half that was worked out in the side and on the shoulder.

Also don’t be confused by the fold mark in the fabric around the Neckline, this is not the Cowl fold I just had not ironed the fabric before I started.

As the Centre Front is going to be cut on the fold it requires no no seam allowance it can be laid directly on the edge of the paper. A few weights take care of the rest.

Using the Tracing wheel mark out where the base is approximately and then move up the side seam, around the armhole. Along the edge of the drop shoulder, along the shoulder seam and mark notches for the start and end points of the gathering (or marks for the Tucks/Pleats), finally mark the fold edge of the Cowl Neckline. You do not need to carry on around the facing at this point as we have not yet defined how big we need the facing to be.

If you have previously made a Cowl using the pattern drafting method you will be familiar with the resulting shape, unless of course you went for a very deep Neckline.

Firm up all of the lines with Pencil (shown here in pen to make it easier to see in the photos).

The paper is folded along the Cowl Fold Line and a point is determined for the Facing Depth. You can make the facing any length you want to.

After some consideration I decided not to affect the shoulder by cutting off the facing too short, and to use the facing all the way down to the end of the shoulder and use it as a finishing for the armhole, the fabric can be joined as a facing here eliminating the need for a binding or raw hem. The Facing Line was drawn in just a couple of inches below the Base Armhole. A Test Garment will show if this is a good choice or not, one thing you don’t want to do is have an uncomfortable facing dragging across the bust in front or riding up and back out of the garment. If you are using a see through lightweight knit it would make sense to extend the facing to the base of the garment thereby making it really into a lining. There is no right or wrong here it is personal preference and something that really does need testing and also some consideration of construction and effect on the fabric, design and wearability.

Of course you could make this into a more Flexible Pattern by creating facing extensions down to the base to use as and when required, you would need a very wide fabric though for such a long piece if cutting on the bias.

The top portion of the pattern is traced off again down to the facing line to mark the folded paper underneath and after opening back out these lines are firmed up for the Cowl facing. The Cowl Fold line will need a Notch at the High Shoulder Point if this is different from the gather points.

Now at this point we have not taken into consideration the gathering, either you do the gathering on both the main pattern piece and the facing which will create a rather thick seam or a better idea would be to shorten the facing to accommodate the finished Front piece.

If you measure 1 1/2” from the end of the shoulder on the Facing then redraw a curve back to the Armhole at the base of the extended Shoulder Seam then this will get you somewhere in the correct area for the Facing to fit the garment. This will need testing.

With 1/2” seam allowances (which can be adjusted later to smaller in the neckline/armhole) the Front will look something like this.

Ensure that the Facing Fold line is marked and that a Notch is added to show the position of where the Facing ends on the Front. Add a Grainline and all relevant labels for the pattern piece.

The Back draped fabric should be traced off in the same way as the Front and lines firmed up. The Back is then trued up to the Front in the Base, Sides, Shoulder (considering the gathering reduction) and Base Armhole. The position of where the Front Facing ends is also marked on the Back because the Back Facing can be made to the same size to join up with the Front during construction, this Facing Line is extended across the Pattern as with the Front.

As this is for a knit garment and the neckline is big enough no zip is required.

All Labels are added and a Grainline is marked.

The Facing for the Back can then be traced off including the proportion of the Dart that goes into the Facing area, this will need to be marked on the Facing as it will need to be sewn. All Labels are added to the Back Facing and a Grainline is marked.

It is better however to have full piece patterns when cutting on the bias for the simple reason that itis very difficult to fold a piece of fabric accurately on the bias so at some point it will make sense to trace off each pattern piece to make full pieces before the fabric is cut.

Oh….and those Duster by the way…

Construction Guide

The following is a brief construction guide to assemble the pieces, refer to Online Auxiliary Reference documents if you need extra assistance:-

When you stitch with facings you have quite a few seams all coming together at the same place and the puzzle is which seams to start with first. In this case there are three seams hitting the same point at the High Shoulder. With a woven fabric I am more than happy to Fell Stitch facings in place into seams but with a lightweight knit fabric if you can do it with the machine then all the better.

With this sample the seams can be stitched in different orders but to save you from this brainteaser I have added a construction order that might be of use. It is not a difficult sew but you need to keep your wits about you regarding orientation to be very careful you sew the correct seams together and don’t twist anything as you go. Of course you may decide to construct in a different order.

It is recommended to read this construction guide before starting.

  • Stitch any darts in Front/Back/Facing and press.

  • For the