[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!