A Customizable Caftan Cover-up
Danika: Summer is finally here and I love the ease of this season. Everything becomes more relaxed, including my wardrobe. I live in Boston, and we feel like we freeze for the majority of the year and can’t wait to shed the layers and sweaters once the temperature finally begins to rise.
One of my favorite wardrobe staples is a good caftan cover-up. I love to be able to toss one on and go from the beach to the grocery store or out for drinks. I can simply change the mood by tossing on some fun accessories to dress it up or down. They are also extremely easy to sew, and with so many designs and fabrics available on Spoonflower you can create an entire summer wardrobe.
A few years ago, I was looking for a cover-up and I couldn’t find the color I was looking for. I quickly realized that I could design my own fabric and make one through Spoonflower. I had several sloppy attempts (my background is in interior design and I can sew a decent square pillow, but I couldn’t read a pattern) so I sought out an expert.
My youngest sister went to school for fashion design, has her own kid’s line of clothing and can sew anything, so I enlisted her help and asked her to show me the easiest way to make a caftan cover-up. We are talking about sewing squares and rectangles together—right up my alley!
After a few trial runs, two different styles emerged. These designs can be customized into endless looks by simply adjusting the length, neckline and whether you want a pull over or an open front look. You can also change the look by using different fabric types.
I am going to demonstrate this using Organic Sweet Pea Gauze™, a lightweight open weave that will keep you cool, but I will also show some examples with Poly Crepe de Chine, a semi-transparent poly blend that feels a bit dressier and is very “wash and wear.” The key here is to make it your own and have fun wearing it!
Let’s go over some of the styles you can make…
Choosing Your Caftan Style
To begin, first determine:
- The pattern’s layout orientation (multidirectional, vertical or horizontal)
- The neckline you prefer (V-neck or boat neçk)
- The length, found by measuring from your upper shoulder down to where you’d like it to end and add 1-1.5” (2.5-4 cm)
- The width, found by measuring around the widest part of your body and add several inches (8-16” depending how loose you want your caftan)—divide this number in half to estimate the width of each side (face)
Caftan Pattern Layout
Shown below are three common orientations for pattern layouts with examples of how to cut your caftan faces. The Organic Sweet Pea Gauze is 56” (142 cm) wide and will shrink slightly after washing. Two yards will yield a maximum 70” wide x 54” long (177 x 137 cm) finished caftan if you choose a multidirectional or horizontal design, or a narrower caftan with a maximum 52” width x 70” length (132 x 177 cm) on a vertical design.
If you want a caftan wider than that using a vertical pattern, use 3-4 yards and cut each face to your desired width. I prefer to use multidirectional or horizontal patterns because it saves fabric and I can get a nice flowy finished caftan up to 70” wide with just two yards of fabric and very little waste. I do it so often that I have actually created a collection of railroaded layout prints specifically designed for caftans here. I have even added decorative bandings to some.
If designing your own layout is something you would like to do, just make your canvas 36” wide x 56” (91.5 x 142 cm) high and create your caftan face. Rotate your canvas counter clockwise and save before uploading to Spoonflower. You can now order two yards and the design will print horizontally as two caftan faces that will measure 36” (91.5 cm) wide!
The V-neck caftan is really simple and consists of four rectangles sewn together. This design came from my failed attempts at putting a V-neck into a single face. No matter how hard I tried, the bottom of my V always looked wonky, so when I discovered this method I was hooked.
The boat neck is relatively simple and a nice option for those not wanting a plunging neckline. I have created a printable template here! Simply print it at “actual size,” trace the neckline onto fabric and cut.
How to Sew Your Caftan Cover-up
Now that we have the basics covered, let’s make a caftan cover-up! All you need is your fabric, some scissors, an iron, pins and a sewing machine with matching thread. The below tutorial includes separate steps for each neckline style, so pay attention to those indications when the time comes.
I highly recommend overlocking or finishing all your unfinished seams, which I will also mention in both sets of directions. It just makes finished openings so much nicer, and the Sweet Pea Gauze will fray, so it will also keep things tidy.
1. Prep the Fabric and Cut
Start by washing and pressing your fabric. The gauze will come out of the dryer with a crinkled grid texture. To ensure easy sewing and cutting, press really well with an iron.
Determine your desired width and length and add about 1.5” (3.8 cm) for hems and seams. This design is very loose and forgiving, so you don’t have to be as strict with measurements. Cut two faces/pieces out of your fabric, then fold both in half length wise.
2. Sew the Shoulders
V-NECK: Cut both pieces in half along the folded edge. You will now have two stacks and a total of four rectangles. Overlock or finish all the edges, then pin together each upper top area (these will be your shoulders) and sew across each section.
BOAT NECK: Place the neckline template against the folded edge at top of fabric and trace. Use a straight edge along the flat shoulder to connect to the outer edge. Cut the shoulders and necklines, then overlock/finish the outer edges. Unfold both sides and lay one on top of the other, right sides (the printed sides) together. Pin the shoulders together and sew.
3. Create the Arm Holes
Measure and mark the arm holes with a pin. You can choose the size to your liking by draping the section over your shoulder to estimate. I find somewhere between 8-13” (20-33 cm) works.
Sew the sides together from the armhole pin down towards the bottom edges. If you would like to open the bottom slits along your sides, determine the height first and mark where you will need to stop with another pin.
4. Sew the Back and Front (V-neck style only)
Sew the back together, starting 6-8” (15-20 cm) from the top. If you prefer a back slit at the bottom, mark the height where you want that to start and end your seam there.
Now close the front seam. Determine where you want your V-neck to end and pin the front pieces together. This can be anywhere from 6-12” (15-30 cm) depending how deep you want the neckline. Sew the front pieces together just like the back seam.
Pro Tip: For an open front V-neck, do not sew the front seams closed. Instead, fold and press the front seams and flat stitch to create a finished edge.
5. Iron the Side and Shoulders
Press the side seams and shoulder seams flat. Then fold the armhole seams over and press flat, as well as the necklines. You can leave the overlock seam visible on the inside or double fold to hide.
6. Sew the Seams
Pin the folded edges from step 5 in place and flat stitch them to finish the edges along the neck and armholes. Try on the caftan to check openings and the hemline. Finally, fold in and press the hemline at the bottom of the caftan and sew in place.
7. Additional Details
For the V-neck, you can add a bar across the back if extra support is desired. I used a piece of ric-rac shown below. For either style, feel free to use any leftover fabric to make a matching belt!
The Finished Look
Here are some finished designs I’ve made showing variations on the two necklines. A big thanks to my family and friends for getting into the spirit and modeling for me!