Express Dress

This is the last week before I go back home for a holiday and my sister messaged me asking if I could make her a skirt or a dress using the fabric we bought from Bangkok last year. My reply to her, “SERIOUSLY”. I have barely begun to pack, still have things left to buy and my room is in a mess. But then again, I did promise I will make my sister something with that fabric and if I don’t do it now, I won’t have the chance to pass it to her in the future when I am back in UK.

So I planned everything out and decided on a time limit for me to draw a pattern from scratch and to sew the garment. That time limit was 5 hours. I suddenly feel like I am in some sort of competition and time is of the essence. I started out by deciding what to make. Something different and something she does not already have and instantly the picture of a cowl dress popped into my head. I made one before, albeit a very exaggerated cowl so decided to keep it demure by having a high cowl instead of a low one. The fabric is cotton and does not drape very well so a high cowl would be a wiser choice.

With my bodice block, I started out by removing the bust dart from the block to add more depth to the cowl. Following that, I determined the shoulder width and depth of the neck line. I then divided and slashed the pattern to add more volume to the cowl. The very simple diagram below shows my thought processes.


Following that, the slashed pieces is pivoted so that it is at a right angle to the centre front (CF). This is done particularly so that I can create a facing that is folded back rather than a separate piece sewn on. The back pattern is then altered to have the same shoulder width as the front and facing added (neckline is also altered so that the facing is a continuous piece from the main back piece pattern).


Following that, seam allowances were added, vent included and markings/information is added onto the pattern. The process took me about 90 minutes.

Just a note to the diagrams above, there are many ways to approach the design of a cowl neck line and the method I have used is based on ‘trail and error’ from my previous experimentation with cowl necklines. As a pattern cutter, I would experiment with the pattern to get what I want by utilising various techniques. There is no exact way of dealing with a problem as solutions may arise from the most unlikely method. Hence, take some risks and play around to develop a technique you are comfortable with.


Tick Tock! Tick Tock! There was only 3.5 hrs left so I proceeded onto cutting the pattern out on fabric and overlocked the raw edges. Following a very quick lunch, I started sewing the pieces together and was doing extremely well with the time, until the zip broke as I was finishing the garment. After a few minutes of ranting, shouting and moments of abandoning the project for some sugary treats, I went back, unpicked the zip and sewed a new one in. I guessed calming down helped and I finished sewing the dress just before dinner.


The print is so strong that there is no point in creating complex patterns as they would not be seen clearly. I just stuck to something simple to bring out the print instead and with the limited amount of time I had, the result was good. A tip to keep the cowl down is to put curtain weights (the string/rope type, not the coin type) where the fold line between the front piece pattern and the front facing is.


This is a very simple pattern to make and sewing is not very complicated. Pattern making becomes much easier if you have your own pattern blocks. I have various basic bodice blocks at various sizes for male and female; some that I got from University and some made by myself. As the template to your designs, it is very important that these blocks are perfect as any imperfection will be passed on to your patterns.

The dress would look even better on a more ‘liquid’ fabric like silk satin or jersey and the cowl would also benefit by having the pattern cut on the bias.

With this dress done, it’s time to store my sewing machine back into the box until I come back from my holiday. But knowing me, I might end up doing some sewing on my holiday instead.


About syvyaw

Eat, sleep and think Fashion.


  1. Felicia

    Hi Stephen, would you use the same technique to make a low back cowl? Low as in 5″ below waist, a fitted stretch evening dress…almost tube-like.

    • Hi Felicia,

      The technique works but you will have to increase the depth of the cowl significantly. You may want to consider cutting along the waist line (from the centre back and stopping 2 mm short of the side seam) and pivoting at the side seam to increase the cowl. But this has to be done on a basic bodice block first. Another method is just to pivot the bodice block at the centre back/waistline point to increase the cowl. You can even do both to get a really deep cowl. The main purpose is to increase the distance between the shoulders as wide as possible as this gives the depth to the cowl.

      With regards to the stretch fabric, with a deep cowl at the back, you won’t be able to get a fitted tube like shape in the front as there is nothing at the back to hold the tube shape, i.e. due to the low cowl (I am assuming the dress is supported on the shoulder and it’s not a ‘tube’ tube dress as it would just slip off otherwise).You may want to consider sewing a back piece inside to hold the tube shape but it may defeat the whole purpose of a low back cowl (that’s if you wanted to show your back). But then again, you may want it loose on the bust and everything below the waist is fitted. I would suggest making a toile (sample) before cutting it on your final fabric as it does take a lot of adjusting to get the perfect fit.

      Good Luck.

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