A cowl is a fold or set of folds that can be placed anywhere when sewing a garment. Although you might think of cowls as belonging on a bodice front, they can really be added anywhere, including a bodice back, sleeves, or even to the sides of skirts or pants. Cowls can range from the very subtle with a gentle fall to a deep, dramatic and plunging silhouette.
You can make a cowl from either woven or knit fabric. If you choose to use a woven, be sure to cut out the pattern piece with the cowl on the true bias so that it drapes properly. Adding a lining can also help the cowl folds to hang correctly. Soft, drapey knit fabrics make beautiful cowl tops, and can be cut on the straight of grain when you're sewing with knits. And don't forget that cowls can also be added to the back of garments, where they make an especially dramatic statement.
How to make a cowl neckline
Cowl necklines are both feminine and flattering to many different body styles, and are relatively easy element to add to an existing pattern for a simple top. If you already have a T-shirt or basic shell pattern that fits well, you are halfway there!
Trace off a fresh copy of a T shirt or basic bodice pattern that fits you correctly, or use an existing pattern that you are willing to cut up.
Decide where you want the cowl to fall on your body. Draw a new curve to the depth you want the new neckline, maybe someplace between 3" - 5" below your collarbones. Measure down the center front on your pattern and mark this spot, and then draw the new neckline curve connecting the shoulder point to desired cowl drape point.
Draw two slash lines on the front of your pattern piece from the shoulder seam to center front.
Cut along the slash lines from the center front up to, but not through, the stitching line. Create a "hinge" by also snipping from the cutting line nearly to the stitching line.
Place a fresh piece of tissue paper under your pattern piece, and draw a vertical line for center front. Tape your bodice front down to the new tissue, aligning the lower center fronts.
Spread the pattern equally along the cutting lines, adding between 8" - 10" total length to the pattern piece. Tape the spread pattern pieces to the tissue underneath.
Draw a straight line from the shoulder point at the neck edge to center front, perpendicular to the center front line. This is the "cowl line."
Draw another line parallel to and 2" above the cowl line. This is the facing line.
Cut on the facing line, and then fold the pattern on the cowl line. True the armhole and the shoulder edge of the pattern. You may also need to true the side seam, the center front, and possibly even the hem edge of your top.
Sewing tips for a front cowl
You can proceed with making your cowl top according to your original pattern, with these additions:
Bind or finish the back neck edge as desired before attaching the front and back.
Pin the back shoulder to the front shoulder, and then the front facing around the back neckline and stitch. This will catch the facing in the shoulder seam.
Sometimes you may need to add a weight to keep the folds of a cowl hanging correctly. In that case, you can just sew a small pocket to the cowl facing and add a small weight.
So that's wasn't too hard, was it? Experiment with adding cowls to your garments, and soon enough you will determine the depth, drape, and fullness that you like.