(Re)Making History: Cowl Top, ca 1976

Hey true believers! I’m back with more adventures in vintage sewing!

I’m just a little too young to remember the 1970s, but I was there-sort of-for the last years of that decade. I made my grand entrance into the world in 1978, just a few years after this pattern’s publication.Growing up in the 1980s, I saw plenty of 1970s television through syndication. I remember being around four or five, watching Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Scooby Doo, and Wonder Woman, starring Linda Carter. In fact, thanks to Netflix, I’ve been watching Wonder Woman on DVD. I just love it when she changes in a huge explosion into Wonder Woman and how she lifts cars, catches falling grown men, and ends every episode with that 1000 watt smile. All while wearing incredible 1970s fashions as her alter ego, Diana Prince! The 70s are back in style now, as the runways and fashion magazines will attest. Wrap dresses, ponchos, butterfly tops, cowls, gathered sleeves, and maxi dresses are all returning to our closets.  I think we’ll be seeing a lot more retro flair in the coming seasons.

Pattern: Simplicity # 7719, circa 1976

Difficulty: Super Easy!

Fabric: Kona Cotton Knit in Ice Blue and Milk Chocolate

Needle: # 80/100 Ball needle


I’ve been thinking for a while about color blocking. I’ve never done color blocking successfully before now- my first attempt was in 2010, and I had this awesome idea for a dress, and…everything went kablooey. I actually got the dress mostly finished and found that virtually everything was wrong with it! I had a hard time getting it on and off because it had no closures and the fabric was woven with no stretch. I had also made an error in judgement in my fabric selection-not only would this pattern have been way better if I had made it in a knit (or at least a woven with some stretch) it would also have been better if my fabrics were a similar weight and hand. Hand, by the way, is the term that identifies a fabric’s drape and softness. Silk, for example, has a soft hand and drapes very well. Denim has a firm hand and very little drape. If I had known that back in 2010, my project might have been more of a success!

The biggest mistake I made with that dress was choosing one fabric that was much heavier and stiffer than the other. I had selected a heavier linen in a lovely brown with a leaf pattern for the top portion that was very stiff. It was better suited for bags, pillows or home decor projects,  but I was a newbie and I didn’t know that. For the bottom, I had chosen a peachy rose pink in a lighter, more fluid washer linen that had nice drape and a soft hand. Sadly, this was not a match made in heaven. The color choice was spot on, but the fabric choices were not. The dress was weird. The fabrics didn’t behave in the same way, and because of that it didn’t hang right on my body. The phrase “sack of potatoes” ran through my head as I gazed in the mirror. Yuck. I took the dress apart and set the pieces aside in hopes of recycling them one day.

But I did learn something important about pairing fabrics in the same garment. If you are going to do some color blocking, my advice is this: make sure the fabrics you choose are the same weight and type of fabric!

simplicity7719 001

Simplicity 7719

When I found this pattern among Grandma’s stash of goodies, I instantly saw color blocking potential. All I needed were two knits from the same fabric line and the same weight to pull it off. Thankfully, Fabric.com came to my rescue, carrying a nice selection of Kona Cotton knits that were just what I needed. Let the sewing begin!

Before I start most of my projects, I draw them. I sketched out this little beauty a couple different ways, trying to decide where to go with it. I have a lovely light sweater knit with a zigzag stripe that could be nice, too, that’s the top sketch. I went with the color blocked knits in the bottoms sketch because I felt I’d be getting more use out of it as a casual shirt I could wear at home or out running errands or something, plus, the color blocking was cool.sketch7719 006

As with almost all of my vintage patterns, I had to redraw this one to fit me, as I am taller and a couple of sizes bigger than my mother.I moved it from a 32″ bust to a 36″ bust by adding a 1/4″ on all sides of each piece that I traced onto freezer paper. It’s not an exact science, and I often end up running in my side seams a little more, but I’d rather have a generous seam allowance than a too-close for comfort fit! This one also had to be adjusted down slightly. I made it a half-inch smaller in the torso after my initial fitting.

What I was really attracted to with this pattern was the dropped shoulders and the cowl. You really can pull it up to be an emergency hood, suggesting that a medium weight sweater knit or a lightweight sweatshirt fabric would work. Ooh, french terry, anyone? Probably I’ll just keep it as a cowl. Secretly, because of the hood, I think of this as my Obi-Wan shirt.


Jedi masters need hoods.

The Force was clearly with me while I worked on this project; I had the entire thing done in about four hours, from cutting to hemming. Amazing!

Galaxies far faraway aside, the construction is pretty straightforward, though I did make two changes.

The cowl piece seemed a bit small, and the directions indicated you only cut one and fold it in half. Upon inspection, one cut doesn’t make it large enough. simplicity7719directions 001I tried cutting two, but then there was too much fabric; it was bulky and much larger than was reasonable. So it ended up being closer to one and half- I just made the two seams on the cowl line up at the shoulders instead of a center seam in the back as the pattern shows, and cut off my excess at the seams. Using two pieces gives you a very generous cowl, but it is enough to make a comfortable hood for those unexpectedly windy days.

The original pattern had the back as one piece, but I wanted to carry the color blocking over to the back and have the front and back be identical. I cut my yoke in the front and cut the back pattern piece into two at the place where the seam is on the front, to create a back yoke piece. This way, my back mirrors my front, with the brown starting mid-chest instead of my back being entirely blue, which is what would have happened in the original layout. I like this look better, don’t you?cowl3 If I were to make a few more changes, I think I might make the yoke a little shorter, and have the color blocking begin higher on the chest. I might also add some contrast topstitching where the brown and the blue meet, to emphasize the seam. I did use contrast stitching on the hem in ice blue thread, and it looks nice. So perhaps later I’ll make some little adjustments here and there. Overall,though, if you a want a vintage look that plays well with more contemporary designs, this pattern is a good choice. I’d also suggest this is a good one for people learning knits, because it doesn’t have too many pieces and the fit is pretty relaxed. Oh, and it’s very comfy! This is a great lounging around shirt. Perfect of settling on your couch with a mug of hot chocolate and a great movie. 


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