Double caftan magic

How to sew a Fen caftan

The weekend before last, I sewed myself what I thought was the best summer frock I’d ever owned: a blurple caftan made with Merchant & Mills Indian Ink linen and some simple mods to the Fen top (details below). In addition to the color being completely amazing — rich and shifty — the fabric has an incredible heft to it and is a joy to wear. So when it came time to cut my next piece of linen this past Saturday — M&M’s Bonita stripe this time, which I’d bought from Fancy Tiger with pants in mind — I couldn’t stop picturing it as another caftan just like ol’ blurple. Only I had no idea how much more magnificent it would be. I’m thrilled with them both, but the striped one is pure magic.

How to sew a Fen caftan

The challenge of this fabric is that it’s an asymmetrical repeat — two multi-stripes, then one wide blank stripe, repeat — and I had debates with myself and among friends about how best to position it on the dress. After they pleaded for symmetry, I decided to place the wide blank stripe dead center, so my inverted pleats (front and back) would simply pull the two black stripes closer and then it’d fan out below the pleat, with the multi-stripes on either side. What I could not possibly have planned for even if I had tried was that this left the hip pockets I had mapped out on the blurple version perfectly centered over the multi-stripes, with the next set of multi-stripes (at the edges of the front and back) meeting perfectly in the center so they create a double-wide multi-stripe at the side seam. Cutting it out — flat, on the living room floor, so I could make sure I had every single stripe straight and identically positioned — was a job. But from the minute I began sewing, it started revealing all the other magic it had cooked up without me, and I was completely under its spell.

It might be the single best experience of my sewing life, and I’m madly in love with it. Hence the million photos.

How to sew a Fen caftan

Here’s how I made them, and how you can too:

Start with Fancy Tiger’s Fen top and dress pattern — you just need the two pieces for the top: front and back. Pick a size that’s a lot or a little big on you. I’m wearing this with a ton of positive ease, but I think it would look even better on a fuller figure with a bit less ease. All of this also applies to my black tunic version that preceded the dresses, by the way.

1) For the front pattern piece, trace the round neck (I might have raised it a bit when I first traced off this pattern a few years ago) and shoulder, around the sleeve, and down the side to the widest part of the curve. Then draw a line straight down from there to your desired length plus hem allowance. Mine is cut at 52″ from the highest point of the shoulder, at the neck edge. I’m about 5’8″ for reference. Do the same for the back pattern piece.
(I traced the size 18 shoulder line out to the size 20 sleeve edge, and the rest is size 20 down to the hip flare. That makes it 14″ wide from the hip down.)

2) Cut both pieces on the fold as marked and keep them folded, with right sides together. On the front piece, draw a line 1″ in from the fold (parallel with the fold, in other words) from the neck edge down 11″ and same thing on the back from the neck edge down 5″. Stitch along that line, then press the fold open on the wrong side to create the inverted pleat. Top-stitch in place.

How to sew a Fen caftan

3) Cut pockets as desired. My hip pockets are 8″x10″ (the size of a piece of chipboard I had handy!) pressed to 7″x7.5″ — half inch on the sides and bottom, and an inch twice at the top. And my chest pocket is 5.5″x7″ pressed to 4.5″x5″ — half inch all the way around plus another inch on top. Hip pockets are placed 2.5″ from the Center Front and 15.5″ from the neck edge. Chest pocket is placed 1.75″ from CF and 5″ from the neck edge. Top-stitch in place.

4) Sew the shoulder seams together as indicated/desired. Sew the underarm/side seams together as indicated/desired, leaving a split hem if desired. Both of these have split hems on both sides, measured 17″ (blurple) and 15.5″ (stripe) from the bottom edge. Finish seam allowances however you prefer. I French seamed the blurple one down to the split, clipped the seam allowance at that spot, then pressed the split hem open and under before stitching down. Same for the striped one except it’s serged instead of frenched.

5) Finish the sleeves, hem and neck edges as indicated/desired. I did a visible bias facing on blurple and the Fen neckband on the stripe.

For this length, using 60″ wide linen and the size 20 pattern pieces, I was able to get all of the dress and pocket pieces out of three yards, or that plus a pair of pants out of 4 yards. Yes, I now have pants cut from both of these fabrics! And can probably still squeeze a little tank out of the blurple scraps. Which means Linenpalooza ain’t over yet!

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PREVIOUSLY in sewing: How to sew a kangaroo pocket

23 thoughts on “Double caftan magic

  1. Brilliant! Your linen collection is growing by leaps and bounds. You won’t be sorry (from a diehard linen-wearer).

  2. Gorgeous! These are exactly the summer dresses of my dreams! (Although I prefer a v neck) Great planning/execution with the stripes! Wear with joy and pride, Karen!

  3. Praise to linen for giving you such a fulfilling sewing experience. Sewing linen and wool are just some of life’s sublime experiences.

  4. Have to admit, if I saw this hanging on a rack, I wouldn’t buy it because it looks like what my grandma would have called a house dress. It really is all about the styling. Seeing it on you is helpful – looks very comfortable and not at all like a “house dress”. lol

  5. Wow! I’m lucky enough to live near Fancy Tiger; but, at 5’3” and curvy I’m scared to sew such beautiful fabric into a dress that on you is stunning and willowy, and on me I’m afraid would look like a tent…

  6. YES, YES,YES!!! Thoughts of these Fen Dresses/Caftans wake me up in the middle of the night and then I lie there peacefully smiling and dreaming! They are all awesome and your detailed instructions really help. I cannot wait to get started! Thank you so very much for sharing your knowledge and all of the terrific pics.
    Housedress? Nope: my beloved Gramma and Nana both wore shirtwaist dresses……these caftans, as you said, are sexy and chic!

  7. I love a good caftan; they’re totally underrated and frequently confused with muumuus, which is an injustice. Love the striped one in particular.

  8. On your “modified Robbie pants”, did you sew the pockets into the side seam or they sewn on top of the front pant leg pieces? It’s hard to tell from your photos. Thanks!

  9. Both are stunning! I love that you are revelling in the magic which happened unplanned! Something similar happened to me once on a blouse I made – I still think about it 40 years later! I’m off to buy the Fen pattern.

  10. Love these! They look oh-so-comfy. I’ve been dying to make one or two for myself, so this may be all the convincing I need—especially since this Nashville heat doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

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