How To Make A Quick Beach Cover-Up


It’s summer, and while we’re all sweltering in the 98° heat, our thoughts turn naturally to cooling, natural, beautiful, necessary water. The seaside. The local pool. The river. The nearest lake. And when you’ve had your swim and you get out and towel off, reveling in that unfamiliar feeling of our body parts not sticking to each other with sweat, you wanna throw on something that suits your weightless, relaxed, newly cool mood.

You need a caftan, or a muumuu, or a cover-up, or a wrap of some kind. One that’ll protect you from the elements without adhering to your body, or swaddling you in unnecessary fabric. Here’s how to make one for about $20 in an afternoon. If you can sew a straight line, you can sew this cover-up.

Here’s everything you’ll need: a pattern, sewing scissors, matching thread, straight pins, and a measuring tape. I also bought a yard and a half of matching knit binding tape, extra-wide (pictured), intending to use it as a belt, but I ended up preferring how the cover-up looked without it. You could, of course, also make a self belt. You will also need 1.5 yards of 60″ wide fabric. If you want something that’ll be absorbent, you could get a really nice effect by using terrycloth — or towels, for that matter — but because I do a lot more lounging than swimming, I figured something lighter and breezier than terry would be better. You could use any kind of cotton or poly-cotton, or even a silk blend if you wanted to be fancy. You want breathability (and something that’ll look good freshly washed and un-ironed). Piqué would be cool; I strongly considered a bolt of delicate white eyelet. In the end, I went with a railroad striped blue cotton shirting I found at Mood (what? I’m a Project Runway die-hard). Astonishingly, it was relatively inexpensive, at $10/yard. Not pictured, but also necessary, are the sewing machine, the ironing board, and the iron.

This is a rough, N-T-S sketch of the pattern I drafted. I based it off this adorable vintage pattern for a belted terrycloth coat. I thought the coat was super cute with its swing hem, wide lapels, and loose fit, but I made my coat a little bit narrower in the body and in the sleeves because of my fabric width. I kept the lapels wide because they’re more versatile like that: you can wear the coat open, and let them fall in soft folds, or, if a cloud enters the sky and you begin to feel a chill, you can wrap them tightly around you, double-breasted style, and belt it. Click to enlarge for a closer look at my basic pattern.

With the leftover material, I decided to make some bias tape for edge finishing. Find the true, 45° bias, and slice your fabric into 1.5″ wide strips. A rolling cutter and mat are a little easier to work with than fabric scissors, but scissors are do-able. If you want to use some other finishing technique on your raw edges and hems, be my guest.

To make self fabric bias tape, line up the bias strips and sew them together, along the grain. To stop your stitches from bunching up on the narrow strip, start your stitching on a piece of scrap fabric, and run the machine right onto the bias strips you’re joining. Presto: regular, even, non-bunching stitches.

Please don’t judge my dirty ironing board cover. Once you have a long strip of flat bias tape, press open each seam on the wrong side. Then, press along the length of the bias tape until it looks like, well, bias tape. Then roll it up and save it for later.

First things first, join the two back pattern pieces along the center back seam. I sewed French seams, because this coat is largely constructed of long, straight seams, and French seams always look so tidy. Once you’re done, press the center back seam allowance to one side.

Next, edge the tops of the pockets and the hems of the sleeves with the bias tape. Put the bias tape facing “out” on the wrong side, because on both the pockets and the sleeves, we’re going to fold the pattern pieces up to make a nice, deep cuff — and so the wrong side will become the right side. Pin the bias tape on next to the raw edge of the hem, and put a nice long row of stitches in the valley crease you ironed into the tape earlier. Then, again following the creases you set, wrap the bias tape around to cover the raw edge. Stitch-in-the-ditch to close. Press. Alternatively, use an edge finishing of your choice.

Set the sleeve cuff to your desired depth — mine are 3″ deep, giving me a nice bracelet sleeve — and sew the sleeves shut. Again, I used a French seam.

Attach the front pieces to the back at the shoulders. Press the seam allowances towards the back.

Line up your pattern pieces and measure how deep your sleeves will be set. Then pin the front piece to the pack piece, and sew the side seam. (If you are adding a belt, insert belt loops in the side seam at the appropriate height.) Press the seam allowance towards the back.

Pin in the sleeve and join. I did not sew this as a French seam — too many curves, too much fabric bulk. Use your edge finishing of choice — if you have a serger, bully for you — and press the seam allowance away from the sleeve, towards the body of the garment.

It’s looking pretty beach-y! Try it on and check the fit.

Pin on the pockets. Adjust them to the height and placement that seems most natural and useful to you.

When the pockets are set to your satisfaction, press the bottom edge.

Then unfold the fabric, and pin the pocket in place. Sew along the crease you just made. Be sure to leave room for your side seam allowances.

Press in the side seam allowances.

Pin the pocket in place, and top-stitch around the three sides to join.

Okay, we’re looking pretty good. Try the thing on again, and check that the fit is still good. We’re almost done.

Trim the raw edges around the neck hole, lapels, and hem.

Pin the remainder of your bias tape to the hem, lapel, and neck of your garment. Alternatively, use the edge finishing method of your choice.

Again, sew near the raw edge, in the valley fold of the bias tape’s crease.

Wrap the bias tape around the raw edge, and stitch-in-the-ditch to close. Alternatively, use another edge finishing method of your choice.

And here we have it! Give your wrap a thorough pressing, and we’re all done. I felt like the swimsuit really adds to the effect, no?

I can’t wait to wear this loose, trapeze-line cardigan-style coat at the beach. Or a deck. Or at my local swimming pool. Anywhere summer weather and bathing are found, really.

I held an informal straw poll to determine next week’s DIY project, and white shorts — think Audrey Hepburn on that yacht — won handily. Watch this space.

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