Here’s a stylish beach cover up that is so straight-forward to sew. Perfect project to experiment with sheer fabrics for the first time. Absolutely plus-size friendly and suitable for most sizes!
I had these sheer fabrics in my stash for months, but was never confident enough to sew them. When the husband and I decided to go on a beach vacation next weekend, I knew this was a chance for me to finally use those sheer fabrics – to turn them into beach cover ups. Since cover ups are meant to be very loose, and are not exactly proper garments, they are very forgiving to sew.
Sheer fabrics in my stash.
Sheer fabrics are notoriously difficult to handle. The beach cover ups in this tutorial require minimum measuring, cutting and sewing, with as few seams and as much straight line sewing as possible. I made a total of two beach cover ups, which allowed me to experiment with different sewing methods as I chose to construct some parts differently. In this tutorial, I have featured what I think are the easier and more effective methods.
This tutorial will result in a beach cover up with the following measurements:
Empire waist circumference: Maximum 180 cm (can be gathered and cinched down to any size).
Length: Slightly less than 1 meter.
If you want to adjust these measurements, this tutorial will also tell you how and at which point the adjustments should be made.
FUN FACT! Garment sewing normally involves the following sequence: Cutting out neck opening, sewing shoulder and side seams, finishing the neckline, and lastly finishing the bottom hems. You will realise that in this tutorial, the steps are in the exact opposite sequence!
While this tutorial uses sheer fabrics, any thin flowy fabrics should work as well. But the sewing methods described here may not be applicable all fabrics, especially “slithery” fabrics like silk. My sheer fabrics were rough in texture, so they don’t really slither around very much. I have never sewed “slithery silks”, but I imagine they must be quite tricky to handle!
The fabrics used in this tutorial had selvedge-to-selvedge widths (“SSW”) of 1.5 m. The results are “long-sleeved” beach cover ups. If you use fabrics with smaller SSW, you will end up with shorter sleeves, which would still look great. If you are a plus size, the SSW should be at least 1 m, in order to maintain the fullness of the garment. If you have a smaller frame, you could do with smaller SSW (and then reducing the empire waist circumference) but fabrics with such small SSW don’t come by often, do they? So, SSW between 1 m and 1.5 m will work for ladies (or men, if they are so inclined) of most sizes.
SOME TIPS TO SEW SHEER FABRICS
There are plenty of materials on the internet that provide tips to make sewing sheer fabrics easier. Here, I describe some that I tested.
Some say that starching sheer fabrics makes them much easier to sew and leads to neater results. I experimented with both starched and unstarched sheer fabrics, and found this to be true. However, it is not necessary to starch the whole fabric. Just starch the general areas that require a lot of manipulation like narrow hems.
Some also say that a walking presser foot helps layers of sheer fabrics feed more uniformly. However, possibly because my sheer fabrics had a rough texture, I felt there were no difference between using a walking foot and using a regular foot.
Before this project, I swore by flat flower head sewing pins. They leave no marks in my fabrics because they are thin. The flat head keeps my pinned fabrics flat and does not obstruct my presser foot. I thought, “Why would anyone use any other type of pins?”. I got my answer through this project. Flat flower head pins were practically useless for sheer fabrics (they just glided off). Even the regular glass bead pins did not fare very well. Luckily, at my disposal, I had these heart-shaped head pins that were thicker than all the rest. They worked like a charm! They held the sheer fabrics firmly and they didn’t leave any unsightly holes.
Left to Right:
Flat flower head pin, hearth-shaped head pin, and glass bead pin.
I have read that when sewing sheer fabrics, smaller stitch lengths should be used. In this project, I have tried the regular “2.5” stitch length, and a “1.8” stitch length. The latter gave a neater and seemingly stronger seam, but only slightly.
On the left: "2.5" stitch length. On the right: "1.8" stitch length.
Some say thin needles should be used with sheer fabrics – like a size 9 or 10. I thought this was a no-brainer. However, the smallest needle I had was a size 13 and that was what I used. There don’t seem to be any adverse effect. I don’t see any gaping needle holes, even when I stretched open the seams. In fact, at some point I was actually glad I didn’t use thinner needles because then I would have to change needles for certain parts of the sewing that require thicker needles.
Seam stretched open to show no adverse effect from using size 13 sewing needle.
STEP 1: PREPARE FABRIC
STEP 1.1: Cut 2 m of sheer fabric that has an SSW of 1.5 m. Flip it over such that the wrong side is facing up.
STEP 1.2: Finish the two raw edges on both cut ends of the fabric with a double-fold or rolled hem. I did a double-fold hem by first folding 1 cm into the wrong side, sew in place, fold in 1 cm again (thus concealing the raw edge), and sew in place.
With regular thickness fabrics, I would have just folded in twice, pressed, and sewed it in place with a single run of stitches. But sheer fabrics do not fold well, so I had to sew the first fold in place before making the second fold.
Two runs of stitches to sew the double-fold hem on the sheer fabric.
STEP 2: DRAW EMPIRE WAISTLINES AND SIDE SEAM LINES
STEP 2.1: First, on the wrong side of the fabric, draw vertical and horizontal centrelines. The horizontal centreline is the shoulder line of the garment. The top half will become the back of the garment, while the bottom half will become the front.
STEP 2.2: Draw 2 horizontal lines (red lines in the illustration below), each 32 cm away from and parallel to the shoulder line. These are your empire waistlines for the front and back of garment.
ADJUSTMENT TIP: If you prefer a higher empire waistline, reduce measurement A. If you prefer a lower waistline, increase measurement A.
STEP 2.3: Make markings (red dots in the illustration below) on both the front and back empire waistlines, 45 cm away from and on both sides of the vertical centerline.
ADJUSTMENT TIP: If you prefer a fuller garment, increase measurement B. If you prefer less fullness, or if you are slimmer-framed, decrease measurement B. If you prefer zero fullness (i.e. a simple A-line look with no gathers), measurement B should equal a quarter of the actual empire waist circumference of your body, plus some allowance for roominess (in any case, measurement B must not go any less than this).
STEP 2.4: Make markings (red dots in the illustration below) on the bottom hemmed edge, each 5 cm away from the selvedge edges.
STEP 2.5: Still on the wrong side of the fabric, draw side seam lines (red lines in the illustration below) by connecting the 2 markings on the front empire waistline to the 2 markings on the bottom hemmed edge. Flip the fabric over and trace the side seam lines onto the right side of the fabric, because you will need these them visible on the right side for sewing later.
STEP 3: DRAW NECKLINE
STEP 3.1: On the wrong side of the fabric, make markings (red dots in the illustration below) as follows:
2 dots on the shoulder line, 12 cm away from and on each side of the vertical centerline.
1 dot on the vertical centerline, 25 cm below the shoulder line.
For easy reference, I will now call these 3 dots “Neckline Dots”.
ADJUSTMENT TIP: If you prefer a wider neck opening, increase measurement D. If you prefer a narrower neck opening, decrease measurement D. For a lower neckline, increase measurement E. For a higher neckline, decrease measurement E. In any case, measurement E should be at least 2.5 cm above the front empire waistline.
STEP 3.2: Connect the Neckline Dots by drawing the following (red lines in the illustration below):
A curved line to connect the 2 dots on the shoulder line. This is the back neckline.
Straight lines to connect each of the 2 dots on the shoulder line to the dot on the vertical line. This is the front neckline.
STEP 3.3: Smooth out the 2 sharp joints on the neckline (red lines in the illustration below). You have just drawn a V-neckline.
ADJUSTMENT TIP: For other types of neckline, simply adjust the shape of the neckline within the Neckline Dots (which act as indications of your preferred neckline width and depth).
STEP 4: OVERVIEW OF ALL MARKINGS
Before going any further, here’s an overview of all the markings.
STEP 5: SEW NECKLINE
IMPORTANT! In this step, no stitches should ever go beyond the neckline into the neck opening region. The neck opening region WILL BE CUT OFF in the end.
STEP 5.1: On the wrong side of the fabric, sew (top-stitch) matching/coordinating bias binding tape (i.e. in its original out-of-packaging form, with both raw edges pre-folded to the centre) around the neckline. Repeat on the right side of the fabric with another strip of bias binding tape.
Top-stitch bias binding tapes around neckline, on the right and wrong sides of the fabric.
Here is one way to finish the tapes at the bottom of the V-neck:
Don’t worry if your sewing around the neckline is untidy (as mine was).
They will be concealed in the next step.
STEP 5.2: On the right side of the fabric only, sew lace around the neckline, over the bias tape. I sewed 2 runs of parallel stitches all around to hold the lace in place. This step is really optional but it hides all those flaws around the neckline AND makes the garment that much prettier. Two birds in a stone and all that.
On the left: Sew lace over the bias tape around neckline, on the right side of the fabric. On the right: Overlap the lace ends at the bottom of the V-neckline, and cut excess lace to form a nice pointed V shape.
STEP 6: CREATE BUTTON HOLE
Create a sturdy button hole on the front of the garment, centred just below the empire waistline. I did this by first fusing a small piece of intermediate interfacing on the wrong side of the garment, where the button hole should be, before sewing and cutting out the button hole. The button hole should be large enough for your choice of tie strap to feed through.
STEP 7: SEW TIE CASINGS
Cut two strips of bias binding tape (or cotton tape), the lengths of which should be about 1 cm less than twice of measurement B from STEP 2.3. If you followed the measurements in this tutorial, the strips should be about 89 cm long.
Finish both raw ends of the strips with double-fold hems or glue. Then, on the wrong side of the fabric, sew (top-stitch) one strip just below the front empire waistline, over the button hole. Sew very near the long edges of the bias tape in order to create a roomy tie casing.
Top-stitch very close to the edges of the bias binding tape so that there are ample room for the tie strap to feed through the casing formed by the bias binding tape and the sheer fabric.
Both ends of the tape should fall about 0.5 mm short of the point where the side seam lines start (see illustration below).
Repeat for the other strip of bias tape along the back empire waistline. Remember, the top half of the fabric will be folded down to form the back of the garment, so in this unfolded state, the casing should be sewn ABOVE the back empire waistline.
STEP 8: SEW SIDE SEAMS
STEP 8.1: Fold the fabric in half, into the wrong side, along the shoulder line.
STEP 8.2: Sew along the side seam lines .
Use thicker pins to hold the layers of sheer fabrics in place, so they don't shift when sewing.
STEP 9: CUT OUT NECK OPENING
Cut out neck opening, very close to the bias tape around the neckline.
Your beach cover up is now ready for inserting tie straps.
STEP 10: SEW STRAP FOR WAIST TIE AND INSERT INTO CASING
I made the tie straps from same type of bias binding tape used for the neckline and tie casing. I folded one long strip of bias binding tape (from a fresh pack, about 2.7m long) into half (length-wise) and sewed it in place, concealing the raw edges, creating a long and narrow strap.
Then, it’s just inserting the strap into the tie casings. Normally, I use a bodkin for this kind of task. But the button hole and tie casings in this case were too narrow, so I used a safety pin, which worked well.
Tie strap made using bias binding tape folded in half.
If you are wondering how the tie strap should run around the empire waistline through two separate casings on the front and back, here’s an illustration:
The horizontal cross section of the beach cover up at the empire waistline (top view), showing how the tie strap travels inside the tie casings created by the sheer fabric the the bias tapes.