A cape can be used for fashion or for costume purposes. It's a fairly straightforward item of clothing that has been used throughout the centuries to add warmth, increase stature or improve appearance. From Red Riding Hood to the catwalk, a cape looks good. This article presents a few ways to make a basic cape in various styles.
Simple Cape 1: Throw-over cape (poncho)
This cape is simple and can be made from items probably already in your home. This cape does not open from the front, but rather is opened from the sides. It is also known as a "poncho" but is still recognized as a type of cape.
Find suitable material. Use a blanket, sheet or other piece of suitable piece of cloth. It will need to be large enough to go over your torso and shoulder area (or the torso/shoulders of a child).
Cut the cloth into a rectangle or square. Stitch around the edges to prevent fraying, if needed.
Fold the rectangle or square in half. Find the center point at the top of the folded cloth, where the head will pop through. Mark with a suitable fabric marker.
Cut the neck/head hole. There are two ways to do this:
Really simple: Simply cut a straight slit across the fabric.
Simple: Draw a small half circle with the fabric marker. Cut out the half circle. (It's a full circle when looked at both sides.)
Stitch around the cut hole. This will prevent fraying. A simple stitch, such as blanket stitch, will suffice.
For something fancier, stitch a braid into place around the hole.
Prettify the throw-over cape. You can add a fringe, braid or other embellishment to the base of the cape to make it prettier. Or, you can leave it simply as it is. Done!
This type of cape can be customized into all sorts of costumes, including medieval or ancient tunics, with the simple addition or shortening of sleeve areas and adding belts, etc.
Simple cape 2: Large scarf cape
This cape is short but effective for both a fashion cape or a costume cape. It makes use of a large scarf that you're willing to make changes to.
Find a suitable large scarf. Cotton, rayon, silk, etc. are all suitable fabric choices, just as long as you're happy to transform it into a cape.
Fold the large scarf to form a triangle.
Mark the center of the scarf with tailor's chalk or an invisible fabric marker. Either side of this mark, mark a line of 12.5cm/5 inches each side, making a total line length of 25cm/10 inches.
Cut a slit along the line. Use sharp scissors to ensure that this is a clean cut. This is the head opening.
Bind the slit to prevent fraying. Use a running stitch. Add braid if you'd like.
Make a hole on the wrong side of the tip of the scarf. Bind to prevent fraying.
Cut a length of grosgrain ribbon approximately 115cm/45 inches. Cut the ends of the ribbon on the diagonal or V shaped, to prevent fraying.
Velvet ribbon can also be used.
Ensure that the ribbon color complements the scarf colors.
Pull this length of grosgrain ribbon through the hole in the tip of the cape. This ribbon serves as a belt to tie around the waist when the cape is worn.
Finish by binding the edges of the scarf if needed. Adding braid or binding will help the cape to hang better, especially in a breeze, but it's not essential for a stage or fancy dress costume.
Simple cape 3: Wrap cape
This type of cape is again fairly simple. This one is open at the front, being held together by a button or other linking device at the neck collar area.
Find a suitable piece of material. It needs to be large enough to fit the torso and shoulder region of the wearer.
Measure the fabric and cut into a rectangle. Hem the edges if needed.
Sew gathering thread around the neck edge of the fabric. Finish with a crosswise bind. The neckline can be improved with braid, lace or other embellishment.
This step is the major transformation of this piece of fabric that makes it into a useful cape from a simple piece of fabric. You can improve on it by sewing contrasting lining into the cape, such as a satin or fleecy fabric in a complementary color.
Attach a clasp at the neck. This is to ensure that the cape can be held closed. A clasp can be purchased or made by hand.
If making by hand, sew on two buttons and link with chain, cord or ribbon, wrapped around or sewn just under each button.
Intermediate Cape 1: Cape attached to garment to make a floor-length train
This type of cape can be very useful for a costume event or a stage play where you don't want the cape to become separated from the outfit. The length of the cape can be varied as needed, from waist right down to the ankles.
Choose a dress to which you want to attach a cape. This can be a costume dress or an evening dress. In most cases it will probably be best to use a long dress but you can vary according to need and creativity.
This cape can also be attached to a top if preferred.
Choose suitable fabric for making into a cape. It might be the same fabric or color as the dress, or a complementary texture/color, depending on the intended effect. Cut into a rectangle shape.
Stitch around the edges to prevent fraying, if needed.
Cut a strip of fabric for the top of the cape. This should be longer than the garment size, as it can be cut down to size once stitched in place. (It's always easier to have more than to underestimate.)
Gather the top end of the rectangle:
Use a gathering thread to draw up the shorter edge of the rectangle (the end you've chosen for the top of the cape) to match the width of the garment.
Bind the gathered rectangle together with the strip of fabric cut previously.
Attach the cape to the garment. Sew the cape piece to the garment just under the garment's neck edge. Sew right through the binding.
For dresses that open at the back, it's recommended that you sew the cape down on one shoulder only. The other side should be attached either with Velcro or press studs, making undoing the back of the dress much easier.
Intermediate Cape 2: Roman rectangle and ribbon cape
Another fairly straightforward style of cape, this is great for plays, parties and pretending you're a Roman. Of course, it can also be used as a very basic cape for more than Roman fancy dress and it's an ideal cape to make in a hurry if you have a pre-hemmed rectangular piece of fabric, like a sheet.
Find a piece of fabric in a suitable color and length. As for the type of fabric, work with whatever fabric you're comfortable stitching and that will hang well.
Roman colors like red and purple are good choices but the color depends on its end use, so any color is fine provided it meets your end needs.
Measure the wearer, child or adult. The cloak needs to go from the neckline to just under the backs of the knees for best effect.
For width, the fabric needs to be as wide as the person but not wrapping around the body as with other styles of cape. Take it just to the outside of the arms, and that should be sufficient width.
Using the measurement, cut the fabric in a rectangle shape. (If it isn't already rectangular.)
Press the edges under all the way around the cape. Press at least 1cm (3/8"). Then press under again, exactly the same width as the previous pressing under.
Machine or hand stitch the pressed edges all the way around.
Stitch two lengths of ribbon at the neckline. This will be the top two corners of the cape. Fold the ends of the ribbon under to ensure a neat finish.
Other neckline clasps can be used if preferred but the ribbon is the simplest to add and use.
That's it! Try it on for size.
Advanced Cape: Long cape from two pieces
This is the debonair cape of former times and is often worn by superheros and the like in modern times. Cut from a regular circle in large enough size for the wearer, it won't make allowance for the shoulders but the final length ensures that this doesn't affect appearance.
Find suitable wide fabric. Sheets, bolts of fabric, thin blankets and similar items serve well. Measure the fabric to ensure that it is wide and long enough for the wearer. The idea here is to form the cape from two semi circle pieces, to create only one seam.
For this pattern, it is assumed that you're using fabric without nap, pile or a one-directional pattern. That way, there is nothing to match up neatly.
If your fabric isn't large enough, you'll need to stitch it into a larger piece first. It is possible to make a long cape from narrower fabric but that is outside the scope of this article.
Press the fabric before making the cape. Any creases will affect the appearance of the cape when completed.
Open out the fabric. Open it on a flat surface suitable for working and cutting on.
Measure the width of the fabric. This width determines the midpoint of each half circle you're about to draw on the fabric.
Taking the top left hand corner of the fabric to be "A", measure down the length of A's side of the fabric. Measure as far as the width measurement you made in the previous step. This is now "B", which is the center of the half circle you're going to use to form the first half of the cape.
Draw the half circle. Radiate the drawing lines from point "B" to create the half circle on the fabric.
Cut out the half circle.
Place the half circle on the second piece of fabric to use as a template for cutting this piece. Cut out the second half circle.
Work out the radius for the neckline. Draw the little half circle to serve as the neckline around point "B" on this second piece.
Cut around the neckline half circle. When doing so, leave a 2cm (3/4") seam allowance.
Make up the cape. Sew the two cape pieces together. If adding a neckband or collar, use cut offs from the same fabric to sew in place.
Stitch around the edges to prevent fraying, if needed.
Again, as with other capes, this cape can be improved with the addition of lining in a contrasting fabric/color. This improves both appearance and warmth of the cape.
There are many possible cape stages beyond the ones shown here. Some others you might like to try include:
Batman or Robin cape.
If you don't have time to hem a cape for a party, you'll usually be okay if it's just for one wear. Stitching around the edges does strengthen the durability of the cape though, so where it is possible to stitch up the edges of a cape, do so.
In all cases, adjustments may need to be made once the wearer has the cape on. A good sewer should be able to take this in her or his stride.
Other cape styles include superhero and Red Riding Hood capes. These are deserving of their own instructions, and have not been covered in this cape basics article.
If a cape is meant for a child, always make sure that clasps or ties used around the neckline are safe and cannot be a source of choking. The same goes for any wearer, except that clearly older persons are capable of working out for themselves whether or not the neck attachment is unsafe.
Things You'll Need
Invisible fabric marker or other fabric marker that either disappears or washes out
Scissors (sharp, suitable for cutting fabric)
Measuring tape or sewing ruler
Needle and thread/sewing machine