How to Sew a Circle Cape
Me: I hate bias tape binding.
Also me: Let's make a cape where literally every piece and seam needs to be bound with bias tape 🙃
There are many ways to make a cape. In this tutorial, we'll make a full circle cape with POCKETS, arm holes, button closure, and a detachable hood! While the version I will walk through (shown in the pictures) is actually a pretty advanced piece with respect to technical parts of sewing, I will also include notes on how to make an EASY cape by modifying the instructions. Check out the notes section for the quick and easy version which can be made in an afternoon and is perfect for Halloween or Faire costumes.
Q: What's the difference between a cape, a capelet, and a cloak?
A: With respect to dictionary definitions, they're the same. Colloquially, the difference comes down to length. A cloak usually falls to the knees or ankles while a cape ends around the hips and a capelet around the elbows.
I've already made a tutorial on How to Sew a Cloak which uses a rectangular base - this tutorial on capes can absolutely be made to cloak length, but will have a circular base instead. This is more common historically as it will come all the way around the wearer. Of course, you can also use this tutorial to make a shorter capelet - a great addition to a witch costume.
Q: What do I need to make a cape?
A: To make a cape, there are several options as discussed in the notes section below. In the list below, everything that's needed to make the cape shown that is NOT needed for the easiest version of a cape is noted as optional with a description of when it's required:
Straight pins or hem clips
Fabric chalk, water-soluble marker, pencil, etc. - something to mark your fabric
Flexible measuring tape - if you don't have one, use a piece of string or ribbon and a ruler to get your measurements
Pattern/fabric weights - optional but helpful
Bias tape - optional - needed for very thick fabrics and the arm openings
Buttons - optional - can also use a zipper or your favorite closure method
Hand sewing needle and thimble - optional - required for buttons
Snap tape - optional - needed to make the hood detachable as shown
Zipper foot - optional - needed to attach snap tape
Q: How long will it take to make a cape?
A: This depends dramatically on what version of a cape you decide to make and what features you want to include. The absolute easiest version (great for costumes) can be finished in about 2 hours or fewer. The version shown in the pictures took about 15 hours total.
Q: How difficult is it to make a cape?
A: This again depends on what features you want to include. The quick and easy version is totally doable for beginners, especially if you use fleece fabric which does not need to have the edges finished. The more features you add, the more advanced the project becomes. I would put this at an intermediate level for the most complex cape.
Notes & Tips
Before we dive into the tutorial, let's talk through a couple important notes.
(Cape Options) As mentioned above, there are a lot of options for designing your own cape(let). A quick list of choices to make:
Collar - yes/no
Hood - yes/no
If hood - should it be detachable? yes/no
Cape length - elbows (capelet), hips (cape), or calf/ankles (cloak)
Arm holes - yes/no
Pockets - yes/no
Closure - yes/no to including one - what type of closure? (buttons are shown)
What type of fabric will I use? See notes below for advice.
Depending on the fabric choice - do I want to line the cape?
Do I want to want the cape with bias tape? (This may be needed based on fabric choice, but can also be done purely for the aesthetic).
How long do I want the cape to be?
The more you say yes to, the more advanced the project will be. For the most basic cape that will look great as a costume piece, I recommend a full circle cape with a hood and at least one point of closure at the neck. If the circle seems like too much for you, check out my post How to Sew a Cloak which uses a rectangle of fabric instead.
(Half Circle vs Full Circle) To make a cape which will come all the way around the body, I wouldn't go smaller than a half circle. The difference between a half circle and full circle is two-fold: the amount of fabric needed and the drama.
If you want a very swishy, dramatic cape, go full circle. If you're using expensive fabric and/or trying to stay on a budget, go half circle. In extant historic garments, both half and full circle garments have survived. I recommend looking for extant garments from the time period you're interested in before making this decision. The Victoria and Albert collection search is a good resource to get started.
Importantly, in this tutorial we will ONLY look at making full circle capes. If you want to do a half circle, the procedure is the same but the math is different - the only change is to double the radius at the neck before adjusting for seam allowance.
(The Easy Version) To make the absolute most basic version of a cape that will look great as a costume, make the following choices:
Hood OR collar, permanently attached
One closure at the neck - I like these from Amazon - ribbon ties work great too
Fabric - choose a fabric that will not fray. Fleece is a budget-friendly choice and easy to work with for beginners. Felt is another option.
No binding with bias tape
You will still want to use the instructions below to make your pattern pieces and follow the steps in the tutorial, but you'll end up skipping most of the steps included. Essentially, you will do the following:
Seam the cape - step 3
Seam the hood (skip for a collar) - step 6
Attach the hood or collar to the rest of the cloak - how to attach the collar is detailed in step 4, the hood will attach the same way.
Add the closure - step 8
(Bias Tape Binding Tips) This tutorial assumes you will be either binding all edges with bias tape OR using fabric that will not fray (meaning you won't need to finish the edges at all). If you line the cape, this tutorial still assumes you'll be binding the edges (if you don't want to do that, be sure to adjust for seam allowances).
Prior to this project, my only experience with bias tape binding had been in quilting (How to Sew an Ironing Mat Part 2) - an area I'm also new to. However, because of the fabric that inspired this project, I needed to do a LOT of it to make this cape work. It also adds a nice professional looking finish and some color contrast.
Because I went from near zero experience to sewing on almost 11 yards of the stuff, my skill in this area increased rapidly out of necessity. Basically, there's 3 steps to using a bias tape edging:
Attach the bias tape from the right side of the fabric, sewing along the fold closest to the edge.
Fold the tape over to the wrong side and pin/clip in place.
Stitch in the ditch (along the first seam line) from the right side of the fabric, catching the other half of the tape while sewing.
Seems easy, right? No. You would think that, but it's definitely an acquired skill so don't get down if you need some practice (I sure did).
Here are the things I learned from my first few seams that made the rest of the seams actually look decent:
Use double-fold bias tape. Technically speaking, there's no difference in how types of bias tape are applied. However, double-fold tape will have ONE layer of fabric at its turning point where single-fold tape will have TWO. That extra layer can be a real curmudgeon on thick fabrics.
At the start of the seam, fold the top of the tape down and over to the right to make a little triangle. At the end of the seam, overlap the tape past the bottom of the triangle by about 1 inch. This creates a little pocket and perfectly enclosed edges without adding a ton of bulk.
On the right side of the fabric, set the bias tape to go OVER the edge of the fabric by about 1/8th inch. This seems like nothing, but makes a huge difference when working with thick fabrics.
When folding and clipping the second half of the tape into place on the wrong side of the fabric, work from the wrong side and use the existing seam as a guide - make sure the seam is covered by the second half of the tape.
When stitching in the ditch, go slowly, using your finger and thumb to "roll" the tape a little bit further under the fabric and make sure the seam catches it. Every foot or so, stop and check to see if you missed any spots - double back when you get the chance to fix these.
DON'T trim the fabric after beginning to attach the bias tape - this seems like a good idea but can result in folding the tape too far under. Best case scenario, the tape is uneven on one side. Worst case, it's now folded so far under that the second seam goes into the middle of the tape and the raw edge isn't enclosed.
If you're fully following the tutorial, you'll get a low-stakes chance to practice this skill on some internal seams first where no one will ever see it.
(Fabric & Materials) You have up to 3 fabric decisions to make, depending on your choices. The first is the fabric for the outer cape. My decision to make this cape was driven entirely by the fabric I found on the clearance rack in the spring - a wool/poly blend outer with poly sherpa inner lining. I like this fabric for its warmth and attractiveness of the plaid outer. It just felt very autumnal.
Take the following into consideration when choosing your outer fabric:
Will I need to wash it or is dry clean only acceptable?
How warm do I want/need this cape to be?
How thick is this fabric? Will it need a lining? Will it need to be bound using bias tape?
Does it drape well over my shoulders?
If you to wear want this cape for warmth, wool is the best choice, but expensive. Wool blends are more affordable. For additional warmth, line with another wool or wool blend. Silk or silk satin is the best lining for warmth if you can afford it. Regular poly satin or poly lining will do the job just fine for those of us on a budget.
What you choose for the outer fabric can determine whether you need (or want) a lining fabric. Ask the same questions above to help choose your lining. Keep the overall thickness of the fabrics in mind and make sure it's not too thick for your sewing machine to handle.
Finally, the bias tape. I needed a LOT of bias tape (about 11 yards) and prefer to make my own. I used a linen blend fabric in maroon I had in my stash purely because of the color. Any woven fabric can work as bias tape, but I recommend using a cotton, linen, or cotton blend - affordable and will hold the press lines well. If your outer fabric does not need to be bound in bias tape, this is completely optional. You will need bias tape, however, for the arm holes if you choose to include them.
(How much Fabric to Buy) You can get a much more precise number after figuring out the pattern pieces, below, but the quick and dirty version is this:
Assuming your fabric is wide enough for the entire length of the cape, take the length and multiply by 4, then add about a yard for the hood, pockets, and collar.
One more piece before we head over to our work table: sizing and figuring out our pattern pieces. Because this is a tutorial and not a pattern, it's completely adjustable to your measurements! Personally, I made this cape while 7 months pregnant and it fits wonderfully (and should continue to do so after the baby arrives).
We will do just a little bit of math, but I'll walk you through it with formulas so you can just plug in your numbers and be on your merry way - no geometry stress here!
Important note: This tutorial assumes you will bind all edges using bias tape OR use fabric that will not fray, meaning there's no need to bind it. If you want to do a more traditional lining method, be sure to add seam allowance at those edges.
First, take the following body measurements:
Base of the neck = n inches
This is where the cape will sit at the neck, so make sure it feels comfortable and not snug. Measure near your collarbone.
Cape length = L inches
Measure starting from the base of your neck. If you're measuring on yourself, try clipping a hem clip, binder clip, or paperclip to your measuring tape so you can visually see the length in the mirror.
Bicep = b inches (needed for arm slits)
Hood opening = h inches (if you will include a hood)
In the mirror, measure from the base of the neck on one side, over the top of the head, and then down to the base of the neck on the other side. Make it loose with extra space, imagine you're looking at the front of the hood.
Seam allowance = SA inches
OK this one's not a body measurement, but you still need to decide what it is.
You'll also need to think about how large you want the pockets if you're including them. Mine started as 9 x 11 inch rectangles.
Used in the explanations below, my measurements are as follows:
n = 18 inches
L = 29 inches
b = 13 inches
h = 28 inches
SA = 1/2 inch
Now it's time to draw out your pieces! There are a maximum of 4 pieces:
The cape itself - this will be either a half circle or full circle - easiest to draw directly on the fabric once the measurements are ready
The collar if you will use one - I drew this directly on the fabric as well
The hood if you will use one - easiest to draw on paper first
Pockets if you will add them - easiest to draw on paper first
(The Cape) To draft our cape, we'll need two radii - one for the neck and one for the hem (which you already have). To make it easier to draw, we'll measure both from the same center point. First, let's calculate the radius of the neck:
r = [n / 2π] - SA
For my neck measurement of 18 inches, this looks like r = 18 / (2π) = 2.86 inches - 0.5 = 2.36 inches --> about 2 3/8 inches for the neck.
To draw out the cape, you'll need r and L, both measured from the same center point. When cutting the fabric, you'll want to do this on a fabric fold down the center to make it easier, meaning you'll only be drawing out a quarter circle at a time.
(The Collar) Next up is the collar, if you will include one. This one is nice and quick. I drew this directly on my fabric, but you might want to put it on paper first.
Draw a straight line the length of your neck base, n. Now make it a rectangle with a height of 3 inches PLUS your seam allowance (or whatever height you want, I don't know your life). Now make the ends curvy. I used a compass for this, but literally any curved item you can trace will help make a consistent line at both ends.
Note that we only need seam allowance where the collar will attach to the cape - the rest of the piece will either be bound or left alone.
(The Hood) If you will include a hood, there are MANY options for the shape. The most basic is like the one in my cloak tutorial - straight up the back and the front with a curve from the top of the head to the back of the head. Or a full rectangle will work too.
In my case, I wanted to get a little fancier for this cape's hood. I added a peak at the front a la Assassin's Creed and a bit of room in the back for my hair which I often wear in a bun. The important thing is that the base of the hood be the same length as the collar of the cape.
If you're using a fabric than can be pleated (I did not), you can make the base of the hood as wide as you please and pleat it into the rest of the cape - see Pleats 101 and Pleats 102 for ideas on the pleating bit.
It's best to work on paper to create your pattern, then copy onto the fabric later. Cut 2 mirrored images. To design the hood, start by drawing a rectangle. The width should be the based of the neck opening, n, divided by 2 (since there will be 2 pieces) PLUS the seam allowance. The height will be the hood opening, h, divided by 2 (again, since there will be 2 pieces) PLUS the seam allowance. Leave some space around the rectangle for added design features.
If you will NOT pleat the hood (I did not), draw a straight line up the front and back of the hood for at least a few inches, then add whatever curves and additions you want to the hood. My peak came about 4 inches in front of the rectangle and the back went about 4 inches behind, give or take because I didn't actually measure. Remember you will sew a seam along the back curve, so make it a bit bigger than it needs to be to account for seam allowance.
If you like the shape, cut it out with room to spare and hold it up to your head to double check.
(Pockets) I highly recommend including pockets unless you're in a real hurry, because who doesn't need pockets? Patch pockets can be made in any shape, but choose something that you will be able to either bind or add a hemmed edge to.
To make the pockets shown, start with a rectangle in any size large enough for your hands and phone or anything else you like to carry. My rectangle is 9 x 11 inches. I do recommend going a bit smaller in retrospect, the pockets just barely fit my cape. Now round off the bottom of the rectangle using a compass or any appropriately-sized circular object. Done! remember to cut 2.
(Bias Tape) The last step here is making sure you have enough bias tape. I chose to make my bias tape, but you can purchase it as well. The question is then how much to make or buy.
⭐If you're using a non-fraying fabric like fleece, you don't need any bias tape at all.
To figure out how much bias tape you will need, first make a list of everywhere you will need it:
Hem edge of the cape = 2π*L
Cape front edges = 2*(L - r)
Collar = n + 7
Hood front = h + a bit extra
Pocket edges = measure all the way around your pocket piece OR use the rectangle's perimeter
Arm slits = 4b
Internal seams - collar = n
Internal seam - hood = (h / 2) + (n / 2) + a bit extra
Internal seam - cape back = L - r
Now calculate and/or measure around each piece (formulas are above where appropriate) and add together your numbers. A note here that I actually used bias tape in two colors, one for internal seams and one for external binding. Not because I planned it that way but because I didn't want to make the bias tape until I was forced to so I used some tape leftover from another project for the internals.
How to Sew a Cape
If you're following the full tutorial, you've done a lot already so give yourself some kudos!
**If you are using non-fraying fabric like fleece or felt, ignore any instructions to bind the seams.**
Let's get into construction:
(Step 1 - cut out the cape) Lay out your fabric with one fold and mark a center point. Measure our your neck line starting at the center point using the radius you calculated above, r. I used a piece of paper to help with this because of the thickness of the fabric. Make a quarter circle that starts at the folded edge and goes to a 90° angle with the fold.
Repeat to make another quarter circle with radius L, the length of your cape, again starting from the center point and making a quarter circle.
Cut out your half circle (remember, it's on a fold so it's actually a half circle not a quarter). Repeat to make another half circle. These are your cape pieces!
Repeat for any lining fabric, making sure to cut 2, and baste the linings to the outers with wrong sides together.
(Step 2 - cut out remaining pieces) Cut out all remaining pieces. Use the rest of your fabric to cut out the other pieces for your cape:
Collar - optional - cut 1
Hood - optional - cut 2 mirrored images
Pockets - optional - cut 2
Repeat for any lining fabric, making sure to cut the needed number of pieces, and baste the linings to the outers with wrong sides together. From here on, we'll treat the lined pieces as one piece each with a wrong (lining) side and right (outer) side.
Put aside for the moment - we'll start with the cape.
(Step 3 - seam the cape) With right sides together, line up and pin or clip together the two half circles of the cape. Stitch and bind the seam. Only do this on ONE seam.
(Step 4 - the collar) With right sides together, line up the collar center with the cape seam. Pin or clip along the collar length. Stitch and bind the seam.
(Step 5 - detachable hood snaps) Line up a piece of snap tape to the edge of the collar on the wrong side of the fabric (this will hide the snaps when the hood is removed). There is no need to finish the edges of the snap tape as they will be bound later. Do be sure there's a bit of space between the edge snaps and the actual fabric edge - otherwise the needle might catch one later when doing the binding.
Use a zipper foot to carefully stitch along the side of the tape closest to the collar's seam. Stitch again across the tape, this time securing the top of the tape. Stitching the snap tape is easiest of you keep the foot away from the snaps whenever possible.
If your collar is lined, you can choose to attach the snaps to only the lining, holding the outer fabric out of the way while stitching.
(Step 6 - the hood) With right sides together, pin or clip together the hood pieces along their curved back edge. Stitch and bind the seam.
Bind around the entirety of the hood, starting at the bottom edge. If you need to pleat your hood's bottom edge, do that before binding.
Next, grab the snap tape for your detachable hood and do a quick double fold hem at both edges.
Snap the tape onto the collar snaps and line up the hood center seam with the cape center seam and collar edges. Pin the tape onto the hood (carefully), then unsnap the snap tape. Stitch the bottom of the snap tape into place using a zipper foot. The bottom edge of the tape should match the bottom edge of the hood. Continue around the rectangle of the snap tape, stitching along both sides and the top.
If your hood will NOT be detachable (permanently attached), simply pin the hood to the cape with right sides together, matching up the centers and edges, then stitch into place and bind the seam if needed.
(Step 7 - finish the cape edges) Bind the edges of the cape and collar, starting somewhere along the bottom of the cape. Do this in one long strip of binding, working around the bottom, up the front, along the collar, down the other front, and then around to where you started. This will feel like an eternity but probably only take about 20 minutes.
(Step 8 - closures) Add your closures to the cape - I'm using buttons.
Put on the cape and use pins or clips to mark out where you want your buttons/closures to be. Take off the cape and check they are approximately evenly spaced.
Make button holes on one side (the wearer's right side for ladies clothing; the wearer's left for men's) and stitch using a button hole stitch either by machine or by hand. Be sure to make sure the button will fit through the hole before stitching. If working with fluffy fabric as I am, trim the fluff away from the button hole before stitching.
On the opposite side of the fabric, attach the buttons, making sure they are lined up with the button holes.
(Step 9 - arm holes) Put the cape back on and mark the center of where you would like one arm to come out of the front of the cape. My arm slits are lined up with the center of my elbows when my arms are held at my sides. Mark the center with a pin or marker.
Take off the cape. Extend this line in both directions, parallel to the front edge of the cape. Your arm slit should measure not quite as long as your bicep measurement (e.g. my bicep is 13 inches, my arm slits are 11 inches). Put the cape back on and check this is where you want the line.
Carefully cut open the arm slit. If you're worried the slit is too large, don't cut open the whole thing just yet. Put the cape back on and check for sizing. If it feels too small, go back and extend in both directions as needed.
Using the final measurements from this first slit, repeat on the other side of the cape.
Bind both arm slits, being very careful when turning at the ends of each.
(Step 10 - pockets) Bind your pockets all the way around, starting at either a side or bottom. Put the cape on and pin one pocket to where you think you would like it to be, checking it's comfortable for your wrist to access.
Take the cape off and finish pinning this first pocket in place, then pin the second pocket in place as the mirror image of the first. Stitch the pockets in place along the sides and bottom of each pocket. If your pockets are bound, stitch in the ditch of the binding.
Et voilà, you are done! Go take some amazing photos in your new favorite cape.
Did you make a cape with this tutorial? Share it with me @craftematics on your favorite social media!
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