I was in the process of sewing a summer top when I saw a challenge on Instagram to sew a kaftan from a free tutorial by the British duo known as the Stitch Sisters. The international challenge was called #sewingsansfrontieres.
A kaftan or caftan is a long, flowing loose robe or tunic-like garment with wide sleeves found in many cultures, and popularized in the Western world by designers such as Christian Dior and Balenciaga in the 1950s and adopted by hippies in the 60s and celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor in the 70s. They can be worn for lounging, as a swimwear cover-up, and for about town.
More recently the caftan has been worn by women as diverse as Rihanna and Hillary Clinton, and was the subject of a New York Times article “Let it Flow! #Pantsuit Nation is Now Caftan Country”.
The home sewist has had plenty of caftan patterns to choose from.
A pattern isn’t needed for the Stitch Sisters Kaftan. The kaftan is made up of rectangles cut to size with sizes from 6 to 22, and bias binding for the V-neck.
I started with a pareo or wraparound sarong from a garage sale. Sold in the 1990s, these pretty rayon rectangles still had the tags on showing how to tie them. I snagged a few for $2 each.
This one is a colorful tropical print measuring 43 inches by 64 inches: enough fabric for a knee length version.
My measurements fell into the size 14, but I decided to size down to a 12. I figured a hip size of about 47-48 inches would provide me with enough ease. I cut a length of 37 inches leaving 6 inches to cut the 2 sashes from the entire long side of the rectangle. I cut 2 and 1/2 inch strips for the sleeve cuffs and doubled them adding just 1 inch to the sleeve length.
With a cotton I might have saved time with simple pinking sheared seam allowances, but I wanted a finish more resistant to fraying of the rayon. To encase all raw edges, I used Hong Kong bound seams for the center and sleeves, and mock French seams for the side seams. I used ready made binding from my stash.
My usual summer attire is khaki shorts and a top, so this is different for me. I do think I lack casual dresses, and might add a few to my list of possible makes. I didn’t win a prize, but I had fun participating, and received a wealth of inspiration seeing the variety of caftans made, including tunic top versions. They can be found on Instagram with the hashtag #stitchsisterskaftan.