I like bathrobes. Judging by a recent online conversation, fewer and fewer people do, and you can certainly see why–they’ve gotten flimsy and hard to find, and even the junky ones have become unconscionably expensive. So it seems that people have converted to sleeping in flannel pants and t-shirts, and using hoodies and other kinds of cardigans for extra upper-body warmth instead. It’s completely understandable.
So what is a bathrobe lover to do who has a twenty-year-old ragged thing that used to be white but is now a dismal, stain-spotted gray? Furthermore, the robe in question is a poly fleece, which we now know is harmful to the oceans, so one certainly doesn’t want another one of those.
While pondering this problem, I had a flashback. In college dorms in the late 60’s, almost everyone who could sew (or whose mother could) had these robe/caftan things made from towels. I don’t know that there ever was a pattern; there were probably articles in magazines or maybe even the sewing columns that used to appear in the women’s pages of newspapers, about how to do it, but it was so easy that the project sort of spread by word of mouth.
For fabric, you buy three CHEAP bath towels.
“But wait, Roxane!” I hear you cry. “Wouldn’t your robe be even better if you bought cushy, luxurious bath towels?”
No, Grasshopper, it would not. Even cheap towels make a very substantial garment, and luxurious ones make you feel like you have a Sherman tank hanging off your shoulders, and the shoulder seams at the neckline keep tearing out. The second one of these I made was far too luxurious, and didn’t last as long as the cheaper first version.
So, three cheap towels–though if you wanted a short robe, you might only need two. Mine were $5 each at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and measure 30″ x 50″–and even these are not all that flimsy.
Begin by cutting one of the towels in half lengthwise. Locate the centers on the long cut edges. Measure your head, and allow a bit for ease. (My head is 24″, so I planned on a 26″ neckline opening, so I measured 6.5″ on each side of the center marking.) Sew from this point to the edge on each side, creating a center opening.
Try it on to make sure you like the fit, and finish the seams; on terrycloth, I just sew the seam allowance down with a three-stitch zigzag. I also like to make the front seam allowance wider by just pulling it down a bit, which lowers the neckline a bit and improves the fit. It’s also a good idea to reinforce the inner ends of the seams with a bar tack.
Try it on again, and decide how much of the other towels you will need to cut off to make it the desired length. I needed to cut off 10″, which I thought would make good patch pockets, so I did that. (If you wanted a short robe, cutting a towel in half would probably give you a good length, though you would sacrifice the patch pockets.)
Finish the raw edge, which will be the bodice seam allowance. If you have cut off the side hem of the towel, you can stitch the seam allowances together.
For the bodice seam, you need a LOT of ease–you have to pull a lot of bulky, non-stretch fabric over your head and all the way down your body, and it’s less of a struggle if you have plenty of room. I used my bust measurement plus 13″. If your hip measurement is larger, use that. Again, locate the centers of the lower edge of the bodice and the top edge of the towel. On the bodice, measure 1/4 of the desired width on either side of both pins. With right sides together, match the centers, and match the edge of the towel to the outer pins (or the seam allowance on the outer edge of the towel, if you want to be picky). Stitch the bodice seam, easing in the extra skirt width.
Stitch the side and underarm seams. Because of the bulk of the bodice seam, I found it more practical to do this in two steps, breaking the stitching at the bodice seam and leaving the seam allowances free.
You may want to open the underarm seam allowance and stitch it flat for a few inches, just to keep it from driving you crazy.
If you are slim and cut down the width of the towel, as I did in college but certainly don’t need to do now, you will probably need to make side slits in order to walk freely. I wouldn’t have needed them here, since I kept the whole width of the towels, but I added small ones just to be sure.
And that’s it! Put it on and party like it’s 1969! Or just make a cup of tea and be glad you don’t have chemistry at eight a.m. tomorrow.