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The T-Tunic

Creating your own tunic pattern for wear in the
Society for Creative Anachronism.


The following is a method of making a simple t-tunic from a single piece of fabric. The method I will describe is for a woman's dress. Men who follow this pattern for a tunic will only need to shorten the length from shoulder to hem to suit their tastes. This pattern works for average size people. The more robust individual may want to add gussets under the arm for a better fit. Also, this description is for a tunic with a simple rolled hem at the neck. For instructions on making a Keyhole neckline, see my article on making neck holes. You will need chalk and a yardstick to complete this pattern, in addition to regular sewing supplies.

If you like this pattern or a variation on it, I suggest making a quarter-pattern out of muslin. This way, you can lay the muslin pattern on your fabric and quickly cut out a tunic, without making all the measurements every time. A quarter-pattern is just one layer of fabric, not four, measured out exactly the same as for the tunic below.

The fabric you choose for a tunic should be washable and of a natural fiber. Linen and cotton are nice. Linen/cotton blends are available, too. Avoid fabrics that must be dry cleaned, like some wool fabrics and synthetics. If you wear this every weekend, you'll be cleaning it every week. If you get a nice wool-synthetic blend that says "washable", though, you can get the look of wool and still save on the dry-cleaning bill. Also, some synthetic fabrics are nice-looking but don't breathe well, meaning they're hot to wear. In general, it's best to stick to natural fibers.

 

Getting Started

First, you need to take a few simple measurements. You may want to get help for some of them:

  1. Mid-shoulder to floor (bra strap line or a little closer to neck if your shoulders slope downward)
  2. Circumference of bicep
  3. Center of chest to wrist
  4. Chest measurement
  5. Shoulder to waist

Try to buy a fabric that is at least 54 inches wide. This way, you don't need to add fabric to make the sleeves long enough. Narrow fabrics require you to add a section of fabric to the end of the sleeve in order to reach the wrist. Men may still have to add a fabric strip to the wrist, if their arms are long. To figure the amount of fabric to buy, double measurement #1 and add about 8 inches (to compensate for the hem and shrinkage). Convert to the nearest quarter yard (tell the lady at the fabric store how many inches you need and she can convert for you, if this process is scary). Just be sure to buy a little more than you need, not a little less.

When you get your fabric home, you must wash and dry it. If you bought linen, just wash it. Hang it up to dry by draping it between a few clothes hangers over the bathtub. Linen shrinks a lot, so you'll want to remember this: Always air-dry your linen garb. However, with cotton, if you get it to shrink before you sew it, it will pretty much stay the same size for the rest of its career as clothing. Therefore, wash and dry it as usual.

Next, iron it. This step is not absolutely necessary, but it helps the fabric to lay flat and straight as you cut it. Alternatively, take it out of the dryer while it's still hot and fold it neatly to avoid bad wrinkles. Now you're ready to lay out the fabric for cutting.

 

Drawing and Cutting the Tunic

Lay out the length of fabric on a table or the floor. First, fold the fabric in half across the middle of its length. Line the cut edges up so both halves are the same length. Now fold it in half lengthwise, lining up the bias edges neatly. You should have a piece of fabric neatly folded in quarters. We will call the shorter of the two folded edges the "Top" edge, and the longer fold will be the "Center". The folded point in the corner of the fabric is where you will cut the neck hole.

You will now make some marks on the fabric with chalk and a yardstick. (refer to picture at right to see the lines I have drawn.) First, take measurement #2, add 4 inches, and then divide in half. (Ex; a bicep of 12 inches plus 4 is 16, half of which is 8.) Measure down from the top edge the number of inches you came up with, and mark with chalk. Do this in a couple places and connect to form a straight line across the top of the fabric. Take measurement #3 and mark the wrist line, measuring from the center fold out toward the bias edge.

Next, take measurement #4 and add 4 inches, then divide by four. Measure out from the center fold the number of inches you came up with, and mark with chalk in several places. You only need to mark the upper portion of the fabric, down to where the waist is (measurement #5). Connect the marks with a chalk line. Now, get a salad plate and lay it in the corner formed by these two lines. By tracing this arc, you now have a nice underarm curve.

Draw a line across the width of the fabric at the waistline. Measure down from the top and draw another line where the hemline is (measurement #1). This gets a little complicated, so watch closely; Measure from the waistline to the hemline and use that number to measure from the point where the waistline and the chestline meet, down toward the hemline but at varying points between the bias edge and the bottom of the hemline. You will make little chalk marks forming an arc and when you connect them, you will have a curved hem!

Now just draw the line from the waist/chest intersection to almost where the hem meets the bias edge, just about an inch from the edge. With the chalk, smooth out the curve from the chest to the skirt portion, getting rid of the sharp angle where they meet. Trace over your line, from the wrist to the hem, creating a smooth, continuous line. All that's left is to add a seam allowance. Following the line you have just drawn on the fabric, draw along side it about an inch further out. Don't forget to add an inch to the hem and the wrist, also. This is your cutting line.

You may now cut out your tunic. Be sure to cut on the seam allowance line! Don't unfold the fabric yet, we need to cut out the neck hole. For a simple round neck hole, you must figure on fitting your head through. So, assuming you have an average head (about 24 inches max), you need to cut a hole with a 24 inch circumference. To make it easier to slip over your head, let's make it a 25 inch circle.The radius of a 25 inch circle is about 4 inches. Adding a half inch seam allowance to this we get a 3.5 inch circle radius (remember, you're cutting out from the center of the circle). With chalk and ruler, measure 3.5 inches from the folded center point, making several marks and then connecting them. Cut out this circle. You're done cutting! (I would recommend slipping the tunic over your head at this point just to make sure you can get your head through the opening. If you have an exceptionally large head, you may want to adjust accordingly.)

 

Sewing the Tunic

You will find that it is much easier to sew the neckhole while the fabric is still flat and not yet sewn into a tunic-shape, especially when making fancier neck holes. For this tunic we will make a simple rolled hem. Iron a 1/4 inch fold around the edge of the neck toward the wrong side of the fabric, if there is one, then fold this over another 1/4 inch and pin in place. Top stitch to secure, then iron neatly.

Fold the tunic in half across the new neck hole, wrong side out, so it looks like a tunic laying there on your table. Pin the raw edges together from the wrist to the hem. Remember your seam allowance? Sew in from the edge one inch. Sew both sides of your tunic. Now iron the seam allowances open, at least on the skirt portion. Try it on. If the hem is where you want it, good; if not cut off the excess (but leave an allowance). Make a rolled hem like the neckline, and iron neatly. Do the same with the wrist edge. Your tunic is done!

 

Some Style Pointers

Now that you know how to sew the basic tunic, you can make variations on it.

Sleeves: The first change you might like to make, for women, is to make the sleeves narrower at the wrists. To do this, measure from your elbow to your wrist and transfer this measurement onto your tunic layout (see diagram 2). Measure around your fist to get the minimum circumference of the wrist opening, add an inch and divide in half. Transfer this measurement to the wrist of your tunic and connect the dots from the elbow to the wrist. Don't forget the seam allowance!

You could also make very wide sleeves, just by bringing the wrist line down toward the hem. This is a very nice look. See drawing at right for this style.

Another option is to make short sleeves. These are popular with men and women. By short, I mean stopping just above the elbow. This is a good style for people who do a lot of messy work, like cooking at a feast, because there are no sleeves to be dragging in the food. Also, it is an option if the fabric you have is not wide enough and you don't want to piece together a sleeve.

If the fabric you have is not wide enough, but you still want full-length sleeves, you need to add a section. Using the biggest fabric scraps, cut two strips of fabric as wide as your sleeve ends and as long as you need to reach the wrist, plus two seam allowances. I usually put the seam about where the elbow is, even if I only need to add a couple inches. It is less noticeable. Or, you could put the seam in the middle of the upper arm and cover it with a piece of trim...no-one will know the seam is there. Sew the extra pieces on to the sleeve ends before sewing up the side seams, and then sew as usual.

Neck Hole: An improvement on the rolled hem is to add a facing to the neckline. This really isn't that difficult if you take the time to do it neatly. First, take the circle you cut for the neck in the tunic and keep it folded in quarters. Take another scrap of fabric that is bigger than your circle and fold it in quarters also. Now lay the circle piece on top of the scrap, lining up the corner and the folds. Draw around the arc onto the scrap, so you have an identical piece. Measure out from the chalk line about 3 inches (in a bunch of different places around the arc) and connect the dots to form an even bigger circle. The fabric between the two circles is the facing; cut out your facing.

Open up the un-sewn tunic and lay it flat. Lay your facing piece on top. It should match the opening very closely. Pin the facing in place and sew around the opening about a quarter inch in from the edge. Clip the seam allowance to allow it to lay flat when you turn it. Turn the facing to the other side and iron the seam. You can topstitch the edge if you like. This new facing can either be on the wrong side of the fabric, in which case you can just whipstitch it down to keep it from popping out of your neckline, or you can make it a decorative element of the right side of the fabric. In this case, you need to fold the outer edge under about a quarter inch and either whipstitch or topstitch it down. Use pins to keep things neat!

The neck on this first tunic is rather large, because it must go over your head. If you would like to have a closer-fitting neckline, you need to make what is called a keyhole neck. This is a round opening with a slit, making the total opening big enough to accommodate the head. Modern blouses have this, sometimes, with a little button at the back of the neck to hold it closed. In the SCA, however, it is common to put the slit in the front and either leave it unfastened or close it with a small pin or lacing. The method of making the facing is basically the same as described above, but with a few minor changes. Please see my article on Keyhole Necklines if you would like to try this.

Decoration: Many people enhance their garb with trim. Fabric stores usually have at least a couple usable styles of trim, and quite often, a merchant at an event will have decent trim to buy at reasonable prices. Trim is easy to apply to the straight edges of sleeves, but a little trickier around curved necklines and hems. One option for necklines is to make a square neck opening; then the application of trim is a cinch. Or, you could sew it in a square pattern surrounding a round neck opening. I've seen this many times.

If you want to try to make straight trim go around a round hole, try this method: For your first attempt, buy an all-cotton trim (metallic threads can melt). Set your sewing machine to its longest stitch, as for gathering, and sew along one edge of the trim. Now gather up that edge, evenly distributing the gathers, until you can make the trim lie flat in the circle you desire. With plenty of steam, press the gathered edge of the trim using an up-and-down motion (don't scoot the iron across the trim, you'll move the gathers). The trim should begin to shrink up and form a permanent curve. Top-stitch the trim in place, sewing the inside edge first, and using lots of pins to hold it in place. Leave the gathering stitches in until after you have sewn it down, or else you'll lose some of the curve. More ironing will make it lay even better.

 

Conclusion

While this is a very simple tunic pattern, it is great for beginners in the SCA because it gives them a place to start while becoming accustomed to this newfound hobby. Once they have made a couple of these, they can begin experimenting with the pattern, and with other clothing styles. One's very first garb is essential to a feeling of belonging to the group. Enjoy!

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Links to clothing sites

Cynthia Virtue's Medieval Clothing Pages:

Reconstructing History Website

The Costume Site