There comes a point in every garb-wearer’s lifetime when they ask themselves, “Could I ever possibly make my own?” and the answer to that is “HELL YES and I’m going to show you how!”
This is going to be a multi-part series. I don’t know how many parts just now; as many as it takes, I figure. There are a lot of steps; have patience and take your time and I know you’ll do great.
Some of you have already seen and tried the tabard I posted a tutorial for. It makes a great first garment, especially when you’re brand new or on a budget (and who isn’t on a budget these days?). But if you’re ready to try something truly next level, and I have faith that you are, I’m going to teach you how I make a tunic. A good tunic, made with historically plausible patterning, one that lasts and feels like a piece of clothing rather than a costume piece.
For a basic tunic, you’re going to need the following:
- 3 yards of 60-inch wide fabric. You probably won’t use all of it for one tunic, but it’s better to have more than you’ll need than to discover you don’t quite have enough!
- A fully armed and operational sewing machine. You can hand-sew if you’re really hard core and/or don’t have a sewing machine, but be aware it will take considerably longer to sew by hand. If you opt to hand sew, you’ll obviously want a needle.
- 1 (maybe 2) spools of all-purpose thread in a color matching your fabric
- An iron and ironing board. You may be thinking, “They didn’t have those back then!” While the electric iron is a modern invention, pressing fabric goes safely back as far as the Viking age.
- Tailor’s chalk, so you can make marks on your fabric. If you fabric is dark, you want white; if it is light, you want blue.
- Your measurements written down (We’ll get to that in a minute)
- One 9″x12″ sheet of felt to use as a measuring template (We’ll get to that too)
Your life is going to be a lot easier if you also have the following:
- A tape measure
- A seam ripper
- Lots of pins
- An assistant to help you measure
And finally, if you want to make it fancy, you may want:
- Decorative trim (optional)
- Buttons, patches, or appliques (optional)
- Single-strand embroidery floss for decorative stitching (optional)
Now, before you do anything, you need to get proper measurements. Get your paper and pencil out, because you’re going to need to write this down. For more accurate results, it helps to have someone take measurements for you so you’re not twisting and bending to read the tape.
Measurement 1A – main tunic piece length
Put the end of the measuring tape at the top of your shoulder, and lower it down to as long as you want the tunic to go.
Now, add two inches to that number, because you’re going to fold up and hem your tunic later on.
Now, whatever number that is, multiply it by two. This is the length of your main piece.
Example: Suppose you want a tunic that’s 40 inches from your shoulder to its hem. You add 2 to that number, to get 42. You multiply it by 2, to get 84 inches.
Measurement 1B – main tunic piece width
The main piece of your tunic is going to be doubled up and draped over your body, like the tabard, so the width of the main piece will be half the distance around your body.
Measure around your torso at the widest point. For some, it may be the bust. For others, around the belly. For still others, around the hips. For best results, have someone measure this while your arms are raised over your head, because your ribcage will be expanded and you want plenty of room in your tunic for this.
Take that number, and divide it in half.
Add two inches to that number because of seam allowance. (I’ll explain more about that later on). This is the smallest that the width of the main piece can be. You can make it a little wider if you want a looser fit.
Example: Let’s say you measure and find that your widest point is 36 inches around. You divide that number in half and get 18. You add 2 to get 20. Your main piece must be at least 20 inches wide. You decide to add a couple inches for a looser fit, and make your main piece 22 inches wide.
Measurement 2A – sleeve length
Measure with the tape from the shoulder to how long you want your sleeve to be. Add 2 inches to that number, because of the hem. Add 1 more inch to that number, for seam allowance. This is your sleeve length measurement.
Example: Suppose you want your sleeve to be 16 inches long. You add 2 inches for the hem to get 18. You add 1 for seam allowance to get 19 inches.
Measurement 2B – sleeve width
For this exercise, we’re going to make a standard sleeve that is the same width all along its length. You can make a tapered sleeve, if you’re comfortable with doing that, but for now let’s keep it simple.
Take a shirt that fits you comfortably. Lay it down flat, and measure the widest part of its sleeve. Double that number. Now add 2 inches to that number for seam allowance (1 inch each side). That is the narrowest your sleeve width should be.
Example: You lay down a t-shirt in your size and measure the widest part of the seam and get 9 inches. You multiply that by two and get 18. You add 2 inches to that, to get 20 inches for your sleeve width.
Measurement 3 – the head hole
This is something you won’t do with the measuring tape, but with that 9×12 piece of felt.
First, trace a circle onto the felt with chalk or a marking pen. It may be narrow, like a dessert plate (5-6″), or wider, like a saucepan lid (8-10″), depending on how wide you want the neck hole to be. Cut the circle from the felt and try to fit your head through the hole. If it doesn’t fit, cut a slit (a straight line) an inch from the circle, and try again. Increase the length of the slit an inch at a time until you’re able to fit your head through the hole in the felt. This is your head hole template. Hold onto it to use for future garb!
Measurement 4A – gore length
Gores are the two triangular pieces of fabric that will be in the sides of the tunic. Some pieces have gores in the front and back as well, but we’ll save that for another time and just have the two on the sides like in the photo.
Measure from just underneath your armpit with your arm raised, down to the desired length of the tunic. It doesn’t have to be precise. Add 2 inches to that number. This is the length of the triangle; your gore length.
Measurement 4B – gore width
I honestly never came up with a precise measurement or formula here. The wider the gores, the fuller your tunic will be. I suggest anywhere from 8 inches to 12 inches. As long as both sides are the same, that’s what really matters. This is the width of the widest part of the triangle (the bottom).
Other pieces you’ll measure
Neck facing piece: The neck facing is the piece of fabric you’ll be using when you make your collar/head hole. This will be a rectangle of fabric, 9 inches by 12 inches (the same as your felt piece). DO NOT CUT THE HOLE OUT YET. You’re only concerning yourself with the rectangle piece right now. I repeat, DO NOT CUT OUT YOUR HEAD HOLE.
Armpit gussets: These are pieces of fabric that enable you to raise and stretch your arms without tearing your sleeves. These will be 2 squares of fabric, 5 inches by 5 inches.
All right, once you’ve got all your pieces and parts and your measurements written down, you’ll be ready to measure, lay out, and cut out your pieces. We’ll get to that next time. See you then!