How to Make a T-Tunic

Creating your own tunic pattern for wear in the SCA.

The following is a method of making a simple t-tunic from a single piece of fabric. The pattern works for average sized women or men. The tunic can be of varying lengths, gussets can be added, and the neckline can be chosen to suit your tastes. This pattern describes a simple round or keyhole neckline with a facing. To complete the tunic you will need chalk, a measuring tape, pins, fabric, matching thread and fabric scissors.

The fabric you choose should be washable, preferably a natural fibre like cotton, linen or wool. Cotton is the cheapest and easiest to find, and probably the best to start with, linen is more period and very comfortable, and wool or wool blends are very good for warmth. To work out how much to buy, double measurement #1 below and add 20cm. Fabrics like cotton and linen do shrink, so if you have time pre-wash your fabric (and always air dry). Some fabric comes pre-washed. Choose a plain fabric, in a dark or bright colour.

If you like the pattern you could make a calico version to save making the measurements on fabric each time. This pattern includes a 2 cm seam allowance.

Getting Started

Before you start, you need to make some decisions about the style of your t-tunic. These include:

  • How long it will be
  • Wether the sleeves will be narrow, straight or flared
  • How long the sleeves will be
  • Wether the neck is plain, keyhole or something else
  • Wether you want a contrasting band of fabric on the sleeve cuffs or the neck.
  • What sort of decoration you might like

You could be really cunning and draw the outline of the tunic on the figure on the left.

Then, you need to take a few simple measurements (see diagram above). You may want to get help for some of them. Fill in the measurements in the table below.

  1. Mid-shoulder to bottom of where you want your tunic to be (floor is good for women, mid-thigh, knee or calf length for men).
  2. Circumference of bicep.
  3. Centre of chest to wrist (or shorter if you don’t want long sleeves). I usually do base of neck in the centre to wrist, following around a bent arm.
  4. Chest measurement (around widest part).
  5. Mid-shoulder to waist.

Measurement

Alter this measurement

New measurement

New name

#1

_________cm

#1 minus #5 plus 2cm.

_________cm

A

#2

_________cm

halve #2, add 7cm.

_________cm

B

#3

_________cm

#3 plus 2cm

_________cm

C

#4

_________cm

quarter of #4 plus 4.5cm

_________cm

D

#5

_________cm

remains the same

_________cm

E

Drawing and Cutting the Tunic

Lay out the length of fabric on a table or the floor. Fold the fabric in half across the middle so that the cut edges meet. Smooth out any folds or wrinkles as you go. Then fold the fabric lengthwise so that the selvedges (clean edges) meet. The fabric should be neatly folded in quarters. We will call the shorter of the two folded edges the “Top” edge, and the longer fold will be the “Centre”.

You will now make some marks on the fabric with chalk and a measuring tape. The diagram should help you with the marking. Measure down from the top edge by measurement B in a couple of places, and connect the marks to form a straight line. This makes the sleeve. Take measurement C and mark the wrist line, measuring from the centre fold out towards the bias edge. If the measurement does not fit on the fabric, take a note of the amount it is short by, and add 4 cm. (which makes ______cm). You will need to join on an extra piece of fabric that is this long, and as wide as the sleeve. You may prefer to make the sleeve extension join at the bicep rather than further down, in which case the extensions will be need to be made much longer and tunic sleeves cut much shorter. An extra 2cm must also be added to the extension.

You may also want to make the tunic slightly narrower at the wrist, or make it flare out from the elbow. These variations can be made now.

Next, take measurement D and measure out in several places from the centre fold. You only need to mark the upper part of the fabric, down to where the waist is (measurement E). Connect the marks. Round off the corner where this line meets the arm line (see diagram) so you have a nice underarm curve.

Measure down from the top by measurement E in several places, and connect the marks so that you have a waistline. Measure down by measurement A from the waistline straight down to form a hemline. Measure down from the end of the waistline by A, both straight down, and angled so that the hem almost meets the bias edge of the fabric, coming 2cm from the edge (see diagram for what I mean). Curve the line so that you have a curved hemline. Smooth out the side seam so there is no sharp angle where the waist is. You should have a continuous curved side seam.

Cut out the tunic along the hemline and the side seam, extending along the arm to the wrist. If you have to cut out an extra piece for the sleeve, now is the time to do it from the leftover fabric.

Neckhole

Next its time to cut the neckhole, at the point the fabric is folded.

The College has patterns for neckholes. If you have one of these, you can simply mark the fold point, then open out the fabric and lay down the pattern, matching up the fold lines. Trace the outside of the pattern and cut out. There are both round and keyhole necklines, for different sizes. Follow the instructions below for cutting out a facing.

If you need to make your own, start by measuring out a comfortable circle you can fit your head through (it should be a bit bigger than your head circumference). Lets call this measurement F. For a simple circle, divide the circumference by 6.28 to get the radius of the circle you want, minus 2 cm for a seam allowance and then cut out a quarter circle while the fabric is still folded.

For a better shape, the centre of the circle should be displaced towards the front, and edges adjusted so they fit better over the shoulders (usually this means making the front and back edges more straight, and having the sides straightened and angled so the back is wider than the front). To do this, mark the centre at the corner, open out the fabric and then trace the shape you want, making sure the circumference remains the correct size. Then mark in a seam allowance of 2cm, so that the neckline gets smaller. If youíre a girl, do not have the opening wider than the distance between your bra straps.

Another option is a keyhole neckline, where there is a centre front slit. In this case you want a circumference measurement that sits nicely around your neck (measurement G), and a slit that is ((F minus G) divided by 2 plus 2cm long). Mark out the circle and the slit as described above, making sure the slit is measured before the seam allowance is included.

Next you need to make facing for the neckline. Save the neckhole piece you just cut out. Find a piece of fabric large enough (it doesnít have to be the same fabric) and trace around the cutout. Then trace another line 6cm beyond this. You should have a donut shaped facing. For a keyhole neckline you need to draw in the slit and trace around it as well.

You can make a decorative facing by using a contrasting fabric that will later be turned to the outside.

Gores

If you are making a floor length tunic, and still have left over fabric you can make triangle shaped gores, from the left over triangle pieces. They add extra fullness to the skirt below the waistline. If you are making sleeve extensions and neckhole facings you may not have room. Take the 4 right angled triangles and pin and sew the selvedges of 2 pairs so that you have 2 large triangles. When sewing the tunic below, only sew the side seams to the waistline. Then insert the gores by pinning and sewing the gores into the open side seams on side at a time. You may need some help for this.

Sewing the Tunic

All seams need to be sewn with the right sides of the fabric facing each other. All seams should be sewn 2cm from the edge. If you can, overlock the seams after they have been sewn.

Lay the facing over the neckline, both opened out. If you want the facing to end up on the outside, it should be pinned to the inside of the tunic. The neckholes should match closely. Pin 2cm from the edge and sew. If you are making a keyhole neckline, the neckline should be sewn about 3mm from the slit in the slit area- you may need some help with this. Clip the seam at intervals so that the facing can lie flat. Turn the facing to the inside and pin 1cm from the edge. Sew the facing down neatly. Alternatively the facing can be hand-sewn down.

If necessary, pin the sleeve extensions in place and sew.

Fold the tunic at the shoulder seams, right sides together. Pin along the side and underarm seams and try on to make sure it fits. If its fine, sew.

Try on tunic and check length of bottom hem and sleeves. 2cm has been allowed for the hem. Cut off any excess. Make hems on the cuffs of the sleeves and the bottom of the tunic, by folding over 1cm, and then folding over again 1cm so that the raw edge is enclosed. Pin in place and sew.

Decoration

The tunic can be enhanced with shop bough trim, braid or ribbon around the neckline and sleeves. Contrasting bands of fabric could also be applied, or contrasting bias tape.

Another option is machine or hand embroidery.

The hem can also be decorated, but this requires more time, and the hem gets grubby quite quickly.

Historical Notes

Period fabric was often a narrower weave and was quite expensive, so the tunic would have been pieced together using triangles and rectangles. The sleeves would be separate pieces joined at the shoulder seams, and gussets would be inserted at the underarm. The front and back pieces would be rectangles, and flare would be added using gores. Other piecing may have been done.

Tunics like these would have been worn from around the 8th century to around 1300. Usually several would be worn, starting with a white linen shift and then having one or several wool (or silk) tunics on top. They could be heavily decorated around the neckline, cuffs and hem. At some stages the tunics were made tighter fitting around the torso by having them lace up the sides, later on being button or laced up the front or back. In the 14th century the cut changed too for a tighter fit- but the same basic tunic shape was still used for the undergarment for several centuries afterwards.


Adapted from The T-Tunic by Kelly M Vogt © 1999. Additions by Alison Fernandes © 2004.