This tutorial requires some familiarity with pattern drafting, or willingness to get it. Also, please be advised that this is my *first* sewing tutorial, so I will inevitably have missed a step or chosen confusing wording. If you try making a tunic from this tutorial, I'd love to hear any edits you might suggest--and to see photos of your finished tops! Leave a comment in this post or email me at email@example.com .
For personal use only--do not sell items made using this tutorial.
I designed this tunic to reflect the simple-yet-creative aesthetic of the cut-paper illustrations in one of my favorite children's books, Ida Pearle's A Child's Day: an alphabet of play. My guest blog post for the Once Upon a Thread project at no big dill describes my process creating several outfits based on the book.
And did you know it's also Celebrate the Boy month? I bet you did. Take some time to celebrate the young XYs in your life and sew them something special--there are tons of great ideas and tutorials available. Like many of those projects, this tunic is simple enough to be versatile--I see ours being worn to church, to dance in, on tree-climbing expeditions, post-swimming on cool nights this summer, and pretty much anywhere my boys want to look stylish (and they always do, of course).
- About 1 yard of a lightweight woven fabric--I use quilting cottons in this example, but a lightweight linen or cotton voile would also work well. Wash and press before beginning.
- Bias tape in a contrasting or complementary color--you can choose a thinner or wider tape depending on the look you want.
- Old child's tshirt to cut for pattern template
- One of your child's currently fitting shirts to check for sizing
- Paper to draft pattern onto (I use freezer paper because it is stiff and I can iron it down to stick to the fabric if I want to when cutting)
- Pins-and-needles (scissors and thread, too, of course)
Draft your pattern
Dana at MADE has written some amazing, detailed tutorials showing how to draft patterns, so I won’t entirely reinvent the wheel here. Briefly, here are the steps I followed to draft mine:
- I started from a stained 18 months size t-shirt, which I deconstructed by cutting along the seams. Cut any collar off of your template shirt and leave it out of the tracing.
- I used this shirt to trace the shape of the armholes and neck of both the front and back pieces. Next, I used a shirt that is currently roomy on my son to make the adjusted 3T sizing, adding width in the body and at the shoulders. Remember that woven fabric stretches less than knits, so you’ll want to err toward leaving extra space on the sides.
- After drafting the pattern as though I was replicating the crew neck tshirt, I went back and traced a new “open tunic” neckline along the front—a kind of elongated S (or half a Y, if you prefer). Remember that your kid's head will need to fit through, so don't make the bottom point too high! (Also, remember that you’ll want to work with a half-pattern so that everything ends up symmetrical.)
- Finally, on both the tunic front and tunic back pieces, you'll want to add a small rectangular "bump out," about an inch wide and two inches above the hemline, on the bottom corners (i.e., the side seams). This will be folded under to make the side vent in the finished tunic.
- Adjusting the sleeves can be tricky, and if you are short on fabric you will definitely want to test these in muslin first. My tshirt had short sleeves, so again I used a currently-fitting shirt to gauge the width and length of long sleeves. I needed to add about 1 1/2 inches to the center of my folded pattern (so, three inches overall) to expand the width. I wanted a more open sleeve so I also widened the pattern as it moved toward the wrist (if you were modifying this for a girl, you could even experiment with flared wrists). I did not get a good picture of this part of the drafting process but will try to add one soon. In this picture, you'll see where I did not account for the extra width and ended up having to add an extra strip of fabric to this short sleeve--that's where I should have expanded the pattern, on the top of the sleeve (the center when it is laid out flat pre-sewing).
- You will end up with three new pattern pieces: Tunic Front, Tunic Back, and Tunic Sleeve.
1) Trace and cut two tunic sleeves and one tunic back -- because you are working from half patterns, you will lay the pattern on the fold to get a full piece. Remember to add seam allowances if you did not do so at the drafting stage.
2) Now take your tunic front piece: when you traced it, you were working from a folded piece of fabric (the original tshirt) that unfolded to make a single front panel. But now you are going to cut two separate pieces, adding at least 1/2" seam allowance to the center (in addition to the seam allowance you were already going to add at the side seam). You will still do this by laying your pattern on a piece of fabric folded with right sides together--but do not lay your center along a fold.
Your finished tunic front will be made of two separate pieces joined by a center seam. Lightly mark (on the wrong side) the point where the original neckline ended and continue the taper of the neckline down into the center seam allowance until you hit the edge. If you anticipate feeling picky about how a print will line up at that seam, now is the time to figure it out and cut accordingly! You can see in my finished black-and-white tunic that I got close, but not perfect, on that effort.
3) Sew the vents: with the wrong side of the fabric facing you, fold your "bump out" rectangle over once to meet the edge of the fabric, then again to lay flush with the edge of the fabric. Press and stitch in place. You will do this four times--twice for the two edges of the tunic back and once for each of your two tunic front panels.
4) With right sides together, pin one of the tunic front panels to the tunic back. Stich in place--when you get to the vent, veer out toward the side at an angle to finish the seam (see second photo below). Repeat for other tunic panel. Reinforce seams in the manner you prefer.
5) Continuing with right sides together, stitch at shoulders. Reinforce seams in the manner you prefer.
6) Turn garment right side out. Starting an inch or so below the mark you made earlier (the point where the pattern neckline ended), attach bias binding all the way around the neckline by machine or hand. I have used both methods; as you'd expect, the hand binding looks more finished and "dressy," the machine zig-zag binding looks more playful/casual. (Anyone have favorite bias tape tutorials I can add here?)
(finished neckline with hand slip-stitched binding.)
(finished neckline with machine zig-zag binding.)
7) Turn garment inside out again. Match the two front panels along the open edge; pin and stitch center seam, starting from the mark you made at the neckline and sewing in a straight line toward hem. Press seam open. (this is a good point to check for fit, if you have your child available.)
8) Sew first tunic sleeve by folding fabric longways, right sides together, and stitching along long side. Repeat for second sleeve.
9) Turn first tunic sleeve right side out and insert into assembled tunic body, which should be wrong side out (i.e., you will have right sides together inside the tunic). Fit sleeve into shoulder, matching sleeve to body at side seam and pinning all the way around the opening. Stitch into place; reinforce with your preferred method. Repeat for second sleeve.
10) Turn tunic right side out. Press and hem sleeves and bottom edge (you will hem front and back separately because of the vents).
11) Enjoy your finished tunic--and celebrate your boy!