Dawn's Costume Guide

"But I don't know how to make garb"
guide to Norman Tunics

Read through the following instructions to familiarise yourself with the process. This was originally written to help folks construct a medieval European tunic such as might have been worn by William the Conqueror, Erik the Red, or any number of peasants or middling noblemen of the time. You'll find that with a little embellishment or a change of fabric it will suit for Bible characters, Fairy Princesses, Evil Witches, Vampires, Pirates, Robin Hood, King Arthur, or a Wizard. It is really a simple piece of garb and can be made to fit most body types.

Begin by taking the following measurements. Get the tape measure and have someone help you. Write the numbers down and figure out the little formulae next to each one. This is not the place to cheat unless you want to look silly in badly-fitting clothing.

  1. throat to wrist ____
  2. chest circumference ____ +4" = ____. Divide by 4 ____.
  3. waist circumference ____ +4" = ____. Divide by 4 ____.
  4. upper arm circumference ____ +2" = ____. Divide in half ____.
  5. wrist circumference ____ +3" = ____. Divide in half.
  6. shoulder to ankle ____ +4" = ____.
    -OR- shoulder to knee ____ +4" = ____.

If you are very tall (more than 6 feet or so) you will need an additional one-half to one full yard of fabric. Most adults will be able to complete this tunic with 3 yards of 54 or 56 inch wide fabric. Skirt and sleeve length can be augmented with a border of contrasting fabric or wide trim.

Shop for fabric. You'll need at least 3 yards of something for an adult tunic. Take measurement F and double it to figure your approximate yardage. Add one half to one yard to allow for a little extra room or a measuring mistake. You'll also want 1.5 yards of contrasting fabric of the same kind to use as sleeve and hemline trim. You may want metallic or ribbon trim for the sleeves and neckline (aprox. 42" for neck and wrist, 60" for bottom hem, and 36" for upper sleeves). The trim will probably cost you more than your fabric. You can skip it if you wish.

If you are going for the medieval look you need to find fabric in plain solid colors, or with simple stripes or spotted patterns. Shades of brown, grey and green will make you look "authentic". Some groups have rules about who can wear certain colors like purple, and it's best to find out about those first. If you are going to be camping out or hanging around in the woods, skip the velvet and fancy dress fabrics and look for the upholstery section of the store. Here you will find heavy duty goods that will stand up to the event, and look good while keeping you warm. A lot of curtain fabric is good for tunics. Hold it up and see how it drapes, does it "swish" well, or can you see right through it? Avoid goods with plastic or rubber backings.

If you are planning the Fairy Princess costume, pink or white satin works well. You'll probably find a lot of nice stuff in the bridal section. If that is out of your budget, consider the cotton or poly-cotton mixes.

Wash and iron your fabric. If you are really scared to do this, cut a small piece and pour some really hot water on it and watch what happens. If the color goes all over the place and the fabric comes apart, it's probably not what you want to use for this project anyway. Since you are making what is essentially clothing, you want it to be cleanable. You also want it to shrink before you fit it. Iron the fabric after it dries to get rid of any folds and wrinkles.

Lay out the fabric on a clean table, bed, or floor. Fold the fabric into quarters. Smooth out any wrinkles or creases, and check that the fabric is folded evenly.

Mark the neckline with chalk as indicated. Note that the front scoops lower than the back. You can add a slit to the front if you wish, but it's probably best to save that for later. The hole is going to look really small. Don't worry about it right now. It'll be easier to make it larger if you need to, than to put back something you cut too large.

Measure from the center of the neckline across the top edge of the fold to the elvedge. This will probably be 6-10" shorter than your arm measurement (A). If it is, calculate the difference and make a note of it. If not, if this is for a child or small person, count yourself lucky that you can skip some extra sewing steps later on.

Mark measurement (E) down from the top of the fold along the selvedge.

Mark measurement (F) along the center fold. Note that if you are taller than 5' you will probably be adding a band of trim later on.

Mark measurement (B) along the top fold and about 12" down from the top fold. You should have two marks parallel with the center line.

From points (B) measure along the sleeve 2-6 inches and mark (B2). You now have two sets of marks parallel to the center fold.

Mark length (D) down (B2). Connect the dots from (E) to (D/B2), to (B). See Diagram.

Measure about 18" down from the top fold and mark your waist measurement (C) horizontally across the fabric.

Measurement (G) will be the length of the skirt. To hang properly (G) must be the same length along the center fold and along the side seam. Take several measurements to get the proper bottom hem curve, either from waist mark (C) or chest mark (B).

You should now have the rough outline of the shape of your tunic. Draw in the cutting lines, adding one half inch all around to account for seam allowance.

Do not cut anything yet!

Reality check your proportions by laying a well-fitting button-down type dress shirt over your pattern. The shirt should lay within your measured lines. If not, adjust your pattern.

Carefully cut the side seam line and the necklines. Remember that the front neckline is lower than the back neckline.

Lay out your one yard piece of contrast fabric, folded in half. Mark the sleeve inserts using the sleeve width measurement (D) and the calculated difference between the length of your arm and measurement (A). Add one half inch for seam allowance.

arm length (A) ____
actual length across top of folded fabric ____
difference of the two (X)____

Cut sleeve inserts.

Cut sleeve along line (D).

Open out lower sleeve pieces. You should not have to hem if the wrist lays along the selvedge. Sew your trim or braid in a straight line long the wrist end of the sleeve while it is open flat.

With right sides (outsides) together sew the sleeve insert to the lower sleeve.

Iron seams open flat.

Lay tunic body open flat. Match sleeves with the right sides together. Sew the sleeves on. Press seams open flat.

Add trim to the seam lines at sleeve inserts.

From your remaining contrasting fabric cut the bottom trim. Make the band wide enough so that the tunic hangs and drags on the floor. When it is belted it will fit properly.

Sew bottom trim, adding purchased ribbon or braid along the seam. A second row of trim can be added above the seam.

With right sides together sew the long side seam from wrist to bottom hem, matching seams at arm inserts and wherever trim has been added.

Sew around the bottom hemline.

Hem the neckline. Add more trim.

All text and artwork copyright 1990 - 2000 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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