Historical Costuming: How To Make A Basic Tunic

A guide to making a basic tunic, as might have been worn in the Middle Ages. Advice on do it yourself costumes, materials, and saving money.

Throughout the Middle Ages, a variety of extreme and not-so-extreme fashions came into being. Each country seemed to have its own ideas as to what the well-to-do and the not-so-well-to-do should be wearing, and the fashions of one area often did not translate to the next. In fact, it wasn't until well into the fourteenth century that trade with other countries became common enough to regulate what people were wearing (much as the trendy styles of today often originate from somewhere else.) However, almost without fail there was one piece of clothing that seemed to make an appearance in the wardrobe of both the noble and the peasant in a variety of countries: the tunic.

For those wanting to do a bit of historical recreation on a tight budget, a simple type of tunic (known as a t tunic) can be made with a minimal investment of time and money. It requires a little bit of sewing ability and a little bit of time, but in the long run it can save you money and likely shipping charges.

First of all, you'll need to get a measurement or two. Measure from the center of your shoulder to the point where you'd like the hem of the tunic to be (usually around mid-thigh, though you may make it higher or shorter as you desire.) Double this measurement, and buy that length of the fabric of your choice. If you're looking for something affordable, wearable, and durable, cotton materials are likely your best bet.



Once you have the material, wash it. That way, if it's going to shrink or draw up it'll do it now and not later when you've cut it and got it to just the size that you want it. After all, you certainly don't want to end up with a tunic that'll only fit your kid sister!

When you're ready to start work on the tunic, fold it in half widthways with the "wrong" side on the outside. (The wrong side is the side of the material that you'll want on the inside of the tunic. Most materials have one side where the color is richer than the other; that's not the side that you want to see right now.) Once you've got it folded, fold it again... this time, lengthways.

You should now have 4 layers of material in a nicely-folded rectangle, with the wrong side facing out at you. Now you'll need to draw the neckline and body shape onto the material (an old t-shirt that's a size or two too large can be perfect for helping with this.) Once you have the shapes drawn, cut them out; make sure to cut through all 4 layers as you do this. Unfold the material, leaving the wrong side facing out.

Next, pin the tunic together, wrong side facing out, with the pins for the seam set around 1/2" in from the edge of the fabric. Sew the sides together, taking care not to sew shut the bottom or any other opening that needs to remain open. (A sewing machine or a lot of patience with needles and thread is very useful at this point.)

Once the sides are sewn, fold the edges of the neckline down and pin them into place (again, around 1/2".) Iron the hem on the neckline, and sew it down (taking care not to sew through both sides of the neckline at the same time.) Put on the tunic and check to see that the bottom falls straight and to the right length, then fold, pin, iron and sew the bottom hem in the same manner that you did the neck. (Make sure not to sew the bottom shut.)

When you've finished with the bottom hem, turn the tunic inside-out so that the right side of the fabric is showing and all of the hems are hidden on the inside. Your t tunic is now ready to wear!

© High Speed Ventures 2011