Practical Worksheet for Tunic Construction

by Cynthia Virtue aka Cynthia du Pré Argent

Thanks are extended to Mistress Tangwystl of the West, whose class on period clothing techniques has inspired me to spread the word.

Important Notes

  1. This is a worksheet. It is easier than it may seem at first, trust me!
  2. Please refer to my "Introduction To Garb" handout for style and historical considerations.

Step One:

These are the pieces of your tunic.

Think about how they go together in this drawing of the finished tunic.

Tunic layoutA: The body piece forms the front and back of the main part of the tunic.

B: Sleeves (rectangular or tapered toward the wrist)

C: Gores: triangular pieces of fabric that give room to move in the "skirt" of the tunic. The more movement you want, the wider they should be at the bottom. 11" is good for a knee-length tunic; twice that for floor length.  These are the same fabric as the rest of the garment.

D: Gusset: square pieces of material that give ease at the underarm. These are the same fabric as the rest of the garment.

Step Two:

How much fabric do I need?

Once you take your measurements, you will be able to figure this out. If we assume 48" wide fabric, (cotton broadcloth, for example,) and that you are not more than 40" around your body, and your garment is not going to be longer than 60" (this would be floor length on a shortish woman or knee length on a tall man), then 4 yards will be plenty, with room for gores, sleeves, etc.

The easy way to figure this is double the length that you want your garment to be, as long as * of your circumference leaves at least 20" of fabric width. You can get this down to less fabric if you graph it out carefully.

Note that the tunic should be made out of all the same fabric; gores, sleeves, etc, should match the body.

Step Three:

Take (and write down) the following measurements:

Column A Column B
1. Head: 3a. Chest:
2. Neck: 3b. Tummy:
3. (see right): 3c. Hips:
  Which of these three in column B is largest? Put this measurement at #3.
4. Back of neck to wrist:  
5. Upper arm circumference:  
6. Hand circumference:  
7. Shoulder to level where you want the slit to end:  
8. Shoulder to waist:  
9. Waist to hem (at side seam)  
10. Shoulder to hem:  

 Note: Keep in mind that we are looking for your largest dimensions.

Tunics are not closely fitted garments; you need to be able to move. Thus, if your tummy is larger than where your belt goes around, measure the tummy, not the "waist."

Step 7. The farthest point down your chest for the slit -- ie, no farther!

Step Four:

Now we will adjust these numbers so that we can cut out the pieces easily.  These assumptions are for adults; children's proporations for neck vs. head measurement will result in a very long slit; you might want to make a wider neck instead.

These new figures include seam allowance (1/2") and "ease," i.e., "movement room."
Column A Adjusted figures
1. Head: no change  
2. Neck becomes neck hole for close-fitting style:  subtract 3" from circumference for seam allowance and divide by 2 -- IF you are folding over neck seam allowance. If using bias tape, do not subtract the 3". (see note below about this)
3. This becomes short dimension of body piece - see note  
4. Back of neck to wrist becomes sleeve length. See note  
5. Upper arm becomes sleeve width: add 1" seam and 2" ease  
6. Hand diameter becomes cuff (only if sleeve is tapered) add 1" seam and any desired ease (optional)
7. Shoulder to slit end becomes slit length ? see note.  
8. Shoulder to waist: no change  
9. Waist to hem becomes center skirt slits: add desired hem foldover, if any.  
10: Shoulder to hem becomes long dimension of body piece ? see note  


2.  This may seem counter-intuitive, so stick with me.  The tunic neck should lie right at the neck -- not a wide opening, but more like the neck on a crew-neck sweater.  In order to achieve this with fabric, the initial cut needs to be smaller than the neck, so that as you fold back the seam allowance, you approach the right circumference.  A working neck circumference that is 3" smaller than your real neck circumference is about the right amount for most people.  If you're not doing some sort of folded over neck (seam or lining or facing) you don't need to make a neck opening that is smaller than your neck; make it right at your neck size.
3: This one is a little complex. It will be cut out as a long rectangle of fabric and needs ease.

Take #3 original measurement. Divide by two. Add 2" for "ease" & 1" for total seam allowance:  This will be the "short" dimension of the body piece.

4: Neck-to-wrist:  _____ Minus half of new #3: ____ Equals sleeve length:

7: The combination of the neck hole and the slit must allow your head through! Head:   _____Minus neck:_____  Equals: ___.   Divide this by 2 for minimum:_____ Desired slit length (your call):

10: Long body piece:  Shoulder to hem: _____ Plus hem foldover: _____ Multiply by 2: _____

Now that we have all the measurements for our pieces, let's cut them out!

Step Five:

A digression: Two terms and a technique

Fabric Grain and Bias:

Grain and BiasThis applies to woven fabrics, not knits. (Knit fabrics are not advised for SCA costuming.)

The grain of the fabric is the direction that the warp and weft threads run; they are perpendicular to each other. Fabric does not stretch much on the grain, but if you stretch it at a 45-degree angle to the grain, it stretches a lot. This angle is called the bias. When sewing these tunics, the goal is to attach bias edges of the gores to the straight-grain edges of the tunic. This prevents long-term stretching of the gores. Straight grain is often marked with a double-ended arrow.

How to cut a gore:

TrianglesIf you cut a simple triangle, one edge will be longer than the other, or the edges will be longer. You need to make a "pie piece" or "circle-section" instead. This is actually very simple. Either (1) use a string and chalk to mark a curve with the top of the triangle as the pivot point, or (2) cut your triangle (see step five) and then fold the short edge along the long edge and cut off the remaining bit. Fold again to approximate a curve.

Step Six:


These are the separate pieces you need. Fill in the measurements from the second table (in the circles) so you know what to cut out.


  1. Cut out the long body piece A first. Cut a very tiny slit (1/4") at the shoulder line on each side.
  2. Cut two sleeves B. See alternate cutting diagram for sleeves if you want tapered sleeves. Cut a very tiny slit at the center of the top of the sleeve
  3. Cut gores C. Gores can be cheated on. The center front (cf) and center back (cb) gores can be cut as one triangle rather than two. See alternate cutting diagram for gores.
  4. Then cut two gussets D from scraps. Options: Cut each in half on the diagonal if you want the ultimate simplest sewing.  However, leaving the square gussets as squares will result in useful elasticity on the bias where you need it for raising your arms.
  5. Cut out neck hole by folding body piece along center line only. Mark using a pencil or chalk. Neck is an oval that is offset along the shoulder line. See diagram.
  6. Cut neck slit. Be sure to make it straight! (You can check the fabric weave to assist in straightness.)
  7. Cut center front and center back gore slits. You're done!

Step Seven:

SewingSewing it all together

It is easiest to finish the edges or add trim to most of the tunic before it is sewn together. Trim was usually applied over seams (such as the upper arm) or at the neckline. Hems were also sometimes trimmed. Wrists were less commonly trimmed. Don't forget that all seams are sewn with garment inside out.

There are two ways that you can sew it together. My preferred method is first (it is more like "normal" clothing construction), but some folks think the second method makes more sense, because everything stays flat until the very last moment.

Method One:

  1. Run a line of straight stitching inside neck opening to prevent stretching. Finish neck opening however you like.
  2. Sew little gusset to each side of sleeve at upper arm.  If you kept the gussets square, sew them down after Step #3 instead -- on just the front of the tunic and the front edge of the sleeve; the back seams get sewn after Step #4.
  3. Sew sleeves to long body piece, matching tiny slits.
  4. Add trim over sleeve seam (optional).
  5. Sew underarm seams from wrist to gusset to two inches along long body piece side seams.
  6. Finish wrist hem.
  7. Sew cf and cb gore into cf and cb slits. (May be easiest to sew the points in by hand.) NOTE: the idea here is that bias edges get sewn to grain edges.
  8. Sew one gore each from hem to waist of long body piece.
  9. Sew side seams from under arm to hem along side gores.
  10. Finish hem


Method Two:

Same process, but do not do Step 5 or 9. Instead, at step 9, sew both side seams in two fell swoops. Your garment will look like the illustration below until Step 9.

You're done! Really!

Don't forget to look at the other articles for how to make a hat or similar. In the middle ages, you weren't dressed unless you have something on your head!
Method 2 sewing
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