Tunic Time

Nothing says Summer quite like crisp white and bright navy blue. Pair those colors with an easy-wearing, dress-length tunic, and it is a recipe for comfort and versatility.

This is one of those projects which took a couple of years to evolve. I purchased the white polka-dotted cotton voile from Britex Fabrics about two years ago, thinking I would make a blouse. I considered patterns for it every once in a while, and then put it back in the cupboard. What was keeping me from moving forward on it was the fact I had over 2 yards of this 56” wide fabric, more than enough for a blouse. Using it for a dress seemed the more efficient way to proceed. All I needed was some inspiration.

Then last Fall, I purchased a copy of the then-newly-released The Tunic Bible by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr.

Well, there is lots of inspiration in this book, and I especially was drawn to this style, but in a dress length.

Shown on page 65 in The Tunic Bible is this top. The combination of the wide split placket, the angled collar, and the split cuffs really appealed to me. All three are really lovely details. (I purchased my copy of this book on Amazon.)

(Now here’s a bit of trivia: a tunic dress is not the same as a dress-length tunic, according to the number one definition in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion. A tunic dress is “a two-piece dress with a long overblouse worn over a separate narrow skirt,” although the definition was expanded a bit in the 1960s to cover a tunic mini-dress.)

Detail from page 459, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 2003

Back to my dress: I knew I wanted to embellish it with Petersham ribbon (which is so malleable and cooperative!) In choosing a color, I went for bright navy blue, also ordered from Britex Fabrics.

I actually have three tunic patterns in my collection, one just a couple of years old which I have used, one from the 1980s (also used), and this vintage one, not used yet:

The description on the envelope does not describe this as a dress length tunic, rather an “A-line dress with a caftan neckline.” But, of course, it has a tunic look.

But I decided to give the pattern included in The Tunic Bible a go. I transferred my size to pattern tracing paper and made my muslin. I knew I would have to line the main body of the dress (the fabric is translucent.) After considering two types of light-weight white linen, which I deemed not quite opaque enough, I went with white muslin.

The tapered darts in the back of the tunic are optional, but help to add some lovely shaping.

The first thing I did was make the stand collar, so that I could see how the blue Petersham ribbon would look; I was a little worried that the intensity of the blue color might be too much for the delicate white fabric, but I was pleasantly rewarded with a look I liked:

The first line of trim goes on…

The stand collar is such a flattering design, even from the back.

I used Dritz Wash-Away Wonder Tape to make the application of the ribbon precise. This was the first time I have used this product, and I thought it was wonderful! I haven’t washed my dress yet, but supposedly the Wonder Tape washes away without leaving a residue.

It is especially important to follow the sequence of construction when it comes to the front of the dress, as the neckline trim needs to be applied even before the bust darts are sewn. Once I had the front and back of the dress together, I decided it was a little too baggy (this did not show up in my fitting muslin, which sometimes happens…)   So, I added tapered darts to the front, which was an excellent solution.

Applying the trim to the hemlines required four mitered corners. One way to help get a precise corner is to use a straightedge to guide the miter. Here you can see I used the end of one of my little slide rulers which was the perfect width:

A nice, precise corner.

With the ribbon trim all applied.

And here is what the hem looks like on the wrong side.

One of the things I love about this color combination is its versatility. In these photos I have paired it with turquoise, but it looks equally good with accessories in orange, red, yellow, green, and of course, blue.

The darts I added to the front give the dress a nice fit. I also used a 12″ side zipper, or else I would not be able to get the dress on!

The dress is loose but not baggy.

Here I have the split cuffs hanging down. I think I prefer them folded back, as shown in all the other photos. However, it’s nice to have the option of wearing them either way.

I suspect there will be a couple more tunics to sew in my summers to come. If there will be in YOURS, I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book, if only for the abundance of photos and style options which are handsomely presented. I do recommend that you familiarize yourself with the layout of the book before starting your project. The layout is logical once you understand the formula, but it’s best to give the book a thorough study before you proceed.

And now, with my sights on Fall and Winter (I can’t believe I am saying that!), I think this will be the last of my sewing for Summer. However, I should end with this MEMO to family and friends: Expect to see me in this dress often over the next six/seven weeks.   It is Tunic Time, indeed!


Filed under Book reviews, Linings, Tunics, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

37 responses to “Tunic Time

  1. Patricia

    That is my kind of dress. Always think that style is very flattering, your choice of trim looks wonderful, classy indeed. You will and SHOULD wear that as much as possible, a switch of colour accessories and you have another new look. Love your blogs.

  2. Karen,
    It’s perfect. White with a bold contrast is such a winner yet it takes confidence to sew it. I simply love what you’ve done. Thanks also for demonstrating how to get the perfect trim application result.
    It’s a wonderful review and I am deeply appreciative 😉
    Sarah Gunn

    • Thank you, Sarah, and it was my pleasure to use your book personally and have the opportunity to share a bit of its magic with others in the fashion sewing world! I hope it is selling well – it should!

  3. Karen, that is what I would call the perfect summer dress! And I love it with your turquoise accents. And of course, you did your usual perfect job!

  4. Jackie Shepherd

    Beautiful dress as usual! I have the book and need to get busy sewing a tunic. Yours is perfect.

    • Thank you, Jackie! Yes, do make a tunic. The only difficulty is deciding what “recipe” you want to use! The variety of style options is better than a box of chocolates.

  5. Susanna

    So beautiful, Mom. This is just stunning! You look gorgeous as usual, but wow…this is fantastic!

  6. The blue and white is one of my favorite combinations, though I could never wear that much white…it would be some other color mush too soon.😉 the trim really makes the dress, love those crisp miters!

  7. Mery

    The subtle with the bold knocks it out of the park. A crisp white dress with a tidy blue trim would have been striking. Likewise, a soft blouse or shirt dress of white on white dotted voile would be sweet and lovely. Ahh, but together, they elevate one another to be better than the sum of the parts, a perfect pairing. As always, we’ve enjoyed the ride, sharing vicariously these sewing challenges and successes. From the showing of the fabrics this has been a lovely year. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Kati

    OMG! Absolutely stunning as always!!!

  9. Marianne

    Wow! This is gorgeous!

  10. Karen Mizzi

    I just love all your sewing and your blogs inspire me to try new things. What a beautiful classic summer dress and it looks so lovely on you. As always I look forward to your next project. xx

  11. Delightful. Classic style and colours. You wear it so well.

  12. Your tunic dress is stunning!

  13. I love this color combination! And the turquoise accents are just perfect (although the orange would be fabulous, too). Simple and pretty dress.

  14. Beautiful tunic! I just received my own copy of The Tunic Bible and you have inspired me!

  15. What a wonderful interpretation of the tunic. I’ve done quite a few versions of my own and agree that the book is a great inspiration. I’m sure you will live in this dress.

  16. Jaenice Palmer

    Tunics don’t usually enter my head when I think of summer sewing–I’m afraid the first phrase that often enters my head is “Dang hippies!”, and it gets worse when I catch that first whiff of patchouli. I apologize. I’m still trying to shake the last remaining traces of the 1970s from my wardrobe (thank you, sixteen-year-old me, for thinking orange harem pants were the cat’s pajamas…!).

    That said, you did a fantastic job here–enough that I’m willing to take another look at tunics. There are differing tunic styles for every woman, after all, and not all of them make you look like a refugee from 1960s Marrakech (unless that is your goal, in which case help yourself!). Thanks for the post!

    • There are some things that are difficult to get by, aren’t there? For me it is bell bottom pants… and tie-dyed shirts. Happily, tunics such as are featured in this book are far from those two hippie standards!

      • Jaenice Palmer

        Glad to hear the tunics are up to snuff in The Tunic Bible! I would have had a tough time with one of those spangled numbers that seem to show up every few years. Hmm…Vogue Patterns does have some nifty numbers I’d be willing to look at.

        I hear you re the tie-dyed shirts and bell-bottom pants. If someone presented me with those as a gift, I’d start wondering where their head was at. Then again, flared pants in general make the hairs prickle on the back of my neck, as do certain patterns from that era. Combine the two and I may duck behind the nearest sofa. I think I saw a nice tunic dress pattern recently that was more 1930s than 1970s–surplice neckline, obi-style self belt, and bishop sleeves (mine, mine, all mine!).

  17. Joanne

    Looks superb Karen. I love the corners of the trim too. So precise!
    And I just finished a sitandsew with Susan and Kenneth -last minute cancellation-it was fantastic!

  18. Wow! You are talented! The two color, white and navy blue, are really fresh in hot summer. And the dress is full of vintage style. I really like it!

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