Tag Archives: tunic dress

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

Saved from the ‘70s

After reading the re-issue of Claire McCardell’s book What Shall I Wear, I determined that I needed to make myself a version of a “pop-over” dress.  Her pop-over dress was originally designed to either go over other clothing or be worn just by itself, but the intent was a “utility” dress to make yourself look presentable and even fashionable when you are doing household duties.  Well, household duties will still find me in blue jeans, but a dress to pop on quickly to go run errands, meet a friend for coffee, or go out for a casual supper – that idea was appealing to me.

My plan began to take form when I read the June/July issue of Vogue Patterns.  Page 86 features a “caftan-style” dress – or my idea of a tunic dress.

Tunic sundress - magazine photo

(I have always thought of caftans as full-length, and indeed, according to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, a caftan is a “long, full robe with a slit neckline that is often decorated with embroidery and has long or three-quarter-length sleeves that widen to the end…  adopted by American women in the 1960s and after…  ”)

Tunic sundress - 4

This is Fairchild’s diagram of a caftan; Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, copyright 2003

Although I know there is a 1970s-era Vogue pattern for a tunic dress, I have not found one to purchase, so I thought I’d go ahead and get this current one.

I like both versions of this dress.

I like both versions of this dress.

There is lots of room for individualization with this pattern, as a quick look at the line drawings illustrate.

There is lots of room for individualization with this pattern, as a quick look at the line drawings illustrate.

About the same time, I was in JoAnn’s Fabric Store to buy thread and looked at their “linen and linen-look-fabrics” (in order to get some light-weight cotton/linen blend for underlining for another planned project).  I was pleasantly surprised at the linen-cotton blends they had, including this bright orange/pink/red floral:

Tunic sundress fabric

I guess it is no surprise that fabric came home with me, and then I dug out that piece of deep pink linen pictured, which I had “saved from the ‘70s”, to use as the accent trim.  (It must have been 1974 when I purchased this pink linen in a fabric store on South Street in Philadelphia.  I made myself a suit out of it, now long gone.  But – I’m really glad I saved the left-over fabric!)

Then I doodled a bit to figure out how I wanted to treat the trimming on my tunic dress.

I quickly doodled these sketches to help me determine the look I wanted.

I quickly doodled these sketches to help me determine the look I wanted.

I decided to make it sleeveless so it’s cool and comfortable. I used my Clover bias-maker to make the bias tape I needed for the trim and the binding for the neck and armholes.  Because the linen blend was so lightweight, I underlined it with the same weight linen in off-white.

This shows a shoulder seam with a Hong kong finish to the raw edges and the pink bias binding around the armhole and neck.

This shows a shoulder seam with a Hong kong finish to the raw edges and the pink bias binding around the armhole and neck.

The front, very-low slit neckline as shown on the pattern meant one of two things:  either I would have to wear a camisole underneath it, or I would have to add two buttons and loops.  I decided to add the buttons and loops.

I forgot to add the loops before I sewed the frint neck facing in place.  Then I had to open up the seam to accomplish that little task! I turned the loops with a bodkin

I forgot to add the loops before I sewed the front neck facing in place. Then I had to re-open the seam to accomplish that little task! I turned the loops with a bodkin.

Another view of the front facing.

Another view of the front facing.

Ready to run errands!

Ready to run errands!

What a comfortable dress!

What a comfortable dress!

The back is unstructured and loose.

The back is unstructured and loose.

This is indeed a dress I can pop over my head and go!  I would definitely like to make it again, maybe with the collar and sleeves next time.  And maybe, just maybe, inspiration will come from some other fabric remnant I have tucked away, saved from the ’70s!


Filed under Linen, Uncategorized, underlinings, Vogue patterns