Tunic Tips ~ Making the Perfect Tunic

on June 23 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips | by | with 97 Comments

Mary O’Neil from Hot Potatoes has been on a year-long quest to sew the perfect tunic. Today she shares some tips she’s learned for altering patterns to create your own perfect tunic. Learn more about Mary and her Hot Potatoes company in her introduction, and don’t forget to comment on today’s post for your chance to win this week’s prizes. Tell us– Have you made a tunic? Do you have a favorite pattern? Do you have any good tips for details that make the tunic?

We have lots of great tunic patterns in the shop. Have you tried Jennifer Paganelli’s Sophie Tunic? The Emily Bell Sleeve Tunic? What about the Sis Boom Patricia Tunic for women? Amy Butler’s versions? The popular Schoolhouse Tunic from Sew Liberated? Tell us all about your experiences! Link to any tunics you’ve made!

A tunic is a perfect garment for any female. In your twenties? Wear it short, as a dress. Let it flow or belt it. In your thirties? Wear it with tight jeans. And as you get on up the scale, pair your tunic with jeans or Capri pants. A tunic can hide flaws, be cool and it’s always comfortable.

I went in search of patterns and, as many of you know, when a pattern has drawings of the garment on the front rather than an actual person in the garment, then there are bound to be problems. Usually a pattern without a real person in the real deal has not been tested. This was the case with my patterns. What should have been a wonderful weekend project was full of disappointment.

So I have made some changes to make your experience with making a tunic a happy one. I have now completed four tunics and three muslins. It is only appropriate to share what I have learned as every closet should have a tunic inside. I have now made one for my mother. It is mid-calf length with pants and she refers to it as her Indira Gandhi ensemble.

I made another for a friend and she is wearing it every time I see her.

I chose to make the one in this tutorial sleeveless, but that was a personal decision. I think it may have had to do with the 98 degree heat, before summer had even officially arrived. I chose several patterns. I worked most specifically with Butterick 4856 as I wanted a yoke with a slit. I also wanted no back seam as my figure is pretty stick straight. I have no junk in my trunk. I also embellished the yoke which is optional and depends on your fabric selection. New Look 6803 and Butterick 5392 were also used, or at least parts of them were.

Reworking Necklines
The biggest problem came with the neckline. I wanted something that felt open and cool. The neck needed to be low but not revealing. The neck from all the patterns was too high and either flopped open or needed a closure, making the garment cloying and hot. I have reworked the neckline to produce a garment that is wearable and comfortable.

Here is how I solved the problem. I lay the original pattern piece down and drew a curve that would drop the neckline down by two inches. I graduated the two inch point back up to the original neck point. See the red line? I have designated a stitch line and a cutting line. See the little scissors?

Reworking the Yoke

I had to adjust the yoke piece only slightly to get what I wanted. I have shown the original next to the adjusted piece. I only dropped ½ inch from the yoke neckline. I also made my yoke and slit a bit shorter.
When you cut out the two pieces for the front yoke add two inches to the length of each side where the yoke goes into the shoulder seam. Specifically, this altered piece is the facing for the yoke that has interfacing ironed to it. By making this adjustment you will have a tail to turn under for a clean finish.
I also found that I could cut out a large back facing from the contrast fabric. I used the pattern back to draw this piece and made sure that the facing was as long as the front slit would be. Take note that when this is attached sew wrongs sides together. This back facing gives a more finished garment and hanger appeal.With these revisions made to the yoke and pattern front you are ready to cut out your pattern pieces.

Tips for Sewing your Tunic Pattern Pieces
Your first point of confusion might be when you attach the yoke to the front piece. It takes a few minutes to understand how the curves work together.

My suggestions here are simple and critical: Mark the points on the yoke and the front very VERY accurately.

Pin and then hand baste the pieces together. It is worth every second of your time.

DO NOT CLIP at the pivot points, only clip these places AFTER you actually sew the yoke to the front on your machine. Pivoting these corners is the critical execution in making tunics a success. Believe me when I tell you I have ripped a seam more than once.

The iron is your friend. Press every opportunity you have. You will be gad you did.

Finishing the Tunic
If your pattern directs you to add bias tape, Here is a link to help if you haven’t worked with bias tape before. After the video starts there will be more little videos that pop up and there is one to show haw to miter corners. Refer to this when you attach the bias tape along the sides and bottom of your tunic.

For the shoulder seams and side seams I suggest making French seams as this tunic is going to be as lovely in the inside as it is on the outside. If your tunic has a back seam you will want to French it as well.

In order to make nice side slits I also found a great tutorial for this as well. Scroll about halfway down the page to Another Technique: Sewing a Bound Slit. With these revisions made to the yoke and pattern front you are ready to cut out your pattern pieces.

At this point I suggest you practice this technique. Make a sample. When you do execute this attaching of bias only work with one side in the beginning. Sew the bias tape around the side and bottom of the garment. Then start with the second piece of bias to make the bound slit. This insures that you have exactly the correct amount to bias to sew the corners and side and bottom edges of the tunic.

Refer to the link above about bias tape if you need help to miter the corners.

I also sewed bias tape around my arm holes. This is much more attractive than an armhole facing. I am not a fan of facings. Then I turned the bias to the inside and did two rows of top stitching to secure it.

My next step is completely optional. I cut out some of the dots from my contrast fabric. I placed them around the yoke and sewed them on with rough stitches using six strands of embroidery thread.

You’ll want to hand stitch the inside yoke down. Also stitch under the tails of the bias tape at the two side slits of your tunic.

Yeah! Finished!

This week you could win a complete fat quarter pack of Spring Street by Carolyn Gavin, Crafting a Meaningful Home by Meg Mateo Ilasco or a $25 Gift Certificate to Sew,Mama,Sew! Comment on any post this week for your chance to win!

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97 Responses to Tunic Tips ~ Making the Perfect Tunic

  1. I needed to thank you for this interesting I definitely loved every little bit of it. I’ve you bookmarked your site to look at the latest stuff you post.

  2. Patti Manes says:

    Great tutorial. Thank you.

  3. I just wanna thank you for sharing your information and your site. I’ve learned something today. Thanks!

  4. J Hicks says:

    With all the doggone snow we have gotten recently I am stuck indoors, good thing there is the internet, thanks for giving me something to do.

  5. AP says:

    I already had the pattern and material, now maybe this tutorial will help me make the adjustments I know I’ll need for a good fit. Thanks!

  6. Rebecca says:


  7. Laura says:

    I want to make clothes!

  8. coleen says:

    I have been obsessed with making a new chambray tunic-y top, this post could not have come soon enough!

  9. Deb Cameron says:

    A great post, sharing what one has learnt in their trials is golden…thank you so much!

  10. Sonja says:

    Love this tutorial. Thanks for sharing!

  11. J. Harmon says:

    Thank you for all of the great tips!

  12. Erica says:

    I love tunics 🙂 You’re so right, they do hide flaws really well. Great tutorial!

  13. carole says:

    I love this tutorial!

  14. Java Jane says:

    What a helpful post. I have been working on adapting patterns and have found that what sometimes seems like a good idea in the beginning is not one in execution. Sigh.

    Still learning,

  15. laura says:

    I’ve been itching to sew some clothes and you have given me some inspiration. thanks!!

  16. K-Sue says:

    Great tips – especially the bias tape armhole facing – I think I will try that this summer.

  17. Barb in MI says:

    I have a tunic pattern but haven’t dared to make one yet… This tut does help – and who knows I may make my own here real soon! Thanks so much!

  18. Carolyn Wood says:

    Wonderful tutorial, I might just give one another chance.

  19. darci says:

    what a timely post- i was just looking at the schoolhouse tunic last night and soliciting opinions today- wondering if it would be flattering on me

  20. Amy says:

    Super cute fabirc! Great tutorial!

  21. judy says:

    Now I have to try working with a front slit. I thank you for this because it appears that your tips would make it possible to sew a perfectly lovely tunic top with 100% cotton.

  22. hueisei says:

    Thanks for the tutorial…
    I already bookmarked it for my reference 😀

  23. Sara says:

    This was a great post. Please put up more info on altering patterns to make the so-so ones work for each of us! I agree the details are key, something I”m just learning.

  24. Margie Bennett says:

    Wonderful tunic! I’m looking for summer tops that are cool but not revealing & this fits perfectly!

  25. Kris says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! Love the fabric choice!

  26. marilyn podoll says:

    Love the sewing tips. Thanks.

  27. Tara says:

    Thank you! I have a couple of tunics on the docket and will definitely come back to this tutorial.

  28. Belinda says:

    Really nice tunic & great explanations. Thanks for the excellent links too!

  29. I have always loved tunics, I guess it had to come around to being in fashion some time!

  30. Christine says:

    Wow! Great tutorial.

  31. kristy says:

    Love tunics!

  32. Thanks for such warm and kind response. You are the motivation I need to really get blogging. So check with me often and thanks again to SewMamaSew and all you readers and responders.

  33. Lynne in NC says:

    Simply brilliant! Great advice and love the fabric choices.

  34. Eleonora says:

    thanks for the tutorial!…your instructions are very clear,end the tunic is so nice and wearable!

  35. Kat says:

    Another fantastic tutorial and just what I was looking for. I’m off to check out your other tunic patterns now.

    And the giveaway? I’m drooling right now. Drooling I tell you. I wants it. My preciousssss….

  36. Martina says:

    Wow, love this very much! Great post. Thanks a lot!

  37. Ramona says:

    Thanks for the wonderful tutorial. I love how that tunic looks on her.

  38. Farscapegirl says:

    Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing it 🙂

  39. Lori Morton says:

    Thank You Thank You Thank You!!!! What a helpful, and easy to follow Tutorial!! Thanks for sharin’ with all of us! 🙂

  40. Miranda says:

    Great tutorial! Thanks!

  41. Sash says:

    I have a couple of tunic patterns i’ve been meaning to try from the Lisette range… must get onto that!

  42. SewLindaAnn says:

    That was a wonderful post. The pictures really helped me to understand what she was talking about. I have purchased patterns, fabric and a body double..and still have no garment to show! I’m going to keep trying, she’s so inspiring.

  43. Renae says:

    great tutorial, I have fabric and a pattern to make a tutorial but haven’t got around to making it yet.

  44. kathyh says:

    Very cool looking.

  45. Ginger says:

    Nice tips. I have not made a tunic, but I want to. I’m just afraid it will look too much like a maternity top or an old lady, on me. I just need to go ahead and make one.

  46. Amanda says:

    I’ve never altered a pattern, but am so going to try now. I just finished a tunic that I’ll wear, but don’t love and my hesitation is all in the neck line. Thanks so much for this. It’s like you were peaking in my sewing room 🙂

  47. Denise says:

    Love the tops and the sewing tips and tricks. The tunics remind me of my favorite pattern by Sis Boom/Carla C, the Patricia Tunic.

  48. jenny says:

    I have been wanting to make a tunic this summer. Thank you for the inspiration and advice.

  49. N. Perez says:

    I am left scratching my head and wondering if I had what it takes to work on my Amy Butler tunic that’s sitting next to my sewing machine. See, I have sort of a phobia of tunics since I took a beginner’s sewing class in which with the help of the instructor I made a potato sac and they insisted on calling it a tunic.
    I love the end result of this tutorial but it does leave me with a feeling of ‘Don’t go near it, girl!’ If you needed a sign here’s one for ya.

  50. Ivy PM says:

    i haven’t make or try to make one. but with this great tutorial i know i can and will. thanks sms and to you mary 🙂

  51. colleen says:

    Thank you! I think I have that very pattern and ruined some beautiful AMH voile because I just didn’t get it. Seeing the one you made for a friend makes me want to dig it out and try again. Thanks so much for the tips. It really is difficult to sew alone; how nice to have a helping hand even if it’s through cyberspace!

  52. Linda says:

    Perfect timing! I have a tunic pattern already to go and these tips are going to be very helpful! Thanks!

  53. Jacqui says:

    If you have a bust size bigger than a B-cup you’ll also need to do a full bust adjustment (google it and there are heaps of good links that explain what it is and how to do one), otherwise the tunic will be tight across the chest and look awful, or if you cut the size for your bust measurement it’ll be too big everywhere else! I learned this the hard way… Get the right fit on a tunic though, and they’re great!

  54. Beth T says:

    I’m a quilter, not a sewer–I find it fascinating to see how garments are made. I wish I’d paid more attention when my mom was sewing…but it’s nice to have you here to help me catch up.

  55. Barb Colvin says:

    Having made many garments over the years, I agree with Mary–happiness is in the details. French and flat felled seams are extra work, but the finished product will be more durable. Pressing at every step is essential, too. Thanks Mary 🙂

  56. Anne Marie says:

    Love this pattern!

  57. Ellen Ban says:

    Great tips on neat finishes! I like my “insides” neat and finished. Facings sometimes are a mess on the armholes so the bias tape is a great alternative.

  58. Tina says:

    I love Ms. Mary! Always have since, well, y’know. LOVE the tunic ideas. Great. Now I’m on a quest! 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration! I especially love your detail and finishing!

  59. Leigh Anne says:

    This helps alot. Makes me think I might could actually sew my own tunic…:) yay!

  60. Marcia W. says:

    This is a very cute tunic and the tips are helpful.

  61. Amy A says:

    Love the tips on using the bias tape to finish the arm holes and slits. Thanks!

  62. Rhonda says:

    I am not brave enough to sew clothing but I love to read/listen to anything by Mary O’Neil. I have been a fan since watching her on the Carol Duvall Show many moons ago. thanks for sharing.

  63. Tez says:

    awesome advice, thank you so much for the direction!

  64. Erin Waters says:

    I have been wanting to sew a tunic for a while now, but the patterns I find all have one thing I just don’t like…I have the new ones from Liesel Gibson, so I’m going to give it a try…thanks for the tips!

  65. Jocelyn says:

    You make is look so easy. I have not sewn garments in years. Very cute.

  66. Ana says:

    Gawd, I love tunics but they were the bane of my life last year! I made the Schoolhouse tunic which turned out beautifully but I forgot to preshrink the fabric, so I’ll need to lose some weight before I can get back into it, and I made several variations of Make It Perfect’s Shearwater Kaftan, none of which fitted despite me widening the shoulders several times, which is a shame because I really like the simplicity of that pattern.

    I also have patterns for Lila Tueller’s Funked Out Peasant blouse (probably doesn’t qualify as a tunic but what the heck), Amy Butler’s Lotus tunic and Heather Ross’s tunic in her Weekend Sewing book which I would like to try. Hopefully I’ll have better success than last year!

  67. brenda says:

    Thanks for the info, I would have never thought of making those changes but now I will try it.

  68. Andi says:

    Nice! I’ve got a couple tunic patterns but haven’t tried them yet. I’d really love to use some voile or some other drapey fabric for a finished garment. I really love that Anna Maria Horner tunic.

  69. beverly says:

    Ah, thank you! I find sewing for myself so difficult. Sizing is always a problem!

  70. Martha says:

    I have the Schoolhouse tunic pattern, but haven’t been brave enough to cut into any fabric yet. It is on my list of summer “To Do’s”

  71. Addy says:

    Thanks so much!

  72. Ellen says:

    I agree that a tunic is so versatile. Love the choice of fabrics for this one. Very flattering.

  73. Melanie says:

    I haven’t ever done a shirt either, but this is very well-explained and worth giving a shot. Thanks!

  74. julie says:

    Terrific! I have not made a tunic, yet, but I LOVE this and can’t wait to try it. Thanks for the tutorial!

  75. great tute, very inspiring, howver one of the links doesn’t work in this sentence: “Finishing the Tunic
    If your pattern directs you to add bias tape, Here is a link to help if you haven’t…”

  76. Serena says:

    I like the contrasting bias. Tunics are so great for summer.

    I’ve made two of Amy Butler’s Anna Tunic. You can see them on my blog (not self-promotion, I just know how useful it can be to see a pattern made up).
    http://memgirl.blogspot.com/2009/04/anna-tunic.html and

  77. Belinda says:

    I just did view B of New Look 6803. I made it into a dress and it turned out very well with some adjustments and wanted to make the other view next. I am so happy i found this article before i start cutting!

  78. Jen says:

    great advice on adjusting the yoke!

  79. Laura says:

    great tips on personalizing a pattern! My favorite tunic is Meg’s schoolhouse tunic, so simple that it leaves me room to embellish and play. Each one i make looks so different!

  80. Sarita says:

    I needed to see this, thank you!

  81. Emilie says:

    thanks for the amazing tutorial! This will be on my project list!

  82. krystina says:

    I’m making a shirt now and have been wondering what to do about finishing the armholes. I was leaning towards bias tape, so thanks for the extra push!

  83. Julie says:

    This is so cute!

  84. jennifer says:

    perfectly timed tutorial…I am almost done with my second pregnancy and wanting to make some loose-fitting clothing for right after I have the baby…

  85. Katrina H says:

    I really like the fabric you chose. Also, it’s nice to get clear instruction when trying to alter something. Thank you!

  86. Chrissy says:

    That looks great! I think I’ll make a tunic my next project! Thank you for sharing.

  87. Amy says:

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve been perusing tunic patterns. This couldn’t have come at a better time.

  88. Sarah S. says:

    I didnt have any plans to sew a tunic top this summer, but now I do.
    Thanks for the great tips! I love your modifications.

  89. Sarah says:

    Thanks for all the tips! I definitely think that a tunic is a project I would like to tackle soon, so this is perfect timing. 🙂

  90. Ellen says:

    Excellent tute! I never knew that about pictureless patterns not being tested. o_O

  91. This makes this project look almost doable! I have never attempted a shirt before…. I just might give it a go! 🙂

    Thanks so much!

  92. Janet K says:

    wow – I really like the changes you made to the neckline! I’m not brave enough to try a tunic yet, but I will bookmark your tips!

  93. Christina G. says:

    Nice write-up. My mom spent hours combining/altering several patterns to come up with the perfect tunic pattern for me. It is a pattern I cherish!

  94. Jessica says:

    I hadn’t made the connection between no model and possibly no testing. I’m still new to patterns, so that’s a great tip!

  95. Rebecca says:

    Very practical and love the fabric! I tend to stay away from tunics because I don’t have the pants/skirt wardrobe to make them work. I am working on repurposing some polo shirts in to tunic-like tops, but I haven’t finished one yet, so I don’t have much to share about it 🙂

  96. Jenny says:

    very informative. thanks!

  97. Tara says:

    Yet another great tutorial! Thanks SMS and Mary O’neil!

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