Nicole Blum from One Golden Apple and Improv Diary joins us today with this fun Tunic Tutorial. You can use old t-shirts or new jersey yardage to come up with a simple, comfortable piece that fits you perfectly. If you love Nicole’s style and today’s tutorial, be sure to check out her book coming out next spring, Improv Sewing: 101 Fast, Fearless Projects. Learn more about Nicole in her introduction, and check out One Golden Apple for lots of “fast and fearless” tutorials to whet your appetite for the book!

Hello, fellow makers and dreamers and lovers of this fantastic blog of ideas. I am here today to convert you to knowing the joys of sewing with jersey. I have heard tell that many believe this to be a tricky fabric to sew with and I couldn’t disagree more. It is easy to stitch, quite forgiving to wear, and allows for a lot of creative touches. Not only that, you can use fabric harvested from the billions of t-shirts that have been cast out of people’s drawers and into the thrift shops, and then can boast spending nearly nothing and recycling.

I have come up with this project to illustrate just how fun it can be to make your own clothes without complicated patterns or fancy equipment. I would suggest investing a few dollars in a pack of “jersey” or “ball tip” machine needles and then you are good to sew. These needles slide through the threads of the jersey, where universal ones poke through and might grab. Have fun!

This is an upcyled tunic made from four panels, each from a different t-shirt. Of course, you could vary it any way that suits your fancy, using 2 different shirts, 3 shirts or jersey yardage. What matters is finding colors and designs you like, cutting them up, and piecing them into this comfortable and cute little number in a jiffy. It can be kept completely plain, stitched up the front like I did here, or decorated in any other way you want.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 extra large men’s t-shirts (with or without graphics) or 1 yard of fabric
  • contrasting thread
  • a well-fitting t-shirt
  • a hooded garment, such as a sweatshirt
  • a roll of kraft paper or wrapping paper for making your pattern
  • chalk or vanishing ink pen
  • scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • your beloved sewing machine
  • measuring tape

1. Measure length: Determine the length of your tunic by measuring from your shoulder to the place you would like the bottom to hit. Of course this length can’t be longer than the shortest shirt you are using, so try to find the longest tees you can at the thrift shop or your fella’s drawer.

2. Make a pattern: Unroll paper on your work surface and lay your well fitting t-shirt, folded in half from top to bottom, along one long edge. Using your chalk or a pencil, draw a line from where the shoulder meets the neckline to where the shoulder meets the sleeve. Make all lines ½” from the shirt, for seam allowance. Next, make a mark where the sleeve meets the armpit and draw your line down to your desired length. For a great and comfortable fit, I stick close to the line of the t-shirt through the bust area, and then I gently flare out in a gentle line to create more room around the belly, hips, and butt area. I think this is a flattering shape for most of us.

Make a mark on paper’s edge where the neckline of your shirt touches. Remove shirt and draw a curved line from the inner shoulder marking to where you marked the neckline touching the paper’s edge. Also draw a curving line from the outer shoulder to the armpit marking. Tip: To follow the line of the sleeve on your t-shirt, use a pattern roller if you have one (looks a bit like a pastry crimper), pin pricks every inch along the curve, or a dull pencil to make an imprint onto the paper for you to follow.

Cut out your paper pattern. Save it to make things in the future!

3. Cut your pieces: Cut open your shirts and open them flat, right side down. Lay your pattern piece atop the fabric so it runs the length of the shirt. You must make the grain of the fabric run vertically on the garment or it will not hang well or fit well. Trace the pattern onto the wrong side of the fabric. Add ½” seam allowance just along the straight side where the panels will be sewn together. Cut out piece and repeat with 3 other panels.

Important! You must cut 2 panels in the same direction, and then flip the pattern and cut the 2 others. You want to be sure that when sewn together, all of the right sides will be facing out. Got it?

4. Adjust length: Lay all of the panels in a neat pile, with shoulders and sides lined up. Cut the bottoms so they are as long as the shortest piece. You could do this while cutting the pattern, but I didn’t so this was necessary. Make it work!

5. Sew it up! Now it’s time to sew the front panels together, and then the back panels together. With right sides together, pin along the center line of the panels– This will be the center seam down either the front or the back of the tunic. Using a straight stretch stitch, sew a ½” seam. Repeat with the other two panels.

Now you have a front and a back and you need to sew them together. Lay out one side, right side up, and then lay the other atop, so the right sides are touching. Align the shoulders and pin in place, then align the armpits and pin in place.

Sew along the shoulders, using a straight stretch stitch, and then from the armpit to the bottom edge of the tunic. Be sure to do the other side now too.

6. Make the neckline the way you want: A gentle crew neckline works great for the hoodie tunic. Put it on and make a mark (I use chalk) where you’d like the neckline to fall. Take it off. Separate the front from the back of the tunic and fold the front in half down the front (along the seam). Lay this flat on cutting surface. Draw a gentle curve from the inner shoulder to the mark you made. The line should come in totally straight when meeting the folded edge– be sure not to curve it up, but if you do you can always fix it after it is unfolded.

7. Make the hood: Fold t-shirt fabric in half so the right sides are together and the grain is running vertically. Lay the hoodie atop the fabric and trace around the hood with a ½” seam allowance. Cut out. Sew from the top, around the curve of the back, and ending at the neckline, using a straight stretch stitch. Cut notches along the curve’s seam allowance so it doesn’t pucker.

8. Sew on the hood: Align the hood’s seam at the back of the neck with the seam at the back of the tunic so the right sides are together. Pin in place. Work out from the center seam, pinning as you go, until the hood is pinned in place all along the bottom edge. Sew a ½” seam. It is easiest to do this with the tunic inside out.

9. Hem the neckline: You will notice that the seam allowance doesn’t blend right into the neckline, so though I am not big on hemming this is a place where it will look best. Simply fold the neckline down ½” to match the seam where the hood is attached and pin in place.

Using a straight stitch (or zig zag, or anything you like, really) have fun sewing that hem in place. I made three lines of straight stitches and I quite like it.

10. Embellish it and make it yours! The colors I chose for this tunic are quite subtle and I felt like some subtle stitching would suit it best. I chose to just go back and forth over the front seam with a straight stitch. I love how the haphazard zig zag looks and it is easy to create. Simply start at one end and stitch a couple inches, lift the foot, turn the fabric, and then stitch a couple more inches in the opposite direction at an angle. Continue until reaching the other end. It doesn’t take very long.

Design tips: Stencil, print, free motion scribble, appliqué, reverse appliqué, or add some ribbon along the bottom edge. There are so many things you can do to make it yours.