When I first learned to sew, it was with woven fabric. I think most people start out using wovens either because that was the type of fabric their Mothers and Grandmothers used and taught them with, or because they gravitated toward garment making after learning to quilt. I made myself plenty of cotton woven clothes in my teens, and so many pretty dresses for my daughter when I was in my twenties. I also recall making a bathrobe for my husband (with tons of piping) and a dress shirt for my son (all those buttons and buttonholes!) But sewing with knits seems so much easier and forgiving, so I had completely switched over to knits and didn’t look back.
Then two things converged that has me wandering back into wovens. Phee Fabrics started carrying stretch twill, which intrigued me. A local sewing store held The Tunic Bible workshop, which sounded sort of fun. And it would have been fun, but it was way out of my budget range, so I put it out of my mind. But then I started seeing the dresses the women made at the workshop on a Facebook sewing group I belong to. And I needed the pattern!
It’s totally my style- a simple and straight-forward design, yet with the opportunity to personalize. So I looked for “The Tunic Bible”, by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr at a couple of local stores and neither had it in stock. I probably should have driven to the closest bookstore, but it was easy enough to order the book online. ISBN 9781617453564. The pattern is included in the book as two large copy shop sized pages printed front and back. I traced the basic tunic and all the placket options in my size, dug through my 25 to 30 year old stash of wovens for fabric to use as my muslin, and got started.
The book is kind of a “look book” with lots of photographs of the tunics to give you inspiration, and includes directions for basic tunic construction and for each of the placket options. It recommends finishing your seams with French seams to give your tunic a more couture finish. I chose to use flat felling on my shoulder seams, as it seems easier/cleaner to me.
I made a sleeveless tunic length top with a wide split placket as my first muslin, and like the basic look. However, it was immediately obvious to me that it is too wide across the shoulders in the front. Frankly, it’s too wide even if I were adding sleeves, even though I had traced on the sleeveless line. Despite yoga class and trying to have good posture, years of deskwork and hunching over a computer have taken their toll and given me forward rotated shoulders. While wearing it, I placed a row of pins in my top where I wanted the shoulders to end. After taking it off, I laid the pattern on my shirt and marked my new cut lines adding in the seam allowance.
Thinking that I had solved my fit problem, I moved on to a dress length muslin using the V-neck placket. Although the pattern includes all the plackets, the tunic is NOT marked with all the neckline cuts. You are expected to match up the center lines and shoulder seams and trim away the excess fabric on the front and back bodice after sewing on the facing. If you are an experienced sewist, it’s easy enough to do, although it can feel nerve-wracking to not know for sure that you are cutting it properly. This could be a bit overwhelming to someone that is just learning to sew.
Trying on the dress revealed my second fit issue. The bust darts are not in the proper place for my body. I am longer than average from shoulder point to bust apex. This fit issue should not have been a surprise to me, since I frequently have to adjust patterns because they cut into my armpits. Since knits are so forgiving and most knit patterns don’t have bust darts, I didn’t really think about the bust dart. As you can see in my dress, the bust darts are way too high and too far apart. Since that puts the fullest part of the bodice above my bustline, there is a bit of pooling there.
So I did a bit of research online to figure the best way to lower a bust dart. I had determined the amount I needed to lower the bust dart by measuring from where the dart fell on my body, down to the bust apex, and ended up with an inch difference. I also decided to make my bodice a size smaller, since my measurements put me between sizes and I had traced out the larger size. A couple of sites recommend just cutting out the bust dart section of your pattern, moving it down to where you want it, and filling in the cut out section with paper. Since I always keep my master patterns intact and trace out the size I need, I decided to move my pattern piece up an inch on the master pattern and trace the bust dart and smaller size bodice.
I finally felt confident enough with the pattern to cut into my navy stretch twill and make a dress. I loved the look of the wide split placket on my top, so decided to use it again. The Tunic Bible recommends using petersham ribbon or bias tape for trimming your tunic, but since I had a vision of the look I was going for, I had ordered three colors of stretch twill and made my own “bias tape”. Here’s where the beauty of stretch twill comes into play. On my muslin top and dress, I had cut strips of fabric on the bias to trim the arm openings, etc. Since stretch twill has spandex in it, and 10% stretch, I didn’t have to cut my trim on the bias! I used Wonder Tape (a wash-away double stick tape for fabric) to hold my trim in place on the placket while I top-stitched it, and let me tell you- it is a total game changer. I used to pin all my trims or pockets in place, then sew and hope that things didn’t shift or get a weird bubble from the pins. Wonder Tape is awesome and so much easier. I highly recommend trying it.
I love how my first dress turned out! It reminds me of a dress my Grandma used to have when I was a little girl. She was rather stylish, and very beautiful, and an all-around wonderful person. <3 I miss her so, and wish I had a photo of her in the dress I remember. I swear a photo exists, but my Mom didn’t recall it. Sigh. Anyway, I have a beautiful new dress that reminds me of her, and I will wear it all summer long!
I decided to go with a solid color for my next dress, and used the ruffle neckline. This is an unusual choice for me because I don’t “do” frilly. Lady-like, yes. Girly and frilly, nope! I’ve put ruffles on the bummies I made for my grand-daughter, but what looks cute on a baby or toddler doesn’t equate to looking cute on me! I don’t know what possessed me to try it, but I actually like the end result. The coral stretch twill is so bright and summery, and it looks like something I would wear to a cocktail party. (If I were one of those people who throws or gets invited to a dressy cocktail party, which I’m not. :-)) But I feel pretty in it and will probably wear it to my nephew’s wedding this summer.
I’m happy to have wandered back into wovens, and all it took was the intrigue of a new fabric and a few Facebook posts to do it!