DIY: Color Block Tunic (with free pattern!)

Well, friends, it may be the end of August, but in my neck of the woods, the summer heat is still going strong (and it probably will until about Halloween). When you live in a place where high temperatures last at least six months of the year, you get to a point where your t-shirt rotation begins to feel very old and you crave a change of season so much that you go ahead and buy fall clothing too early. And then you wear it and sweat in it and curse the cool mornings that trick you into thinking, “maybe it won’t be 95 degrees again today.” So this year, I called the bluff a little and made something summery and new just in time for Labor Day. It’s a tunic, so it works equally well as a bathing suit coverup, a casual dress, and a top to wear with jeans or leggings. And it’s made from cotton voile, so it’s silky and soft and incredibly light–the perfect thing to wear to the pool or a blazing hot football game. I’ve worn it twice in three days!

I was inspired to make this by a yellow tunic top that I bought from J. Crew about four years ago. It had a similar neckline with pattern on the body and color block along the seams, but it was too wide, too short, and ended in a tier of ruffles that looks a bit tired to me these days. Although I think it was intended to double as a cover-up, it wasn’t long enough for my frame–I kept thinking my rear was going to peek out as I walked. So I wore it as a top for awhile, and this summer it hung in my closet until the idea of making this updated version popped into my head.

The design is very simple–and I’ve provided it for you to download (free!) in the materials section. I began with an outline of my old J. Crew top, then narrowed and lengthened it and adjusted the necklines and the armholes to be a bit more flattering (I’m not a big fan of seeing my underwear through the arm). I also added the color block at the bottom. The body of the tunic is constructed from three pieces of material, joined at the sides and the front; the color block sections are all facings, sewn onto the wrong side of the tunic, folded forward, and topstitched. The armholes are finished with traditional facings (turned inward) in the tunic fabric.

To summarize, this project is almost one hundred percent about applying facings and stitching them down. Although attaching the facings has its painstaking moments, it isn’t at all difficult–the project took me 2 evenings and 2 nap times total, including designing the pattern (I’ve saved you that time) and cutting the fabric. I have a feeling that a more experienced sewist could do it much faster–and perhaps combine some of my steps. If any of you fall into that category, let me know how you would put it together. I love learning from you!

The patterned material (I know you’re all wondering–isn’t it pretty?) came from my favorite fabric source, Whipstitch, and is called Shattered Voile in Sky, part of Anna Maria Horner’s Innocent Crush collection. The rose is Free Spirit Voile in Solid Heather, from Fabricworm. This was my first time using Anna Maria’s gorgeous fabrics and using voile, and I found the delicate fabric to be very quick-to-fray and to bunch up under the machine’s needle–so I had to go slow and be careful. It was worth it, though–the voile feels wonderful on my skin and breathes so easily. If you decide to try this project, I’d highly recommend checking out the voiles in Anna Maria Horner’s new Lou Lou Thi collection. This one would be perfect for heading into fall!

See the full tutorial and a million pics of the process after the jump.

p.s. I have to commend my husband for taking these pics. He decided to include my face, which was sweet of him, but looking at these and thinking about posting them online is giving me funny flashbacks to being an only child and having to pose by myself all the time. That last picture in particular is eerily similar to a Christmas card my parents sent out about twenty years ago. I don’t think modeling is my fave.

Color Block Tunic Pattern* (click to download)
1 and 1/4 yards patterned voile for tunic body
1/2 yard solid voile for facings (look at the pattern first; if your fabric isn’t very wide, you may need more)
Regular or (my choice) swedish tracing paper
Coordinating thread
Basic sewing materials
Pinking shears

*Note: My pattern probably corresponds to a size small tunic. To change the size, you’ll need to extend or shrink the width of the tunic body pieces at the bust and hip. To do this, take your bust and hip measurements, and measure the vertical distance from your bust line (the bottom of the armhole on a tank top, roughly) to the widest part of your hip. Divide your bust and hip measurements by four to determine quarter bust and quarter hip. Now, extend/shrink the width of the pattern at the bottom of the armhole to match your quarter bust. Measure down from that point to the hip line, and extend/shrink the pattern at that point to match your quarter bust. If you have questions, leave me a comment!

1. Assemble your pattern pieces and cut. My pattern provides you with the front and back of the tunic and all of the facings–just print out the document, lay the pieces on the floor so that the sides are just touching (not overlapping), and tape together. If you have any trouble figuring out which piece goes where, look for the small numbers and arrows at the edges of the pages–these indicate the number of the adjacent page. You will see that pages 1-10 tape together to form one large section and pages 11-20 tape together to form the second section (the back pattern piece).

From your tunic fabric, cut two front pieces and one back piece on the fold. Then cut four armhole facings–two for the front and two for the back.

From the solid, cut the two long facings (for the front), two curved front neckline facings, one back neckline facing, and two hem facings on the fold. It is a lot of cutting, but the facings are small, so it goes by quickly.

Here’s how all the pieces looked as I began to lay them out on my pattern. The hem facings weren’t there yet–they were a late addition to the design!

2. Finish the armholes. Pin the armhole facings to the right side of your front and back tunic pieces (the outside), right sides facing.

Sew the facing pieces on using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

Use pinking shears to clip out the curve,

then turn the facing over to the wrong side of the tunic piece, fold the raw edge under, and pin.

Sew the folded edge to the wrong side of the tunic, stitching as close to the folded edge as possible. Repeat for the other three armholes.

3. Apply the neckline facings to the back of the tunic. Pin the back neckline facing to the wrong side of the tunic back (which will be the inside of the garment).

Sew the facing on, using a 1/4 inch seam allowance, then turn the facing to the right side of the tunic and press.

Fold the raw outer edge of the facing under 1/4 inch and pin.

Stitch the facing down, sewing as close to the folded edge as possible.

4. Apply the front facings. First, attach the curved front neckline pieces to the long facings. Lay your four pieces out on a flat surface so that you can see their shape and understand how they fit together. Now, fold the bottom corner of one curved neckline piece under so that it creates a diagonal line extending from the top inside corner of the long piece to its outer edge, as shown below.

Without moving that diagonal line, unfold the curved piece and attach it to the long piece with pins. Make sure that the fold line stays in place. Repeat for the matching pieces.

Stitch along the fold line.

Fold curved pieces back into place and press down.

Now, pin the combined front facing pieces to the wrong side of the front tunic pieces (the inside of the garment) from the shoulder to the bottom of the “v” shape (the point where the two facing pieces will come together). I pinned a little lower than this, just to keep the lower parts of my facing from pulling, but that’s not necessary.

Stitching as close as possible to the edge (I think my seam allowance was about 1/8), sew the facing to the tunic from the shoulder to the base of the “v,” as shown below.

Turn the facing to the right side of the tunic and press the edges down.

Making sure that the unstitched sections of the facing stay in place, position the two front pieces of the tunic on top of one another and pin the center seam, making a sandwich with the un-sewn (solid) facings in the middle and the tunic fabric on the outside.

Stitch from the bottom of the “v” to the bottom of the garment, using a 1/4 seam allowance and making sure that you capture every layer of the fabric sandwich.

Finish the seam you just created–I used a serging stitch, but you could use a zig-zag stitch as well.

Unfold the tunic and press the facing down.

Pin the outer raw edges of the facing under about 1/4 inch and pin. This is the most annoying part of the whole project. When you finish it, reward yourself!

Sew down the outer edges of the facing, stitching as close to the fold lines as possible.

5. Pin the front and back pieces of the tunic together, right sides facing, at the shoulder seams. Sew together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance and finish the seam (I just pinked this one, but I’ll probably grow to regret that–or go back and serge it). After this step, go try it on and check out the length! Stick a few pins in at your desired hemline.

6. Apply the hem facings. Pin hem facing pieces so that their lower edge aligns with your desired hemline.

Sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

Trim away excess tunic fabric.

Turn facing to the right side of the tunic and press the edge. [Anyone notice something different here? I got this cute ironing board cover from Target halfway through the project. The old one, with its layers of gold fabric paint and ever-present dingy-ness was grossing me out].

You’re getting used to this technique, hmm? Turn the raw outer edge of the facing under 1/2 inch.

Sew down. Breathe easy. Your facing days are over.

7. Create the side seams. Before sewing anything together, finish the sides of your two tunic pieces with a serging or a zig-zag stitch. Next, place the tunic pieces together, right sides facing, and pin.

Stitch the side seams using a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Press seams open, turn the garment inside out, and admire your handiwork.

Then, go grab a bikini, a beer, and a ginormous bag of plastic water toys and you’re ready for Labor Day! Happy Tuesday, friends!

Posted by Elisabeth at 4:00 AM
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Labels: diy, free patterns, sewing, summer clothes, womens clothes

EricaAugust 30, 2011 at 1:20 PM
Quick question – in my experience voile is very sheer. Did you have to wear a slip or layering piece under your dress? It is so cute and I can’t wait to whip one of these up for my sister’s birthday present!


ElisabethAugust 30, 2011 at 1:35 PM
Hi Erica! That’s a good question–yes, it is sheer, but I wore it with nude underwear and didn’t have a problem (you couldn’t see through it). I’d probably take a close look at your fabric before you cut into it, and go for colors instead of whites and creams. This particular Anna Maria Horner fabric, even in a light color, worked fine for me!


luvinthemommyhoodSeptember 4, 2011 at 4:53 PM
So cute! It looks great on you! Love the fabric too!


YaneriSeptember 6, 2011 at 12:03 PM
I simply love these kinds of tutorials!!! I’m a new sewing bee. Learning all the basics. I just sewed my 1st bike basket. If you want u can take a peek over at my blog!



Laura IsabelSeptember 6, 2011 at 6:16 PM
wondering if the facing might be done in quilting cotton so as to be more opaque. Actually, do you think lawn or cotton could be used for all?


ElisabethSeptember 6, 2011 at 7:32 PM
Hi Laura! I think that you could use cotton lawn for this project, but might lose the coverup-tunic effect if you used a quilting cotton. The voile/lawn keeps it extremely light-weight and breathable for throwing on over a bathing suit or in the heat of summer. Because voiles are so hard to find, I toyed with the idea of using a heavier weight material for the facings and decided against it. If you wanted to use the pattern more as a dress, however, you could definitely use quilting cottons for the whole thing. Hope that helps!


Laura IsabelSeptember 7, 2011 at 2:51 PM
Thanks Elisabeth. I think I might try doing the facings in lawn. I don’t really like that you can see the print through the sheer solid voile. Super cute pattern!


Shannon-LeeSeptember 13, 2011 at 3:05 PM
How awesome! Thank you so much for sharing!


gudiJanuary 20, 2012 at 5:11 PM
I LOVE IT… I love the retro style and even though pink is not my color I think the combination is great. I’m just starting with sewing, so I really appreciate it, this motivates me to practice a little more so that I can make one for me.


TBMarch 12, 2012 at 3:24 PM
love this tunique thanks for share =)


BridgettMay 12, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Love this!! About to have twins and I need some comfy “after baby” clothes that aren’t frumpy. I’m thinking I may try this with the folded ribbon. Can’t think of the name but it comes in solid colors, you put the unfinished fabric in the fold and sew it.


Bettsi McCombMay 26, 2012 at 5:42 PM
This is really darling! You look super cute in it and you shouldn’t be self-conscious at all! I love the method you worked out for creating this- so clever!


AnonymousJune 4, 2012 at 1:49 PM
hi are you like a size 2 in women’s? is that your small?


ElisabethJune 4, 2012 at 2:54 PM
Hi! This pattern probably corresponds to a size 4-6. Definitely bigger than a 2 (particularly in the hips).


ShelbyNovember 12, 2012 at 3:04 PM
This looks awesome! Love it! It looks simple enough for my limited sewing abilities 🙂 Would it be difficult to add sleeves to?

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I’m Elisabeth. I’m a mother to two little boys and one brand new baby girl. I’m also into marketing, design, and many things crafty and colorful. Here, you’ll find posts on my adventures in creating, motherhood, and living by grace.


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