No-Sew Costumes: Tunics, Skirts & Capes

Costumes don’t need to be confined to the drama department. They are engaging, hands-on ways to explore history, cultures, commerce, and geography. They can be used to enhance the study of literature through role playing and can add to the excitement of writing by adding a dramatic portrayal of story lines. Children benefit from the tactile experience of working with different textiles and thinking about what garment style says about the wearer. Costumes are an excellent way to combine literacy, mathematics, art, and social studies, and they involve problem solving, critical thinking, and visual literacy.

There are two simple no-sew costume structures: the tunic and the skirt/cape.

Suggested materials: Fabric, hot glue, and optional decorative materials include buttons and trim

Applications Across Subjects:

  • Measuring units (using rulers and other measuring tools to prepare materials)
  • Geometry units (looking at different shape and size fabrics to create different shape and size costumes)
  • How-To books (about making the costume)
  • Non-fiction writing about fabric- the history, uses, around the world
  • Fiction writing about a character you create
Social Studies
  • Historical figures
  • Historical clothing
  • Character study of a historical figure
  • Fabric and weather (how weather affects fabric)
  • Fabric construction (weaving)
Social & Emotional
  • Feelings characters
  • Role-play

How to make a tunic:

  1. Begin with a length of material which has been measured to fit the person wearing it. You can decide on the length by measuring the wearer from shoulder to waist/knees or to the floor. You’ll want to double the length to make sure the fabric covers the wearer from the front and back. Make sure you also decide on the width needed to fit the body and if you want to create a sleeve.
  2. You can also choose what kind of fabric will suit your character. (The MFTA warehouse offers a variety of large rolls and pieces in many different materials). For example, a peasant might ware a tunic made of burlap or rough material, but a king might wear velvet or satin. Fabric choice and applying detailed decoration will really give your tunic its style.
  3. Fold the fabric in half so you have a fold at the top, like a placard.
  4. Fold in half lengthwise by bringing together the two outside edges.
  5. Cut a small diagonal opening across the top corner. The raw edges will be sleeves.
  6. Open up and you will have the beginnings of the tunic.

Make sleeves: Determine the style and length and cut into the sides of the tunic. You can hot glue sides, tape, add buttons, or lace them.
Change the look: Cut a different neck shape or opening in the front. You can also think about layering different lengths or fabric types, add a side closure to the garment, or belt it high or low or only in the front to create a dress/cape effect.
Make a vest: Make a shorter tunic and open the front with a slit from the neck.
Make a collar: Start with a circle of fabric, fold it, and cut a hole in the middle. This goes over the head and the circle lies across the shoulders. The shape can be modified for different effects. Another collar can be made with a long piece of stiff fabric or cardboard cut to fit the neck edge. Hot glue in place and cover with fabric or trim.

How to make a skirt or cape:

  1. The minimum width of fabric to completely close a straight hanging gathered waist skirt is 1.5x around the body. For a fuller skirt, add more to the width. Fold the length of fabric in half lengthwise, and then fold again.
  2. Fold over the top edge of the fabric about 2 inches.
  3. Cut 1/2 inch slits in top folded over edge, every 2 inches. This creates an envely spaced series of slits to weave the cord through the waist.
  4. Open up the fold and weave the cord in and out of the top slits to create a tie-able waist closure.

The same guidelines apply to making a cape.

Make an easy stretchy skirt: A flowing graceful skirt with an irregular hem can be made from any stretchy fabric. Decide on the length of the skirt and then cut a square of material that measures approximately from the waist to the chosen length. Fold the fabric diagonally in half and then fold diagonally in half. Cut a small opening in the folded corner (this is the hole for the waist). Pull the skirt on over the head and adjust the opening for a comfortable fit. Create different looks by layering different length skirts.

Accordion Book
Fabric and Paper Beads