The so-called “Tunic of St. Louis” is a linen tunic housed in the treasury of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is said to have belonged to Louis IX (St. Louis), who was King of France from 1226 until 1270 when he died on crusade in Algeria. Louis was canonized in 1297 and his tunic became a relic in the possession of the cathedral. The tunic therefore dates to the 13th century and the style does indeed fit with that assumption.
This tunic is so easy to make, anyone can do it. The original was made from unadorned linen, but you can also make it out of wool and dress it up or down as suits your persona and fancy. It also uses a very small amount of fabric. At left is a possible original layout of the tunic, after Burnham.
Since modern fabric is usually wider than the 22″ used here, you can also use the layout to the right. The tunic should take no more than 2 yards of material. If you are slim, you can even get away with using 45″ wide material, not 60″ wide.
Start with measuring yourself from the back of your neck to wherever you want the tunic to end. If using the original layout (left), double that measurement, add two inches and call it “A”. If using the layout at right, don’t double the measurement (still call it “A”). Measure your arm from your shoulder to your wrist around your bent elbow and add two inches. Call this “B”.
The tunic of St. Louis was made out of 22″ wide linen. This will be wide enough for some people, but not others. Measure the wearer’s shoulders across the back with the back expanded (flexed). Add two inches to this measurement and it should be enough. If you’re unsure, make a muslin and test it first. Call this measurement “C”.
Make a fist. Measure around the widest part and add two inches. Call this “D”.
Cut a rectangle A inches long and C inches wide. If you are using the modern layout, cut two rectangles. Cut two more each B inches long and C inches wide. Put the first rectangle (or two) aside for a moment.
Put one of the B x C rectangles on top of the other and line them up perfectly. Now fold them in half widthwise (so if they were 22″ wide, they are now folded at 11″). Measure ½ “D” inches away from the fold and make a mark. Line up that mark with the corner of the opposite edge and cut. You should now have two trapezoids and four right angle triangles. See figure at left.
Sew each triangle to another along its flat side (it’s very important you sew the flats to each other, not the angled sides).
Fold the A x C rectangle in half lengthwise (so that is it ½ of A long now) or sew the two A x C rectangles together along one of their “C” edges. Find the center of the garment (if 22″ wide, it would be at 11″). Cut a slit through both layers from the cut edge (NOT the folded or sewn edge) and stop at “B” inches up.
Before you unfold the rectangle, put a mark where the fold is on each edge of the fabric. It will help you later.
Take one of the triangles that you sewed together and sew it into one of the slits you just made. Don’t worry if the top is a little funny. It just takes practice. Do the same with the other triangle.
Lay the rectangle out flat. Take one of the remaining pieces and fold it in half width-wise so it is ½ “C” wide. Make a mark at that point on the wider edge. Line up that mark with the mark on the edge of the big rectangle. Do the same for the other side.
You should now have something that looks like a cross. Fold it in half lengthwise again. Sew from the bottom edge, up the side, and down the arm. Do this on both sides.
At the top center, you need to make a hole for your head. Be careful not too make it too big! Make a little slit along the fold until you can pull it over your head. Then put it on and cut until it is comfortable. The tunic of St. Louis has a triangular neckline with the point in front.
I would use a flat felled seam to do all the seams as this is a period stitch and keeps linen from raveling, but a french seam will work just as well. Finish the edges and trim as desired.
- Burnham, Dorothy K. Cut My Cote. 1973: The Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario, Canada.
You can make a tunic which looks remarkably like this one by using RH010 – The Kragelund Tunic: