Huan-Hua offered to sew The Sabrina Tunic, whipping up both a wearable muslin and a final, beautiful version of the dress. She has future plans for the pattern too
Sabrina Tunic Pattern Review
The Sabrina Tunic from Serendipity Studio Sewing
From the pattern package: “You will feel as cool and sophisticated as Audrey Hepburn in this glorious easy-to-sew little frock featuring a boat neckline, sleeveless body, Empire waist, and A-line skirt with subtle gathering. The look is polished with a tie at the waist that criss-crosses in the back. Featured in three lengths, this design can be worn with pants or as a flirty dress. This tunic is perfect for all seasons, looking equally smashing by itself or with a cardigan or jacket.”
The pattern is sized from XXS (size 32 bust) to XXL (size 44 bust). The edges are finished with facings and the back is closed with an invisible zipper.
There are instructions given for many different style variations:
Overall length: “tunic length,” “above knee length,” “below knee length”
Hem finish: Wide contrast band at lower hem, Gathered wide contrast band at lower hem, Narrow contrast band at lower hem, Plain hem with no contrast band
Waistline finish: Plain with no additional waistline finish, Contrast band at waist, Shirred contrast band at waist,
Waistline tie (in all views, the center of this band is sewn down around the empire waistline, then the ends of the tie are crossed in the back, brought back around, and tied in the front a couple of inches below the empire waist): Fabric tie, Narrow fabric tie (used with shirred contrast band at waist), Ribbon tie
I had some trouble interpreting which options corresponded to the different views shown on the front of the envelope, so here are descriptions of the different views shown, as far as I can tell:
The back of the pattern provides the fabric yardage requirements for each component of the pattern, but I found it a little confusing since I wasn’t sure which features were mutually exclusive. If you’re short on fabric, or shopping for fabric specifically for this pattern, it will be helpful to look at the list of design features above and cross-reference against the view you want to copy. I used almost exactly 2 yards of 44″ fabric for the black dress, which was cut in the below-knee length, between sizes Small and Medium, with the self-fabric tie waistline option and a plain hem.
At a minimum, you will need ¼ yard of 22″ fusible interfacing, an 18″ invisible zipper, and 1 ½ yards of fabric for the smallest size tunic; at the other extreme, the largest size in the below-knee length will use 2 ¾ yards of fabric, ¼ yard interfacing, and a 22″ invisible zipper, plus any contrast fabrics.
You will need a loop turner (unless you use the ribbon tie at the waist), an invisible zipper foot for your sewing machine, and a ruffler attachment if you want to follow the pattern instructions for the shirred or ruffled contrast bands. You may also want a hook and eye to fasten the back of the neck, and 1″ bias tape or a bias tape maker if you make the same modifications I did for finishing the edges.
The materials list also includes a rotary cutter, ruler, and mat, and cotton/poly thread to match fabrics. (There is no reason you can’t use shears instead of a rotary cutter, though.)
There are no particular fabric recommendations given on the pattern envelope, but Serendipity Studio seems to specialize in apparel patterns designed to take advantage of pretty quilting fabrics, so after sewing my wearable muslin from an old sheet, I made the dress in quilting cotton. Due to the sleek boat neck and fairly fitted silhouette, I think this pattern is well suited to fabrics with more body than drape—too much drape and the neckline might sag.
Note that the dress is unlined, so you will need to either pick an opaque fabric or plan on wearing a slip.
I think it would look great in some of Joel Dewberry’s Deer Valley fabrics, or maybe the Tapestry or Monarch prints from Valori Wells’ Del Hi line. Since the skirt and bodice are cut in two pieces, and it’s sleeveless, fairly fitted, and unlined, the pattern uses a pretty low amount of yardage, especially if you combine two different fabrics—a good stashbuster or excuse for buying just a couple of yards of a fabric you’ve been coveting. I have a couple of yards of Heather Ross‘s Far, Far Away double gauze (the Frog Prince print in yellow) that I’m considering putting to good use in another Sabrina tunic.
The pattern doesn’t include any bias seams, circle skirts, or anything of that nature, so it would be well suited to a directional print.
With an appropriate fabric choice (pinstripes, or a charcoal worsted wool?) it could potentially also make a nice dress for a business casual office.
I love the classic design of this pattern—the boat neck, empire waist, and slight A-line skirt are very feminine and flattering, and the variations with the contrast bands or contrast waistline tie are a great way to showcase coordinating fabrics and/or ribbons.
The front of the dress: belt is centered just under bust, wraps around back, and is tied a few inches below empire waist.
The skirt is cut wider than the bodice and gathered to fit—this allows for a bit of ease in the waistline, but it can be cinched in as loose or as tight as you want using the waistline tie, so it might be a good candidate for a maternity top or dress, or, at the very least, an excellent dress to wear to Thanksgiving dinner.
As the pattern envelope promises, this tunic is very easy to put together. There are not many pieces and not many pattern markings. It’s very easy to combine different hip and waist sizes, since the skirt is gathered to fit the bodice; as long as the bodice fits you, any skirt size can be easily adjusted to fit together with the bodice. The hardest parts of the sewing are putting in the invisible zipper and the facings.
If you really want to channel Sabrina, you could wear this as a jumper over a long-sleeved t-shirt, or trim the shoulder straps with ribbon bows.
The back of the dress: closed up the back seam with an invisible zipper, belt crisscrosses in the center back.
The written instructions for this pattern swing from extremes of chattiness and detail to fairly vague, brief instructions, so I found them a little baffling—I wasn’t sure if the pattern was intended for a beginner or an intermediate/advanced sewer. A full ¼ of the pattern instructions sheet consists of “General Instructions,” which basically instruct you to choose a size that fits you, make a muslin, alter the pattern for height and bust as needed, and be careful with your yardage and pattern layout before cutting anything out.
The pattern-specific instructions are similarly very detailed in some steps, such as instructing you to cut the notches on the pieces, finish the raw edges, and giving instructions on how to shorten a too-long invisible zipper; however, instructions are not given for actually inserting said invisible zipper (although the pattern provides links to online tutorials), the seam allowance to use throughout is not specified (I believe it’s ½”, since sometimes, though not always, the instructions mention a ½” seam allowance), instructions to hem the skirt are not given, and for a beginning sewer, I think the instruction “Add the neckline facing to the bodice by matching up the shoulder seams” might be fairly cryptic without a diagram or mention of which sides should be facing in the seam. It’s not too hard to figure out if you have constructed similar garments before, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a first project.
The tie belt instructions instruct you to “cut 2-3 strips that measure 2 ¾” wide.” However, they do not specify which way to cut the strips or how long the belt should be in the end. I cut 3 strips crosswise from 44″ fabric, and trimmed about an inch off the belt at the end, so my belt wound up in the 130-inch length range.
Finished garment measurements are not included on the pattern tissue or in the pattern instructions.
I didn’t make a version with the contrast bands at waist or hem, and I didn’t make a version with the narrow tie or ribbon tie, so I can’t speak to the accuracy or clarity of the directions for these variations.
I noticed one small mistake in the pattern directions: in the directions for the fabric waistline tie, step 2 instructs you to press the tie with wrong sides together, stitch down the long side, and then turn right side out. The strip should clearly be sewn in half with the right sides together, not the wrong sides, and then turned right side out.
Diagrams / Images
There are exactly two diagrams in the pattern:
1) A diagram of the front and back neck facings sewn together, right sides together, with an arrow indicating that the lower edge of the facings should be finished.
2) A diagram of how to sew the bust darts. It’s pretty standard: fold along the center of the dart with the right sides together, sew along the marked dart line, press dart downwards after sewing.
I suppose these are somewhat helpful. However, here are some diagrams/images that were NOT included, but probably would have been much more helpful:
• A technical line drawing of the dress, showing the design details and intended silhouette of the dress
• A cutting layout for the pattern pieces
• How to sew the armhole facings together (not that this is complicated, but if the neck facings diagram is included, it seems like an armhole facings diagram should be included as well)
• How to insert the invisible zipper
• How to attach the facings to the bodice and understitch them
• How to deal with the facing edges adjacent to the zipper
• How to sew on the contrast bands and waistline tie
• How long the tunics/dresses are, and how they fit, on a 5’7″ model (they are only displayed on dress forms)
The pattern comes in a small Ziploc bag, about the size of a Big 4 sewing pattern, but with the bag it’s much easier to get the pattern pieces back into the envelope after you’ve used them! The pattern is multi-sized and printed on tissue with different line styles corresponding to the different sizes; the pattern instructions are on a folded piece of regular paper.
Since all the sizes are printed together, it may be a little hard to figure out exactly where the line for your size falls when there are many sizes printed close together, but on the other hand, it’s also very easy to blend together different pattern sizes if you’re different sizes at bust, waist, and hip.
Note that no grain lines are provided on the pattern pieces, no measurements are printed on the tissue, and it’s not marked with the location of the natural waistline.
There are 8 pattern pieces total:
- bodice front
- bodice back
- front armhole facing
- back armhole facing
- front neck facing
- back neck facing
- front skirt
- back skirt
You will also need to cut out additional pieces based on measurements (not pattern pieces) for the waistline tie and contrast bands.
The front and back pieces, at least for size Small, seem to be the same size. This means the back winds up 1″ narrower than the front, since the back has a seam while the front is cut in one piece. I wasn’t sure if this was intentional or if the seam allowance should have been added. To make the dress fit me better, I added the extra ½” back onto each of the back pieces on my second attempt.
Overall Level of Difficulty
Easy. The trickier parts of the sewing are putting in the zipper and attaching and topstitching the facings, but for the most part, the pattern is very easy to put together. However, as I mentioned, the instructions may not be clear enough for a first garment project.
Tips + Modifications
I made a wearable muslin version of this dress first using a thrifted bedsheet and a scrap of brown flowered vintage fabric. Following my measurements, I cut a size Small for the skirt and top portion of the bodice, tapering the bottom of the bodice out to a size Medium at the waist. I cut the “below the knee” length for the skirt (I’m 5’6″) and put in about a 2-inch hem. I did not attach the belt to the dress as instructed, but left it loose, so it can be tied in different ways.
My wearable muslin—too tight in the bodice, neckline and front armhole too tight.
I found that the boat neckline was a bit too high for my comfort, and the front armholes were uncomfortable. To adjust the pattern for my particular shape, for the next version, I lowered the front neckline 1 ½” and enlarged the front armhole ¾”, but left the shoulder and underarm the same size. I also added an extra ½” to the width of the back pieces so they would be the same size as the front after the back seam was put in. Unfortunately, I think taking the extra scoop out of the armhole makes my shoulders look bigger, but the dress is much more comfortable that way.
My adjusted front bodice pattern piece laid over the original pattern piece for comparison.
The other change I made on my second version of the dress was finishing the armholes and neckline with bias tape rather than facings. I found it difficult to manage the facings in the shoulder strap area, since it’s so narrow, and the facings themselves are very narrow as well once the ½” seams are sewn to attach them to the bodice. So I made a few yards of 1″ single-fold bias tape out of the dress fabric and finished the edges as follows:
- Fold bias tape in half lengthwise, wrong sides together.
- Pin the bias tape to the right side of the armhole or neckline, matching the raw edges of the bias tape with the raw edge of the armhole or neckline.
- Sew the bias tape to the armhole or neckline with a ½” seam.
- Trim the seam allowance close to the stitching.
- Fold the bias tape to the inside (wrong side) of the dress along the seam line and press. The raw seam allowance will be enclosed inside the folded bias tape, which now acts like a very narrow facing.
- Stitch the bias tape down, topstitching close to the folded edge. I used a 3/8″ seam allowance, but this was a little wide—sometimes I accidentally didn’t catch the bias tape in the seam and had to tack down the bias tape with hand stitching.
The insides of the armholes of the two versions, contrasting the facing and bias tape finishes.
I would definitely recommend tissue-fitting or making a muslin first to see how the neckline fits you; I know a lot of people have comfort issues with high necklines.
Also, the pattern doesn’t mention this, but you will definitely want to have a loop turner in order to turn the waistline tie inside out if you make the fabric waistline tie as instructed. The waistline tie was so long I had to turn it inside out in stages—the fabric bunched up too much to turn the entire belt inside out in one motion.
This dress/tunic is comfortable, flattering, easy to sew, and a great showcase for pretty quilting fabrics. As long as you have a little bit of garment sewing experience under your belt, you should have no problem with putting this pattern together.