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How to Make a Roman Toga

This post will give step-by-step instructions for making your own toga, complete with pictures.  Recently, my son decided to dress as Cicero for Grace Academy’s annual Literature Day event.  That meant mom pulling out the sewing machine and combing the internet to figure out an easy pattern.  Even those with the most novice of sewing skills will be able to put together a respectable toga following these instructions.

Step 1: What are we making?  There are two parts to a Roman man’s standard “about-town” garment: a) tunic and b) toga.  The tunic is basically an oversized t-shirt that reaches to the knees.  The toga is a large piece of cloth that is draped stylishly around the body.  In a pinch a big t-shirt and a bed sheet might do the trick.  But no respectable Roman would be caught out of the domus in such attire. 

Toga Praetexta

Toga Praetexta

  • Toga Styles: There are several types of togas depending upon the age or office of the man.  The toga virilis, for example, was the average man’s toga.  It was the color of regular wool, no special trimmings.  The toga candida was the toga worn by those seeking office (we derive candidate from this).  It was a bright white toga as the word candidus suggests.  The toga praetexta was the toga of a Roman senator.  I chose this as the most suitable toga for Cicero to wear.

Step 2: Preparing the Fabric.  Pre-wash all fabric!

  • Tunic: Purchase two white t-shirts about one size larger than your Roman man/boy might normally wear.  These should neither be really baggy, nor fitted.  Wash both.
  • Toga:  The Roma toga was generally made of wool.  For the modern day toga, most recommend white muslin or light flannel.  I chose the latter.  You want a fabric that has enough weight in order to drape nicely around the shoulders.  Cotton is sometimes too light for this.  The recommended length is 4 – 6 yds. of fabric.  The ideal width is 1.5 – 2 yds.  I used fabric that was 1.25 yds. in width for my son.  There was not as much drape, but it still looked really nice and was easier to work with.  Baste around the edges (sew a zig-zag around the edge) before washing.  This will prevent the fabric from fraying when you wash.  Pre-wash the fabric .
  • Optional Trim:  The toga praetexta was worn by Roman boys and Roman senators.  It had a broad red stripe that ran from shoulder to hem on the tunic and another stripe that ran around the edge of the toga.  I purchased 1 yard of red flannel for this and it was enough for both tunic and toga.  As with the white flannel, you should baste the edges and wash before sewing.
  • Accessories: The tunic usually reached mid-calf and was worn with a belt.  The belt made the toga a little shorter, just below the knees.  Depending on the height of your child, if you choose the t-shirt method described here you may not want/need a belt.  Entirely up to you and your fashion preferences.

  Step 3: Sewing the Tunic

  • Tunic: After washing and drying both shirts, lay shirt 1 aside. Cut shirt 2 off a few inches beneath the arms.  Discard the neck and sleeves.  Sew the bottom half of shirt 2 to the bottom of shirt 1.  Make sure you sew them with right sides together.  You may wish to top-sew a second seam line when you are finished.  You should now have one long tunic that reaches to the knees.  You will have a seam around the hip region.  While a true Roman tunic would not typically have  horizontal seam here, it will be covered up by the toga.
  • Caveat:  Do NOT use feminine fit shirts for this!  Watch that your shirt is not significantly more narrow in the chest region that at the bottom.  Otherwise it will become difficult to sew your two shirts together.
  • Optional Trim: Cut the flannel into 4 strips about 3.5″ wide that run the length of the yard.  Sew 2 strips end-to-end to create one long strip.  Do the same with the other two.   Next you will want to hem the sides.  I use an iron to create a 1/4 – 1/5″ fold and then sew in the hem.  Pin the seam of a single red strip (where the two smaller strips were joined) at the shoulder on top of your t-shirt seam.  Pin the strip into place so that it runs straight down the front of the toga all the way to the hem.  Then, pin down the back in the same manner.  Sew into place.  Repeat for the other side.

Step 4: Sewing the Toga

  • Cutting the Fabric:  Most research will tell you that the toga was essentially a large semi-circle (or at least a rectangle with cropped and rounded corners).  It measured about 6 yds. in length and 2 yds. across at its greatest points.  For a mom who is working to get a project done in a timely manner, I decided to leave mine at a simple rectangle.  Some weeks, you just need to keep it simple.  For more specific designs on a more “historically acurate” toga, visit this site:  http://www.csulb.edu/~dhood/togalink.htm
  • Sewing the Toga:  As I said, I opted to keep things simple this week (I had to get three costumes ready for my three children for Literature Day) and left my toga as a basic rectangle that measured 5 yds. in length and 46″ in width.  I hemmed all four sides.  The best way I have found to successfully hem such fabric is to first use a warm iron to place a crease at the hem line.  I suggest a 1/4″ hem folded twice over.  Thus there is not a raw edge exposed on either side of the toga that might fray or look unseemly.  It gives the toga a nice finished look.
  • Optional Trim:  The toga praetexta was trimmed with a broad red stripe along one side.  I made the strip in the same manner as the tunic.  Cut another 4 strips of red flannel, each 4″ wide.  Sew all 4 strips together end-to-end.  Hem the long strip.  Sew along one of the long sides of the toga.

Nota Bene:  It should be noted that there is not one right way to make a toga.  First of all, there are many different styles of toga.  I will comment on them in a later blog.  Secondly, the trim does not have to be a particular shade of red or a particular size.  I list in this post simply what I have done.  Feel free to let your creative juices flow!

 

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