[Editor’s note: We’re thrilled to welcome Gabby back to the blog after a break from posting! We’ve missed her technical savvy and her thoughtful answers. If you’re new to our blog, you may have missed out on her previous posts, but you can check them all out over here.]
I’m a beginning sewist with no real experience making clothing for myself. Aaaaaaand there’s no such thing as a stupid question, right? I keep reading about making muslins, but I’m not sure what this is about. Can you walk me through making a muslin step by step? All the resources I’ve found have taken for granted I already understand this, and I don’t get why I can’t just make my garment from the pattern. Any help?
Muddled About Muslins
Here’s a quick list of why I like making muslins (you may run across people calling them a “toile,” which is actually the correct term for a practice garment; muslin is the name of the fabric, but it has become the common term for a toile), and what I get out of it—this obviously will be different for everyone, but here’s how I approach things:
- To read through the instructions and make sure I understand all the techniques/construction and have a bit of practice before cutting into my real fabric. I will look things up if I don’t understand them and check out my machine settings for any specialty stitches like bartacks, buttonholes, or zigzags. And if there’s anything tricksy in the pattern, like welt pockets or something finnicky, I can get a little muscle memory going for the real thing.
- Fit! I’m between sizes most of the time (narrow shoulders, full bust & butt, very short torso), so if I just go by the measurement charts on the back of pattern envelopes, I’ll usually have wonkiness. This lets me fix those issues before I cut into precious fabrics so I don’t end up with a finished garment I don’t love.
- Muslins also give me the opportunity to evaluate proportion—not only the fit of the garment, but the size of collars, cuffs, pockets, hem heights, etc—both in relation to my body and in relation to each other on the garment.
That being said—you absolutely can make things right out of the envelope. If you do, try them on as you go so you can make adjustments. But for things that are fit critical, like pants or fitted dresses, you may want to muslin them first so you don’t end up unhappy with your final product.
Here’s my quick muslin process step-by-step:
- Read the instructions and make notes, take measurements, and look up anything you’re unfamiliar with.
- Choose a fabric: you want something similar to what the finished garment will be made out of so you can get an idea of the drape/stretchability.
- Cut or lift your pattern: I’m a big fan of lifting patterns, so I can keep the original pattern as is in case my body changes sizes over time. (Lifting a pattern essentially means to trace it off onto different paper.) This is helpful especially if you’re using a tissue pattern because you won’t have to worry so much about ripping it if you tissue fit, or if you have to make corrections.
- Cut and mark your muslin: don’t forget to cut your notches & mark darts, openings, etc. If you’re using actual muslin or solid colored fabric (which is way less distracting than a print), you can draw directly on the right side of the self with chalk or marking pen to make placements even easier to see. If I’m worried about balance, I’ll mark a horizontal balance line evenly on the front/back/side all the way around so I can make sure it’s parallel to the floor as I fit—I do this for bottoms, but sometimes I skip it for tops if the hem is straight.
- Sew it up! You can also pin-baste or machine-baste—the idea is to check how everything sews together and see what that looks like on you. If your style has an easy sleeve but a fussy back detail, you may choose just to make the front and back panels. If you’re doing a jacket, you may just want to check one side with the sleeve in so you don’t have to sew the whole thing together.
- Fit it! You can cut, and mark, and pin—do whatever you need to with a muslin. It’s always nice to end up with a wearable muslin (something that you can keep and wear again as a regular garment), but since I never plan on that happening, I like to mark directly on the muslin, so it’s easier for me to remember what I want to fix. I want my patterns and my muslins as easy to interpret as possible!
- Correct your pattern: Maybe you don’t need to at all, hooray! If you do, try not to overfit. I pick the most glaring issues and fix them in order of how bad they are—and no more than 5 at a time. It helps to make a list of what you need to do so you can check it off as you go.
Here are the muslins that are happening in my studio this month:
And here is a quick list of other muslin-ing resources I like:
A.D Lynn’s Sew-To-Fit Tips for Sewing a Muslin
Sew Altered Style’s Muslins: What, Why, and How
Sarah Veblen’s The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting
Now tell me, Dear Readers—do you muslin everything? Half muslin? Skip the whole thing entirely?
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Gabby is a technical fashion designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler. She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again. See her on instagram @ladygrift.
After you have been sewing a while, you will get to know what adjustments your pattern will need without making a toile. Also be on the lookout for pattern companies that fit you well straight out of the envelope or off the printer. Different companies have different standards they make their patterns from. Also, wearable toiles are a great option for beginners. That means you sew up the whole pattern out of cheap or recycled fabric first, and can wear the result. After wearing it you will have a better idea what adjustments you might want to make to the pattern. Then you can make it out of more expensive or special fabric.
Thanks so much!
Surely, thanks for taking the time to read through!
Thanks for that Gabhy, they are absolutely essential for my upper half and slightly less so for my lower half, trousers often fit straight out of the packet. My problem is second guessing my alterations to a toile and then not taking the adjustment far enough for V2.0!! Also I toile
Garments possibly too much, dipping a toe into the realm of over fitting!!
Wow, trousers right out of the envelope, that is quite lucky 🙂 Hahaha over-fitting is very easy to slide into, I tend to do it a lot myself. Thanks for reading!
I grew up at a time where material was expensive and labour cheap. In Europe no pattern came with seam allowance. We would cut with larger seam allowance, mark the seam line with tailor tacks and hand bast for fitting.
At a time of huge fast consumption and massive environmental destruction due to textile production I find it appalling that muslins are recommended for every garment. Sometimes people make 2 muslins for one garment. These are normally going to waste afterwards. While they are certainly useful if you produce a series of the same garment, for home sewing it is utter waste.
Unfortunately the modern habit of adding seam allowance already to the pattern makes the ancient production process more difficult, as you can no longer mark the seam lines onto the fabric. For me an act of infantilisation of consumers.
Hi there! There are still many pattern companies that issue patterns with no seam allowances, allowing the consumer to use their best judgement. And of course, you can always add your seam lines onto your fabric however you choose, I do sometimes trace my seam lines onto my fabric when the seam allowances are small or if the fabric shifts easily. Also, by tracing patterns onto separate paper, you can certainly change seam allowances or remove them altogether. I don’t disagree that wastefulness and the toll on the environment are things that need to be better considered- I try to reuse my muslin fabric for other things when I can (hello, masks!) However I do feel that just as with RTW, it would be surprising if every pattern fit every body straight out of the packet, and the ability to fit, practice, and perfect is very valuable. Especially when you take into account that a lot of home sewists these days are completely self taught- everyone needs to learn somehow. And I know for myself personally, once I have a pattern that works for me, I will sew multiples and the muslins will have been extremely worth it. Thanks for reading!