How often does a sewing pattern fit you straight out of the packet with no alterations? Rarely, right? That’s why it can be helpful to make a practice garment — a muslin — before cutting into your precious fashion fabric.
What is a muslin?
Sometimes called a toile, a muslin refers to a test garment sewn from inexpensive fabric so you can check the fit of the garment. You can ues the muslin to identify fit issues and mark alternations you will make on the final product.
Making a muslin is less time-consuming as you may think because you can you can skip many of the steps. The extra time is well worth the effort — it can make a huge difference in the fit of your final project.
Making a wearable muslin
Most muslins are made with muslin fabric, which is a plain weave cotton fabric that comes in a variety of weights. While it’s a great option for sewing test garments, it’s not your only option!
If you’ve adjusted your pattern and think it is close to perfect, try a wearable muslin. A wearable muslin is a garment sewn from a fabric that you would wear if it turns out well but won’t make you too sorry if it doesn’t.
Fabrics for this type of garment could be things you bought at a great sale price, fabric given to you by a friend, or maybe even something that has been in your stash so long that you’ll never sew it up as intended. Sometimes the wearable muslin turns out so well that it becomes the final version. And that is the best muslin of all!
Why should I make a muslin?
Do you really need to make a muslin? Here are 10 reasons to consider making a muslin for custom fit clothing before you cut into your fabulous fabric.
1. Fit, of course!
The top reason for making a muslin is to check the fit of the garment. Does the garment close properly? Is there the right amount of room at bust, waist and hip? Are the darts in the right place?
Making a muslin for fit is essential if you feel that commercial patterns never fit correctly. Remember that no one person is shaped in a standard way — everyone needs to adjust a pattern somewhat. A muslin gives you a chance to adjust the size, correct lines, change curves and shorten or lengthen as needed.
2. Check style and shape
Muslins let you see how those pattern drawings or photos to translate to real life. You can check the proportions of a lapel, pocket or collar. You can determine if the shape of the garment suits you or needs some adjustment to create your vision. A muslin means you don’t have to follow the pattern design exactly — you can get creative with your changes while using the basic pattern as the starting point.
The blue cotton muslin shown above started as a pattern test for a coat pattern. The size of the collar and lapel seemed a bit big when looking at the pattern pieces but worked beautifully to make a classic coat. Sometimes it takes making a muslin to realize that!
3. Test the pattern ease
Based on the listed measurements or ones you’ve taken, it may seem that the clothing will fit well — however, this may not take into consideration how much ease is available. Ease is necessary for movement and comfort; plus, a style can include design ease to create drape or shaping.
There can be too much ease for your personal taste, or not enough ease to make movement possible. Either way, a muslin can let you check that the ease is correct.
4. Check for suitable fabrics
Consider sewing up the muslin in a fabric similar to the one you plan to use for your final garment. Often patterns indicate suggested fabrics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try something else.
For the jacket shown above, the pattern suggested rayon and linen. However, this test version was made in a lightweight but stiff scrap of silk. It was a good mimic for the final fabric, which was an embroidered silk organza.
5. Practice tricky techniques.
If a pattern includes a technique you haven’t tried before, you can practice on your muslin. Be sure to place all the pattern markings on your muslin — you want to sew it up just as you would the fashion fabric
6. Check pocket and button placement.
Have you ever made a dress, skirt or coat and wished the pockets were in a different location? Too high, too low, too small? Just like Goldilocks, we want our sewing to be just right!
It might seem like a small detail, but it could make the difference between a garment you love to wear and one that always annoys you. Same goes for button placement. You don’t have to follow the pattern’s button placement — test them on the muslin and place the closures where they make sense for your figure.
7. Find your comfort level.
A muslin might fit you perfectly but still feels a little off when you wear it. Perhaps you will find the neckline is too low or the waistline is too high. The muslin process provides the opportunity to adjust that to a more comfortable place. Maybe the style just doesn’t suit you — sewing up a muslin can show you that you would be happier with a different pattern.
8. Save time.
Sewing a muslin does take some time, but can be really worthwhile if you like the pattern. Once you have all your adjustments done, you can sew the pattern over and over in different fabrics, sewing quickly and saving lots of time.
9. Save money.
A muslin can definitely save money! Quality fabrics are quite an investment. If you have the perfect fabric but are just a little bit nervous about cutting into it, making a muslin will work out all the quirks and give you the confidence to use your fabulous fabric without fear of a mistake.
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Ready to get started? We’ll walk you through the basics of sewing a muslin before moving on to your final garment.
Step 1: Gather your fabric
Generally, a muslin is made by cutting the pattern pieces from muslin fabric, which is inexpensive and easily found — so you won’t mind tossing it when you’re done.
But your fabric doesn’t necessarily have to have the word “muslin” in it. Making a muslin might be the time to sacrifice that “What was I thinking?” fabric that you no longer like. Or use remnants from other projects that aren’t sufficient for anything else. Old bed sheets can work well, too!
Feel free to mix and match fabric scraps in your muslin. Since it’s purely for research purposes and will never see the light of day, it doesn’t matter if it looks nice. Plus, you’ll gain more space to stash something better!
Do pay attention to fabric type. If your pattern calls for a knit, then you need to use a knit fabric for your test version. The fabric can make a big difference when it comes to fit!
Step 2: Cut and mark the pattern pieces
Transfer all pattern markings to the muslin fabric using a dressmaker’s wheel and carbon paper. This helps you see where and how to make adjustments to the final garment. If you know that you might need to let out a pattern in a particular spot, such as around the hips or bust, you can leave extra fabric in these areas.
You may be tempted to sew your muslin without marking every last notation, but resist! Mark every dart and mark and use them to sew a more accurate muslin.
Step 4: Sew the garment following the pattern directions
Sew all the seams, including darts, as designed on the pattern. You can unpick them and adjust later.
For your muslin, you can skip some of the steps, such as like facings, linings, finishing seams and hemming. Just be sure to cut away or pin out the seam allowances to get the exact version that would be in your finished garment.
When it comes to closures, you can skip them if you have a fit helper who can pin you into the garment. If you’re on your own, it’s, it’s in your best interest to add the closures and see how the garment really fits. Be sure to baste them in and you’ll be able to easily rip them out and reuse for your final garment.
Step 3: Try on the muslin
Try the muslin on, right side out. If you have a dress form filled out to your measurements, you’ll probably find it easier to fit your muslin on that. If not, stand in front of a mirror to assess the fit of your muslin.
If you’re satisfied with the garment fit, congratulations! You can move on to your final garment.
Step 4: Make adjustments
More than likely, you’ll need to make some adjustments. Perhaps the side seams need to be taken in, you need to lengthen the bodice so that the waist is in the correct spot, or the bust darts need to be let out or taken in.
If you need to make any adjustments, try the muslin on wrong side out. Pin and mark any adjustments for the final garment (or the next muslin, if you’re having major fit issues!).
Once you’re satisfied with the fit, take the muslin off and deconstruct it. At this point, you can either transfer any changes directly to your pattern (if they are small changes) or make new pattern pieces based on the muslin (if the changes are more complex).
6 tips for muslin success
How do you make adjustments to the muslin to assure the perfect fit for your final garment? To help you on your way, here are some foolproof tips for making and fitting a muslin!
1. Do work before you work
Take your body measurements — there are some great tutorials online if you don’t know how — and pick the pattern size closest to your measurements. If you’re in between sizes, err on the side of caution and go for the larger size. It’s far easier taking out excess fabric than visa versa.
Once you’ve cut your pattern pieces out, measure them flat and make necessary adjustments. This helps to eliminate obvious problems, giving you more time to spend on trickier problems at the muslin stage. Things you can easily adjust at this stage include width for shoulders, necklines and back, as well as length of bodices, sleeves and skirts.
2. Use a longer stitch length, contrasting threads and no knots
A longer stitch length with no backstitch at the beginning or end makes adjusting seams and darts a breeze. A contrasting thread makes it easy to see your stitches. When you go to make adjustments, baste stitch them in place with a different thread color so you can quickly see the differences.
3. Move around in your muslin
Trying on your muslin doesn’t mean just standing in one place. To get a true feel of the fit walk around, sit down, bend and straighten your arms, reach for something up high. Ideally, try it on with the underwear and shoes you plan on wearing with the finished garment.
4. Mark right on muslin with a pen or pencil
When it comes time to mark adjustments on your muslin, no need to treat it with caution. Mark away! It’s easy to try on the muslin, put a few pins in, then take it off and not recall exactly what adjustment you were planning — so write all over it with a permanent marker, marking new seam lines or pattern notations to really get all the changes down in writing. Felt-tip pens write very clearly on fabric and are much easier to see than pencil or chalk.
5. Sew both sleeves to really check fit
You may only want to test the fit around the bust, waist or hips, but that doesn’t mean you should only sew the body of the garment. If the garment has sleeves, be sure to sew them in your muslin, as they can make a difference in fit. A sleeveless garment allows full range of arm movement; with sleeves, the difference is apparent. Adding sleeves to your muslin also means you can check shoulder width, slope and mobility.
6. Stay-stitch neckline edges
Remember to stay-stitch all neckline and armhole edges with shorter-length stitch. This serves two purposes:
- First, it “stays” the edges, such as on a V-neckline that’s cut on the bias and could stretch out.
- Secondly, it allows you to see where the actual neckline is.
Fold the seam allowance down along the stitching line and pin it to see where the actual garment edge will land. This is a good way to check if the neckline is too high or too low for your liking and then adjust on the pattern pieces.
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