Beautiful fabric, the perfect pattern, and that sewing machine is just calling you! Right about now you may be so excited about your project, thinking you should just go for it and sew. It will all work out. Why bother making a muslin? There are some strong opinions among home sewists for and against making them. Some feel it is a waste of time, others wouldn’t make a garment without making a muslin first. What’s your take on making a muslin, or test garment?
What is a Muslin?
If you are new to sewing and aren’t familiar with the term muslin, also known as a toile, it is a test garment made from plain cotton cloth or linen. If you watched the film “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”, you would have seen them in the Dior workroom – plain, natural colored cloth used to make a mockup of Dior’s designs. This inexpensive cloth, which by the way is also called muslin, is used so as not to detract your eye with a busy pattern and to properly evaluate the fit and balance of a garment.
Designers are known to make several muslins before they finalize their design. In fact, they wouldn’t dream of working without them. It is a tool in the workroom where the designers’ drawings begin to take shape and can be adjusted, transformed, and fitted to perfection.
If you are contemplating whether you should make a muslin, follow along as we list 11 Reasons Why You Should Make a Muslin Before You Sew Your Fashion Garment!
1. You Are Unique
Have you thought about what makes you unique? No matter our age or whether we diet or exercise, we have different body shapes. Look at any model on a runway and each of them have a different body shape. There are differences in height, torso length, bust fullness, shoulder slope, hip circumference…and the list goes on.
Making a muslin allows us to focus on our unique body and assists us in manipulating a pattern to enhance our individual shape. Make it a thoughtful process where you give yourself the opportunity to flatter your figure.
2. Patterns are Designed for a Standard Figure
You just can’t limit the fit of our bodies to a standard! Patterns are designed with a particular figure in mind. Perhaps then, Jenny Rushmore of Cashmerette Patterns was right when she said in the “Sew Mindful Podcast”1 that the “ideal person doesn’t exist”, in reference to body shape, and that “patternmakers are being taught to make a decent average.” This makes sense since there needs to be some baseline, however there are common fitting issues that seem to be as she says “typical” and include “forward shoulder, swayback, larger bust cup size, and for plus size women, high back waist, lower front waist and tilted waist.”
Pamela Leggett of Pamela’s Patterns adds perspective to the issue of pattern fit in her interview on the “Sew Mindful Podcast”2 when she said that commercial pattern companies develop their patterns with the following figure in mind, “A slender 14-year-old figure with a small bust…even as the sizes get larger it is still the same type of figure. It is not changing for what a larger size person looks like … plus size commercial patterns add only one inch to the bust, waist, and hip.” I agree with her when she says this “doesn’t reflect well.”
Fortunately, both women have created patterns to address our real bodies. However, even if we are purchasing patterns that address our particular fit, it makes sense to make a muslin and check the fit of the garment.
3. Evaluate The Fit, Balance and Ease
The process of creating a muslin allows you to evaluate the fit, balance and ease of the pattern. You will see clearly where and if you need to make adjustments. When you add balance lines to your muslin, you ensure everything is level and that you have worked out the correct length in the front and back of the garment.
Today we have a wonderful assortment of indie patterns available. Most often, you will find that a pattern designer or pattern company has a different approach and do not always follow the same standard. Some list the finished pattern measurements instead of the standard body measurements, without ease built in. In this instance, making a muslin will help you determine the amount of ease you are comfortable with along with other fit adjustments you may encounter.
As mentioned earlier, some pattern companies do target specific fit issues straight out of the package and others design for curvy or full figures. This may help you get a head start on fitting your pattern, but you want to be sure the adjustments work for you.
4. It’s Not You, It’s the Pattern
Sometimes the problem is the pattern. Have you ever chosen a pattern only to be surprised by an element you could not clearly see in the line drawings or model pictures? Years ago, I was sewing up a shift dress and decided to forgo a muslin. It was a simple pattern. So, I went ahead and made my flat pattern adjustments as I really couldn’t imagine that I would need to make any further corrections to the pattern. What I hadn’t realized was that the dress had an awkward fullness at the center front skirt portion that just didn’t look right. I decided to go back and take a closer look at pictures of the dress on different blogs and there it was, that awkward fullness. Lesson learned. Sometimes, the problem is the pattern. Had I made a muslin I wouldn’t have been disappointed by this pattern problem and would have fixed the problem.
5. Freedom To Mark, Cut and Adjust
Adjust your pattern fit without fear because you are not marking your fashion fabric. When you choose to make a muslin, you have the freedom to mark, pin, cut and readjust. So, not only are you taking the guesswork out of things like shoulder and back adjustments, hemline placement, sleeve length and neckline depth, and the list goes on but, you have the freedom to play with the adjustment. Now, you see the result of the adjustment immediately, and can quickly decide what looks good on you.
6. A Creative Learning Process That Builds Your Skill Level
Any mistakes are where learning happens, skills are honed, and it’s where our “Aha” moments are born. Taking the time to create a muslin is certainly a creative learning process and will build your skills. We grow, learn, develop, and remember these skills by working through them. Take the time to evaluate and learn how to make fitting adjustments. This is how you grow your skill set!
7. Evaluate a New Style Without Commitment
I am always a bit hesitant to try a new style. I tend to stick to what I like and shy away from trends. Yet, the statement sleeves that have been popular this year have me rethinking. What about you? Are there any new styles or trends you want to try? Before you commit in the fashion fabric, why not try it out in a muslin? You’ll be glad you did!
8. You Get to Be the Designer
Have you ever wanted to alter the pocket placement, change a waist or neckline, or add trim to embellish your garment? Creating a muslin is an opportunity to be the designer! Why not play with some of your own design ideas? Now that’s fun!
9. Savings: Fabric, Time, and Money
We all love our fabric stash. Sometimes we wait months before we find the perfect pattern for a favorite cloth. We know what it deserves, and we want that fabric to shine. Or perhaps you have finally found the perfect fabric for a pattern you have been longing to make. The search took some time but now, everything you envisioned is in your hands and all that is left is to start cutting. Not so fast. Think about how many of your unfinished sewing projects are just sitting in your bin because you didn’t like something about it. Cutting into that beautiful fabric you purchased before you make a muslin is risky and could end up being expensive. When you do go ahead and make that muslin you save your money, your fabric, your time, and in the end, a little heartache. Need I say more here?
10. Learn a New Technique!
Wouldn’t you rather hone your skills on a muslin? If you are just learning a new sewing technique, method of construction, or are sewing up a challenging pattern, making a muslin is a great opportunity to learn, practice, and perfect a new technique. You will have no regrets or surprises by making your sample garment first.
11. Build Your Confidence
When you make a muslin, you build your confidence because you learn fitting skills and how to apply them. There is an understanding you gain through this process which really must be experienced to understand fitting. You will be training your eye to recognize issues and before long you will be able to identify them clearly. How about that to boost your sewing and fitting confidence!
No doubt making a muslin is key to creating beautifully fitting garments that bring you joy, and you will never regret what you have learned in the process. Not only that, but it may just change your self perception. Jenny Rushmore revealed that for her, the right fit in a garment “affects your self-esteem” and “changed her perspective.” That’s a win-win in my book! We all deserve to look and feel great in the garments we create, and that’s the point, isn’t it?
So, will you make a muslin the next time you start a new pattern? Take the process step-by-step, invest in some good fitting books, learn fitting order and how to apply changes to your pattern. Most importantly, don’t give up. You will never regret the outcome if you keep at it.
If you would like to add your tips to our list, please add them in our comment section!
1 Blakemore, J (Host). (2020, November 14). Sew Mindful Podcast Episode 016: The story of Cashmerette with Special Guest Jenny Rushmore
2 Blakemore, J (Host). (2023, September 30). Sew Mindful Podcast Episode 066: Expert Fitting Tips with Special Guest Pamela Leggett (Pt 1); and (2023, October 07). Sew Mindful Podcast Episode 067: Expert Fitting Tips with Special Guest Pamela Leggett (Pt 2)