Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What's Your Muslin Strategy?

Last August, I wrote a post on the concept of the "wearable muslin," saying I thought in some instances it could be a productive thing. Well, I don't know if I'm getting wiser or just older, but I feel I've matured a bit in my thinking on this subject.

As you may have noticed, I've been making lots of muslins lately, and not those of the "wearable" variety. And it's made me appreciate how fitting really is an art. I'm a confirmed over-fitter. That is, I lack a certain subtley when it comes to fitting. If I'm going to take out a tuck, I'm going to take out a TUCK, you know?

So right now I'm focusing on taking the time to do a muslin correctly. I use actual muslin (it costs $2 a yard at AK Fabrics in the Garment District) and mark everything up perfectly, grainlines included. I baste in the zipper so I can get a sense of how it will feel when I'm wearing it. I make my changes, rip out my changes, make new (better) ones. And when I'm done, I take the muslin apart and use it as my pattern.

But this doesn't mean that I still feel completely at ease with the idea of muslin-making for each and every project. One thing I've thought a lot about is wondering when exactly muslin-making became de rigeur for home seamstresses. Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing only mentions doing tissue fittings, followed by basted fittings. I've wondered if WWII era seamstresses would have been shocked at the luxury and wastefulness of having special fabric just to test your garment, when they were cobbling old men's shirts together into dresses. But doing a little more research, I found that even my favorite 1940s sewing book recommends making a muslin shell. But this shell was meant only to be a fitting shell that you would use to make alterations to your other patterns with - rather than making a new test muslin for each pattern you sewed. Has anyone tried this strategy? Having one perfectly fitted shell pattern (like the vintage one shown above, available in a 32" bust here) and using it to alter your patterns with?

The other downfall with test muslins is, of course, the extra expense. As you've probably noticed by now, I'm an expensive fabric junkie, so $2 a yard seems downright cheap to me - but I've discovered that my local quilt shop charges double that for muslin. How much does muslin cost where you live, and do you find the cost prohibitive? (One commenter yesterday was looking for cheap muslin alternatives, and commenter Cynthia suggested using garage sale finds like old sheets and such for muslin.)

Anyway, I think it's fair to say that my relationship with muslins and fitting is an evolving one, as I suppose it should be as someone who's constantly looking to improve her sewing. And you, readers? Where are you with this issue? What's your muslin strategy?


  1. As an obsessive muslin-maker, I think about this a lot. I generally tend to aim for "wearable" muslins with knits (since they are generally so much more forgiving) but ... my wovens usually require SOOO much alteration right now that cutting into the fashion fabric directly would just be silly.

    Back when my figure was closer to the actual pattern fit model, if the fabric wasn't too pricey I'd just add extra seam allowances and baste it together first.

    And I did once do the whole sloper thing (10 years ago)--I got a perfectly fitted gingham shell and figured out exactly how my body differed from the standard fit model (narrow shoulders, fuller bust, swayback)... but at the time I couldn;t figure out how to translate that into fitting patterns that weren't glove-like close-fitting shells.

    When my figure stabilizes post-preg I plan to do another fitting shell and try it again (or just use the shell to draft my own patterns so I don't have to do the same FBA OVER AND OVER AND OVER).

  2. I don't make them when I sew for myself, but I tend to make very simple dresses. I've only ever really made them for costumes, and even then I am impatient to get going on the real deal! I think they are useful when you're going to be working with expensive fabric and want to cut with confidence, but otherwise I don't bother. Also, in this country when I ask for plain muslin (I'm American in the UK) they give me cheesecloth! 5 years on and still getting my bearings.

  3. Oh, and I get my muslin for $2/yard on the same street as AK Fabrics--at "It's a Material World" (H&M No. 5). They have two weights--lightweight and mid-weight. Paron's charges $3. And recently I got a bunch of $1.50/yard gingham at a discount fabric store to use for muslin.

    ... and it's also a good way to use up pieces of leftover fabric not big enough for a whole garment. A muslin doesn't have to be white or even all one fabric.

  4. I'm new to garment sewing and so far I've only ever made two muslins - most recently for a pants pattern. The weird thing was that I fitted the muslin and I was happy with the fit and ease etc, but when I made the 'for real' garment it was too tight.

    The second pair of pants (made yesterday) I reverted back to the pattern for everything except the waist and it fits really well :-)

    I'm not sure what the moral of the story is... except that I didn't put a waistband on the muslin and I think that perhaps I should have!

    I was sort of hoping that I could use this adjusted pattern to check the next pair of pants that I make and perhaps I can just trace the waist of this pattern onto the new pattern and I'd be ok. But maybe that's just wishful thinking.

  5. I almost always make a muslin - a full one for a fitted dress, but only the bodice for anything with a full skirt. I don't make wearable ones - I want to mark them up, and I also skimp on some things, like leaving out facings most of the time. But I agree - a zipper is a must. I can't just pin the closing together and have any idea. And I don't make them for knits, because knits all stretch so differently that I find there is little point (maybe this is why I don't sew many knits?) I'm making a knit dress now, and it's like roulette, honestly, how it's going to turn out. I just made it small and figured "eh, it will stretch."

    I use plain muslin for most things. When Joanns puts it at 50% off I buy a bolt, and I think it's maybe $1.50 a yard then. I also buy fabric on super clearance to use, so I have similar weights, such as poly chiffon for real chiffon etc, or poly charmeuse, since muslin can't sub for those. It is extra work, but I find that tissue fitting isn't enough for me to figure out all my issues. I have never made a muslin where I had to change nothing, so they are definitely worth it. I do feel a little wasteful, but decided having clothes that fit better was worth it!

    I wonder about those fitting shells - I do find, for instance, that I make similar alterations in all Vogue patterns, but they are different enough that I still need the muslin I think.

  6. I'm working on a fitting shell, or a basic pattern, for myself. This I will use as start point for home drafted patterns. However, there's nothing that say that the end design will be good if I use a fitting shell. I still need to test the fit, even if I have a better chance to get it rightaway this way.

  7. I took a pattern drafting class, and the end result was a bodice sloper/fitting shell that I can use as a base for anything I make. Whenever I am going to make "major project" (ie: lined wool coat) I always muslin first. However, I try to use a similar weight fabric, so I will use old heavy fabric curtains if my fashion fabric is heavy, etc. I have only bought muslin once (for my class) and I typically use old sheets or scraps of leftover fabric from other projects.

  8. Okay, I'm going to come out of my silence! Jody mentioned that in the UK muslin is what in the US is called cheesecloth - maybe this is why I've forever been confused? I'm from Australia, and what is called "muslin" here certainly doesn't look like what I see referred to as "muslin" in most blogs - it looks like calico!

    So in Australia - is muslin calico?? Does anyone know? Because I can't imagine making a muslin out of what they actually call muslin here!

  9. Shocking admission ... I have been sewing for over 20 years and I have only made 1 muslin ever. For my wedding dress.

    Sure, I've had disasters, but overall it works for me. Thankfully I seem to fit very close to pattern sizes, only taking some areas in after sewing. If something seems like it might give me trouble, I'll consider it, but I don't bother.

    of course, I also haven't made many clothes lately. Trying to get back into it - maybe I'll change my mind.

    Muslin is only $1.99 a yard usually, and if you have a coupon, it's 40% ...

  10. I tried using an old sheet once and I found it to be too soft and drapey for my muslin purposes. When I pulled it apart it didn't work well for a pattern. I prefer the stiffness of regular muslin.

  11. I'm only now venturing outside of sewing for my kids and managed my first muslin the other day. I will need loads of help altering it! But I struggle with the idea of waste and what to do with all these muslins?

    I read this really good post about slopers and how to use them:

  12. Yes help! I'm breaking my silence too! I'm also in Australia and wondering what is muslin made out of? Is it the same as calico? I was given cheesecloth when I asked for it in store. Yikes! I'm keen to try a muslin before I attempt my first tailored jacket project. It seems such a great idea.

  13. Interesting post. I've been thinking a lot about this because I still just can't get behind the idea of making lots of muslins until I can figure out what to do with the fabric at the end of the day. I really can't bring myself to just throw out all that fabric (not because of the expense but mostly because of the waste). I suppose you could keep the muslin if you plan on making the dress again, but in most cases I don't make patterns over and over again if they are complicated/distinctive.

    I feel pretty confident altering some kinds of patterns now without any testing first (like those that are based on a princess seam block -- I've made enough of those that I know about what the pieces should look like). For patterns with cuts that I'm not familiar with, I have made wearable muslins from cheapy IKEA fabric or whatever. As you said in your old post as well, it's nice to be able to actually wear it out for a day and see where it's really bugging you by the day's end.

  14. @anonymous - i'm irish and it's calico here too, i tend to use curtain lining material, it's dearer than 2quid a yard but when i started out i was working in laura ashley and could buy remanants with discount! i'm on a break from sewing due to college&work commitments but am dying to get back to it and currently get my fix reading about other peoples projects. i muslin/calico everything. i started with a pattern/fashion design evening class that taught me how to make my own patterns so i start with my blocks and draft my own pattern from there but because a lot of it is trial and error the calico step is an absolute must for me

  15. I have been extremely frustrated with fitting lately, and I have wondered if making a fitting shell would give me a better idea of changes I need to make to a pattern. It would be great to be able to use the adjusted shell pattern to alter other patterns without making a muslin each time. But I wonder if it would really work. I am curious to see what you discover, because you are a much faster sewer than me!

  16. I am very new to sewing but I went ahead and bought muslin to practice fitting with and for a dress that I have the pattern for and will be ready to make this Spring. I got it at the local craft store and it was $1.29 for 45" wide muslin. They sell it up to 190" wide though for quilters and the price goes up a fair bit. I also buy up old sheets at garage sales and thrift stores to use as test garments. I am using an old sheet right now to try and figure out how to remake a 50's summer dress that I've had for ages but have no hope of ever, ever fitting into again. As I'm launching into this with more enthusiasm than experience I figured ruining good fabric might just turn me off from the whole thing and I am bound and determined to be able to make attractive, well fitted, vintage style clothes for my RTW hating body.

  17. I am more in the "wearable muslin" camp now, because I'm such a beginner - it makes sense to me to sew the same garment a couple of times and wear it, partially because I won't notice flaws that a more experienced seamstress would probably see straight off. For instance, apparently my shoulders have been too square for every shirt I've worn puberty - I'm just used to things riding up in the arm and being uncomfortable, so it took me a couple of wearings to notice that this was actually a fixable fitting issue and I could draw the shoulders differently. I'll bet that when I have more experience, I'll be able to spot things like that standing in front of a mirror instead of after two days of tugging!

  18. For my kids I just use cheap fabric or fabric I've had on hand for a bit when I make something for the first time. Fit just matters less for a 2 year old after all.

    For myself I tend to unless I have not that expensive fabric to work with. One of my goals for this year is to develop some drafting skills so I will be going through lots of muslin this year. I buy it whenever I see it on sale at Joanns so its usually pretty cheap. I also use top sheets sometimes.

  19. I am currently making what I hope will be a 'wearable muslin' for the McCalls 5815 jacket. I bought a cheap wool similair to the final fabric I intend to use. My problem? Once I've got to the end of making my muslin (a steep learning curve) I honestly don't know if I'll have the inclination to make the whole thing again a second time.

  20. I make a muslin for everything, but would really like to perfect a sloper (or several of them for different garment types)and use it for all my less important projects. I get extremely flustered when fitting a garment for myself in muslin. I second guess every change I make and wonder if it's affecting some other part of the garment. I do have a couple of basic bodice patterns with my FBA added in already and I lay this over my pattern pieces when I cut the muslin out. There is still quite a bit of fitting to do, I'll have to work on this. Thanks for mentioning it!
    I was fortunate enough acquire a boat load of high quality flat king sized sheets that were donated to my husbands company by a large hotel chain. He didn't have any use for them so I snatched them up. They are perfect and unblemished, the hotel was just changing from ecru to white. It's worth asking around I think.
    As for what to do with used muslin, that could be a fun contest:)

  21. For Anonymous- yes,in Australia muslin=calico

  22. I'm a little sporadic with my muslin-making. If it's a very fitted piece of clothing, or if I'm planning on making some major alterations to the pattern, then I'll make a muslin. Or if I'm using fabric that would be difficult to replace, or annoying to match (I'll need to make a couple soon for projects that will be out of plaid, because I'd like them to fit perfectly before I even try that!) Or making pants, period. I did make a "wearable" muslin for a knit top recently, because I wanted to play around with the pleats that the Burda mag pattern called for and see how they'd work on me before using my harder-to-replace organic cotton jersey. But I just basted that together, and I'm glad I did, because I'm now going to get two shirts out of it. (I figured out how to tweak the original "muslin" knit into what will be a rather different-looking shirt.) For wovens, I'm less likely to go "wearable". I've been glad to do it when it made it apparent rather quickly that a pattern was not going to work on me, especially for what would be more complicated patterns. For simpler things, I'll often just chop directly into the fabric and tweak the fit as I go, though, because I'm impatient and want to actually make clothes! Plus the environmentally-conscious side of me feels bad for wasting the muslin fabric.

    I did take a class on fitting skirts at Pattern Review last year, and basically got a sloper skirt pattern out of it. I haven't had a chance to make any skirts since, but will be soon, and am hoping to be able to use that sloper pattern to make changes directly to the pattern rather than make muslins for it. If that works, I'm hoping to eventually be able to do the same thing with bodices and especially pants.

  23. For the Aussies... (I'm an Aussie who has been in the US for the last year and now moved to the UK)

    I used calico back home or that lightweight cotton or polycotton you can get at Spotlight. That would be the closest I could find to what is called muslin in the US. I haven't bought any fabric yet in the UK but I'm going to hit the Sheppards Bush shops in a couple of weeks.

  24. I've pretty much been sold on making a muslin for woven garments after the silk gown I tackled last month. It took 3 muslins for the bodice, 2 for the skirt, but by the time I was cutting into the good (and expensive!) stuff, I knew that the dress was going to fit well and I would be happy with it. For me, that peace of mind is worth the $1-2/yd that it costs for the muslin fabric.

    For knit garments, I make changes to the pattern pieces and cut right into the good stuff. There is so much more wiggle room with a knit fabric, that I don't think a muslin (or wearable muslin) is really necessary.

  25. Making a muslin is a great way to work out fitting issues. I use them for complicated patterns and to develop solid T & T patterns that I can then design with.

    Muslin fabric where I live is around 9.00 a meter. Way too expensive so I use whatever is doable and on sale or outdated in my stash. The other day I picked up a dull and yucky grey that appears to be a linen blend for 1.97. That works because I can see through it and draw all over it. On a muslin, I use a light box and a felt pen to mark everything.

    Using your sloper to alter patterns is the subject of Lynda Maynard's book DeMystifying Fit. You can purchase it at Pattern Review or through Kenneth King's website. It's fabulous.

    - Myrna

  26. Only very exceptionally do I make muslins. Once it was because I was making a dress to go to a wedding and I wanted to make sure it would fit. As it transpires I might as well not have bothered as the muslin behaved very differently to the actual fabric, failing to throw up certain issues which I then had to resolve at the dress-making stage. Otherwise, I only ever make muslins when I sew off-pattern.

    I find lack of sewing time very dissuasive. Also I have yet to find cheap muslin fabric in London. As a result I'll usually work on the basis of a wearable muslin, with a fabric that won't break my heart if it doesn't quite work out as hoped.

  27. So, I was the one who asked about cheap fabric for muslins, and maybe I should explain why I am so adverse to $2 a yard fabric. On the dress I am currently making I have gone through 3 $2 a yard would make the muslin collection more expensive than the actual fabric. I need three muslins because I can't do a tissue fitting thanks to a combination of never having learned how to do it properly and generally hating the process. The second one turned out to be pretty accurate, but the third one I am making wearable (sort of) so that I can test the lining and the hems and seam finishes. I mean, it's kind of stange considering I rarely did any muslins before and have now gone fit crazy enough to have an economic issue with the price of unbleached cotton.

  28. I'm a confirmed muslin maker. I typically need to make 2-3 muslins to get an appropriate fit. I think it depends on how many fit issues you have as to the number and amount of time it takes.

    The one thing that I have noticed with muslins is that they may stretch out (depending on the quality of the muslin fabric). I had purchased a very cheap bolt of muslin at JoAnn's and it was off grain in both directions and stretched remarkably. It took me a significant amount of time to get it on grain and back in shape. It was not worth the savings to me, so I purchased a better quality (on-grain and heavier) and it was a pleasure.

  29. I always make a muslin of a new pattern. However, I've given up on actual muslin. In my area, 45in wide muslin is $2.45 per yard. My local shop as a cotton/poly very light broadcloth for $1.99. That's what I use. I never go for a wearable muslin because after the muslin is finished, I take it apart and use that for cutting my fashion fabric. It then goes into a ziploc bag with the pattern and the muslin pieces are used for cutting every time. If you make the pattern more than once, there's no need to make a new muslin unless your weight has changed more than 10lbs.

  30. Muslins are about more for me than just fitting. More times than I can count they've helped me work through construction details that I'm confused about before I happily go whack whack into my good fabric.

    The more time I spend making muslins, the less work on the other side of making one I find I have to make. Like I know that out of the package, I have to adjust the shoulder slope and the shoulder width on all the big 4, so I make those changes first before I even touch my practice fabric.

    I love using cheapo thrifted sheets for muslins. They drape well and the grainlines usually match up with the stripes on striped sheets. I'm not a wearable muslin type. It's fun to mark all over the muslins with Sharpies. I will sometimes recycle parts of my muslins for other muslins too if the pieces are big enough and I can be on grain.

  31. As I gain more experience and attempt proper alterations, I am starting to make muslins (or "toiles" in "calico", as we call them here). The last dress I made (a Regency-era gown for a friend) required two muslins before I cut into the fabric. There's no arguing that I needed to make them - without these test-runs I would have never have fitted the dress properly. But I do feel a bit wasteful - what do I do with them now?

  32. I, too, am a confirmed muslin-maker especially for clients. Now that my body has aged I have numerous adjustments to make and find it simplier to make my "down and dirty" muslins (no facings and sewn up quickly with large stitches). I use various weights of muslin and odd fabric in my stash that no longer interests me. After much marking I rip them apart for my pattern pieces. This process certainly works for me and I rarely produce a wadder because of fitting issues so why would I consider sewing muslins a waste of time?


  33. I have made a muslin fitted shell for fitted dress bodices. I'm a G cup, so proper fitting isn't a minor thing, it's a huge, screaming pain fest.

    I believe the idea is that one takes a few similar patterns and makes a wardrobe out of those staples, altering fabric and details (such as sleeves and collars) but keeping the good fit in the torso.

    Since all our clothes don't go off of a princess line anymore, I guess using a universal muslin shell vs. individual muslins vs. tissue fittings is a matter of what's needed for your sewing wardobe. For me? If I ever find a blouse I love, I'm definitely making a dozen!

  34. Because most of my fabrics cost me $1 a yard, sometimes $2 a yard, yes even a lot of my nice silks, I tend not to do a muslin. I just make sure that my measurements are accurate and taken wearing the undergarments I plan to wear with what I am making. I also tend to get bored making the same outfit more than once.

    That being said, I will do a musl of at least the bodice if my fabrics are of the more costly variety.

    I have been advised that I should make up a sloper to assist with fitting issue but have not gotten around to that yet.

    I pay $1 a yard for muslin when I buy it.

  35. I don't make wearable muslins and I really don't believe in them. When I make a muslin I'm looking for specific fitting problems and I usually find them and then I know exactly how to go about fixing it and how much to tuck and nip and what have you. I'll use any junk fabric and standard muslin for this. When I make my garment, whether it be from a vintage sheet or a very expensive wool I want it to fit me perfectly and I want to wear it with ease.

    It's really crazy that you should be bringing this subject up because I've been thinking alot about it too and actually found a fitting shell pattern in my size for 50 cents at the local thrift the other day. Have you ever seen one of these before? They are amazing. You make the shell and then they give you very specific instructions for every fitting issue you might have. There is something like 12 pages full of instructions on how to get the perfect fit and what perfect fit is. I'm actually going to try this fitting shell next and see what happens.

    I also think that muslins or toiles are very old techniques for proper fitting. I mean I think of a tailor when I think of muslins and how they fit a muslin to the consumer before making and tailoring the garment. And then they do a second fitting too. I do believe that is a very old art. I also read about muslin fittings they do at the french couture houses and sometimes they don't just do one, they do several.

  36. I've never made a muslin in my life...but then, nothing that I make is terribly close fitting or from super nice fabric, and I tend to cut a little large, so it all seemed to even out in the end...

    I think if I were making one of my fantasy projects (corsets, fitted dresses from an old silk saris, fitted blazers and jackets and coats) I would make muslins first though. I would be thrown into tears and fits of rage if I spent all that time and it came out wrong...

    Honestly though, for the most part, I think the world is so used to the way off the rack clothes fit/don't fit that if the stuff I make is a little off, no one notices but me....

    I do have some fabric and a pattern for a pair of nice pants though, and I'm a little nervous about them - pants are tough for me in the real world, so the could turn out to be a nightmare in the sewing world. I might make a shorts muslin for them.

    I'm in the process of losing weight though (down 20 lbs since January!) so until I reach goal weight (another 20) it's blouses only for me.

    And alterations. lots and lots of alterations....

  37. I am in the middle of making a fitting shell. I don't remember how I came to think about. A combo of Fit for Real People and poking around the internet? Threads also had an article about them ( i thought it was a nice way for me to learn to fit better and then have a customized slope to work from. I wanted a vintage one because i mostly wanted to work with vintage patterns but wound up buying the modern vogue one on sale at Hancock. Fitting Shells are not patterns you will be able to look up in the book, which I found annoying and confusing. They will be in the drawer though so look up the number on the internet before hand. I was also confused as to which size I should buy so we will see how this goes.

    I bought my muslin in bulk a few years ago for about $2 a yard I think. (From Leonard Adler Co. for anyone in Chicago. I highly recommend them) I figured that would be the best way yo do it so I always have it when I need it. I also never know what to do with my muslins once I am done. What do you do with yours?

  38. I don't make muslins that often because my sewing time is so darn limited. Generally I only make them for complex projects -- a coat I did a few years ago, a dress that was going to require lots of stripe matching, etc. I know I should do more, but generally I fall in love and rush into my relationships with my patterns...

  39. I'm in the minority here – no muslins for me! I took a "Fit for Real People" pattern-fitting class a year ago, and it changed everything in my sewing. I'd highly recommend it to any sewer who'd like to get away from the cost/timesuck of making a muslin.

  40. I have a fitted shell (bodice/skirt) that I use for nearly everything.

    First, if you use it for patterns from that pattern line you have a pretty good idea a) what size to use and b) what alterations to do. Me, I have to do shoulder alterations and a little bit of length alterations to bodices, and HUGE alterations to skirts. I use the sloper pattern to check that things are about the right size. And I tissue fit (again, just to be super-sure).

    Fabrics vary, so I also use wide seam allowances when making up trousers and skirts (shirts aren't generally such an issue for some reason).

    I would make a muslin, I think, to check details on asymmetric or unusual patterns to see if I really like them. But a sloper, extra seam allowances, and a basted fitting work for nearly everything. For me anyway.

  41. Muslin Vs. Calico - - for those of you asking about the difference I came across this great little website from a seamstress in the UK. She also has some great picture tutorials for some how-to on Seams, Fitting, Measuring etc. Here's the link for her Glossary of Terms:

  42. I don't think I've ever made a muslin, for all the reasons already mentioned by others--it seems like a waste of fabric, I don't want to sew the same thing twice in a row, my sewing time is limited, etc.

    With experience, I guess I've learned to just make adjustments as I cut out a new pattern. For example, I have narrow shoulders, so I cut to a smaller size in the shoulders and grade out to my bust size from there. It works for me.

    I tend to buy patterns that have multiple sizes in one envelope, so this type of adjustment is pretty easy to make. However, I can see how sewing from a vintage pattern that is only one size would complicate the fitting process, so a muslin would be more useful in those cases.

  43. Huh, I'm in Australia and I haven't had trouble finding muslin. I just look around for the boring plain section and one of the bolts looks right and is labelled muslin.

    Also I have learnt not to ask most staff members at spotlight or lincraft ANYTHING. I was confused about a FBA once so since spotlight is walking distance away I just went down and asked the ladies working that day. They sent me to the "sewer" staff member (theres only one??!!) and she got all flustered and said my boobs don't look big enough for any extra fitting and to just tuck it down at the sides. Btw I am an E cup which is a little bit bigger then a B.

  44. Why assume that muslins are a black and white issue? Even the fabulously lazy (me) can half-ass a useful muslin without a lot of extra fabric expenditure.

    For most dresses, I use the lining as a muslin. I cut larger seams, work out fit issues where they won't be seen, and cut the expensive outer fabric accordingly.

    For other things, I only muslin the tricky or unusual parts. Currently I'm working on Vogue 2902, the vintage one with the slipstitched yoke; I made a muslin of the yoke only. After working out a bunch of yoke fitting problems that snagged other reviewers, the rest of the alterations were a snap.

  45. I use old sheets and then clearance Joann fabric for making muslins. Whenever the red tag stuff goes on 50% sale, I buy up whatever $1 wovens they have. You have to make a muslin the first time! Why spend all that time on a dress that fits terribly? That's a bigger time sucker to me than making the mockup in the first place, especially if you just quickly baste the mockup together.

  46. I used to muslin religiously, but I've recently made a personal block/fitting shell, and so my whole method is in transition. The last shirt I made I didn't muslin and just used my block to alter it, and it fit perfectly. I do like the idea of a wearable muslin though, because if I wear a garment in my daily life I might notice issues that I would miss if I just wore it in front of a mirror. I'll probably still do wearable muslins as I develop some basic patterns from my block, but do regular ones for more complicated garments that require a lot of finishing.

    I highly recommend making a personal block or fitting shell though. I found that I was making the wrong alterations just following the muslin process, and that I instead needed an alteration that doesn't really come up in most fitting books. Also, instead of always doing a sway back tuck, I can solve the problem just by adjusting my shoulder angle. For my block, I used "The European Cut", which I reviewed here:
    Either way, I have found that I need to make pretty much the same changes to all patterns, at least for Big 4 patterns. In fact, I compared the Vogue fitting shell to the Butterick shell and found them to be exactly the same. I also compared the modern Butterick shell to a Butterick shell from 1956 and found them to be the same except that the 1956 shell required shoulder pads, whereas the modern one doesn't (the bust point may be lower on the modern one too, but I can't remember). However, I also got a McCall's shell from the 1940's and that seemed a lot different. I don't know if its the era or the company, but since I have a lot of patterns from this era I'm glad I have my personal block.

  47. I have limited sewing time and so never thought muslins were for me. But I recently saw the light and became a muslin convert. It has really helped me work out some fit issues with pants - and saved me time and fabric in the long run. However, I doubt I would make a muslin for a knit top or something more forgiving like that. However, for a fitted dress, pants or jacket? Absolutely!

  48. pst, a secret, I am european and the whole concept of muslins is a bit shocking wasteful to me. I remember when i was a child my mother, aunts and grandmother having clothes made in the seamstress and no there never was any tests on other fabrics. Maybe for a wedding dress or a ball gown or something made of very expensive fabric only. Even if it was very cheap fabric, it is fabric, the culture is different and it feels still to me, slightly shocking to waste it. If I am ever tempted by some really expensive fabric which demands I make a test drive version first, it will have to be wearable. I get over it by using cheap fabric and doing the modifications on the basted version.

    And when in doubt, I choose the larger size, easier to tuch a bit somewhere than steal from steam allowances.

    I might as well confess, I think a lot of things american sewers take for granted seem slightly shocking wasteful or expensive to me. Like for example, actually cutting patterns instead of copying them. Or paying 10 or 20 or more dollars for just one pattern in one size - here you get Burda or Patrones with 30 patterns in several sizes for a few euros! Just a cultural thing I guess.


  49. I make wearable muslins, although lately I've been interested in making structured dresses, so I'm thinking of making a sloper.

    Here's my problem with muslins: fabric affects so much of the way a piece of clothing is going to fit that I'm not sure making a muslin out of muslin would work for all pieces. And if it didn't give you a good idea of what the finished product was going to look like, is it worth the time, much less the expense?

    For instance, what if you were making a floaty little dress out of delicate lawn? You'd want to use a batiste, or some kind of voile, which is going to cost more than the $1.49 muslin you can get at the Jo-Ann's here in Seattle.

  50. I am in the process of making a muslin for a historic recreation (1910 Edwardian dress). I don't make muslins for everyday sewing, but this pattern has so many little pieces, and doesn't have the ease of modern sewing patterns, so I felt it was a must.

    Several years ago, I bought myself a 50-yard bolt of muslin from, using one of their 50% off coupons. With free shipping, it came out to about $1 a yard! If you're going to make a lot of muslins, you can't beat having your own bolt.

  51. Teresa, I feel like there's also a difference in what your sewn garments are replacing - I'm not much of a shopper, and $50 or $75 for a dress is a lot for me whether I'm sewing it or making it at home! However, I could buy the argument that making a muslin is more frugal, because it makes a stable pattern that fits well that can be remade forever. Especially when you consider that we often cut into our patterns, and cut-up pattern paper can be hard to keep stable over time!

  52. I always make a muslin and I save the finished muslin for future use. I also have a sloper which I can use for sizing a pattern. I like vintage patterns with unusual details and I really need a muslin to determine if those details work on my body (I'm tall, slender, no bust and there's a lot that looks downright hideous on my frame). I use the muslins for Franken-patterning, designing embellishments, etc. and the losers I cut apart and reuse for other patterns, backing for embroidery on lightweight fabrics, or for sew-in interfacing. I purchase muslin by the bolt mail order from Dharma Trading Company. I don't make dozens each year because I do make multiples of successful styles. The cost of the muslin is waaaaaay less than the expense of my past failures at adjusting while I cut and sew.


  53. I need to make muslins. I have so many alterations to do on patterns, that I'm just not comfortable with cutting large seam allowances and going for it!

    I think what I need is a real body block. The one I have now works wonderfully, should I care to design my own blouses, but it looks super wonky, and I can't use it to base pattern adjustments on.

  54. I keep reading about slopers... What is a sloper and how does one go about making one? I did a quick google, but I can't say it enlightened me hugely!

  55. I can get muslin for as cheap as $.97 a yard. If I can't get it that cheap I won't buy it. And I usually only buy a special muslin fabric if the finished product is going to be done in an expensive or hard to handle fabric.

  56. I make a muslin if I'm unsure or want to change things, or cutting into precious fabric, but I'm lucky to be a fairly standard size so often just run with the pattern.
    I'd never make a muslin wearable - I use minimal cloth - no facings, only cutting seam allowances for seams I will sew, leaving all other edges raw and fusetaped to stop them stretching. This way you can often have it cut and made in under 1/2 hour. I almost always insert a zip - I think it is more accurate.
    I usually make my own patterns on kraft paper, and transfer all alterations to the pattern. I know it is traditional to cut from the muslin, but I have slight accuracy issues with this. Muslin is flexible and moves on the bias, kraft paper isn't - you just lay it down and it is the right shape - easy!
    Here in New Zealand we call the cloth calico, and you sew it into a toile or a calico or a mock-up depending on where you were trained!

  57. I have never made a muslin. I always tissue fit. I have many alterations to make with every pattern but it seems to work. I keep intending to make a sloper but generally just use patterns I have already adjusted to help me with fit. I too am in Australia and yes muslin is called calico here and if you ask for muslin you get cheesecloth. I don't know how much it is but it costs more than $3 a metre.

  58. A) Muslins save me time and money, so I'll always make one when using expensive fabric or trying a new style.

    B) The student bookstore/sewing notions place across from the FIT bookstore sells packs of muslin in three different "grades" and is very reasonable, cheaper than AK. SIL Thread sells different grades, as does Greenberg & Hammer, but they're pricier.

  59. There are a few factors I consider before making a muslin - or as we more commonly refer to them in the southern hemisphere a toile.

    *The cost or rarity of the fabric I am making the finished garment in, if it is vintage, or expensive I am more likely to do a toile

    *The pattern company/brand, some companies make garments that just work with my body shape and require very little adjustment, some, like Vogue, generally require so much adjusting I wonder why I didn't just draft it myself

    *The purpose of the garment, if it is a seasonal piece that I will likely be handing on to someone else next season I am less inclined to bother

    Similarly if the fabric I am using is inexpensive. What you refer to as muslin we call calico here, and it is generally about $10 a metre, which can be about the same as what you are paying for the fabric itself.

    I tend to wait until the large fabric stores have a sale, and stock up on fabric then to use for toiles, at that time I can usually get some for $2-$5 a metre. It is the only time I shop there really as their service is terrible.

    I do always try to use a similar weight, drape etc though, as this can make a huge difference to the completed style.

  60. Yeah my take on muslins has changed a bit too but I still do all sorts of different things in trying to figure all of this out. Depends totally on my investment in the project, and the cut of the thing though. A couple weekends ago I just wanted to SEW SOMETHING in a weekend, had some cheap fabric from my for-muslining stash from the 50%-off-everything local fabric warehouse (I stock up on the cheap syntho stuff in different weights/weaves for muslining) that I decided I liked enough for "real clothes" and whipped up a great little 40s dress that I turn out to love to pieces even though I just eyeballed & chalked up some alterations. (OK admittedly not form-fitting, no set-in sleeves, plenty of forgiving gathering, it wasn't too much of a risk) It seems to work that way though, if you don't really care about the project things can magically, dumb-luckily go swimmingly, and the thing you really want to work out, you still can't get the fit right several muslins in.

    I admit though that for something I'm really committed to making live up to the idea in my head, I still sometimes do a "first draft"- ie. wearable muslin- after I think I'm satisfied with fit of the regular muslin-- a completely finished item but in fabric I don't care one way or the other about, to help me work through both construction and the trickier fit issues that aren't necessarily apparent to me without extended wear. Hopefully in time with greater experience I won't need to do that anymore. But still feels safer to me on those rare projects where I really, really care about doing my best before cutting into the real fabric. Really, it's just training wheels.

    Anyway, I figure I'm somewhere in early middle school in my seamstress development here, but I learn every week from all the blogs and commenters on how they fit things- I really value posts like this one and everything everyone has to say!

  61. I go to garage sales and buy fabric by the 'bunch', then iron it and store it ready to use as 'muslin' for a similar weight fashion fabric.

    I am a relatively new sewer, so making a muslin helps me both with the fit and the techniques. I keep good notes so when I make the actual pattern I have a good handle on all the steps and techniques.

  62. I usually make a "wearable" muslin in cheap fabric, and most times I can get some use out of it. I'm pretty lucky because most of the time my only alteration is to make for a larger waist. I guess I'm pretty average otherwise.

    I am actually making a traditional muslin right now for the very first time, and was just wondering the other day what I am going to do with it when it's done. It does seem like such a waste.

  63. Nathalie, a sloper is a basic pattern that you can alter as your heart desires.

    Here is a skirt sloper and Burda also has a pant, bodice, and dress sloper for free.

  64. I almost never make a muslin (gasp!) If I'm not sure of the pattern, I'll maybe consider a 'test dress' out of fabric I sort-of like. That way, if it works, I have a garment out of it, and if it doesn't, well, I didn't like the fabric much anyways.
    Now that I'm starting to sew with vintage patterns, I'm going to start doing actual muslins. Especially if it's a style I want to make more than once. Plus, I want to be more patient and really get the fit right, instead of faking it once the dress is complete.
    Muslin is $3.98/metre at my local fabric store, so it's not super cheap. I'm going to look online for a cheaper source, but then I'd have to factor in shipping, which gets expensive, especially to Canada.
    The more blogs I read, the more I see the value in doing a muslin to perfect the fit, before cutting into fabric. So many of you are taking the time to get it right. I'm usually so impatient that I want to get started on the REAL THING right away!
    Great post, really interesting to see what everyone else is doing out there :)

  65. I make some muslins. There are some patterns that I just check against my TNT sheath pattern. Anything that is complicated or with many pieces that can't be taken in or let out, I make a muslin in the same way you do. I bought a pants and a dress fitting shell, but have yet to set the time aside to do the fitting. It's hard when you don't have someone to help you. I have a set of 'muslin zippers' that I reuse. They're all weird colours that I got cheap somewhere. I just rip them out and use them again.

  66. Good link, Sew Late! Sounds like I need calico to make a toile? Rather than muslin to make a muslin.

  67. Hi there Gertie + friends!

    I tend to make toiles from bedsheets and other second hand materials, as a test. Often my garments are so fabulous I just wear them as is. But I like these 'fitted shells' you guys all speak of, I might google some of those terms as well.

    I'm not a proper seamstress by any means, and hate wasting time and materials when I could be wearing the garment already. I'm usually pretty accurate with my own fit anyways.

  68. Having ruined far too many pieces of beautiful fabric in my early sewing days, I now almost always make a toile, from calico. (I'm Australian). I use the altered pieces the cut the fabric and keep for later if I like the pattern. The rejects go to my boyfriends rag pile, get used as cleaning cloths, pillow stuffing

  69. I gave up garment sewing for a long time due to the frustration of making too many wadders. It seemed my body was changing size overnight. Now that that problem seems to have stablized (love that menpause, not)I'm back to sewing. But until I can get learn how the Big 4 patterns generally run, I'll be making muslins dang near everytime. I use sheets, real muslin or cheapo fabric most often, trying to match the hand of the fabric chosen for the final garment.

    I might try developing a sloper, though. It sounds as if it would save time, money, and wasted fabric.

  70. A long time ago I made a fitting shell of gingham but I couldn't make my fitting shell alterations coordinate with the patterns; the fitting ease is so different. That was many years ago and my figure has changed.

    I have a fitting shell pattern and toy with making it up again and seeing if my pattern alteration skills have advanced far enough, but I haven't yet.

    I find the cheap practice muslin to easy and I know that I am getting the wearing ease that goes with that particular style.

    I get my muslin from thrift stores and big sales at the clearance rack at fabric stores.

  71. I think your muslin is our calico (Australia and UK).

    I've been reading Fit For Real People. That gives some insight into using a sloper to fit all subsequent patterns. But I've since read that the authors don't use that method any longer - they are behind some computer/scanning thing that you stand in and it makes an image of your body. Can't recall the name.
    I've read other fitting gurus say not to use gingham - it's not 'true'.

    Arrrgh, fitting is my bug bear, especially since I put on weight, and am more curvy... sigh. Thinking of making a duct tape dummy.

    Would love for you to keep writing on fitting, Gertie!

  72. I often make a muslin. Usually out of muslin, which is called Nessel here in Germany. (3€/metre). I prefer it, because I can easily mark the best position of buttons or pockets with any pen. It's light so I can see any pleats or wrinkles that shouldn't be there.

    Sometimes I only make the fitted upper part of dresses or pants. Or I reuse the muslin to make other garnments based on the altered one. Til now, it alsways paid off.

    (Yes, my mother made my pants out of dyed bedsheets when I was little, but that doesn't mean, I can't enjoy the possibilities and common sense that are available today. She happily stopped sewing in 1990, when she just could walk into a shop and actually buy what she wanted. So much for the inhomogenity of european culture.)

  73. For the Australians, yes Muslin = Calico. (I'm a Kiwi so ditto).

    I don't think I have ever made a REAL Muslin, preferring to delve into my mass of stash and use something similar, cheaper and less loved if I am unsure of the pattern. After all that effort I would rather two dresses came out of it, even if one has more alterations than another.

    In fact some of them have turned out to be my most wearable outfits!

  74. I "wear" my muslins. I paint in them or use them to hang out with my parrots (who are mean green poop machines). When soiled, toss em.

  75. Wow... reading all these comments make me want to move to america to get cheaper fabric! Here in australia, muslin (or calico, as we call it) costs $6-7 a meter, at the absolute cheapest. Even fabric bought in the stores here is at a minimum, double what it costs to buy in america, so I've recently become a huge fan of buying online from the states. Even with postage, it ends up costing less than half... I'm a huge fan of making muslin's though, the larger pieces get kept for other muslin's and the rest gets donated for my Beau to clean his beloved racing bike :)

  76. Until I discovered the Colette pattern website I didn't know you could make alterations other than lengthen or shorten! When younger I more or less fitted the big 4 patterns but now at 53 and two children my body has given up the ghost, I am 4 stone heavier and with a size H bust so I was so so pleased to discover FBA!!!!! I am working my way through the patterns in the colette handbook and am finding that despite very careful measuring, I am still cutting out patterns way too big for me. I am on my second ever muslin and found it invaluable - my meringue fell off me and I had to cut out 2 sizes smaller, I have had to add more darts to the bodice of the Truffle and am going to have to take in all the seams. I would never had discovered this without a muslin.
    In the UK fabric is very expensive, often it can cost 3 or 4 times as much to sew as to buy a garment. It is also harder to come by unless you order on line. Fabric shops are few and far between and can be 50 miles apart (No Joannes or Micheals on every corner LOL). What stores there are do not have large stocks. My nearest store only has 2 small shelves of fabric.
    For my first muslin I used a cheap sheet from Ikea and for my Truffle I am using cotton polyester that was on sale as a remnant in my 'local' store (10 miles away). I shall probably keep making muslins as I am finding them a must As well as ending up with something I can now wear rather than something I spend hours on and then cant even get done up. I am also learning so much about construction along the way, but I shall continue to use thrifted sheets and try to make wearable muslins.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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