Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making a Muslin from a Vintage Pattern

I've finally refined my method for this, and while I have a feeling it may be a totally obvious method, I thought I'd share it anyway! This is a non-fussy way to make a muslin from a vintage pattern without tracing it first--and it doesn't harm the pattern at all. This only works for perforated patterns, not the printed kind. Here's what I do.

First, I lay my muslin out, on the fold. Next, lay your first pattern piece on top of the muslin, check the grainline, and hold it down with weights. (Note: you can use a dry iron on vintage patterns, but the folds are very hard to get out completely. I just smooth it out as much as possible by hand, unless there's a really egregious wrinkle.)

Transfer the pattern perforations by filling them in with a pencil. Also fill in notches.

If you're not sure what any of the markings are, refer back to your pattern instructions, where they'll be labeled.

Make any pattern alterations you know you'll need right off the bat. Here, I've added width below the armhole.

Next, cut out the piece with a rotary cutter, being very careful not to nick the pattern.

Remove the pattern and weights and hold the cut pieces together with a few pins. Label the pieces, making a note of any alterations you made.

Transfer the markings to the other piece by putting tracing paper face-up underneath your muslin pieces. I use a blunt knitting needle to transfer the marks. 

Now both pieces are marked!

If your pieces have a grainline marking (which is denoted by two large circles), I connect the circles and transfer the grainline to the other piece so I can use it as my pattern later.

Now your pieces are all marked and ready to assemble as a muslin! You can later rip apart the muslin and use the pieces as your pattern, which saves you having to make a tracing of the vintage pattern. I only make a muslin with the crucial pieces (no facings or anything), so I will later carefully cut out those pieces on the fashion fabric with weights and a rotary cutter or make tracings of them if needed.

Like I said, this may be completely obvious, but I'm pleased with it anyway. It kills two birds with one stone (the pattern copying and muslin making) and is very gentle on brittle patterns. Any tips of your own to share, readers?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nothing to add to this: I use similar method, except I cut all the paterns pieces from the muslin.
    Sorry to have publied this comment under my husband name first: Xavier.

  3. Oh! So this is the next VoNBBS project! Exiting!

  4. Great tip! I generally trace all my patterns first, just because I like to have a newer copy of them, but this could certainly save time with some of my unprinted patterns when I'm in a bit of a sewing crunch! :) Thanks for the how-to!

  5. I've just started doing that too! I love the fact that you can alter the muslin so easily/right away and still use it as a pattern piece! Thanks for sharing!

  6. I got a great vintage pattern from Debi but I didn't knew how to start... Great post.

  7. As a newbie I am grateful for the tip - great way to use the muslin pieces as future pattern pieces - I have thrown them away in the past!

  8. This is timely and very helpful. I just pulled a couple of 40s patterns out of the stash and they are completely crumpled up into wads of paper, so there will be some work before I can even get them to lie flat. I will definitely transfer them to muslin so in the future have to handle the paper as little as possible.

    My process is similar to yours; the only difference is that my pattern weights look a lot like tuna fish cans.

  9. Very helpful. And nothing is too obvious to me, when it comes to sewing!

  10. Hmmm..I have yet to try a muslin, but I do have a perforated pattern that I need to tweak the size on. This may be a good place to start!

  11. Good idea, I'm always terrified of messing up my vintage patterns. Thanks for the post!

  12. Thanks Gertie, this is just the nudge I needed to get going on a sweet asymmetrical Marian Martin pattern from the 40's I purchased recently. Back then I guess it was just assumed that everyone knew what to do with the blank tissue. Figuring out what size this pattern is will be my next issue.

  13. Hello Gertie, I have been lurking around your blog for a while now, getting excellently motivated to do an outfit for the Melbourne Cup, the pinnacle of our Spring (horse) Racing Carnival (in Melbourne, Australia).

    I have always used this method for muslins (we call them toiles or calicos over here) for both vintage and contempory patterns. The only hiccup being is that when keeping the toiles for future use they can get a bit cumbersome to store. I can also report that toiles are an excellent use for old sheets rather than buying new calico (or toile fabric of choice). I like to think I am doing my bit for the environment and sheets are often really cheap from op-shops (thrift stores).

    Lookign forward to more beautiful VoNBBS sewing!

  14. What a great and useful post! I have a question, though, for all you experienced muslin-makers out there. What do you do with printed patterns?

  15. This was a very helpful post. Thank you :). Btw, I watched all the bombshell dress lessons (soundless, at work) and thought they were great! I already used a couple of techniques you showed for other projects.


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

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