Have you ever visited a new place or a city and went there without checking the map first? You probably felt lost and wished you’d planned better beforehand.
The same principle applies when you sew a new pattern.
Making a muslin is like the dressed rehearsal for a new sewing pattern. With it, you’ll know what to expect when sewing the final garment.
Not making a muslin is like an actor stepping onto the premiere stage without rehearsing. The new garment you want to sew is on an audition and you want to figure out if it fits. And if it matches the rest of the ensemble called Your Wardrobe.
Some may think it’s time-consuming and a waste of fabric. By the end of this article, you’ll see it as an investment in yourself and your sewing instead.
Table of Contents
What is a muslin
A muslin, also called a toile or calico, is a test garment. It’s sewn for evaluating the fit, the balance, and the look of a garment.
The muslin fabric is an affordable undyed woven fabric, made of cotton. You don’t need the actual muslin fabric. Instead, use an inexpensive fabric with similar characteristics to the final garment.
Look for similarities, e.g. woven vs knit, sturdy vs slippery, thick vs thin. If, and how, the fabric “takes creases” i.e. if it’s easy to wrinkle is good to look for when you want to sew pleats.
When your test garment is sewn with actual fashion fabric it’s also called a wearable muslin. It’s sewn with “real” fabric you wouldn’t use otherwise because you don’t have enough, or it doesn’t fit your style or taste.
Why making a muslin?
The time you put into the test garment is an investment. If you can’t afford a mistake with your fashion fabric or don’t have enough of it, a muslin is the best option.
You don’t have to make your muslin perfect, in fact, the opposite is better. The more mistakes you put into your muslin, the less you will put into your final garment. You grow your skills at the same time as each blunder saves you seam ripping in your fashion fabric.
When to make a muslin
Three situations when making a muslin makes the most sense, are when:
- you’re exploring a new pattern brand or a pattern you haven’t sewn before, for checking the fit
- you’re testing new style lines or details you’re not sure if you’ll like or how they’ll look on you
- you want to practice sewing techniques you haven’t tried before
When you can skip it
Three situations when you don’t need to make a muslin:
- For tried and true patterns
- For sewing techniques, you always turn to
- For fabrics, you know how they’ll behave when sewn
When you’re 100% certain of the outcome, start cutting and sewing your fashion fabric right away.
A 6-step checklist for sewing your muslin
- Prepare your fabric. There’s no need for prewashing but you do need to iron out all wrinkles to secure the grainline is accurate.
- Make all planned changes to the pattern. E.g. adjust the shoulder width and slope. Make any bust adjustments. Grade between sizes at the waist and the hips, and shorten or lengthen the bodice and sleeves.
- Trace the pattern pieces onto the muslin fabric. Transfer the notches, darts, and pocket placements.
- Add balance lines. Chalk the center front, bust apex, waistline, and hipline. Also, mark the grainline on the right side of every garment piece.
- Sew the darts, shoulder, and side seams.
- Add sleeves to the muslin if necessary. Do it when you need to test the armhole and sleeve fit, and length.
What to look for when you’ve made your muslin
Try the muslin on with the underwear and shoes you intend to wear with the final garment.
Before evaluating the fit, make sure all balance lines are level. The horizontal and vertical lines you marked on the right side, should be parallel to the floor. Now check the rest of the garment in the following order:
Shoulder width – is the shoulder seam in line with your shoulder?
Neckline – is width and depth flattering on you and is there any gaping?
Bust apex – is it matching your body’s apex?
Waistline – is it high or low or is it tilting?
Hipline – is it level with your hips?
Garment length – do you need to lengthen or shorten?
Straight of grain – are the grainlines perpendicular to the floor?
Style lines – are they flattering on your body?
Note down all deviations on a paper and work through the changes you want to make on your garment, one at a time.
When you’ve cleared the balance, and fit, and you’re happy with the garment, you can proceed with the details.
Start with checking the lapels, and, collar width. Proceed with the button, and, pocket placement. Then finally one last check of any other eye-catching details you may want to adjust. Be thorough but don’t overdo it. The most important is that you can move with ease and love the garment when looking in the mirror.
Your next step
Now you have an overview of the muslin making process. Using it will save you fabric, agony, and seam ripping. It’ll also make it easier for you to keep track of any changes you need to add to your fitting repertoire.
Once you start making muslins on a regular basis, there’s no need for guessing or improvisation. Like a director, you’ll weigh all acting parts of the play that is to become your most successful showpiece yet.