Make a Down-and-Dirty Muslin, Really!

I will be the first person to raise my hand when asked if I am one of those sewing rebels who resists making a muslin or test garment. Part of the problem is that I am pretty close to a standard pattern size, so I know the adjustments I have to make, and they are the same every time. But that doesn't mean I am without fitting issues. I have a shorter torso than standard patterns so any garment with a back (which is to say all patterns except skirts and pants) will have loose fabric at the back and I need to adjust for that or be very unhappy with the hunchback results. It's not an easy adjustment to make without a muslin, so there you are.

The best laid plans … my original vision.

Since I've started studying patternmaking seriously, I have developed a different relationship with muslins, because that's what flat patternmaking is all about. You draft the pattern on paper with measurements and hope against all hope that you didn't make a mistake, because the next step is making a test muslin and all of your mistakes will be immediately evident once your throw your muslin on the dress form. In fact, the flat pattern to muslin and back again is such a long process that the sewing of the garment looks like child's play in comparison.

I have been working on designing a dress for the Stitch Fall 2012 issue, which means making an illustration, drafting the pattern, and, of course, making the muslin. In the process, I learned a few muslin life lessons:

A muslin needs only one arm!

1) Making a muslin is fast work. Seriously!

As you can see from the dress on the form, my muslin has only one arm, because you only need one to check the fit! There are no facings and no hemline. It just has a pin in the hem where I want to raise the hemline. Also it's made from a similar, cheap version of the final fabric I will be using, which in in this case is a sturdy wool jersey. I know it doesn't look like much, but I don't need it to. I cut it out and stitched it together in a little more than an hour, using any old thread and sewing as fast as I could with little eye to making it pretty. But oh, the heartache that hour of time will save me.

2) Happy mistakes can be the best design solutions.

The dress was originally designed to have a smooth, dartless waistline, but in the drafting process I had made the skirt waist bigger than the bodice. I could go back and adjust the pattern, but instead I added two tucks to the front skirt panel, which I really liked, I also realized that my armhole had much too much ease, but when I turned those into sleeve cap gathers, I really liked the result and kept it.

The bust dart way too long, but the armhole
and shoulder fit nicely!

3) Find a buddy

While trying a dress on a form is nice and easy, there is nothing like seeing it on a real person. The garment doesn't have to fit exactly or be made for your fitting model. You just need to make sure that it's functional as a garment on a human body. For instance, I discovered that when my friend tried on the muslin that a side zipper would have to be ridiculously long to accommodate going over the head. As much as I liked this vintage touch, I went with a long, invisible back zip instead. I could also see very clearly that the French dart was way too long, causing a point at the apex. That dart will definitely be shortened and will be an easy fix.

If you are a sewing rebel who hates making muslins, I hope that you will reconsider. But then again, I had to learn the hard way for being so hard-headed!

If you are looking for other great sewing tips and lessons, check out the 25% off DVD sale on Stitch Workshop and other videos in the Sew Daily Shop. And tell me about a sewing lesson your learned the hard way on the Sew Daily blog!

Happy stitching!

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Fitting & Alterations

About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

One thought on “Make a Down-and-Dirty Muslin, Really!

  1. Amber, I have not sewn for years. Now, pattern companies sell multi-size patterns – not single-size patterns – to my dismay. Plus my figure has changed. Consequently, I have no idea what size pattern I need. To address this problem, I bought several yards of muslin with the intent to create some clothes, roughly, in muslin to get a clue what size I wear and the pattern modifications I need to make. Your article is a good motivator to take the next step. Thank you!