The Importance of Making a Muslin

It's fall, and that means my sewing mojo has returned in full force. I've been sewing up a storm recently. My current project is a coat, inspired by the one Kenneth King made for an article on Streamlined Tailoring in Threads Magazine. When I did a Sit and Sew with Kenneth in June, I tried his coat on and fell in love, and a designer friend was kind enough to send me a pattern that is similar (that's a good friend), so I was off!

A Roadmap for Fit and Construction

Whenever I make a new-to-me garment, I always start with a muslin, or toile. A muslin is invaluable in several ways. First, it's a primary fitting tool. Unlike fitting alterations on a flat pattern, working from a muslin lets you see the drape and proportion of your garment. It shows you the way a garment will fall over your body, highlighting areas that may need adjustments. It's a full-scale model. 

Second, and just as important, a muslin gives you a roadmap for construction of your garment. If there are tricky areas, or techniques that you want to practice, you can easily do those on a muslin. Practicing a construction detail on a muslin is far less intimidating than trying it for the first time on your fashion fabric. And muslin is much less expensive than fashion fabric, taking the pressure off and giving you breathing room to perfect details. Also, if you are working with a pattern that doesn't have instructions (e.g. Marfy) or whose instructions are cursory (e.g. Burda Magazine), running up a muslin allows you to work out the steps and order for construction without affecting your fashion fabric.

Construction Details

I use High-Quality 65 Inch Unbleached Cotton Muslin from Gorgeous Fabrics for the outer shell of most woven garments. I use a remnant of lining for lining pieces. When I cut out my muslin, I mark the name of the pattern piece, all of the notches and match points, and the grain line. Depending on the pattern, I may add extra width to my seam allowances for fitting. When stitching, I use the longest basting stitch (on my machines, that's 5 mm or 6 mm) for the seams, and the standard length stitch (usually 2.5 mm) for stay-stitching curves and areas that need to be clipped. The long stitches make it easy to take the garment apart for fitting and later use as a pattern, while the short stay stitches keep the curves from stretching out of shape, again so I can use it as a pattern later.

I press all my seams open after sewing. I don't go full Pressinatrix, but I find that pressing the seams open eliminates some bulk in the seam and gives me a more precise idea of the fit than if I left them unpressed.

Once the muslin is sewn, I try it on and make any fitting adjustments. Fitting the muslin is a whole other series of posts, so I won't go into that now. Just know that a muslin will give you a very clear picture of what needs to be adjusted. If you want a great book on how to use your muslin as a fitting tool, I recommend Kenneth King's Smart Fitting Solutions. Adjusting the fit can take several muslins. As an example, when drafting my trousers, it took three tries to get the fit right. Don't be impatient. As the late, great Cynthia Guffey used to say, "It's your hobby. What's your hurry?" The result will be worth it and you'll end up with a tried and true pattern. And believe me, the final garment will go together in no time!

The last step with my muslin is to take it apart and use the pieces as my pattern. Often I will transfer the adjusted muslin back onto paper or oak tag for long term use. I like doing that because the paper won't stretch out or get distorted over time and use. 

So I hope that helps you. Here are pictures of the finished muslin. I'll take it apart and start construction of my final garment this week.

Happy sewing!
Ann