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Muslin Debate

July 31, 2007

I read a *lot* of sewing blogs. There are some really talented dressmakers out there. (Knitters and crafters, I read your blogs too.) All of us debate the value of making muslins. A muslin, as I understand it, is a test garment made before using your special fashion fabric so that you can fine tune, if you will, the pattern and make any necessary adjustments. I believe the term “muslin” comes from when the pattern was sewn up the first time using a true muslin fabric. (Mirriam-Webster:  a plain-woven sheer to coarse cotton fabric.)

I never knew about making muslins until a few years ago when I started really reading sewing blogs and forums and reading sewing literature. I learned to sew by picking a pattern and fabric, cutting out the fashion fabric, and sewing it up. Granted that was when I probably had no fitting issues whatsoever being a slim teenager, so making a practice garment was unnecessary. Not so now. I have a ton of fitting issues and the older I get, the more fitting challenges I discover.

For me, making a muslin is not just about fit, it is also about deciding if I even like the pattern on my body. It’s one thing to imagine the outfit on a virtual computer model (not that I have any sort of software like that, but wouldn’t that be cool?); it’s another thing completely to wear the fabric made up, to see how it hangs on my body, and how it makes me feel.

Which leads me to my point of confusion regarding muslins. If the idea is to make up a sample garment before cutting your fashion fabric, how will you know what that fashion fabric looks like in your garment – how it drapes and flows and swings on your hips – if you use a fabric completely unlike the intended final result? A brocade will hang off your hips or shoulders completely differently than true muslin or a thin cotton. The different fabrics even sew up differently, ease is different, and more, so how do you know that the adjustments you make on your muslin will transfer properly when cutting and sewing up your fashion fabric?

It seems to me that the only way to truly test a garment is to make it twice. Once in a very similar fabric – if not the exact final fabric – to test for fitting and style, and then finally in the intended fashion fabric.

Gosh, if this is true, I should buy more fabric. 🙂

  1. August 1, 2007 6:33 am

    You’re right in that sometimes it’s very hard to approximate a garment in muslin. Two cases in point would be any kind of bias silk and anything stretchy. In those cases I’d probably try to use something other than actual muslin. But in most cases, I find that muslin works fine. I buy it by the bolt when it’s half off.

  2. August 1, 2007 8:49 am

    You’re right that Muslin fabric can be far away from the actual fabric you’re going to use.

    I always try to make it in a cheap fabric as close as possible to the actual fabric. That way indeed you can see how it falls and draps around the body (or in my case until now, the fitting doll)

  3. August 1, 2007 10:38 am

    Great post. This is where the cheap, fugly $1/yd fabric from WalMart comes in handy. I’ll by something similar to my fashion fabric and use it.

  4. BjP permalink
    August 1, 2007 4:32 pm

    I cannot bring myself to make a muslin….there I said it! 🙂 I know you should do it, I understand and appreciate the concept, and yes, I’m troubled a bit about the use of a different fabric just like you are.

    However, my sewing time is so limited that if I had to sew the same thing twice? Well, I’d never have anything wearable. Ever. I guess I’d just rather end up with an unwearable UFO and start all over on something else! Yikes, bad me!

  5. August 1, 2007 5:06 pm

    sometimes i make a muslin….sometimes i don’t. i often try to make a “wearable” muslin….test the pattern on a less expensive fabric, but something that i would wear if the fit is ok. i do have some cheap, ugly fabric that i use for muslins i have no intention of wearing.

    pants, because they are the hardest to fit, is the most likely candidate for a muslin. i omit the pockets and such to speed up the sewing of the muslin.

    this is one of the reasons i love Ottobre patterns. the drafting is very consistent. i have confidence that the alterations i make on one pattern will work on another pattern.

    if i don’t want to make a muslin, i might compare the pattern pieces to another pattern that fits.

  6. August 1, 2007 7:09 pm

    Here’s my two cents:

    I make a muslin if I am deviating from the pattern, if the fashion fabric is expensive, or if I am draping a garment from scratch. When possible, I use the lining as the “muslin”, and buy extra to allow for mistakes. Making muslins can sometimes take the fun and momentum out of the project entirely, but I wouldn’t skip it for something very closely fitted and complicated.

  7. August 2, 2007 3:57 am

    So far, I’ve always made a muslin first – wearable if possible – and out of fabric that I can financially and emotionally afford to wad if things don’t turn out well. I do try to use fabric that’s as close as possible to the fashion fabric I intend to use.

    In addition to helping out with fitting issues, of which I have plenty, I also like doing the muslin because it helps me work through the construction process. I’m still very much a beginner and often come across techniques or methods that I’ve not used before. I like working through the details first before going at it whole hog.

  8. August 3, 2007 12:00 pm

    First I had to pick myself up off the floor where I fell from LOL at your “must buy more fabric” quote!

    Second, I try to make wearable muslins from a pattern that I am trying out for the first time. I use fabric that has very similar properties to the fashion fabric I want my final outfit in. I make all my alterations to the pattern, cut and sew and then if necessary make more changes to the garment. I keep notes on all the changes I’ve made.

    I use wearable muslins because I don’t have a lot of sewing time and my goal is to get well-fitting clothing each time out. It is probably why I have so many TNTs ’cause once you make something 2x, you get a really good sense of the pattern. And sometimes, the wearable muslin turns out so great, you don’t need to make it again.

    But I never make my first go round of a pattern in muslin fabric…I don’t understand that concept! 🙂

  9. August 3, 2007 12:26 pm

    Carolyn, glad you caught my humor there. 🙂 I wasn’t sure anyone did.

  10. Lory permalink
    November 23, 2007 11:22 pm

    I haven’t made a muslin yet, but from what I understand you’re using it to build the bodice of the garment. Things like setting in the sleeves or adding the collar isn’t necessary. Which makes sense to me especially if you’re buying a really expensive fabric (imagine cutting it up and then realizing later on you needed to add more? ugh!)

    I’m trying to advance my sewing skills so I’ll be making one soon. I have some sketches of garments that I’d like to create, I’m excited 🙂

    But what I’m not sure of (if you know please tell me) do you need to make a muslin for each pattern? Is it possible to create a muslin that you can modify to create different patterns for future garments? I’ve seen a pattern that has all sorts of sleeve and skirt lengths which serves as a basis for other designs…… is it better to use something like that or is a muslin always best?

  11. November 24, 2007 6:10 am

    Hi Lory – I think the muslin for all garments is called a sloper. The concept (although I’m not a professional) is to have the basic shape of your body for pieces like skirts and tops and you get creative and modify it from there.

    I usually tissue fit (fit the paper pattern to my personalized dressform) before I cut out fabric so I don’t have the situation you describe above. If the pattern is really complicated or one I haven’t worked with before, I might consider making up a muslin or a test garment in a cheap fabric similar to the fashion fabric I plan to use. Hope that helps.

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