The Case for Muslins

You all know that I comment very infrequently on other people’s sites. But I do lurk, lots. On many sites, and quite often, posters will claim that they

  1. Never make muslins
  2. Hate making muslins
  3. Think muslins are a waste of time
  4. Don’t see the point of muslins.

I, on the other hand, love muslins. And I’m not talking about “Wearable Muslins” (On another note – was that really 6 years ago? Man, I didn’t realize my bulletproof undies were that old. But I digress…)

Seriously, muslins, the way I use them, are tools for achieving better fit. Because of that, in Ann-land they have a very specific purpose: they become the pattern. Today, for instance, I cut out a pair of StyleArc’s Willow pants. These are woven pants, and they are pretty closely fitted. My goal is to make them in a black wool satin from my stash, to take me through the holidays and go with a stunning jacket I bought from my friend Tess last year. I cut them from The Best Muslin Anywhere (of course I have to plug it!)  and ran them up this afternoon.

Singing along with The Talking Heads: Cut out and ready to sew...
Singing along with The Talking Heads: Cut out and ready to sew…

I use waxed tracing paper (that you can buy online or at Sil Thread)  and a tracing wheel to mark darts, grain lines, fit lines and other landmarks on the pattern. I notate the markings, when needed, with a sharpie.

Annotated Pattern Pieces
Mark it up, baby!

I use long machine basting stitches (6mm) on all the seams. For zippers and darts I use regular length (2.5mm) stitches. I figure if seams pop, that’s okay – that’s what the muslin is supposed to show. But I want the darts and zips to stay where they are.

Seams get long stitch length
Seams get long stitch length
Darts (and zippers) get shorter stitch length.
Darts (and zippers) get shorter stitch length.

I also don’t bother with an invisible zip in the muslin. I just use the ugliest zipper from my stash.  “Close enough for government work,” as my daddy used to say. The goal is to get the fit right. I know how the zipper will go. But – if you are unsure about how to insert an invisible zipper, this is the time to practice, so go for it!

For this pair of pants, the muslin (minus the waistband) took less than 1.5 hours to cut out and sew up. 90 minutes of my time? That’s totally worth it to see if this will even begin to fit and work for me.

Once I sewed the muslin, I tried it on and started making adjustments. This is easier if you have a fitting buddy. If you don’t have a fitting buddy, take lots of pictures. Don’t worry – you don’t have to share them. Use them for yourself and look for wrinkles, drag lines and problem areas. No one is judging you, and this way you’ll see things through the camera’s unwavering and unemotional eye. Sorry – I don’t have pictures of myself in these pants. One benefit of having been sewing since the Pleistocene Era is that I’ve done this enough times that I can literally feel my way around the muslin and figure out where I need to pinch. It’s more precise if my best fitting buddy Phyllis is here, but I can do a pretty passable job on my own.

I don’t have pictures on me, but I do have pictures of the results. I need a slight adjustment on one side of the front.

Adjustment at the Front
High hip? Low hip? Not sure but pinching that out makes them look much better

And I need the “Fish Eye Dart” (I want to say I learned about that from Debbie Cook?)

Fisheye Darts in Back
I’ll pinch  these from the pattern pieces, and I’ll  remove about an inch in length as well.

If you are relatively new to sewing, you may be wondering, “Okay, now what?” It’s an excellent question. Next I will take these pants apart, true up the grain lines with the pinches and changes, and then use them as the pattern pieces for my wool satin.

All in all, this process (including writing this blog post with pictures and all) took less than a day on a long weekend. The payoff will be that I will have a pair of pants that fits well, falls well, and won’t end up in my wadder pile or at Goodwill. And it will take me less than a couple of hours to make them, start to finish, because I have already sewn them once. So if I can give you one piece of advice, it is…

When in doubt, make a muslin, dammit!

Happy sewing!

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Gorgeous Fabrics

I own an online fabric store, www.GorgeousFabrics.com. The name says it all!

43 thoughts on “The Case for Muslins”

  1. I love doing Muslins especially to fit bodices. I have trouble getting the fit right for my top half or engage in wishful thinking about my body.

    My question… How do yo do a Muslin for a knit? They all have different stretch, and sometimes I find myself making my usual adjustments to the pattern, as if woven. Then I baste and fit as I go, focusing on fitting the shoulders.

    1. I wouldn’t use muslin per se, but whatever cheapo fabric is the closest match to the stretch/drape of the fabric you plan to use. For dresses I plan to make in really slinky fabric, I’ll often make a “muslin” in a cheap drapey fabric just because I need to test whether it drapes right on me. If there’s no substitute for the fabric itself (like silk charmeuse) I’ll buy some undyed, which is often significantly cheaper.

  2. YES!!!!!

    I LOVE the “muslin as new pattern” approach. The sheath dress pattern that I keep making over and over again is actually the fourth or fifth muslin I made, the one that actually fit well. It’s in this sunflower-print quilting cotton because that’s all I had at the time.

    Another huge advantage that muslin patterns have over paper patterns is that they’re heavier and the weave of the muslin tends to interlock with the weave of the fabric– this means that the pattern pieces don’t move around as much on the fabric you’re trying to cut out. For really difficult fabrics, like chiffon and silk velvet, this has saved me from tearing my hair out.

  3. I must say… I do both. A muslin is great for fitted patterns, especially in non stretch fabrics. I love permanent sharpie markers. They draw the construction lines faster than basting and bleed onto the other side of the fabric. And have many colors!

    However, I find loose fitting patterns can skip this step. Also, stretch fabrics like bras are better with wearable muslin. You never know if a bra really fits till hour 3 or 4.

    1. I agree to a fair degree about loose fitting patterns. Though if I have doubts I will always err on the side of making a muslin.

  4. I don’t always muslin but learned the benefit when I was in a contest. I achieved a really nice fit on the bodice of one of the dresses I made and couldn’t have known the nip/tuck type adjustments without the muslin.

    But I won’t muslin all the time. LOL! I do get it, and will make the call based on the pattern. But not every time.

    I’m going to muslin the bodice of B5030 tomorrow because I do want it *perfect* 😉

  5. Muslin is worth it’s weight in gold. The muslin Ann sells is truly fabulous. I use to buy the really cheap muslin, because well it’s just muslin. Every time I made a change to my sample garment, I’d have to cut another muslin because the cheap fabric had stretched and was distorted. This doesn’t happen with the muslin Ann sells. I bought a bolt from her – it’s that good.

  6. Muslins are a must with a new pattern. Why waste your favorite fabric on a garment that may not fit right. I use ugly fabric from my stash for woven muslins or thrift store bed sheets. I do have the hardest time finding fabric for knits to make a muslin. I just buy the cheapest knit fabric for those muslins.
    Great post! Can’t wait to see your pants.
    Bonnie @ http://www.sewplus.blogspot.com

  7. I couldn’t agree more! Making muslins is an invalueable tool for fitting. I expect all my new sewists to make them. At first they think it’s overkill but soon learn the value.

  8. Amen, amen! For most knits and loose fitting patterns I can pretty much make a mock up and figure out my fairly typical adjustments. And then for closely fitting items like a sheath dress or tailored jacket I love having a fitting buddy to tweak things. What I like about pictures is that it helps me separate myself/ego from the mirror and see the garment more objectively. I’m rather asymmetrical so I have to make sure I don’t overcompensate by over fitting which would only draw more attention to that asymmetry.

  9. Well, ya know I am a muslin lover because I bought a bolt of it from GF! I am also a big believer in NOT wasting fabric when I’m not sure how my pattern will turn out. One thing I do though, is when I am sure my pattern is about 97% correct, I do make wearable muslins if I have suitable fabric on hand. This is ONLY when I am sure that any final tweaks can be made and the garment has potential to be worn.
    I am taking a break right now from sewing a dress out of 4-ply silk crepe. I made a wearable version yesterday out of a great GF fabric. I’ll go back when I have time, and finish up the lining, facings, etc.
    My only other habit that’s different is that I always go back to my paper patterns and update them with adjustments. But then I don’t sew a lot of different patterns like most do. I go for TNTs. By the time I have done all that work on the pattern, I like to get lots of versions from it.
    At any rate, I know there will be lots of opinions on muslins!

  10. Two things that will take your sewing to exactly where you want it to be:

    Make samples of techniques – stitch length, interfacing, pressing techniques, etc.

    Make muslins. “..they become the pattern.” Use them to check the things that can’t be changed after you cut your fabric – shape and depth of armscyes and crotches, for example. Sometimes i’ll find that a certain pattern or design just will not work for me – after an hour or two of time and less than ten dollars in materials, as opposed to 20 hours and 40-80 bucks?

    There’s no comparison. If you REALLY don’t like making muslins – make fewer and develop your Tried ‘N True designs 😉 Great post!

  11. I always regret it when I feel lazy and don’t make a muslin!! And it is such a good opportunity to find out if the style is really “me” or not. I’ve gotta try your muslin, Ann, but for the past few months I’ve been using up some really old cotton stash pieces, which seem to work just fine. However, I must warn everyone not to use old percale sheets! They are impossible to pin and to get on-grain.

  12. “When in doubt, make a muslin, dammit!”

    I’m always in doubt. I can’t respect the sewing of people who refuse to make muslins and then put up a photo of a garment with all kinds of fit problems. I have a bolt of muslin from Steinlauf and Stoller in NYC. A couple of notes:

    1) Sometimes pattern issues have to be worked out before transferring even to the first muslin. If you’re someone who has to blend a number of sizes or grade up it can help to trace and combine the sizes on to a medium like Swedish Tracing Paper and do a rough pin fit to see if you’re even in the ballpark. If you have changes, mark them, and transfer them to the muslin. I once tried to combine various sizes transferred to muslin thinking I could fit them together. Impossible.

    2) The fashion fabric always behaves a little differently from the muslin. It can be a good idea to baste and check the fit before using permanent stitching.

  13. Amen to muslins! So much better than wasting money/fabric on a garment that won’t fit. Like you, I find most of my “muslining” can get done in less than two hours. I leave off facings, and other details that won’t affect fit. I will put on things like pockets or welts to get them in the right place, which is usually not where the pattern says to put them. I also judge the size of the details. Being petite, I often downsize the width of a collar or size of a pocket and the muslin lets me make an educated judgement on that score.

    1. I see people online sewing up the facings even though any good fit book will tell you that the original facings are not used — after you perfect the fit of the shell, then you redraft the facings to conform to the changes. What they are doing is a complete waste of time.

      If I thought I were going to make more than one muslin, I wouldn’t do the pockets unless I wanted the practice, but I might draw or pin them on to get an idea of the proportions. I once saw a neat trick with color-blocking: putting the muslin on the form or on the body and drawing the seam lines where they fell nicely on the body, which might not be the same as the placement suggested by the pattern.

      I would do an invisible zipper if the pattern called for one because I find them to be slightly easier than regular zippers.

      Another step that helps is to draw lines indicating the center front, center back, and horizontal balance lines. That way, if the shape changes because of adjustments you can get back your bearings.

      As one sewing blogger/teacher says, “There are no new patterns.” You’re better off getting the fit right on some basic patterns and using them as guides for new styles, if not the actual basis for them.

  14. Although I’m relatively new to the sewing world, I heartily occur. I
    have some lovely wool bouclé I bought from your store, and had in mind a bomber jacket so I cut out a muslin of some fabric I bought in Paris (5€ for 3 meters, a bargain) and sewed it up, and came to the realization the fabric was worthy of a better design. So I’ll find a different pattern and try again before I sacrifice the gorgeous bouclé to mediocre design.

    1. If you do a muslin, you could take the completed pattern pieces (if they’re not dirty from wax paper) or paper pieces to the fabric store and lay them out on the bolt to see how much fabric you need. That’s a boon with very expensive fabric.

  15. Where do those of you who sew muslins on a regular basis stand on sewing it up with seams facing out? I’ve seen it touted as being much easier to make seam line and dart adjustments esp. when fitting yourself.

    1. I’ve done it both ways, Gail. I usually do them seams facing in but that’s just because of habit. I do find that it’s easier to adjust princess seams if I remember to have the SAs face outward.

    2. I do them turned in despite the fact that I really would like the convenience of the muslin with the seams turned out. Why? because like many, I am crooked. The sides of my hips are shaped differently and one of my shoulders is lower than the other. I want my muslin to reflect these differences. I have two separate pieces for my rear legs on pants patterns. Convenience is sacrificed for fit in my case.

  16. This is a great post. I almost always make muslins. Very early on I learned this is the only way to get a decent fit. I transfer the muslin changes to my paper pattern because I find the paper easier to store. I also love making muslins because I get a practice run on assembling the pattern which I find helpful. Once I have a good fitting pattern, I can sew it up quickly in different fabrics. I can’t image not making muslins!!

  17. For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with a pattern maker to develop slopers/blocks from which to draft my own patterns. The process requires a series of muslins (10 just for the pants), and I’ve become very accustomed to drawing all over them. When I finally get to the fashion fabric, I’ve almost forgotten how to mark things without a Sharpie 😉 But the process is great, and knowing that I can cut the good stuff without fear of (major) disaster is liberating.

    I find that sewing is a lot like cooking Chinese food–90% of the time is spent on measuring and cutting things into pieces, but when it’s done right, the construction is a breeze.

  18. Thank you so much for this post. I’m beginning to understand the real point of muslin’s opposed to wearable muslin’s (basically a practice run). The difference between adequate fit and great fit is the difference between looking “homemade” and a great garment. As a beginner they also make more complex patterns achievable. Muslin’s have made me more fearless in my sewing and I thank you for reminding me why I bother.

  19. As someone new to sewing (well, returning after long absence) I still making “practice” garments that I don’t wear out in public. However, I’m hoping to get going soon with the real deal and this just confirmed that I will always have to start with a muslin. It never occurred to me to use the muslin itself as the actual pattern and that it prevents that slippage. Thanks for such an informative post!

  20. I have been sewing for a grand total of three years now. I don’t sew as often as I would like and when I am in the middle of a project I feel like I am taking longer than anyone else would. My sewing time is precious to me and the garments I get out of it are precious as well. I am top heavy, small boned, a little bit more squishy around the lower abdomen than I used to be and long legged. Ready to wear hates me and most of the time I find it easier to spend the energy and all the time to make something that looks awesome than go shopping for so so. Now, being a newer sewer I understand the allure of cranking out something new. But, I am not wasting my little bit of time to have sometime that could be better. I test run everything. Everything. I even did a test run on some curtains and then used the “test” as the lining. I know I don’t have mad skills yet, and I don’t post very much on people’s blogs, but even I look and some stuff and think “bless her heart”.

    1. I use unbleached cotton muslin for wovens – I match the blouse weight muslin to patterns that are going to be made with lighter weight fabric, and the 65 inch muslin for just about everything else. When it comes to knits, I use an inexpensive knit with similar stretch to make a “muslin”. I mark it up like I do the cotton, and I take it apart, carefully press it back to flat and use it as the pattern. HTH!

  21. I always make a muslin. And I always check the pattern measurements against the measurements of my favorite clothes to determine the size pattern to use. I find Style Arc frustrating for this reason: they don’t list pattern measurements on their website.

    1. I don’t have a problem with pattern companies not listing the measurements, because I have had enough experiences with those measurements being really far off *cough*Simplicity*cough* that I take my own measurements anyway.

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