Muslins- The What, Why, and How

 

Hello and welcome to The Pigeon’s Pincushion! Today, we’ll be talking about a very powerful sewing tool: the muslin. What are they, why are they useful, and what are some things to watch out for while you’re making one? We’re only going to hit the high points in this article, but I’ve included some of my favorite resources at the end if you’re ready to get started.

What is a muslin, anyway?

At its most basic, a muslin is your first run-through of a pattern. It’s a way to practice the major points of construction, and when you’re done you have a semi-finished garment that you can use to check size and fit. Often, it gives you ideas on how to modify or improve your next version .

A true muslin is a garment that you make with no intention of wearing, out of fabric that isn’t quite suitable for the finished product. It’s there to help you with fit, style, and construction.

It can also be a garment that you make with suitable fabric, that you intend to wear immediately (as long as you accept that it might have some flaws). While a garment is under construction, darts can be manipulated, hems can be shortened, and side seams can be taken in. All of these modifications are ones that don’t affect how the pieces would be cut and can be transferred to your pattern pieces to improve future versions.

Once you’ve completed a muslin, you can make the next one faster, more precisely, and with greater confidence. All of these things improve the outcome of the final garment.

Things to consider before starting

The number of muslins that you make varies by pattern complexity, body complexity, and how specific your vision is for the final product. Each one can take 50-90% of the time needed to create the final garment. This is a significant amount of time, but will give you a better outcome, and save you frustration and fabric.

Children’s clothes are easier to modify, and sometimes don’t require a full muslin (just a tissue fitting) before moving on. Adults often require more intense fitting, as their bodies tend to diversify over time and they can keep their clothes for much longer than children. Small fit adjustments can make a big difference in how long the garment is a part of someone’s wardrobe.

Each muslin can take 50-90% of the time needed to create the final garment.

Even if you are making a muslin that you intend to scrap afterwards, it’s important to be aware of a few things:

First, take accurate measurements. Good measuring habits are crucial to good fit.

Second, choose a size. This is an important one: you want it to fit! Compare the recipient’s body measurements to the finished measurements of the pattern. Grade between sizes if needed; this is a really easy modification and one that makes a huge difference. Do a rough check of the length of the pattern, and a small or full bust adjustment if you need one. These modifications, in addition to the ones mentioned earlier, are collectively called ‘flat pattern adjustments’.

Third, think about fabric type. Using a different fabric than the pattern calls for is probably ok, but try to keep it in the same general area: use stretch wovens for stretch woven patterns, knits for knit patterns, woven for woven patterns, etc. The fiber content (cotton vs linen, or rayon) is less important than the fabric type.

If you have to choose, use a stiffer fabric over one with more stretch. Cheaper, stiffer fabrics will show you areas where fit can be improved more quickly than most apparel fabrics, which have more mechanical stretch. It’s easier to take sleeve- and side-seams in later if needed, and too-tight clothes probably won’t get worn.

Fourth, pay attention while cutting. Don’t let your hard work go to waste by getting sloppy! Keep track of the number of pieces you need to cut, grainlines and direction of stretch, if your pattern has seam allowances (some patterns don’t and you’ll have to add them), and pattern markings.

Shortcuts

There are some things you can safely skip if you don’t intend to finish the garment for wearing. this can make a muslin much faster to complete than a final version. Some examples:

  • Hems (pin them up to check length).
  • Most fasteners: buttons, hook-and-eyes, buttonholes. If the garment has a zipper, it can be useful to hand- or machine-baste it in, but don’t spend a whole lot of time on it.
  • If the garment has sleeves, you can sew in just one of them.
  • Trim, piping, applique, and other non-structural additions.
  • Pockets. You may need to redraft the pieces around them.

Evaluation Time

Hurray, your muslin is done! now it’s time to evaluate it. Put it on, find a full length mirror, and take a bunch of pictures. Here are some things to keep in mind as you look it over:

  • If you’re making a coat or something with shoulder pads, tuck them in when you try it on.
  • Pin the hems up the prescribed amount
  • Pin the garment closed (if applicable)
  • How is the neckline? too low, good, too high?
  • Are the shoulders pulling backwards or forwards?
  • Are the sleeves restricting your movement, or too tight/loose at the bicep?
  • Are the sleeves the right length?
  • Are the bust darts in line with your apex, and not going over it?
  • Is the waist shaping at the right height?
  • Is the hip shaping at the right height?
  • Is the hem at the right height?
  • Are there any extra tight or loose spots that seem weird? stress wrinkles anywhere?
  • Are the pockets gaping, or ok?

Go ahead and make any changes that seem necessary, and try on the muslin again. Once you’ve tried it on, it can be obvious if you need (or want) a little (or a lot) of change, so play around! That’s what a muslin is for.

Remember, if you take in (or let out) a seam, that has a big impact on the whole garment! You might not need as much as you think. If you take in (or let out) 1/4″ on a garment with 2 side seams, that’s 1 inch added or subtracted to the whole circumference. If there are 4 seams around the garment, that’s 2 inches.

Make sure to write down any changes you make in the muslin and make those same modifications to your flat pattern pieces so you don’t forget. You’re now well on your way to a great-fitting pattern that you can make again, and you’ll be able to apply these learnings to the next pattern you try.

And that, folks, is a muslin! Now you can talk about and create them with confidence.

Happy sewing,

Stirling.

Resource List

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