Making a Muslin: why bother? Here’s why.

True confession time: I rarely make muslins!

However, the more I sew, the more I realize that a muslin is not just for fit. It’s also a chance to evaluate whether the style even looks good on you! When you’re shopping, you get to try on garments, see how they look on your body, and only THEN do you go ahead and hand over the credit card.

Sewing is quite the opposite! You commit to the fabric, to the pattern, and a great deal of your time for every project. So why not take the extra time to make a muslin to make sure it’s a style you even want to own? I realized this after Karin made a muslin of Lady Grey. Gorgeous coat, great style, wonderfully written pattern – just not for Karin! It’s OK to not like everything on yourself. Consider it window shopping in a way. You don’t have to force a pattern to work on your body if your heart’s not in it.

Anyone else ever given up after the muslin stage, not due to poor fit or pattern problems, but simply because the muslin wasn’t your style? I’m curious, leave me a comment if you have!

Plus, you can sew so much faster and confidently once fit isn’t an issue! I love trying on half-finished sewing projects, or draping them on Diana just to see what they will look like.. and secretly pray they will fit without adjustments. And then I see my sister spend the extra time on a muslin for her latest jacket – and then whip up a perfectly-fitting jacket in a day!

The other wonderful advantage to making a muslin is that you’re focused only on fit. You’re not getting excited about the finished dress, or distracted by the pretty fabric. This happens to me – and it’s only after a day of wearing the dress that I notice minor fitting issues. My Las Margaritas Dress is just a touch too short in the waist for me, which is really noticeable when belted. The belt slips down into my natural waist, where the skirt is already starting to flare out. I can feel the waistline seam hitting my ribs instead of my waist. Minor, minor issue and only I know it’s there… but these are the little imperfections you can fix because you know how to sew, right?

Plus, if you’re used to shopping for your clothes rather than sewing, you are much more likely to settle for almost-perfect. (It does up? It fits!) Especially if like me, you’re thrifty, and shop at lower-end stores. Where dresses come in Small, Medium and Large. The chances of getting a perfect fit are so slim!

Do you make a muslin? If you do, when is it absolutely necessary, and when can you skip it? Do you go for the ‘wearable muslin’ theory? Or do you prefer working with real muslin so you can mark it up? I asked this on my Facebook page and most people don’t, unless the pattern is not to be trusted or the fabric is very precious. I’d love to hear your thoughts!


33 Responses to Making a Muslin: why bother? Here’s why.

  1. G October 7, 2010 at 6:14 am #

    I don’t muslin. I’m a full-time working mom, I don’t have time to muslin. After hours of sewing, I want to see results. Wearable results. And I’m not a pioneer sewer i.e. not the kind that sews up a pattern out of the current Burda mag, for example. So I rely a lot on Or, when sewing anything with a lining, I make the lining first and use it as a muslin.

  2. Trudy Callan October 7, 2010 at 6:29 am #

    You’ve made a very good point. I’ve never thought of it this way before, but it makes sense. I haven’t done a muslin, but I am seriously considering it because I’ve had a recent disaster where I thought the pattern was my size and it wasn’t. I can’t even close it in the back. And the fabric was gorgeous.

  3. Patty October 7, 2010 at 6:35 am #

    I am a muslin nut – I need to do pretty extensive changes, especially for tops (usually an FBA to add 4 or 5 inches! with wimpy shoulders!) so I usually make my pattern adjustments. Then make a first muslin just to see if it’ll fit around me, a second muslin to do fine tuning (usually neckline gaping, sleeve issues and fitting around the waist) and then a third muslin that should be close to the final garment! I hate doing them, but I also hate ill-fitting garments! I recently made PJ’s for my hubby. Straight out of the box, as it were and it was AWESOME to skip over the endless muslins!

  4. Kati October 7, 2010 at 6:48 am #

    I just made my first real muslin, for a client. I don’t make them when sewing for myself because I get impatient when sewing them, I want a new garment!. I do sometime make a garment first out of poorer quality fabric than I would normally use, but if it fits well its still wearable.

  5. Corinne October 7, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    In my youth , with a thin well balanced figure, a muslin was really not necessary. I knew what adjustments I needed for small shoulders (one a little lower) and a little sway back and off I went. Fast forward to middle age and two children and things have changed. I actually stopped garment making because of fitting issues. The muslin is the answer for me. Much of the clothing I see in the stores are marginal quality and the fit is not that great. The prices…well that is another story. I use Muslin. I buy it by the bolt and the local sewing store when it is 50 % off. I save the fitting muslin with the pattern because I then to use certain base patterns over and over and cut my fashion fabric for the project from the fitted and marked muslin.

  6. Kelly October 7, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    I haven’t done any muslins yet. I probably should, but I haven’t found any fabric cheap enough that I would be willing to use it as a throw-away. I also don’t use any super-expensive fabric, so I guess I think of all of my creations as wearable muslins. My coffee date dress, for instance, is way too big, so I may make another one with adjustments, but I’ll keep the original one, too. I’m with G; I want wearable results at the end of sewing, even if they’re not perfect.

    What I really need to do is to learn how to properly alter clothing!

  7. TanitIsis October 7, 2010 at 7:24 am #

    I tend to always try to make my muslins wearable, I confess. I don’t always succeed. I did make a muslin for the winter coat I just finished, although since I went on to change the size and use different sleeves it didn’t benefit me as much as it should have. If I’m planning a garment for a truly scrumptious fabric (like my Lady Grey) I would definitely want to muslin it first.

  8. Nancy October 7, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    I kinda make a muslin… normally I work with vintage patterns so they’re very flimsy and tear easily. So I can manhandle things a bit more I will often trace the pattern onto some cheapo non-fusible interfacing. Often times I will pin the interfacing together to check fit. KInda wonky and so not the professional way to do it, but hey it works for me.

  9. natalli October 7, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    I’m too lazy for muslin, but there have been a few times I wish I had used it! I feel like I’ve wasted so much money and time when I make something that just doesn’t end up working for me.

  10. daiyami October 7, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    I’m hard to fit (extreme pear-shape goes from 12/14 on top to 20/22 at hips), and I’m sewing clothes to get a better fit, so a muslin is critical. I use old sheets, so that’s pretty cheap. I don’t aim for wearable, I skip all finishing and facings, and everything. Some of them wind up in my pile of pajama/around-the-house clothes. I’m even planning to muslin a knit top, though mostly because I really like the dark blue sweater knit and don’t want to risk it.

    I can’t see myself having the patience to make multiple muslins (kudos to Patty!) but since it’s never bothered me to have the same item in multiple colors, I’d probably do like I did with my yoke skirt pattern, which I copied from something I own. Used a cheap sheet to test the basic fit, then made it 3 times, making small adjustments each time. I wear all the finished skirts happily, but they do get better.

  11. Irene October 7, 2010 at 8:00 am #

    Sometimes you need a muslin. Sometimes you don’t. At your age – I would never do a muslin. Fit? So long as I could wear it comfortably, it was fine. Mind you, the styles were baggier back then, and much more forgiving. I was also lucky to basically fit a certain size pattern, and I always stuck to one pattern brand. Fast forward many years – styles became more form-fitting, and may-be I learned a few things down the road. I’m still basically the same size that I was, but now I’m fussier about fit. Baggy just doesn’t cut it. Depending on the garment, I can (most of the time) get away with my standard nips and tucks and forego the muslin. If I’m not sure of the pattern brand and how it fits – muslin it is. And when I skip this very important step, especially when I have that nagging feeling that I really should make up a muslin – I’m never happy. Yes, I usually manage to fix it, but I know that I really should have made a “trial run” first.

  12. Ms.Cleaver October 7, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    The more I sew (and the more obsessed with fit I get ) the more I make (partial) muslins. I also have a bolt of muslin on hand now, which makes it easier. If I’m drafting a pattern I make several muslins. At the very least I tissue fit the pattern to see if there are any major changes. My most recent dress, I tissue fitted, made some adjustments and then used the liner as a muslin for the bodice.

  13. Karin October 7, 2010 at 8:42 am #

    I seldom make muslins. Usually I am sewing with such cheap material that there isn’t much point. I only make them when the fabric is very expensive or the amount of effort to invest in the project will be great. Otherwise, I figure I may as well fly by the seat of my pants!

  14. Alice October 7, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    i’ve totally thought the same thing about committing so much before figuring out if you really like a garment!
    I didn’t make muslins – until recently when I used a gorgeous fabric on a pattern that just didn’t work for me. lo and behold, everyone else at the fabric store thought it was the best fabric ever, and they sold out :( Now i’m making muslins for almost everything, if only to make sure I like the pattern before committing a fabric i heart to it. I also find that I make a garment better the second time around, so I’m happy to have my ‘trial run’ first. I really want to learn to alter and fit too.

  15. Beth October 7, 2010 at 8:55 am #

    I make muslins selectively. For myself, not very often. I can tissue fit a pattern, and use the flat pattern measurement technique to get the size right. But when sewing for others I often do. I really dislike when shoulders don’t fit right, they ruin the entire look if the garment does not hang correctly. So a muslin is good for that. Also I love to draw on the muslin with a magic marker – don’t know why but it is fun. Kind of like being a kid with a crayon.
    And I so agree with you about the waist thing – what is up with that? I have a couple of dresses I have made where the waist is a tad high, and then others sewn up from the same pattern company where they are exactly right. So I guess it is design variation in the patterns.

  16. Elizabeth October 7, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    I muslin all the time because I consider myself a beginner and still am not confident about pattern sizing and what styles will look good on me. One of my first muslins was for a Hot Patterns top that was a hot mess. I looked like a pregnant clown. Not a good look for anyone. I sure was glad that I muslined that one and didn’t waste any good fabric!

  17. Jessica October 7, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    I make a muslin about 50% of the time. I don’t bother with a knit fabric or a loose fitting style. But most of my dresses get at least the bodice muslined. I rarely do the skirt, since I favor full skirts, but I have been burned once or twice with that – the weight of the skirt pulls on the bodice! I don’t always make adjustments – in fact, for Vogue patterns I rarely do – but it’s worth it just to test the style. And with vintage patterns it’s a must – who knows how they will turn out? I’ve given up on plenty of projects after a bad muslin.

  18. Lisa October 7, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    I just finished making my 3rd muslin for the Jenny skirt from burdastyle. I’m so, so glad I did because the fit on the first one was horrible, and had I made it out of my final fabric I would have given up. I marked up my muslins, transferred changes to my pattern and now I have a fit I’m really happy with.

    This was the first muslin I’ve made, and I will definitely be making more. I think they are well worth the time because if I’m going to spend so much time making a garmet, I want to make sure it fits me perfectly….

  19. Dei October 7, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Depends on the pattern. If it’s something uber basic and not terribly fitted, I’ll skip it. But for the most part, I make a muslin. For me, I like to hash out all the fit, print layout, construction methods, facing, interfacing, lining before hand. It just seems to greatly elevate the quality of the garment. Plus I’m one of those sewers who loves the process as much as the garment. I have a fairly busy schedule, so I hate to invest time in wadders, though they rear their ugly heads from time to time. LOL.

  20. Lizzy October 7, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    Hi! I didn’t use to make muslim till my last proyect (wich I haven’t post) I had read in some blogs they use them.

    BUT from now and on I’m gonna do muslims for every porject for me, not for my daughter’s because I have done more clothes to her than for me.

    Now I’m trying to do the Lady Grey coat and as I love the fabric I chose and it was not very cheap I don’t want to waste it, I?m using muslim first.

    But I just realize after reading THIS post, I don’t like how I look in that coat =( , you look great on it!!!

    I know it takes time and patiente to use muslim BUT of course it is much better to do it!!

  21. Maureen October 7, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    I used to only do muslins for clients, or if I was using bits and pieces from different patterns (bodice from one, skirt from another, sleeves from another). However, I have recently drastically changed shape and I have found I have to make muslins for myself, or give up on making anything for myself at all! What used to be a perfect size 16 on top is now at the maximum a size twelve and that depends on the amount of ease in the pattern. Where darts used to be fairly predictable, now they seem to be all over the place! Sigh – I now have to allow extra time for to make the muslin – no more “whip it up tonight” for me.

  22. K-Line October 7, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    I’m all over the place with this one. I sew mainly with knits and you can’t really muslin those unless you use the same fabric. So those are wearable muslins for the most part. With wovens, I do make a muslin, though I find the woven fashion fabric often has quite a bit more give than the muslin cotton (I use the real stuff). That’s not always helpful except that, if it fits in muslin, I know for sure it will fit a bit more loosely in fash fabric.

    I don’t love wasting fabric, which eventually is what muslins become. But making a garment that doesn’t fit is also a waste, depending.

  23. Lori October 7, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    I have made a few but for the most part, I just sew. If it is a bit too small, my mom can wear it, so it is all good.

  24. Darci October 7, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    The “Fit for Real People” books negate the need for making a muslin as you’re making pattern adjustments on the pattern and then trying on the pattern to double-check the fit. Then you cut out fashion fabric and make small adjustments from there. This method has worked for me 100% since I started using it, and I have to make between 3‚Äì6 adjustments on every flat pattern. It does take some time to do at first, but once you know what to look for, it’s a breeze.

  25. Hannah October 7, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    I almost always make a muslin, unless the fabric I’m using is really cheap. Sometimes I get real muslin, but recently I’ve just been using flat sheets from the thrift store. Since I’m just doing the bare essentials – not adding facings, preshrinking fabric, etc – making a muslin is usually very quick and well worth the effort. More than one pattern that looked great on the envelope didn’t look so great on me, and I’m grateful that I learned that after making a quick muslin rather than after spending time and money on the real thing.

  26. Katherine October 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    I have a lot of fit issues in the upper body, so if I am making a shirt or dress I have to muslin. Trouble is, I usually make a lot of changes to dress muslins and ideally I should make a second muslin to fine-tune the fit. I don’t always make the second muslin. Sometimes I am a bit too cautious with the fit and have not made big enough changes to my muslin. That is a confidence problem more than anything.

    I have made a personal sloper and when I draft my own pattern from it I have much less need to muslin.

  27. Gail October 7, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    I am a recent convert to making muslins having wasted an enormous amount of time, effort and fabric (although some of that is salvagable) on a dress that looked …well…horrible. But I’ve launched straight into my lastest dress in fashion fabric. I did so when I realised that it was warehouse fabric that had only cost $3 a metre. My muslin costs $2.50 a metre. I did a tissue fit and the garment is spot on.

  28. Becky October 7, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    It really depends on the project for me. If I’m making a lot of modifications to a pattern, I’m rather uncertain how it will actually look on me, or the fabric was expensive and/or quite unique, then I am more inclined to test it out first. For instance, I currently have a muslin cut out for the jacket that I want to be my next sewing project, because I need to raise the neckline (curse you, Burda!) and possibly tweak the fit quite a bit–I want to make it more of a shirt style. And the fabric is some that my mom gave me for a couple of Christmases ago that I’ve been saving for the perfect project, so I don’t want to blow it!

    I have ditched patterns after muslining, because they were just disasters on me. And I do like to make my muslins wearable if possible, but I know that’s not always going to be the case. Man, if you could see the muslin that I made for the jeans-making class I took this summer at Pattern Review–it’s practically a modern art project, with all of the marker lines and extra bits of fabric stitched on! (And after all that, I still haven’t managed to get a usable jeans pattern out of it yet…in fact, I seem to be the problem child of the class, because the instructor actually wanted me to mail her my muslin and is apparently using it in one of her live classes! I guess as an example of what not to do?)

    I also think that if I was better at actually making pattern modifications, like the full bust adjustments or whatever, then I wouldn’t have to muslin even as often as I do.

  29. sallyann October 8, 2010 at 4:55 am #

    Muslins, absolutely! My first sewing class required we make a muslin for an a-line skirt, so that we could learn to make adjustments. I make muslins to insure I like the style and the fit is perfect for skirts, jackets, and tops. And I will try things on at stores as well to get a better idea for my small frame. Now, I am trying to make my first pair of pants. What a challenge! I’m beginning to wonder if I might be better off taking apart a pair of store bought pants rather than trying the slash and spread and cut method for fit.

  30. indigorchid October 8, 2010 at 7:04 am #

    Ooooh… This one is two-fold for me. I got seriously into sewing with alterations of clothes I already had, or found at thriftstores. That meant a lot of improvising and working within the limits of what was actually available and do-able.

    Fast forward to starting a fashion degree, where I learned to draft patterns; including measuring seams to make sure they match up in length. This was an eye opener like nothing else to me – garments could go together really easily, look good, and not involve multiple seam-rippings and sub-par solutions? I think that’s when I converted to the muslin side.

    As a general rule for me, I make muslins if the project is complicated (say, tailored jackets, etc), uses expensive fabric, or if I’ve drafted the pattern myself. Actually, scratch that. If I care about the end result at all, I’ll make a muslin.

    (And I agree with everyone that listed old sheets as a muslin source – go reusing!)

  31. Jessica August 30, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    I almost never use muslins but i do have a dress-form fitted to myself. However I AM going to make a muslin very soon I apologize if these points are a repeat. I am about to embark on a project that in my book is an almost no no. Im going to design and create my own wedding gown because i refuse to pay $5000 for the gown i like and since im not a size 8 i can hardly even try on a gown any where. Plus if i have to have the stupid thing altered (which in my crazy shape will cost as much as the dress) or alter it myself I might as well make the whole thing! Ill be ripping pattern pieces from several different patterns, Being that the fabric I want starts at $30 a yard, there is no room for error. so here are two great reasons to use muslin! Cost of intended fabric and custom pattern/garment! If you love the garments you are wearing especially because YOU made them, you’ll feel like a million bucks! There is always time to make yourself feel like a million bucks!

    • Michelle December 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      Hoow did your dress turn out, i would love to see it


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