When Do You Need a Muslin?

For the Minoru Jacket, or any other pattern – when do you need to make a muslin before starting the real project? Do you always make a muslin? What factors determine whether you make a muslin or not? The more I sew, the more I decide that I need to make a muslin first. (I swear sometimes I make more muslins than actual projects! Last year, I definitely made more muslins than finished garments. I like that you can see how the garment will look right away without fussing with interfacing or buttonholes.)

Here’s my thoughts on when you need a muslin:

If you always, always make pattern adjustments. Always make a Full Bust Adjustment? Constantly shortening the bodice and body length? Always adding to the sleeve length? Then you’ll probably want to make a muslin each and every time you make something for yourself.

Depending on the adjustment, you may be able to make a partial muslin (just the bodice) to check the fit of the part you’ve adjusted. (Just don’t forget to consider how the rest of the garment will affect the fit. For example, a heavy full skirt will affect the way a bodice fits.) If you have to make multiple muslins to get the fit right, making a partial muslin may save time!

(for a skirt with a fitted yoke, where the rest of the skirt is loose fitting, you could make a muslin of just the yoke for fitting)

If the pattern is very fitted. Loose-fitting and relaxed fit patterns have more room built in for wearing ease, so it’s less important to check the fit first. Is the pattern loose-fitting, and cinched in with a belt? You may be able to skip the muslin stage.

(fitted bodice – best to make a muslin as there isn’t much room to adjust the fit once it’s cut!)

(loose fitting wrap coat – plenty of extra ease built in, possible to make minor adjustments after it’s cut)

If you won’t be able to fit as you go. Some patterns make it easy to adjust the fit as you sew. Some make it really hard! Take a read through the pattern instructions and see if there is an opportunity to try on and fit the pattern before it’s completely sewn up.

If you’re concerned about length, on something like a skirt or dress, you can always cut your fabric longer and adjust the hemline at the very end.

(for something like this dress, I could have adjusted the hem after the dress was finished. I would have used up more fabric though – especially in this case! Oh, I wish I had more time to finish this dress. It’s so cute.)

If you’re not comfortable going by the flat pattern measurements. For some patterns, you may be able to measure the pattern pieces and compare that to your body measurements. Say you’re making a circle skirt – the only measurement you need to worry about is the waist. You’ll be able to measure the waistband, compare that measurement to your own waistline, and know if it will fit.

So on the Minoru Jacket, take a look at the Finished Measurements on the back of the pattern envelope and compare them to jackets you own. Measure the body length and the sleeve length to see if you need to shorten or lengthen them. Remember that we can pull the waistline tighter when we insert the elastic, if you prefer a snug fit around the waist. You’ll be able to try on the jacket at that point, as it’s nearly completely sewn when we add the waist elastic.

When do you make a muslin? Any tips from your own experience? Let us know in the comments!

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47 Responses to When Do You Need a Muslin?

  1. Seraphinalina January 4, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    Fabric may also indicate the need for a muslin. If you are cutting it close on having enough fabric where recutting a waistband will be impossible, it’s a good time to do a muslin. Or for something like a jacket, you may have bought some pretty fancy high-tech fabric you need to get right the first time.

  2. Mikhaela January 4, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    I muslin almost everything I make for myself, because I usually have to do a major FBA (I wear a 32H). And I muslined everything I made when I was pregnant because I had to do a belly adjustment. I never muslin anything I make for my toddler daughter–I just make everything too big so she can grow into it.

  3. Mary January 4, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    I make a muslin for most of the reasons outlined above in Tasia’s post-especially if a pattern will be very fitted. I also make a muslin for items that will be in my closet for a long time like jackets or coats or good slacks. I am petite, and need to narrow the shoulders, adjust the arm length, and leg length always. It’s just part of the sewing process.

    For the Minoru jacket, I am planning to make a muslin (starting tomorrow!) because I want to see what the fit is like with a long sleeve tee or sweater underneath. I also need to check the size of the collar with my facial features.

  4. Kat January 4, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    So far I have made a muslin for every garment I have made. My measurements often span a couple of sizes, and I’m too scared to cut out my fashion fabric without insurance that the finished item will fit properly! Each time I have made alterations though, so the extra effort has been worthwhile. I’ve been undecided whether to make a muslin for the Minoru Jacket, but I imagine I probably will, just to be sure!

  5. Gina Vintage Girl January 4, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    This is good information. I always make a muslin, but not from muslin fabric. Our fabric store was selling muslin fabric for 7.00 dollars a yard! I try to go to the thrift store and pick up a variety of fabrics for my sloppy copies. Also, I do measure before cutting. Numbers don’t lie, if it doesn’t fit on paper it won’t go on the body. I have had little luck with paper fittings. The tissue pattern is so filmy that it flys away from my body making it difficult to check for fit. I do match up a slopper to a pattern I am looking at, but even then it doesn’t tell the whole story. Thanks for your post.

  6. Leah January 4, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    I’m not a risk taker, so I usually make a muslin, especially if I’m using woven fabric and it’s close fitting. Or I buy a cheap fabric I don’t hate and make (gasp) a “wearable” muslin, as a tester, that I might throw on if I have nothing else to wear but wouldn’t consider the finished garment. I know that shocks many, and gives us home sewers a bad name, but whatever, man, sometimes it just works the first time! And sometimes you need to do laundry and you just don’t….

  7. Brandy Layton January 4, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    I make a muslin on all of my first time projects that are very fitted. Sometimes I only make a muslin for the areas I am concerned with fitting. Once I have made the pattern to fit me I usually wont need to make a muslin again. I do however write my measurements and dates I made something on the pattern, that way if I change in size I will know that I need to adjust the pattern again. When I am done with my muslin I use the bigger pieces for smaller fittings for the next project and smaller pieces of muslin I use for tea bags or household stuff. Leah, I have worn a “wearable” muslin around the house…sometimes it works on the first go. I have donated some “wearable” muslin’s to my sons school for kindergarten dress up time :)

  8. Lizz January 4, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    I make a muslin when the project is very fitted or when the final garments fabric was very expensive or loved. The other portion of the time I make “wearable muslins” from inexpensive stash fabric.

  9. Wag Doll January 4, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    I’m a beginner and have only made a couple of garments, and haven’t ever made a muslin eeek! I suspect as I progess onto more difficult patterns I will have to. I#ll struggle tho, I’m very impatient once I’ve bought the fabric to just get on with it lol!

    • Karen January 15, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      I know exactly what you mean! I have only just started sewing and am always so eager to get going I can’t bear to do the muslin. Only doing simple tops so far but I think I’ll have to test run some of my planned projects

  10. Alice January 4, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    I like to make muslins for fit, but mainly to learn the pattern, and to get my mistakes out of the way before doing the ‘good’ version. They’re like a dress rehearsal! I like doing them so much I named my blog the muslinette!

  11. Rebecca R January 4, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    What type of material do you use for a muslin? Is there a specific kind? Do you generally purchase in store, or is there a good online site to buy it?

  12. Clio January 4, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    Part of my decision to muslin or not is based on how upset I’d be if I ruined the fabric. If it would be expensive or difficult to replace, it gets a muslin. Or if it is a big or complicated project like a coat or occasion dress, then I muslin for sure. A simple skirt or top in a basic fabric doesn’t really warrant a muslin. Flat measurement is fine. Since I chronically over-buy fabric, I usually have enough left to recut a waistband or other piece that may need altering.

  13. Salma January 4, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Oh wow thank you so much Tasia! I was just going to get started on my muslin for the Minoru jacket today and was wondering where to start!

  14. Clozmkr January 4, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    I usually make a muslin (even a ‘wearable’ one if I’m feeling confident) if I’m using a new pattern line, a very expensive fabric, or a special event. It saves SO much time and frustration in the long run. I try to use the same weight & drape of fabric as the final garment will be. Still debating on the Minoru. I may just make the shell/sleeve because I am really excited about my fabric choices, and want this one be a great one!

  15. GPetunia January 4, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    I am very interested in your coat pattern. I would need a muslin for the collar but would not know where to begin to make the changes needed. I think it would be flattering from the front, with both the lapels and the width over the shoulder seams minimizing the bust. From the back I would need the stand not to rise so much from the neckline seam (my neck is short) and I would also need it to be flatter along the shoulder line. Are those two the same thing?

  16. Steph A January 4, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    I make a muslin for everything that I sew for myself now! Too many expensive mistakes when I was young. The muslin is critical for me as I’m petite, pear-shaped, sway-backed, small-busted, have larger biceps, and have a forward neck tilt. (Wow! I sound really oddly shaped when I list everything!) I only discovered how to fix the sway-back and forward neck tilt about a year ago, and it’s incredible how much better garments fit on me now.

    I took a jeans course on PatternReview a year ago and made 3 muslins with multiple adjustments on each; well worth the effort! Some of the adjustments I can make right on the flat pattern after taking measurements of the pieces, but I always make the muslin from this the first time I make a pattern. (I also trace all the patterns I use now after having made many Burda Style patterns, and I’m glad I do as they’re cut up so much with all the ajustments!)

    To me muslins are a no-brainer when you consider how much the human body varies in height and weight distribution. There’s no way that a pattern can fit every body type!

  17. Steph A January 4, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Oh yeah, I also make wearable muslins for simple things like knit tops and skirts; they come in handy for around the house or taking the kids to the park!

  18. bela saudade January 4, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    I struggled with this. I used to muslin, but after all that I tended to lose my enthusiasm for the pattern. I don’t like UFO’s so now I do small samples for techniques I havent done before or new features like an odd collar. I plan to sew most things twice. I don’t like to think of the first garment as a “wearable muslin” because I won’t put the same time and energy into it and hence it may end up looking poorly due to sloppy sewing and not anything actually wrong with the pattern. Also, cheap fabrics can misbehave and provide a poor comparison. I still would muslin something fussy like a silk evening gown or a ravelly boucle jacket since those fabrics are better not overworked and/or over pinned.

    I do fit as I go and I plan to spend more time tissue fitting. I do more basting on the seam lines of garments before sewing an actual seam. This takes time, but I’m seeing a REAL improvement in the accuracy and fit of my sewn clothes (thanks Ann Rowley on Stitcher Guild for sharing this technique).

    If it’s just knits or a pattern line I know well like Burda, I don’t bother.

    I’m taking a chance on this Minoru, Tasia! I’m not a pear, but judging by the flat pattern measurments I shouldn’t need a FBA. I’ll be tissue fitting to check. In any case, I will enjoy the Sew Along and learn a lot I”m sure.

  19. Holly January 4, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Great post! I started out thinking I didn’t need to make Muslins and after wasting a lot of fabric and time I have totally changed that way of thinking! Now I troll fabricland, dressew and fabricana for sale fabric to use as Muslins. I don’t often buy actual muslin if I can find a cheaper sale fabric with a decent usable weight and drape that will work with a variety of projects. I have some knit fabric with chickens all over it I got for $1/meter for my knit muslins because I’ve discovered even they need muslins, not always for size but for style. I’ve had patterns for knits that seem great until I make them and the style is all wrong.

  20. Claire January 4, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    I began to sew muslin recently after I had to unsew the zipper in the back for two dresses, modify, re-sew, re-unsew and finally concluded my body is not exactly fitted as the pattern. It was a lot of work and very depressing (I even gave up for one of the dress).
    I also sew a muslin when I don’t know the pattern brand, or when I have to sew some Burda stuff, because the explanations are so messy that I am never sure I made the right stuff !

  21. sallyann January 4, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    Loved your comment that you seem to make more muslins than garments. I make muslins more often than not. Illustrations on patterns are sometimes deceiving in terms of fit or fullness. Are there more sewists who have to make alterations than those who don’t? Photos of the finished garments are okay, if your shape is like the model on the pattern envelope. Just finished a muslin for a full skirt with soft pleats that looked more like I was ready to take off into space than sweet and sexy.

  22. Pauline January 4, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I’d like to say I make muslin for every garment I make but that wouldn’t be true. But I am forcing myself to follow that first step as I often have to take my clothes in a little. I am always too exited about a new pattern but I am learning to take time before as it’s a lot easier than trying to fix mistakes. As I am petite, I often need to change the bust length, the shoulders’ length and reduce the bust fullness.
    And it actually pay off to take a little time and adjust the pattern. That’s one of my new year’s resolutions: take time to prepare my sewing in order to get a good fit.
    Can’t wait for the Minoru sewalong!

  23. robyn January 4, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    i make muslins. and i have so many hanging around….do you ever “reuse” muslin fabric? i hate to throw them out, they aren’t wearable, and i am kind of tired of buying cheap fabric for muslins.

    i hesitate because i don’t plan to pick apart seams, or anything. i thought i might take a muslin (for example, a skirt or a knit top), lie it flat, and cut it out as if the fabric were one piece.

    i know of course it won’t drape properly, but shouldn’t i be able to see how the shoulder area fits, or if the neckline is too high? or am i being super cheap? (possible.)

    i also tissue fit, but that works best with thin-paper patterns.

    my favorite method these days is to trace the pattern using swedish pattern paper (not expensive), which can be sewn if desired, is easy to see through, and even drapes a bit. if the pattern needs adjustments, it’s sturdy enough to manipulate.

    i’d still like to put all those old muslins to work…

  24. Becky January 4, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    I’m honestly more of a “tweak as I go” type for many things. Skirts, I can stitch them up and then take in the waist a bit as needed. Knits, why bother? They’ll stretch anyway. So those are good projects for me when I just want to knock out a project and have something new to wear. I generally do muslin things like coats and fitted tops. And always, always pants. Although I hate wasting time where I could be making a finished garment, and especially wasting fabric, so I like to make wearable ones when possible. I am actually doing a muslin right now for my winter raincoat, but I’m making it out of the flannel that I’m later going to underline the lining with. So I technically am working on the final garment, and that helps me keep a little more enthusiasm!

  25. Abby January 4, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Like Steph A, I always trace my patterns before starting to make adjustments, and this really paid off last week, when I started fresh with the original pattern after making too many adjustments that didn’t work. I tissue fit first, do an FBA and sway back adjustment, then make a muslin (or 10, again in the case of last week). I always muslin now, because even though tissue fitting is great, you can’t identify every issue on a fitted garment in tissue, and I don’t wear loose-fitting clothes. When sewing up my first vintage pattern, I also realized that in addition to the advice to muslin especially for fitted garments, valuable fabric, and unfamiliar pattern companies, it’s doubly important to muslin for vintage patterns, especially if, like me, you’re just starting to use them. I had no idea how much higher the bust darts would be and how much tinier the waist would be!

  26. arlene January 4, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    When I was younger…comercial patterns used to fit without adjustments…..now I have to make a muslin….way too may adjustments…
    I’m taking a class at the end of Feb. where I will learn to make an adjusted muslin as well a sloper..tops and pants..
    I’ve been wanting to make a ‘sloper’ for some time – I’m looking forward to this class..
    hugs

    • bela saudade January 4, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Arlene, I would definitely go the sloper route if fitting a commercial pattern took too much time and energy. Why bother? Many of the Japanese pattern books require a sloper to start. Enjoy the class!

  27. Katy January 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I always do a muslin now. I did my first muslin sewing along with you on the Crescent skirt. I love skirt muslins as I hardly ever have to alter them apart from lengthening the hemline! I am making a dress at the moment and I’ve cut out my size according to the pattern envelope but it’s too small so I’m having to repeat with a bigger size. Very annoying because I have to trace each time but I’ll keep going!

  28. Sassy T January 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    I will definitely be doing a muslin when I start making garments other than skirts. I am short and would have to do a major FBA.

  29. Amanda January 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    To be completely honest, until I helped my friend sew my wedding dress last year I had no idea of what a muslin was. After that experience, however, I can totally see the value in it. So far I have made only one muslin for a dress bodice but am going to try and make it a regular habit from now on for anything that is fitted.

  30. Rachel January 4, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    I usually muslin at least part of the pattern if it’s a new one, for example the bodice of a dress. If it’s a pattern i’ve made before I don’t tend to though. It also depends on the style of the pattern too.

  31. Corinne January 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    I never needed to muslin for a long time. I single size from the big 4 usually fit perfect right out of the package.That ship has sailed! Now, the fba, the sway back, the right should drop etc requires lots of fitting finesse. First I choose a pattern from my high bust measurement. Then I check my measurements, against the pattern measurement. I do my first fit on a dressform, baste initial seams and then try on. I usually cut a 1 inch seam allowance on fitted pieces. i will pin fit and adjust using that large seam allowance. I will muslin highly fitted pieces or new or complicated techniques. On a rare occasion I will do a full fitted wearable muslin. I hate doing things twice.

  32. Stephanie January 4, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    I muslin EVERYTHING! I have to. My height, bust, prominent swayback and possibly my lack of confidence require at least one practice round. I tend to splurge on fabric, so I want the finished product to be close to perfect. Thanks for the tips on making the process a bit easier!

  33. Nikki January 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    I rarely make muslins. Admittedly, though, commercial patterns fit me almost always, with no adjustments. However, I plan on making a formal gown for a military ball in a few months and decided to make a rough draft, in case the pattern wasn’t my favorite. However, I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting time, so I used a fabric that was given to me and that I liked, to make a rough draft of the dress (the shorter version). Although I am going to make a few changes to the design for my ball gown, I now have a wearable, cute summer dress to wear too, rather than a pile of muslin scraps!

  34. Dana January 4, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    I have not, as yet, ever made a muslin. Although I have only made (clothing wise) skirts and one shirt to date. I was not going to make a muslin for the Minoru, but having spent the day shopping for fabric today and now seeing this post I am not so sure. The reality is, it is unlikely that I will have the time to do it before the sew a long anyway. My bust is 2 sizes smaller than my waist and hip measurement ( size 8), so I hope that it will still turn out ok. Any thoughts on weather I should indeed do a muslin because of this fact? Thanks.

  35. Stephanie January 4, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    I usually stick to partial muslins since I always have to make adjustments for my fuller bust and shorter waist. This last time I made two muslins for New Look 6000 (sheath dress with gathered side front), and still managed to make the bust just a smidge too tight. It’s still wearable, thank goodness, but I’ll be using a shrug to disguise the pancake boob effect. Hehe. That said, I find muslins to be invaluable, especially when you’re dealing with personal figure adjustments!

  36. Miriam January 5, 2012 at 2:00 am #

    I do muslins quite often – but mostly partial. I’m also quite small so I have to get rid of about 5 to 15 cm depending on what I sew. And as soon as I add other alteration, it’s a must for me.

  37. Suzy January 5, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I like the idea of not making a muslin on the MInoru and use instead the measurements at the back. I’m not a pear shape and know your patterns are drafted for pear shaped gals. Would you suggest measuring a coat I own at hip level, compare with measurement in envelope and altering on pattern from waist down?

  38. Amanda January 6, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    I had never made a muslin until just recently, I made my first, for a simple skirt. I had graded a pattern and wanted to see how accurate I’d gotten, because my ‘real’ fabric is fairly expensive. Fortunately it worked perfectly, but the ease and speed with which i was able to whip up the muslin (omitting facings, closures, etc) I was sold on it. Now I can approach my final piece with much more confidence and enjoyment! I plan on making muslins for everything in the future, as I’ve never been happy with the fit of anything before and the quest for the perfect fit is the reason I started sewing to begin with :)

  39. Sonya D October 8, 2012 at 3:57 am #

    Iam a designer not a sewnstress but Ive had to do a lot of my own sewing lately to keep over head cost down. this site is great thank you, you have really helped me, I make a muslin piece straight from my sketch, then I make a pattern to have for the next size in the same design.

  40. Lea October 21, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    I was just wondering if when we do a muslin, do we absolutely have to use lining and interfacing? It will save a lot of money not to but I am not sure if that’s a good idea since it may not fit the same when doing the final garment with lining and interfacing. (I am planning to make this dress: http://mccallpattern.mccall.com/m6602-products-22995.php?page_id=96)
    I had a other question that do not concern muslin but pattern. When doing a pattern for a specific size, how do we do the other sizes?
    And I wanted to say that I love your blog and your story is very inspiring. I can’t wait to see the next patterns you will do!

    • Tasia October 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

      Hi Lea! No, you don’t have to use lining and interfacing. In fact I will usually skip the facing pieces altogether, unless they form part of the structure of the garment or are somehow necessary to the fit. I’d rarely use lining in a muslin, almost never, unless I wanted to do a ‘trial run’ of the pattern. Hope this helps!

  41. deb April 16, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    What kind of fabric do I use to make a muslin? Aside from muslin, of course? Sewing on a budget, here!

    • Tasia April 16, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      Hi Deb! Muslin (or calico in the UK) is commonly used because it’s fairly cheap and stable. You can sub with a fabric that’s similar in weight to your planned garment fabric, for example, if you’re using denim, sub with a similar weight of denim. Look in the clearance section for light and medium weight woven fabrics that don’t stretch and hold their shape well.
      Look for sales on muslin, or, some stores will offer a discount if you buy it by the bolt. You can also re-use pieces of old muslins for new muslins, like I did here! http://sewaholic.net/re-using-old-muslins-for-new-muslins/

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