Making a Practice Muslin: A Defense

In Defense of Making a Muslin

As a seamstress you know that a custom fit can cure common dressing room ailments such as gaping, pulling, unflattering hem lengths and one of the most common fashion annoyances, sizing that is simultaneously too big and too small depending upon which body part you are gazing. 

Now imagine yourself standing in a fashionable department store dressing room wearing a lovely ready-to-wear design.  You love the style but you keep pulling at the garment.  It was to-die-for on the rack but on you the fit is just a little wonky.  You have your heart set on this look and you imagine that you can sew your own and that with only a few small changes it will flatter you. How do you test out your hypothesis?

By making a practice muslin.      

A rough draft

A test drive

                     A sloppy copy

A fitting shell

For those who immediately wail that this is a waste of time this will require some defense.  I offer as my testimony consideration of the two essentials of fashion: fit and style.



Fitting has always been a challenge for me.  Tissue fitting, wear you pin the tissue up like the garment and put it on, tears me to shreds along with the tissue itself.  Others recommend exhaustive measurement taking as the perfect fitting method.  After diligently following several measurement worksheets I have accurate numbers for every body part but difficulty in applying those measurements to the pattern itself.  Sure I can tell if the cloth will go around me but I can’t always tell if I have allowed enough fitting ease to match the design.   Relying solely on tissue fitting my clothes came out too boxy, large and dorky.   When applying measurement methods my clothes came out boxy, over-fitted and dorky. 

Though I have known others who successfully use the above methods, clearly I had to find another way.  My solution is to make a practice garment, a muslin, of every new pattern.  For years I thought this would eat up too much of my precious time and I preferred to dive right in.  But after wasting a lot of time, money and emotion dealing with dorky homemade clothes I have found that, for me, the practice muslin is the most frugal and time-efficient approach.  

The biggest advantage of this method is that I can get fussy to a far greater degree than allowed in a tissue fit.  For example, my shoulder size is two sizes smaller than my torso size, and my neckline is two sizes smaller than my shoulder.  With these measurements I can’t rely on the pattern sizing gradients. I have to try on the garment and make the changes by hand. Only after fitting the garment can I accurately assess the next component.


After quick-sewing and altering the practice muslin I can stand in front of the mirror and take a good hard look at myself.  So often I have fallen in love with a trendy style seen in print that simply isn’t flattering when worn on the real me.  Rather than trying to make it flattering by trying on a gazillion variations at the stores, or by sewing a dorky outfit, I have found the practice muslin to be the shortest and least loathsome route to the truth.  If even after a custom fit, a particular style looks dorky on me then I need not waste any more time in a store or at my sewing machine pursuing this look.  But if it flatters me, even in cheap ugly fabric, then it’s a winner.  Now I have a custom fit pattern that will allow me to make several copies upon which I can use my imagination and personal preferences in fabric, color and decoration to make the style my own.  

My only disclaimer

There is the rare soul who doesn’t struggle with fit and for whom most styles flatter.  If you are a sewer who has found a company whose patterns seem to fit great on the first try, then you have no need to make a muslin (unless you need to practice a technique).  But that isn’t the experience of most home sewers.  If you are struggling to sew clothing that both fits and flatters and are on the verge of giving up sewing because it seems too costly and time consuming I exhort you to try checking the fit and style of any pattern by first sewing a practice muslin.   

You will just need to find material cheap enough that you can cut into it and risk making mistakes without the guilt that you have wasted good fabric. 

Next Post: Tuesday, March 23, 2010; Cheap Sources of Cheap Ugly Fabric


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Karima
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 12:55:09

    Very good defense your honor! consuming,


  2. Sewista Fashionista
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 19:41:29

    Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: