Mac and I talk a lot about making muslins — we even make it a required part of our pattern testing process, that’s how important we think it is! But inevitably when we talk about muslins, you all have lots of questions for us! Rather than having those answers out there piecemeal across the Internets, we thought we’d collect them all in one place. That’s why we wrote this post:
So without further ado, here are all your muslin questions answered! We collected the questions we mostly commonly get about muslins, and also reached out to our Instagram and Facebook friends to discover and answer your most pressing questions about muslins and the muslining process.
What is a Muslin?
A muslin is a test garment, simple as that. In some parts of the world, it’s referred to as a toile rather than a muslin. The purpose of the muslin is to check the size and fit of the pattern before you cut into final fabric. Period.
We are strong advocates of what we refer to as the “quick and dirty” muslin. By that, we mean a test garment that is not intended ever to be worn outside of the sewing room. It is not made in nice fabric, has no finishes or hems and is sewn together quickly with a basting stitch that an be easily removed to make changes.
Wait … Isn’t Muslin a Fabric?
Yes it is! This is a constant source of confusion for sewists the world over. Here in the US, we refer to a test garment as a “muslin.” Europe and many other parts of the world refer to the test garment as a “toile.” There is also a type of fabric called muslin.
Muslin fabric is a plain-woven, undyed cotton fabric. It is typically a light cream color and is similar in weight to quilting cotton or shirting. You can buy muslin fabric by the yard or on bolts from most large fabric stores.
How Do You Make a Muslin?
Making a muslin is so simple that it seems hard. Basically, you will cut your key pattern pieces out in a fabric that behaves like your final fabric but isn’t something that you mind scrapping. You will need your main pieces as well as anything that impacts fit — darts, pleats, gathers, etc. Then sew your construction seams (not decorative seams or topstitching etc) in a long basting stitch that is easy to rip out to make adjustments. Don’t bother with any finishes or closures — no seam finishes, no hems, no zippers, buttons, etc. Just use pins to keep the garment closed if necessary. Then try it on and see how it fits!
If you are making a muslin for a knit garment, you will need to get much farther in the finish process to assess fit. While wovens can usually be muslined in about 20 minutes, a knit may take a little longer. That’s because things like neckbands and sleeves can significantly impact the fit of a knit garment, so you will need to attach any neckband or armbands in your pattern.
What Pattern Pieces Need to be Included in a Muslin?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question because it will depend on the pattern. You need to muslin every pattern piece that impacts the fit of the final garment. Skip any extras like pockets, collars, and embellishments. Here is our general rule of thumb:
- Woven top: front piece(s), back piece(s) and one sleeve.
- Woven pants: Front leg pieces (cut the side seam all way up to the waistline — ie don’t leave the curve for the pocket), back leg pieces, back yoke (if any), outer waistband.
- Woven skirt: Front piece, back piece(s), outer waistband.
- Knit top: Front piece, back piece, two sleeves, neckband.
- Knit pants: Front leg pieces, back leg pieces, waistband (outer and inner if applicable).
Do I Need to Include Stuff like Hems in my Muslin?
Definitely not! Your muslin should only have the bare minimum — darts, pleats, construction seams. Just what you need to assess the fit of the garment. Finishing techniques like hems, seam finishes and closures are completely unnecessary in a muslin. We don’t even do the zip fly on a pair of pants at the muslin stage. We will either put in a simple zipper that we can do quickly or just pin the fly shut.
That being said, if there is a tricky construction step you want to practice, the muslin is a good time to test it out without worrying about ruining good fabric.
What are Your Thoughts on “Wearable Muslins”?
What we’re about to say is going to controversial — we are not fans of “wearable muslins.” In general, we find them to be a waste of precious sewing time, often resulting in an unwearable or ill-fitting final garment, and always resulting in a garment made in a cheap fabric we don’t love and often don’t even like to wear. In short, a habit of making “wearable muslins” is a receipt for a closet full of ill-fitting clothes in cheap fabric.
The vast majority of the time, our advice is to leave the idea of a “wearable muslin” behind and go the “quick and dirty” muslin route — don’t worry about making something that will ever be seen outside of your sewing room, write all over it, sew darts in random places, and slash and cut as needed.
The only time that we condone a “wearable muslin” is when you need to finish the garment to fully assess the fit. Examples would be a fitted t-shirt — you have to attach both sleeves and the neckband to see how that top fits — or a pair of leggings — there aren’t many pieces and you have to attach that waistband. These are almost always knit garments. It’s really hard to come up with a woven garment that needs to be fully constructed to assess the fit.
How Many Muslins Should You Make to Fit a Garment?
This is going to be one of those annoying non-answers, so apologies in advance. The answer here is that you should make as many muslins as you need to get the fit right. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. If you do a quick and dirty muslin in your straight size and it fits well, you may be done! Go on and cut that final fabric. If, however, you have lots of fit issues to work out, you may have several muslins in your future. We typically make 2-3 muslins to fit a new top pattern, and 3-5 to fit a new pants pattern, depending on the style and pattern company*.
*To be clear, we are in no way implying that some pattern companies are “better” than others, but simply recognizing that different pattern blocks will fit differently on different bodies. Not bad or good, just different.
How Do I Transfer my Muslin Changes to my Flat Pattern?
We’ve seen different approaches here, but our general approach is to pin out alterations as needed from our muslin, then mark those with a fabric marker (or regular marker) on our muslins. After we’ve marked the alterations we plan to make on a particular muslin, we pick apart the basting stitches, then mark those same adjustments on our flat pattern piece. Some people make their alterations on their muslin, and then use those muslin pieces as their new pattern pieces after they pick them apart. That works too!
What About “Pre-Muslin” Changes? How Do Those Fit In?
If you’re using a pattern from a tried-and-true pattern designer, and you know the alterations you are likely to need, it’s find to make some of those adjustments on your flat pattern prior to making the first muslin. (For example, if you know that you always need an FBA on a Sew Altered Style patter, that’s not likely to change from pattern to pattern, so go ahead and make it). But in general, try to keep these “pre-muslin” changes to consistently-needed alterations like a full-bust adjustment.
Can’t I Just Draft a Sloper and Use that to Make My Adjustments and Skip the Muslin?
A sloper can be a wealth of information, so if you have one made for your body, by all means, use it to streamline your adjustment. Even with a slope though, we still recommend a quick-and-dirty muslin just to make sure that the pattern is behaving in the way that your sloper indicates it should.
Should You Always Use Muslin Fabric to Make a Muslin?
Absolutely not! Actual muslin fabric is not always the appropriate fabric for your muslin (or toile). The general rule is that you should make a muslin in a fabric that behaves similarly to your final fabric. So if you final fabric is Cone Mills S-gene stretch denim for a pair of jeans, use a cheaper heavy stretch woven for your muslin. Actual muslin fabric is a great stand in for pretty much any lightweight, non-stretch woven at the early fitting stage. Even if you ultimately plan to use a drapey rayon, using muslin (or something like it) for the first test garments can help you see what issues are due to fit and which are due to your fabric. So if you plan to use a drapey woven for your final, make your first muslins in something sturdier like muslin fabric to work out the fit issues, and then make a final muslin in something drapey like a cheaper poly crepe to see how the fabric is going to lay. If you final is sturdier like shirting or linen, you can keep using muslin fabric because those fabrics have a similar weight and drape to muslin.
And if your final fabric is a knit, you should definitely muslin in a knit fabric of similar weight to your final fabric. If you will use a rayon knit for your final, use a rayon or poly knit for your muslin. If your final will be cotton/spandex, use a cheaper cotton/spandex for your muslin. Knits in particular can have a dramatically different fit depending on the amount of stretch and recovery of your fabric. We know first hand how frustrating it is to muslin a pattern in a rayon knit with bad recovery, only to find that your final cotton/spandex version is uncomfortably tight because the fabric has so much more recovery.
Does it Matter What Color My Fabric Is on My Muslin?
Obviously you can make a muslin out of any color of fabric, but we always recommend using a light colored fabric for muslins. There is method to our madness! If you use a dark colored fabric, it’s harder for you to see all your markings on the fabric, and to then transfer those adjustments to your flat pattern.
With a light colored fabric, you can take a fabric marker and draw in guidelines and grainlines to see how the pattern is sitting. You can also mark adjustments that you need to make and transfer to your flat pattern. It’s also easier to see wrinkles and pulling on lighter fabrics than it is on darker fabrics.
So, if possible, use a light colored fabric for muslins — it just makes the whole process easier!
Where do you Find Fabric for Muslins? How Much Does it Cost?
You can definitely go to your local fabric store and buy actual muslin fabric — it will probably run you $7-10/yard depending on where you get it. But, you don’t have to spend that much on fabric for muslins!
We tend to turn to our scrap bin to find fabric for muslins. We keep large scraps from projects that are large enough to get a pattern piece out of (note that I said A pattern piece, not all the pattern pieces) and cobble together a muslin out of various scraps of fabric.
Old bedsheets are a great fabric source for muslins as well. They tend to be made out of lightweight, non stretch woven fabrics that mimic muslin quite nicely. Old sheets that have been laundered a lot often are nice and soft too, and may mimic some of the drape you’d get from a drapier woven.
The thrift store can also be a great source of fabric for knit muslins. An old set of jersey sheets is great for knit muslins. And if your thrift store doesn’t have jersey sheets, find the largest men’s t-shirts you can and cut up a few of them for your muslin fabric.
Sometimes of course, you just have to buy fabric for a muslin. You’re not likely to find cotton/spandex fabric at the thrift store. We will look around for deals on fabric like this specifically for muslining purposes and pick it up when we can.
What Do You Do With Muslins After You’re Done With Them?
To be perfectly honest, they usually end up in the scrap bin. If the pieces are big enough, they can be cut up into future muslins, but otherwise they go with the rest of the scraps. Is that wasteful? Maybe. Though we would argue that “wasting” a small amount of scrap fabric to get a well-fitting final garment is less wasteful than filling your closet with ill-fitting garments that you don’t wear and eventually throw out because they don’t fit.
How Long Does It Take to Make a Muslin?
Typically, a quick and dirty muslin can be executed from fabric cutting to sewing in about 30 minutes. It may take some time after that to analyze the fit and see what changes you need to make. Then you transfer those changes to the flat pattern and try again. If that’s the only muslin you need, the whole muslining process is probably done in an hour. If you need multiple muslins, it will take longer.
What if I Don’t Have a Lot of Sewing Time? Can I Skip the Muslin?
Let’s put it this way — why spend what precious little sewing time you have making a final garment that doesn’t fit well? It typically takes about 20-30 minutes to make a muslin, and then another 30 minutes to analyze the changes and transfer those to the flat pattern. So if you only have an hour a day to sew, that just means that you start you final garment a day later than you otherwise would (assuming one muslin is all you need). Compare that to spending multiple days or weeks laboring over a garment in the small chunks of time available to you, only to put it on at the end and find that it’s long where it should be short, and has all kinds of funny wrinkles and pulling? Which seems like a better use of your limited time?