Tuesday, 30 December 2014


When you make a garment you really ought to make up a muslin first. A muslin is a test garment on which you make any adjustments before transferring them to the pattern for use when making up the real thing. On the muslin, pockets, facings, trimmings ae all left out so that what you are actually making is the shell  of the garment with no embellishments.
The trouble with muslin, although cheap,is that it does not give and move with you, so what I like to do is to make a wearable muslin.
Choose a nice but inexpensive fabric, cut out the main pattern pieces only.

This is my pattern and the fabric which I intend to eventually make it up in.

I am going to make the shift dress from the second pattern

The fabrics I have chosen are an orange cotton with linen and a similar weight printed cotton. I have yet to decide properly which garment is to be made in what  combination of fabrics.
I will be making the shift dress, the short jacket plus a pair of trousers from another pattern.

Back to our wearable muslin.

I have chosen this printed cotton, and because I will want to actually wear it I have cut out lining pieces for the bodice but not the skirt.i want to wear it on holiday so a lining is not needed. They are not normally included in a fitting muslin anyway because you do not want to spend too much time on it.

One of the reasons why I want to make a test garment is because I struggle with back zips and so I want to explore the possibility of fitting the zip in the side seam. By the way when putting your muslin together it is easier to fit if you stitch the back seam where the zip would go and pin a side seam together once wearing it.
On this pattern, stitch the  front skirt sections to the front bodice, do the same on the back.join at the shoulders and down one side. Stitch about half way up the other side. Do this by machine or hand.
Try it on and observe with a critical eye . I know that I need to pay attention to the shoulders, so I will most likely have to make a slight adjustment there, possibly the neckline will be a bit loose too. As we get older waistlines can thicken, is there enough room?, check the hips and bust areas and dont forget to look at the back.
If you like what you see and it is possible to make the necessary adjustments take the muslin off and transfer all the alterations to the pattern pieces.
Then either go ahead and finish this test garment, or if you really do not like the style or the alterations would be too massive you may want to start again.
One important note,  please take your actual measurements and choose a pattern size which corresponds with those. I am a dress size 12, my patterns vary from 10 or 12 to 14 or sometimes a combination of two or three! There are no size lables in bespoke (which is what you are making) so nobody knows what size it is, the only thing they will notice is a great fitting garment which in itself is very flattering!

Finish making up your test garment, put a zip in, do the hem and facings etc then actually wear it. Does it feel good? Is the length right? Does it feel too tight? Is it comfortable to sit in? If there is anything that you are not happy with then add the adjustments to the pattern.
I have not quite finished my test garment yet, so will update this blog in a day or so and talk about my results.

Until then have a go yourself, it really is worth the effort

I tacked the garment together by hand. I tacked straight up the back seam leaving part of the left seam open.

I could then try it on.
A few small fitting issues were obvious but in the whole the fit is nice.

The main plus point is that the garment easily fits over my head and so I cannot see a problem in moving the zip from the centre back to the side seam.I do prefer them at the back but my Parkinson's makes it difficult for me to fasten them, so I make a small compromise where possible and insert them in the side seam. I also cannot manage hooks and eyes so leave them off where possible,
The shoulders needed sloping towards the neck more as  suspected, so I pinned them into a new shape. I also felt that the neckline was sitting a little high so I lowered it by just an inch which felt less constricting.

 The waist line could be more fitted I thought, although I do want the fitting to skim the body rather than hug it. I pinned the waist 
 In a little.

This next bit is really important because the  alterations now have to be transferred to the paper pattern so that when you make the actual garment it fits correctly (you still try it on for fitting of course. 

I took a ruler and a pen and marked the pattern pieces, including the facings with the new seam lines. When I come to use the pattern again I will be able to cut it out accordingly.

Remember we are making a wearable muslin, a test garment, so we do not want to spend too much time on it, so embelishments and pockets and so on are all omitted.
However that is no excuse for not finishing it off nicely if you do intend keeping it to wear!
Stitch the pieces together, taking note of the adjustments.
When it comes to the bodice a facing is needed.   Do not join the shoulder seams for now.

Join the side seam on the facing and place it on the  dress right sides together. Stitch the neckline and armholes stopping 5/8" from the edge of the shoulders.
Clip all curves and turn it right sides out. Press.
Machine stitch the shoulder seams, leaving the facing free and slip stitch tbe facing in place. Slip stitch the facing in place on the right side, over the zipper tape.

Finish the hem, and there you have it!

The very best thing about this test dress is that I can wear it all day tomorrow and observe how it fits after being worn all day.
I can see if the neck is right, are the armholes comfortable or do they need adjustment? Is it too tight or too loose anywhere else? Am I happy with the   length? Is it comfortable to sit in?
Only when I have tested the dress out for a day will I cut out my more expensive fabric, to me, it is important not to miss this step with a new pattern, it does save tears in the long run!

I hope that I have inspired you to have a go. Even if you cut up an old sheet to make a skirt or dress you can still wear it, you could dip dye or tie dye a white sheet for example.
If I were making a suit or a coat I would use real muslin because the construction is too complicated to make into a wearable test garment. I would then keep the muslin for future adjustments.
I do not use a pattern just once,  they are expensive so getting the fit right is vitally important.

Please let me know how you get on with your wearable muslin, and I would love to see some photographs.