Why these rough drafts in fabric are so important.

Tailoring students try on their “muslins” made in muslin!

What is muslin or “a muslin”?
The word “muslin” has two meanings: 1) a type of fabric, and 2) a fitting garment. You’ll hear the word used often in the classroom as well as in the sewing world at large. In Europe they sometimes call a fitting garment a “toile” instead of a muslin. When Europeans use the word “muslin,” they are usually referring only to the fabric.

Why muslin?
Muslin fabric works especially well for creating muslins for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s inexpensive. It’s also very stable and therefore holds its shape rather than stretching. Finally it’s generally a plain, off-white color without any stripes, flowers or other graphic elements that might obscure the fit.

Explains Ronda Chaney, head of the Cañada fashion department: “I especially like to use muslin fabric because I can write the changes that should be made for the final garment right on it.”

Why do we make muslins?
The main reason is that we don’t want to waste our precious fashion fabric. So often we’ve gone to a lot of trouble and expense to find the perfect fabric for our project. Why risk wasting it by cutting into it before knowing if the pattern is going to work as-is? (Chances are good it won’t.) So you could say making a muslin actually saves time in the end, not to mention money.

According to a sewing tutorial from the blog Do It Better Yourself, there are at least four reasons to make a muslin:

  1. To check the fit.
  2. Muslin fabric is cheap. You’ll spare yourself some grief.
  3. To check the placement of buttonholes, pockets, pleats, etc.
  4. To practice tricky techniques.
Better to catch fit issues now rather than later.

In a chapter entitled The Simple Truth about Impeccable Tailoring, The Vogue Sewing Book* recommends that the sewist, “Test your garment by making the jacket or coat shell in muslin.” This is among a number of Vital Preparation tips. Vital. As in, don’t skip it!

Why do we hate making them?
Because we want to get to the fun part … now! Sewist and writer Jessamin Jensen feels your pain: “You’re excited to get started sewing but there are a million little things you have to do before you can. Making a muslin seems like just one more thing in the way.” But Jensen says she makes three muslins on average and that she’s noticed, “The next time you make it, it will be a breeze!”

What’s a wearable muslin?
A wearable muslin is a garment you make with a fabric you like well enough but wouldn’t cry over if it didn’t come out the way you’d hoped. Who knows? You might luck out, or it will fit someone else!

Sometimes a muslin looks so great, you’re tempted to wear it outside the classroom!

“I have never been sorry that I took the time to make a muslin, but there have been times I was sorry that I did not.”—Ronda Chaney

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
You don’t need to hem or finish the seam allowances. Often you only need to sew the main pattern pieces together.

Tell us about your experiences with muslins in the comments.

More about muslins here.

*First Edition, ©1970, Vogue Patterns, Doubleday & Co.,