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Making a Muslin
This is one of the most important steps in costume making. Learn to work with a muslin and your fear of mistakes will go away and your be on your way to much better fitting costumes and clothing in general. It will free you from dependence of finding the "perfect" pattern.
There really are no patterns that are perfect for a particular costume. Some come close. Everything must be modified to some extent. The trick is to start with a pattern that is close, and then modify the sections you want. Sometimes this is just a neckline or sleeves, sometimes a lot more. There will be times when you can combine a couple of patterns to get what you need.
What is a "Muslin"
A Muslin is a mock-up of a pattern. It is traditionally made from muslin fabric. It allows you to try a pattern and fix the fit so that the final garment will fit you perfectly.
Even when you "think" you have a perfect pattern, you still want to check the pattern. Create a muslin and then cut and sew with confidence
You make all your changes on your muslin, you can move seams, change necklines, or just adjust fits. Your mistakes get made in the cheep fabric.
For an very good example of why and when you make a muslin.... check out the description on the Making of the Blood Red Dress.
Fabric Choice for a Muslin
First off, a "muslin" does not have to be made from muslin. You want to make it out of cheep fabric. $1 a yard stuff, old sheets, stained stuff, ugly colored stuff. You make it out of old or seconds type fabric.
The trick is not the name of the fabric, the trick is to pick a fabric that will be close to your final fabric. For woven finals, use a woven muslin. For knits, use a knits.
Use a muslin (or other lightweight woven cotton), if your final garment is going to be something light to mid-weight. Weight, if not the final, will not matter too much as long as you're not looking to see how it drapes. On the drape of a skirt or a long sleeve, weight of the fabric really matters.
For corsets and tight bodices, stiff, unwashed muslin or cotton takes the place of a heavier fabric. It will also help you smooth out your wrinkles. Personally, I prefer to use a wide check or strip cotton to help make sure the grain is perfect This is important on anything that will take a lot of stress and the grain of the fabric really matters.
If the final fabric is something like a heavy tapestry and you are concerned about how it drapes, you may want to use a denim or canvas. when you get to your test garment.
If the final is ultra-shear, old, very soft sheets work better.
When your final outfit is knit, make sure you find a fabric that matches it. This means, if you final is a one way stretch, get a one way stretch. If your final is a two way stretch, make your muslin out of a two way stretch.
If you are making something skin tight try to match the stretch percentage. Yes, this means you'll pay a bit more for your "muslin" fabric, but do you want wrinkles across your rear? Or gap-osis at your cleavage???
There is only one type of cheep fabric you don't want to use. Don't make it out of fabric that has a twisted grain. This would be fabrics that main the dollar bin because they got pulled or twisted in the mill process. It's fairly easy to see/feel. You hold the fabric and something just doesn't seem right, the treads do not cross in right angles, etc. They may be large greasy mill marks.
Making a Muslin
Where you start with your muslin depends on you. You may have modified your paper pattern already or you may have made no changes. You can also start with an old garment that fits or is shaped like you want. (If you're advanced, you can wrap your model in a stripped sheet and just start pinning... no pattern needed.)
Yes, if you're making only light alterations, you can skip a lot of these steps... However if you're moving seams around and working from a pattern that is another size all together, it pays to do each of the steps.
So, whatever is your pattern... cut out your muslin. Cut extra big seam allowances. Mark all your dots and grain line in marker, not chalk. Mark the sew line for the neck line and the sleeves. Also label each piece front, back, side, and label it V1 for the first version. If something is cut on the fold, mark that center line top and bottom.
Use a black pen for your original marks, use red for your adjustments.
Don't worry about the facings, collar or sleeves at this point.
Pin baste the garment together though the shoulder and waist area. (Pin basting is where you weave pins in and out at the seam line to fake stitch lines.) Pin down from underarms and up from the waist... basically away from any curves.
Try on the garment. Pin baste it closed.
OK, now... you start making your muslin looking like what you want. If you're adding seams, pinch in the fabric where you need it. And start letting out your big original seams. Work the bust and waist areas first and work up and down from there. Make adjusted about the same on each side.
If you need to cut sections open to give yourself more ease, go ahead. You can pin other bits of fabric scraps in there to fill in.
Look at the neckline. Do you need to pinch in bits, bring it up, change the shape, cut it down??? Mark your new neck line.
Look at the shoulders and arm. Mark where the seam line should be. Do you need to re-pin the shoulders? Do you need to add more room under the arm? Tighten it? Mark where your arm seam should be.
Are the changes your making symmetrical??? Are you symmetrical? Important for later.
Fix the hips last. Don't pin them too tight... try sitting down. You need more ease in the hips than you do in the waist or bust.
Check and see if your center front, is still center front. Check the waist is still where you want it. If the shoulders moved, like slid back or forward, mark where you want the new shoulders.
Mark anything else you want. Take it off.
Create First Pattern
OK, you're now holding something with many marking that looks very messy... don't be afraid of it.
Use your red pen to mark where your pinned seams are on each side of EVERY piece. This includes darts.
Take the pins out of ONLY the seam pieces. If you've drawn new seam lines, cut those apart too.
You should now have the correct number of pieces for your garment.
Do these pieces lay flat??? OK, almost flat. IF you have darts, you may have to split them open, or move them slightly to get it flatter.
Don't be afraid to make a mistake here. You can tape or pin things back together if it doesn't work... and when all else fails make another muslin off whatever version worked best.
Take each of your matching pieces, (ex, left front side and right front side), and lay them together. You need to "true" up the pieces. That means that you balance out the pieces. Even them out, compromising the amount on one you take away and the other you give. Mark this.
Do the same for each of the other pieces.
If you are not symmetrical, make a decision about how much you want to hide it... compromise as you're truing up the pattern. Sometimes a pad will even thing out. Sometimes just moving a dart will help.
If your are symmetrical, cut out a new pattern based on these pieces just like you did with the first pattern. If you are going to have non-symmetrical pattern pieces, cut each one individually and don't double up anything.
If you are comfortable with the sleeve and neck... cut this pattern out cutting on the sewing line for the sleeves and neck... if not.. leave the allowances in.
Mark all your pattern pieces again, with the name of the piece, left or right, put in the grain line, call it version 2.
Pin baste and put it on. This one should fit better and the seams and neckline should at least be near where they should be.
If the pattern looks like it still needs a lot of work... go ahead. Pin, cut, mark and repeat cutting a new pattern as often as you need.
If the pattern looks really close, just mark up the few extra adjustments you need to make.
Take it off, mark your seam lines.
If you did not make many adjustments on the shoulder and arm, you make the decision if you need to fit the sleeve as well. If you're not sure... do the next step.
Making your Test Garment
You need to do this step if... you've made lots of modification in the upper body or the fit needs to be really tight.
Lay your muslin down, whether it's version 2, 3, 4 or whatever. Mark your seams and darts like before. Take it apart.
If you're symmetrical, true it up one last time.
Cut out a new muslin with ALL the seam allowances at their regular size. Put in all markings, notches and grain line.
Cut out your sleeves this time. First cutting, guess if you're going to have to add or take away some.
If you really need to check your neckline, you can do a facing, but you can skip it. Cut the collar pieces if you have any.
Label all your pieces (including version number) and take them all to the sewing machine.
Sew the pieces together w/ contrasting thread on a basting stitch. (Basting stitch - big loose stitch)
Pin the closure together. Check your fit. wrinkles gone? Collar laying right?
Can you sit down properly with out splitting a seam? Can you walk?
Check those sleeves? Do you have enough movement? If you were doing a historical gown, you might not, but that's part of the fit. If you are doing a gown for a wedding or dance... do the hug test. Can you put your arms all the way around someone tall... for dancing or a hug???
If the sleeves and shoulder area do no work, have your fitter pick out the seam in the area where you have a problem. Sometimes just letting out a half inch is enough. Pin baste and check again. Add fabric to the sleeve, or maybe the arm.
(There is a whole art to tailoring the sleeve. Get a book and learn the right way... else just fake it for now.) Most sleeves that are too tight can be fixed by widening the sleeve just a tad, not drawing a bigger sleeve cap.
If the changes are radical enough... take the sleeves though version of the muslin patterns and make new copies and them sew them back in again, labeling your version.
Regardless of how many steps you skip... stop here and do this. The voice of experience speaks.
Once again, mark your stitch lines. Take it apart.
Get your seam gauge and set up for your seam allowance. Mark your final cutting line around each pattern piece. If you're doing non-symmetrical, do it for both, else you just need to do one side.
Add you hem at the bottom.
If you made a lot of changes, or you like neat neatness, cut one more muslin and transfer the markings for your "final" pattern. (This is not required.)
Stop and take time to look at the pieces. Are these what you want for your pattern. If yes, take and label each piece with the name of the costume and write FINAL on each and every piece. On the main piece, write the date and your measurements on that day... as well as anything else you might want to know when you find these fabric scraps later.
If you did non-symmetrical, remember to keep all the lefts and rights marked. Your only differences is going to be that when you make the final, the seams will now be on the inside.
Making your Facings
If you're doing advanced slash and burn, you can skip this step... and just cut your facings as you go.
If you are lining, the lining is going to be the same as the main pieces.
To make your neck facing, pin the pattern pieces together down the front about 3". Lay another piece of fabric down and trace the cutting line. Measure down about 4" all around. Mark things like center front and any notches. Label the piece. If you're not sure how to label it, look at the original pattern pieces and match those markings and notches but with your new pattern.
If you have a placard that opens in front, you will need to do the same thing and make a facing there.
Now, you are ready to cut into your good fabric with no fear!
When you're all done with your pattern, fold up the pieces and put them in a large baggy with a printout of sketch of what the outfit will be. Yes, just like a real pattern... because it is!
Links out on the web to examples
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This page was last updated 04/22/08