When I first approached the task of teaching myself to sew, I had no idea muslin was a tool I had available to me. Yes, I could have thought up the idea myself — using cheap fabric to practice — but I didn’t. It wasn’t until a tour of Joann Fabrics during a basic sewing class that I was introduced to the muslin section.
Muslin is cheap unbleached cotton that is used in the drafting process to make a sample garment. It is during this process that areas requiring alterations become apparent. For beginners, it’s a useful tool for a few different reasons.
- Run Through
As I mentioned in my post on reading a pattern, even patterns marked “easy” aren’t always that simple for someone who’s just starting out. Using muslin allows a beginner to run through all steps of the pattern instructions to gain an understanding of the process and work out kinks before touching the real fabric. Muslin is relatively affordable so the beginner won’t have to worry if multiple attempts are needed to get it right. If you mess up, you can either rip the seams out or start over entirely. Muslin can also be reused for future projects.
My biggest fear when I first started sewing was potentially investing time and money to make a garment without knowing if I was going to end up hating the finished product. I thought I was going to be able to tell that a piece was home sewn. I think much of this was fear of getting the wrong fit. With appropriate preparations (i.e. measuring yourself and the flat pattern), in addition to making a muslin sample, you can account for fit issues before cutting into the real fabric. Below you’ll see an imagine of cup alterations I made while practicing my Very Easy Vogue slip dress. It seamed like the bigger cup would work, but I ended up needing to go down a full size.
Another example is the vintage pencil skirt I’ve been working on. Even though the pattern illustration resembled a close fitting skirt much like the pencil skirts of today, you’ll see it ended up quite A-line, which I don’t particularly like. Also below, the darts in this vintage pattern are positioned at a slight angle, adding quite a bit of curve on the hip that my body is unable to fill out. Making the muslin brought my attention to major alterations that unaccounted for would have me very unhappy with the finished product.
3. Practice makes perfect
Muslin is a stiff fabric that won’t slip around under the presser foot. This is pretty ideal for the beginner, as it allows you to practice the motions of very basic sewing steps without struggling to keep the fabric in place. I was able to get used to my machine, back stitching, darts, button holes, and moving fabric in tight spaces to complete things like the collars and cuffs you’ll see in the image below of my vintage blouse.
Like I said, muslin is relatively affordable. You can get an entire bolt from Joann Fabrics from anywhere between $40-60. I never pay full price — either wait until the product you want goes on sale or be sure to check out the coupons offered. If you don’t happen to have a Joann Fabrics near by or live somewhere they won’t ship to, you will most likely be able to find muslin in your local fabric store. Once you get yourself a bolt of muslin, you’ll feel confident enough to start a challenging project, knowing you’re mistakes will only benefit you in the long run.