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Do all garments you sew fit perfectly, readers? Pockets are where you wanted them to be, the neckline is not gapping and is high enough, and there is no ugly pulling on the back of your pants?

I have to confess, my early sewing attempts had a rather low success rate. Whatever didn’t end up in a UFO bin, was worn once at most. This is when I started this self-imposed couture challenge – I really wanted to wear every project I cut, with dresses that fit, trousers that don’t pull, and jackets that have flattering proportions for my figure. Have I achieved it? Yes! With the help of a toile [twal], or trial garment.

What is a toile?

Toile, also known as muslin in the US, is the name for both, firmly-woven cotton fabric, and a trial garment. Susan Khalje, a couture instructor and contributing editor to the Threads magazine describes a toile in her article ‘Muslin Refined’ as “a fit and design laboratory” and “the essential first test or trial run for any finished couture garment.”

“The toile is used to work out the proportions, the shoulders, the lengths, etc,” Karl Lagerfeld explains in Episode 1 of my favorite couture documentary Signé Chanel. “If you use the real fabric right away you may not get a good fit. It’s risky, so it’s better to work from a basic structure or pattern that’s discarded when the dress is cut. The toile gives you the proportions and an idea of the finished product, so you can avoid making mistakes.”

Why bother making a toile?

-because those commercial patterns were not designed to fit YOUR body. Sizing helps, but you still need to fit them

-because you can afford mistakes in muslin

-because your precious fashion fabric remains intact until you perfected the fit

-because you can finally dare to make more complex projects without having the fear that you would ruin expensive fabric

-because you can experiment with design ideas directly on the muslin

-because it cuts down the sewing time to a minimum

This toile made for Susan Khalje’s Little Black Dress Class showed several fitting problems. Photo courtesy of Frabjous Couture.

Believe me, once you have made your first muslin and got the garment you wanted, you will never look back!

The proof is the growing number of home seamstresses using muslins to test-run their sewing projects. Amy, a scientist and a blogger behind Sew Well said she learned about muslins during the creation of her wedding dress, “My dress was made for me back when I had relatively little sewing experience. At first I was uneasy about the muslin process. We were making my dress from an idea I had in my head, and it took many iterations to get to a fabulous dress. Over the whole process I slowly gained an appreciation for muslins.”

What fabric to use for a toile?


A toile is usually made from an inexpensive unbleached plain-weave cotton fabric. It is easily available in many stores in the US, but if you have difficulties finding it elsewhere, it can be substituted with old sheets, or plain-weave firmly woven cotton. Just make sure the fabric is on grain, so there won’t be any distortion when you cut the pattern. Also, choose the correct weight – your toile fabric should behave and drape like your fashion fabric.

A fashion designer and blogger Magda of MagdaMagda Design Studio suggests using light colors because they are easy to work with. “Also, using a shade close to the one your final garment can be is useful in predicting the visual effect,” she said.

Do I need to make a toile every time I make a new garment?

IowaHoodlum, who blogs at Feather Petal Silk said “I would ‘muslin’ anything I would not be comfortable scrapping all the fashion fabric, but mostly when I makes the pattern for the first time, though. I disassemble the muslins and use them as the pattern and then keep them for future pattern use after the project is finished. If I’ve changed significantly in size, I can re-sew and refit the muslin the next time I make the project.”

I always make a toile when I…

1. Need to match print, plaids, or any other pattern
2. Work with a pattern or style that has complex details
3. Anticipate fitting challenges
4. Want to make changes to proportions, such as length, or placement of pockets

These are just a few suggestions and, in fact, there are some situations when you don’t need to make a full muslin. Think of a dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt. If you are under tight deadline, you could make a partial toile for the bodice only. Or, you want to create a different collar for a blouse – attach a muslin mock up to the bodice.

Making a toile is for advanced seamstresses. – False!

Making a toile does require time and some fitting experience, and if you are a beginner the process may be challenging. However, this is your best learning experience! The good news is that there is a large online sewing community ready to help with fitting or sewing advice. “While participating in the Male Pattern Boldness Men’s Shirt Sew-Along, I would post a photo to the Sew-Along Flickr group of a muslin that I thought looked fine, and almost instantaneously I’d get input on various fitting issues that I hadn’t even seen due to my inexperience,” Amy said. “The kind seamsters would point me in the right direction, say for a square shoulder adjustment, and after I made the corrections to my muslin, I could see a world of difference in the way the garment flattered my husband.”

The initial muslin draft. Amy ended up adding a square-shoulder adjustment, narrowing the side seams, and adding a lot of length in the final shirt. Image courtesy of MBP-Amy.

She continues, “As someone relatively new to sewing, I’d suggest to other newbies to take advantage of their sewing community, whether that be local seamsters or the online community (particularly during Sew-Alongs). Other sets of eyes on your muslin, particularly fromthose with more experience, can make a world of difference on a final garment.”

Here are some options for getting virtually instant feedback on your fitting and design

-Online forums, such as Patternreview.com and the Stitcher’s Guild Sewing Forum

-Sew-Alongs hosted by many sewing blogs

-Couture Classes often incorporate the process of muslin making (check out Patternreview.com for available online options)

Label, store and re-use!

Labeled muslin.

One final word about a toile. A well-fitted toile is invaluable! You can re-use them, adding or removing design elements, making a few subtle changes in case you gained or lost weight.

Here are some of my favorites:
-A toile I made for a pencil skirt half a year ago has been re-used several times,
also for a dress

-My Chanel-inspired jacket toile is now going to be used to cut a red felt coat.

-What about a pair of fitted pants? I can make them in print, in wool, cotton, linen – I can use this pattern over and over again, raising waist, adding pockets…

My final tip is to label the toile with a permanent marker directly on the fabric. Write your name (if you are not the only one who you sew for), date, pattern name and size, add the name of the pattern piece and store it in a clear plastic bag.

Have you had experience working with a toile? What styles do you reuse more often?


Marina von Koenig blogs at Frabjous Couture, documenting the process of learning couture sewing techniques. Visit her blog for a step-by-step tutorial for making a toile.


  • Missing

    Jul 13, 2011, 07.31 AMby fuzzyg

    I see a problem with this vogue for muslin-everything that is sweeping the online sewing world. Of course it’s very, very useful for a seamstress to make a basic fitting block for herself. And custom dressmakers are well-advised to make them for their clients. But it used to be that pattern companies used very consistent sizing (Burda was excellent at this), and as a person who sews for herself you could, only once, take the company’s fitting shell and figure out what adjustments you needed to do to to fit your own body. Then you could confidently apply those same adjustments to every one of their patterns and know that you’d get results that would fit you. I didn’t say that you could be confident of good pattern/fabric matching, or that a specific style would suit you :-). Those you still had to learn by painful experience. But at least you could have the size right, and not have to start from scratch with every project.

    Unfortunately it seems to me that this one-upmanship in the couture standards (as if every single summer dress needed to be a work of art) has been muddled with working methods of past custom dressmakers, so that innocent beginners now thing it’s normal to muslin every t-shirt. As a result they have encouraged pattern companies to be even more slack in sticking to their defined sizes. So one now often needs to do a muslin when sewing up the big 4, which seem to be morphing from merely strange sizing to really all over the place. Sigh.

    The truly useful part of a muslin is when you have fabric so precious/expensive that it gives you cold sweats, or that you’re doing some very experimental design (think Miyake or Yamamoto). Then you can see concretely what you’re planning is likely to come to, and make less painful adjustments, or talk yourself out of that wrong path entirely. Most of the time, you should simply make whatever it is out of cheaper fabric the first time (‘wearable muslin’, a misleading term).

    4 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Jul 13, 2011, 04.47 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Interesting comment, fuzzyg! I really don’t think muslin-making is that intimidating, so I would recommend it especially to beginners for number of reasons: to learn fitting, to learn about personal adjustments and fitting, making notes, references, doodling on it, whatever… it’s fun and it’s a personal choice to create a garment that fits. Muslin/toile is a very good mean to achieve that. In addition, one straight skirt muslin = several well-fitting skirts (note, adjustments were made only once – on muslin). I am sure you agree. After all, you also recommend at the end of your comment to make a trial garment in cheaper fabric.

      What I don’t understand is how does muslin-making influence sizing of commercial patterns?

    • Missing

      Jul 13, 2011, 10.10 PMby fuzzyg

      Marina, I don’t think muslins are intimidating, I think they’re a big fat waste of time :-). When overdone, which seems to be becoming the norm.
      As to sizing in commercial patterns, it used to be very consistent (even if you thought a specific company was wrong-headed, it was always wrong-headed the same way). Now that seems to be going by the wayside, and I worry that telling all sewers that they need to muslin every time is encouraging companies to think consistent sizing isn’t important to us.. Does that make sense?

    • Amhb_sq_large

      Jul 14, 2011, 01.40 PMby adriprints

      I’m an intermediate beginner, and I just wanted to assuage your fears. I read this article, and having learned some basic techniques from a costume (theatre) shop, I know that there’s a time and a place for toiles (or maybe not! ha ha). The article and all those blogs out there recommending toiles as a tools are just that: another option for people to make their clothes fit better. What’s wrong with that? Mass manufacturers will strive for the cheapest/easiest way until consumers stop buying the stuff. I’m glad to hear a dissenting opinion, but you sound somewhat nihilistic about the future of sewing patterns. What has that to do with toiles and guest bloggers?

    • Marina_large

      Jul 14, 2011, 03.30 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Fuzzyg, thanks for explaining. In my opinion, if the pattern quality goes down people stop buying them. I don’t see a connection between muslin-making by home sewists and inconsistency in pattern sizing by the big4, but I understand what you want to say.

  • Missing

    Jul 13, 2011, 01.05 AMby kathnick

    I usually only do this when the pattern is something that needs a perfect fit, or it’s a technique I’ve never used. Or if I don’t quite understand the construction of the garment (I’m a newer pattern follower) I do it to test the technique. I spend a lot of time looking over my pattern pieces, and taking measurements before I do any cutting, and I make adjustments early. My mom always used old sheets, so I do that sometimes too. I have a stash of “testing” materials, so I use whatever I have on hand most of the time.

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    Jul 13, 2011, 12.28 AMby randommixer

    Where’s the finished shirt?!

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jul 13, 2011, 04.48 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Just follow the link to Amy’s blog – it’s in the post.

  • August_large

    Jul 13, 2011, 12.07 AMby tortugita

    I thought for years that the only way to get a garment to fit well was to make a muslin, but contrary to the information in this article, I found that a muslin is NOT necessary. The book “Fit for Real People” by Palmer and Pletsch explains how to get a perfectly fitting outfit WITHOUT a muslin. You simply fit the pattern tissue, and fit as you sew. The book has all sorts of wonderful tips on how to alter a pattern so that it fits you just right. I highly recommend it, and you will never have to make a muslin again or deal with an ill-fitting project. The book is not very expensive either, and it’s the only thing that’s worked for me.

  • Bendigo_large

    Jul 12, 2011, 11.37 PMby emilybib

    A few years ago, I picked up a Reader’s Digest home sewing book at an Op Shop (thrift store) for $1. Inside were a very clear set of instructions and black-and-white photos for making a toile, and for adjusting it for all sorts of different body shapes and common fitting problems. I have followed these instructions, strict and stuffy as they are, and have found that my dresses have more often than not turned out beautifully. Some of the suggestions – tucks, snips, re-cuts – seemed drastic, but they all worked! As for making toiles on myself, I tend to spend a lot of time cutting, pinning, guessing, re-pinning and using two mirrors (to see the back!), but then I transfer the toiles to another, neater piece of calico and reuse them over and over. I also save biggish scraps and oddments to use as toiles, so I have different weights available to trial. It does mean that some of my toiles have been multi-coloured, but the results are in the garments!

  • Me_4_large

    Jul 12, 2011, 07.58 PMby FashionSewingBlog

    The making of a toile is such an important process, and fashion sewers need to understand its importance, even if they do not use it often. It helps in giving a better understanding of ones body shape and even help when it comes to choosing the right sewing patterns for your body shape.

    What I like about using a toile is that I can see my exact body shape and sadly (ha) hows its changed over the years. I mainly encompass its use when making more structured garments and trousers.

    I do have to agree with some of the comments as regards timing and costs or even when to use the process.

    The answer could be – “tissue fitting”. This can hold some of the answers to fitting problems but it is very limited. I personally try to work with both methods and in doing so, reap the benefits. If a problem can not be solved with a tissue fitting, then it can by making a toile.

    The benefits that I gain from making a toile:-

    A better understanding of my body shape. It’s easier to check the portions of a garment you want to make The placement of buttons, pockets and trimmings etc.. Better understanding of how the fabric will drape around the body Source of reference for other sewing projects.

  • Hallaa_large

    Jul 11, 2011, 04.03 PMby aleah

    I never make a muslin. I tried once by using a dress form made of duck tape, but I suppose the dress form didn’t lead to measurements that were correct enough… now I usually “try on” pieces of garments, for example the bodice to adjust darts and pleats. But I would love to make some muslins though, I’m just too darn impatient.

  • 2004_toni_large

    Jul 11, 2011, 07.13 AMby ndimi

    Unfortunately I’m an exceptionally impatient person and can’t bear to make something I won’t use. Apart from my sloper blouse, pant, and skirt pattern to get the right measurements, I don’t make toiles.

    I would rather make an item in a cheaper fabric (not muslin) so that it is not exactly a throwaway. The toile is then a dress to wear and not a complete loss of productivity. Of course, if it’s a UFO, it absolutely cannot be used, but usually it can be altered enough to be wearable. Then I remake in the actual fabric. Sometimes this means I end up with 2 similar dresses, other times the “toile” makes me change my mind about the item altogether. There’s something about wearing a dress for a day that gives you far more feedback than wearing it just for a fitting. IMHO, of course. :)

  • Missing

    Jul 11, 2011, 03.31 AMby taitai60

    I only very rarely make a toile: expensive fabric, very important dress and sewing for other people would be the only times I would. I find that you can deal with most fitting issues by a) measuring the pattern carefully; b) cutting enough seam allowance and not the miniscule 5/8” added by the pattern companies, which means you have to mark your sewing lines directly onto the fabric; c) experience! Knowing what adjustments you need to make on certain brand patterns is crucial, so you should really also keep notes on what changes you make. For instance, after having sewn a few dresses for my aunt, I know that Burda patterns fit her best and she then only needs an adjustment in back length. I always need an adjustment for protruding shoulders regardless of which pattern I use. When I did some tailoring and pattern making classes, we were taught that the most important point to make sure that you add enough seam allowance is at the shoulder as everything hangs from here and adjustments of an inch are not uncommon. I also agree with previous comments that fitting on yourself is very difficult but digital cameras thankfully helped solve that problem! I haven’t yet tried posting pictures online and asking for help from the community, but next time I am faced with some fitting challenges, I probably will!

  • Img_1016_large

    Jul 10, 2011, 10.36 PMby mje2009

    This year I learned how to make a muslin before making a final dress. I learned a lot along the way but it does take more time. The upside is, is that the final garment fits perfectly and is very comfortable. I am now on my second garment that I made a muslin for first. Sometimes when I want to jump in and make a garment right away, I’ll just use what I know about my basic measurements and proceed with the final fashion fabric. Great article! Thanks.

  • Dscn0826_large

    Jul 10, 2011, 06.10 PMby ruthw

    I never make a toile and have no intention of starting to make them. For a start all fabrics behave differently. Even the same fabric in two different colours will drape differently because, yes, the dye can change the drape. My shoulders don’t change size, my shoulder slope doesn’t change, and most garments hang off my shoulders. My crotch depth doesn’t change. My arm length doesn’t change. My swayback is not about to suddenly go away and at my age, my legs are not likely to get suddenly significantly longer or shorter. Once you’ve got those right, the rest is easy and you can get all those right by measuring yourself and measuring the flat pattern. Old-style, we just tack certain seams, try the garment on and then alter, as we go. As long as you do the flat pattern measurements and make sure you don’t cut before you measure, the toile takes too long. I do shoulder width and slope adjustments, any bust (height or fullness) and swayback on the paper pattern, then I cut and usually I make slight adjustments to the side seams (for waist and hip curve) in the sewing process. And I can see how my actual fabric is behaving. It’s really bad advice to say use a cheap knit as a toile before using a better one because they will not have the same stretch or drape. And that’s a certainty.

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jul 11, 2011, 09.56 PMby Marina von Koenig

      You made a valid point regarding the importance of taking correct measurements and transferring this onto the flat pattern.

      If you work with simple or loosely fitted styles, then you may not need a toile. Now, in some cases, especially when it comes to complex designs and fitted garments this is not enough. Often then you will need alterations that cannot be done just by taking in or letting out some fabric. This is especially true for fabrics that need matching. Yet, at the end, it’s your personal choice to toile or not.

      Finally, I wanted to reply to your comment on knits. It only makes sense to use a cheaper knit for a toile, like it was suggested by one of the commenters. I also added that it has to be a quality knit, and suggested couple of other ideas. Cheap doesn’t need to mean ‘bad quality’. For example, I do make toile in cotton jersey, if I intend to use silk jersey as fashion fabric. I make sure that both knits behave similarly and it works.

  • Naburdaprofil_large

    Jul 10, 2011, 02.09 PMby janul

    Hm, I don´t use toile and I don´t think I ever will… I sew with unexpensive fabrics and work with simple designs, so it´s usually straightforward. Also, my time for sewing is so limited, that if I worked with toile, I would never have the time to work on the actual fabric…

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    Jul 10, 2011, 01.11 PMby angelagerson2

    Thank you for the instructions. i’’m also in the middle contraction of the jacket.

  • Degas37_large

    Jul 9, 2011, 03.13 AMby fifilina

    Fantastic post! I haven’t made any toiles since I did a pattern making course (ages ago in high school…), it just never really occurs to me.

    But I love the idea of making a toile library and using them as patterns, particularly for staple pants, dresses, etc. that can be made over and over.

  • Escanear0046-pola_large

    Jul 8, 2011, 04.37 PMby alicelidell

    I’d love to make this jacket: http://www.burdastyle.com/projects/larissa , and as I don’t really trust myself, I wanted to make a muslin first. What kind of fabric would you recommend using for the toile?

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Jul 8, 2011, 05.54 PMby Marina von Koenig

      What fabric do you want to use for this jacket? How does it drape? If your fashion fabric is rather stiff, you can try inexpensive denim or home dec fabric for toile, but if it drapes softer, a heavy-weight muslin (=unbleached cotton) would work just fine. Heavy -weight should not confuse you – it is still lighter than home dec fabric. Whatever you choose, your trial fabric should be tightly woven and be on grain to avoid distortion.

    • Bendigo_large

      Jul 12, 2011, 11.45 PMby emilybib

      I’ve had the same dilemma (matching garment fabric weight to the muslin) and I found the solution in using old curtains (not the bonded fabric) to make heavier muslins for tailored or suiting pieces. You can often get them at the Op Shop for next to nothing, particularly if they’re really ugly or faded, and you get enough to make a full dress or suit set of muslins, and then recut them for neat patterns, out of a pair of drapes.

    • This is a question
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