Sample-Making: Why do I do it?

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Last week a local friend of mine who used to sew regularly asked me why I make samples for so many of my projects. She isn't the only person locally who has questioned me on this. One friend, in fact, told me he thought making a sample was silly since I spent double the amount of time for a single garment!

 Muslin of Peter's R2-D2 hat.

These comments always catch me off guard, immersed as I am in the sewing blogger world. Many of the bloggers I read make a muslin (or a sample) for any project that has a new and possibly unknown variable. Trying a new style of garment? Working with an unfamiliar fabric? Trying a new sewing technique? Making something for someone else? All good reasons to make a quick sample. It doesn't have to be pretty and it doesn't have to take long.

Muslin of that waterfall cardigan everyone was making a couple of years ago.

The main reason that I make muslins is because my body only vaguely resembles the model that pattern designers use. Some garments that just don't look right on my body, even when they fit properly. While I am mastering the sewing techniques, being able to envision how a garment might look is a different skill set altogether. Making a sample helps there.

Muslin of my Cruella DeVil coat.

Another thing that is important to me is scale. I am considerably smaller than the model used by pattern designers. Not only am I short, but I am technically petite, proportionally smaller torso, legs, arms, etc. (of course, my hands, feet, and head are all large, but you can't win at everything!). Even with kids' clothes, proportion is important. I make a fair number of kids' clothes and I don't want my kids to be swallowed up in fabric.

Muslins of a nightgown and my non-standard body.

Muslin of the cocktail dress I wore to a good friend's wedding.

There are some folks that say you should make a muslin out of the cheapest fabric you can find that shares the same qualities as the fabric you plan to use to make your final garment. There are other folks that say this is a wasteful use of fabric. They feel that you should do a fair bit of tissue-fitting and make wearable muslins. I think I fall somewhere between.

Muslin of a vintage princess seamed dress with a neckline electronically drawn in.

I have discovered that faded old sheets from a thrift store make excellent muslin material for most anything woven. Inexpensive and plentiful. At one point, during a great sale, I purchased several meters of a cheap jersey to use as muslin for knitwear. I have used it up here and there, but have yet to replace it. To decrease the cost further, I reuse pieces from old muslins. I have occasionally used the muslin itself in the finished garment. The muslin of the R2-D2 hat became the base upon which the rest of the hat was constructed. I made a dress for one of my daughters and used the muslin as an underlining to give added warmth.

 Muslin of a pull-over woven shirt.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of muslins I've made primarily to test out a pattern and find out its quirks. But this is a worthy use of sample-making as well. I made a lined vest/waistcoat for a friend and timed myself. Imagine my surprise to find out that the construction of the vest took me two hours, but easily half of that time was spent on the two welt pockets! Thankfully everything went a bit quicker for the final garment.

Muslin of shorts with front fly and yoke pockets.

Making a sample does take time, but it can be a real confidence booster! Above you see my very first efforts at making a fly. It went so much more easily than I could ever have imagined. I would have been incredibly nervous to make my first go at it with the final fabric. The other great advantage is that if the garment ends up being well-loved, then it should be no trouble at all to make another given all that you learned previously! (Well, at least for those recipients who have the decency to not grow between makes.)

High-waist Full Skirt

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Two posts in two days! Crazy!

Long, long ago, during the summer of our house renovations, I started a dress. The Monique Dress by Serendipity Studios. I added a lining, altered the neckline, made my own piping, blogged about my excitement here and my problem-solving success here. Then I tried it on to mark the zipper placement. Oh, woe. So it sat in a drawer. For two years.

Two years.

Finally, this year I took it apart. I decided that I really liked the skirt portion. And that's what it became. A high-waisted full skirt: Pardon the headless shot - couldn't get decent-looking hair and a nice expression working with the self-timer feature.

And it's pretty good! The waist band is a little snug and gets pretty hot on a warm day, but overall, it's a good, useful skirt. I installed the zipper so that it was exposed, but I am thinking that this feature is kind-of lost on the full skirt - not to mention that a zipper shield would have been nice! The other problem is that the zipper comes undone a bit while wearing. I added a tab and button to the inside to keep it together, but this only prevents it from falling off - the zipper keeps sinking anyway.

I'm glad to have the UFO out of my drawer and something useful hanging in my closet instead!

Kid Shorts! Burda 04-2009-137

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I am super excited about this, folks. In fact I was so excited that I forgot that I hadn't blogged it. Ha!

Those of you who know me in real life know that my middle child is incredibly slender. She is about average height for a seven-year-old, but about as big around as your average three- or four-year-old. This makes buying pants tricky for her. Even that buttonhole elastic thing doesn't help, there's always too much fabric ballooning in the other places.

Also, one of my goals is to learn to make my own jeans, but I've never made anything with a fly front before. Somehow all of this added up to making Lucy a pair of shorts using Burda 04-2009-137.

OK, so I know that this isn't the best photo for details, but there's more! I traced the pattern in a size 98 for width and size 122 for length. I did make a muslin out of old sheets:

Here's the muslin without a zipper in the fly. The back fit pretty smoothly over her bum (I do think I had to make those back darts a bit snugger). The waist fits, but there is too much fabric right below. There is a front pleat, so what I tried was taking all of the pleat fabric out entirely:

Here's the muslin with a test fly and one leg cuffed. The red lines show where I removed the excess fabric. It worked! look how much better the shorts look in the front!

Encouraged by this, I dived into making the shorts out of the patchwork madras. Inspired by my new David Coffin Page Trousers book, I extended the side yoke with pocket to make a fly shield and, as I was short on patchwork, I made that piece out of a solid coordinating fabric. I left off the rear pockets.

The pattern wasn't without it's confusions, however. I recall sending off an email to Cidell, Trena, and Steph asking for help interpreting Burda's directions for cutting the waistband. I always second-guess myself when it comes to those rectagular pieces that they give measurements for. So confusing! The other problem came when attaching the waistband - somehow I stretched the shorts and ended up with a waistband that was a smidge too large! Aaack!

I just cut open the inner waistband, ran some wide elastic through it, and stitched the elastic in place (and closed the cut opening with a closely-spaced, wide zig zag. This does show on the front, but only if you are looking for it. And really, what seven-year-old sits still long enough for you to find flaws in her home-made clothes?

What's more exciting is that I am thinking that I could extend the leg length on this pattern and make jeans! Lucy has never had a pair of jeans that fit! Hooray!