Sample-Making: Why do I do it?

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.)


I have no idea why the captions aren't spaced properly. They lined up nicely when I was composing the post. Ah, technology!
I grudgingly make a muslin here and there, but I acknowledge that it does make a difference in the final garment. Those last little tiny fit adjustments can be made so there isn't still a little bit of swayback, or a little too much fabric in the bust. You are dedicated!
Slapdash, I do think you have greater output than I do in a year and your have been sewing longer. If I were you, I probably wouldn't need to muslin as much, either.

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