Lady Grey and Muslin Tweaking

The first time I made a “muslin” out of muslin, the project went awry. I was making a coat out of Chinese silk brocade. In muslin, the pattern behaved badly and I kept fitting and re-fitting the sleeves, cutting and re-cutting the muslin, until I realized that in silk the thing would have draped and fit quite perfectly the first time around.

I’ll pause here for my non-sewing readers who might ask, what the heck is a muslin?

Muslin: a term used varyingly by dressmakers to refer either to a testing/fitting garment or the actual fabric. Muslin is a cheap, often unbleached, cotton fabric. Geeky writerly explanation: using it in the former manner is synecdoche, a metaphor in which a part of a whole represents the whole. I think English dressmakers call the test garment “toile”, and the cotton fabric used to make it “calico”. I kinda like the distinction. Oh, and ‘muslin’ was an older colonial word for ‘muslim’, since the origin of the textile and clothing made from it came from ‘muslin’ traders. (Just as denim comes “from Nimes” — “de Nîmes”.) I just love etymology.

Some people can get a great fit out of simply fitting the pattern tissue to their bodies. But for me, muslin fabric isn’t much better than paper. I have discovered that some things deceptively fit in muslin and don’t at all in another fabric. It depends on one’s end goals and need for precision in either fit or style.

Several years ago, I visited the Antwerp ModeMuseum after the students at the Antwerp Fashion Academy had put on their end of the year show. The entire first floor was filled with first-year student work in muslin. It was mind-blowing how much detail and design could come out of such simple fabric. So I understand its use–it’s cheap and it’s everyman and it’s a starting block.

But I’ve not been happy with using it for a test garment. I’m spoiled by the notion that I’ll get a better pattern if I get closer to a “prototype” than a “muslin”. (You might want to read this over at Fashion Incubator: Muslin, “muslins” & protos.)

I am using a very drapey linen-blend fabric for my “muslin” of the Lady Grey coat, since my final fabric is also quite drapey. The overall fit is quite good but it needs some tweaking to give it more structure and shape.

The first thing I can see, that I may not have seen in a stiffer fabric, is that the lapel drops and flops around. It also needs to be taken in quite a bit across the chest. This pattern was made for a bigger bust than I have.

The second problem is with the sleeve cap. There is way too much ease in it. Normally, one is supposed to loosely stitch (baste) the top of the sleeve and then pull the basting to get the sleeve cap to fit inside the armhole. There’s also a lot of pinning involved to get this right and avoid puckering. I really hate doing all this and am convinced there’s a better way to get that sleeve to fit. I may write more on that later.

In the meantime, I finally chose a lining fabric and it arrived just yesterday. I went back and forth over whether or not to do a print lining, but in the end I think the less busy the better. Still, just an ivory or matching coral lining would’ve been boring, dontcha think?


  1. Kendra Barrow says:

    Well, look at you, girlfriend! I remember you said you were doing a blog but I had no idea. This is such a fun idea! I’ve had dreams before about you and fabrics and colors. I remember a see through fabric made of indigo blue that was to die for.

    • Amy says:

      Hey girl! I’m having fun writing away here. Some day you will have to tell me those dreams again. All this stuff with me and fabrics is so active right now.

  2. Jane Mickelborough says:

    Hi Amy, I’m Fran’s mum.
    Probably too late now, but I often find that patterns are too wide across the back from sleeve hole to sleeve hole, and if you cut the sleeve hole itself a bit deeper at the back the sleeve fits better and avoids the vertical pucker that you have from the top of the sleeve cap in your photo!
    I have a book called Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear, by Winifred Aldrich, which is really useful for cutting and modifying patterns.
    regards, Jane

    • Amy says:

      Hi Jane! Nice to see you here. 😉 And how wonderful to have some more sewing wisdom. I need all I can get!

      I have heard about that book by Winifred Aldrich–I just might have to get it. I have some fitting pattern books but none of them helped with that puckering. I think I solved the problem in the end by adding a sleeve-head to the sleeve cap, which just lifted the sleeve up a bit–almost like a shoulder pad effect. I’m almost finished with my coat, but I think I’m going to try making a blazer jacket out of some thicker/more stable fabric later this winter and I might try your suggestion on that.

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