Talking Toiles

Toile Close Up

Do you make pristine toiles (muslins in the US)? I don’t! I used to buy calico for my practice makes but I now figure, Why bother? I have lots of scrap fabric that needs to be used up. As long as my practice make uses fabric with similair qualities to the fashion fabric I’ll eventually use, I’ll cut up mens’ shirts, tablecloths, anything. The above is a charity shop cotton that, sadly, won’t quite lose that futzy smell. Shame, because I think that print is pretty adorable, don’t you?

I’ll use whatever thread is in the machine. As you can see, I don’t worry about a right and wrong side of fabric! Some of the construction techniques will be pretty basic. I will, however, always baste in a zip. To me, this feels like such a crucial part of the fitting process. And when you’re fitting yourself alone, you kinda need something to do up – can’t rely on pinning your dress between your own shoulder blades.


I’ll often only toile the bodice of a dress – the skirt sections usually require less fitting, for my figure at least. When I climb into my toile, I always have pins to hand for tweaks and adjustments…


So, why bother to make a toile? Well, as one Facebook friend (hello, Rehannon!) commented recently, our bodies are so uniquely 3D. If you can make a pattern straight out of the packet, with no fitting issues, you’re lucky. Though – ssshhhh – don’t tell anyone: sometimes I wing a loose-fitting make without practising first.

Do you have any toile tips? Anything you always do – or don’t! – do?

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60 Responses to Talking Toiles

  1. H says:

    The only time I made a toile the dress didn’t actually fit me that well, so haven’t bothered again. I wouldn’t dream of it if I was knitting a garment, and to me it feels the same with sewing. When I come to the more crucial parts of a sew then I try it on. I wonder if our parents/ fore-sewers made toiles?

  2. Depends on the project – if it’s a loose fitting make I often don’t toile, for most toiles I use recycled offcuts of old projects, scraps, and whatever is lying around. I do use new calico for complicated pattern cutting projects where it helps to be able to make marks on the fabric or thread-trace new lines etc. It’s really about choosing the right method for the project!

  3. Rachel says:

    I always toile. Even loose fitting clothes because I always have gaposis in the neckline. I love fitting – it is a puzzle to me. If I feel like a quick project I make something again – something I’ve previously toiled. I use a fabric similar to the ‘good’ fabric, but I never put in the zip – mostly because I have a husband who helps to fit me. I always put in both sleeves – I do this because sleeves really change the fit of a garment. I have no issues or frustration in always doing a toile – it’s a fun part of sewing – unless you’re sewing on a deadline!

  4. sew2pro says:

    I’ve found a project is quicker if take the time to make a toile but commercial patterns so often need so many adjustments that I make my own mostly.

    My latest toile was a very pretty, spotty bedsheet that my daughter had worn very thin in places. I don’t recommend worn cotton bedsheets as some parts were just too limp. But it smelt nice 🙂

  5. I’m definitely more of a ‘wearable muslin’ gal – I tend to make the full project in a similar but inexpensive material for the trial run and note any fitting tweaks as I go. Some of my favourite makes have been these practice projects! I always try things on as I’m making them anyway so I can change the fit along the way.

  6. I make toiles out of scraps from my stash or cheap fashion fabric which if everything goes right can pass off as a wearable garment. I only buy calico for more complex fit projects. For simple patterns I adjust as I go along.

  7. YX says:

    The only time I made a toile is for my wedding dress as I had to make sure everything else fits me. I was also experimenting with some alterations on my usual basic blocks for the design of the wedding dress.

  8. Marie says:

    Is this a cheeky Cambie, Karen? I just finished my first one ever and although I’m not 100% happy with the fit, I am slightly smitten!

    Anyway, I digress! I approach muslin-making exactly the same as you (usually using charity shop sheets) and I just pin my zip in instead of basting it in. I too only make the bodice, however, I’ve found that my muslin always seems pretty tight…yet the real thing comes our loser. Maybe the added weight of a skirt pulls things down and alters the fit slightly? I can’t figure it out for the life of me, but I’ve now learned not to panic when my muslin is slightly tight…it usually means the real thing will be spot on. Usually…

  9. jomuscat says:

    I am current using up various pieces of nursery print that I purchased and never got around to making into curtains/doona covers/quilts etc when my boys were little – they’re past that stage now – it can be pretty funny when you make up a “sophisticated” style and have teddy bears strategically placed on your front!

    I also throw in a zip – I usually just do it quick and dirty centred and on a basting stitch so that it can be ripped out when I am done and then re-used for the next one. I only toile skirts that are fitted over the hips. :))

  10. CarmencitaB says:

    You can get rid of that smell by rincing with vinegar.

  11. Meg Kundert says:

    I always toile woven garments typically using old sheets. I mark, I tear, I cut and pin. Pants require several iterations. One pair had one print on the front and on on the back which coincidentally made it easy to see if the side seam was straight. Sometimes after making a toile I will ditch the pattern if it’s not right for me.
    Knits are more difficult since the the amount of stretch can be so different. I compare the pattern to others I have fitted, and usually go the wearable toile route.

  12. creatievemie says:

    I only ever made a toile if it was a very difficult design,but recently I have had so many projects that didn’t turn out like I wanted them to.I made myself a promise to always make one if I’m trying out a new design.I still have a few yards of fabric I bought at Ikea that were meant as chaircovers but I never got round to make.I love the idea of reusing old sheets for toiles,that’s an idea when the Ikea fabric runs out.

  13. Anne W says:

    I always toile, I use what’s lying around or pop to the charity shop for curtains (the linings are good too) and old duvet covers. Once done they take a trip to the recycling centre, but some make it into a certain person’s wardrobe to wear in public!

  14. helen says:

    I don’t allays toile but when I do I have a load of Ikea cheap calico which I use. (I think I like to see an off white plain toile).
    I always insert a zipper using the biggest stitch on my machine so I can remove it easliy. I also draw on or stitch in contrast thread the centre front line, or any other lines I think I need, so I can see the balance is correct.
    I don’t normally bother with the skirt parts of dresses unless they are fitted over the hip.

  15. Julia says:

    So far I have made toiles for every pattern I have made, except for stretch knits. As I’m a bit of a newbie I find the toile stage is really useful for practising any tricky techniques, that way when I come to my nice fashion fabric I am less likely to have a disaster on my hands!

  16. Hello! I only make toiles in certain conditions (because, let’s be frank, they are a BORE, and NO FUN at all!!). For example, if the fashion fabric is very expensive and I have just enough of it that I cannot allow any mistake, or if the pattern is mine and a have doubts it will fit me. For comercial patterns, I would only use a toile in the first example, or if I have serious doubts about the piece flatering my figure or not. But all those are exeptions to the rule, because I avoid toiles if I can. To compensate that, my method (the traditional method my mother, granny, neighbours, and everybody around me uses) is more reliable than others I read about in the net. We always use tailor tucks to mark the pieces, leave generous seam allowances than can be used if the project is small or short, and always baste before fiting and machine sewing it. I believe it is the better way to construction of clothes. After all, toiles are no 100% reliable: differnet fabric, no interfacing, no lining.

  17. i always toile for wovens and look out for cheap bedsheets/ tablecloths in charity shops which work really well. i have heard of people using those cheap plastic tablecloths too. i’m trying to use nicer fabric for my makes, and so i like to toile so that i don’t waste it! normally only the bodice tho, rarely the skirt unless it is very fitted. for knits i don’t bother. i can never find cheap enough knits to make it worthwhile, and if you don’t have exactly the same amount of stretch it doesn’t work well. luckily knits are forgiving!

  18. I don’t always make a toile and sometimes I think I should haha, but I try to avoid it (because it takes time, I’m so lazy) and do it only if I feel that the pattern is too complicated or I don’t want to ruin the fabric. I do baste though some of the garment before I sew it with the sewing machine. And yes when I do toile, I use whatever I can find 🙂

  19. Aussiegirl says:

    Oh, goodness me, I feel like I must be the lazy one. I’ve never “toiled” (just invented a new word!) but I do try on regularly during the construction process. I also cut a little extra around the hips (groan) if it’s a slim fitting skirt in case I need the extra ease. HOWEVER, I’m considering sewing trousers sometime soon so perhaps I will join the Toile Society then!

    • senjiva says:

      For trousers, I like to cut a toile just to the knee to resolve the fit issues. You can then fix any additional leg length/width issues in the real fabric.

  20. heathermltn says:

    I’m like Julia. I’ve just started sewing and really every technique is new, so any additional practice is welcomed. Also, I’ve found that my approach to pattern buying is so different then what attracts me to off the rack garments. Where as with off the rack, I usually go for the same basic tried and true shapes, with patterns anything goes! So before I cut into a nicer fabric, sometimes I need to make the pattern in a toile just to see if the style looks good on me.

  21. I’ve found that I make toiles when I think I like the pattern but secretly something in my heart knows the shape won’t suit. Lucky really as this way I make the pattern up as per the bee in my bonnet but don’t waste nice fabric on something I’ll never wear!

  22. Nakisha says:

    I rarely muslin. Every time I have made a muslin, the final project got put off for months. I just don’t want to do the same thing back to back. I take flat pattern measurements, I tissue fit and I go for it. Some have turned into ‘wearable muslins’…and some were wadders…but it usually works out!

  23. jane says:

    Am I alone in finding that if I make a toile the pattern fits out of the envelope, when I cast caution to the wind and cut straight into my “good” fabric I end up fiddling around and bitterly regretting my haste?

  24. Clio says:

    I toile/muslin pretty regularly, especially for fitted garments or if I am using a fabric that I love and couldn’t replace. It’s helped me rise above the fear of cutting into too-good-to-use fabrics. If I feel like I know what I am doing/that it will fit and don’t need to muslin, I’ll sew up the lining of a garment first as a quick check of the fit – more than once I’ve been VERY glad I did this!

  25. Katie M says:

    I have never made a toile in the past, but I just did two tops recently. The first was a self drafted top, and I started with the basic bodice block, and then used pins and markers to work out where I wanted to adjust the pattern. This worked really well for me, and final top looked how I wanted it to. The second was for a Japanese dress pattern I was sewing. The pattern sizes are quite different to western patterns, so I wanted to make sure the bodice fit properly before I cut my expensive Liberty fabric.

    • Katie M says:

      I meant to say I made two calico toiles recently. I think I’m going to keep my eye out for some sheets and tablecloths, next time I’m at the charity shop. Most of the charity shops around me seem pretty posh, so I’m not sure I’ll be picking up any bargains.

  26. Glad to have sparked all this chatter 🙂 I too like your fabric. It’s beyond cheerful. I can’t even tell you how many toiles up I’m up to with my current make. I’ve just told myself though once it’s done I will make several and they will make my body sing.

  27. Jen (NY) says:

    I’m usually a tissue fitter. There are exceptions, like my ongoing quest for decent fitting pants. I’ve used $1 yard discount fabric from a local shop, but also, online purchases that were not quite right. (Recently, a ponte print that looked great on my computer screen, but is too thin, too scratchy, and the print looks too much like snail trails – I’d never wear it, so no point in saving it). I recently made a toile/muslin for a knit dress with unusual bodice seaming and glad I did. It told me that the style was totally wrong for my short-waisted-FBA self. Saved me from wasting a much nicer piece of ponte!

  28. Kat says:

    Yeah, I’m one of those who uses calico *blush*! I used to use sheets from the charity shop and they often work just as well! I guess I use calico because I write ALL over them with permanent marker and I like to see my markings. Anywho, doesn’t matter – everyone should do what works for them! I totally agree about making toiles though, I’ve saved myself so much fabric and heartache by making a toile first BEFORE I discover I hate the design or it will never fit! Great post.

  29. I always toile a new trouser pattern. I know from bitter experience there is no shortcut for me with these. I have toiled ( is this a word?) jackets and coats because there is so much work in tailoring them that it is pointless leaving out this stage. Actually the only time I failed to do this resulted in a jacket I wore once and never again.

  30. Maga says:

    To toil or not to toil over a toile – hm? I almost always do. I use calico of the correct weight if I doubt the pattern will fit at all. I use a cheap but correct weight of fabric if I think I will have few alterations to the pattern and I can then wear the toile as a garment. I always, always put a zip into the toile if one is needed in the pattern. I will reuse the zip several times over until it is worn out because I have learnt that it pays of to do so for me.
    Good post as always and the comments are always interesting. We are all so different in our approach to our commen goal – making great fitting garments 🙂

  31. I always make a muslin first, for fitting and then to work out the construction process. I can mark on it and not worry about ruining it, and I don’t waste a good piece of fabric if it turns out to be a poor design.

  32. Kirsty says:

    Hiiiii, i know it’s not an answer to your question, but I buy lots of stuff at charity shops – and have a tip for when you can’t get rid of the smell. I add a few drops of pure lavender or t tree oil to the wash – and this removes the fusty smell 🙂 I bung it straight in the machine with the powder. Works a treat 🙂

  33. Sewer from across the Pond says:

    I always make a muslin (we use “toile”, too, but that’s more common for couture clothing). I use clean muslin that I buy in bulk because it’s more more pleasant to work with, less distracting, and is consistent in quality. I always mark mine up with wax paper (I only use tracing paper on muslin) and pencil.

  34. Stephanie says:

    I do exactly what you do! I put in a zip too. Shoddily, but who cares. Shoddy zipper insertions only take seconds 🙂

  35. Emmely says:

    I always use waxed tracing paper to add vertical (parallel to the straight of grainline) and horizontal lines to the pattern pieces that help me to see where the fitting issues are.

  36. SarahStar says:

    I’m definitely in the ‘charity shop bedlinen’ school when it comes to toile fabric! I go for white or light coloured cotton, that way if it works out as a ‘wearable’ I can dye/print/paint it any colour I like, and if not I can always use the bits for lining bags, cushions, etc. Either way the charity shop gets a few quid, what’s not to love?!
    Back when I had a ‘standard’ figure I never bothered to make toiles, but I now find with all my middle-aged lumps and bumps in different places, I really want to make sure I’m going to get something that fits nicely and that I’ll wear before I cut into my scrummy fabric and put all those hours in! Especially true when you’re using a vintage fabric – I feel I owe it a good sew!

  37. Jo-Ann says:

    I’ve just started dressmaking and I’ve made a toile for a dress bodice – I’m glad I have as the first one was way too short for my body – Its hard to measure yourself. I made a skirt the other week and didn’t make a toile – I wish I has as it doesn’t sit right on my waist – which was a waste of fabric. I like the idea of using recycled fabric – I will have to start buying cheap sheets!

  38. Melanie says:

    I mostly use my husband’s old shirts, though I always seem to have a large stash of old curtains on hand. (Where do they come from??) I only do muslins (Canadian here) for woven fabrics, though. Knits always seem to turn out okay.
    My favourite tip for muslins is to use up all the partially-filled bobbins of strange and random colours from previous projects. It makes for an interesting inside of a garment, especially when it turns into a wearable muslin, and bobbins are a limited resource — I never have enough empty ones!

  39. Sharyn says:

    Also soaking with baking soda for a few hours can remove that charity shop fusty smell.

  40. When I am making corsets I always make a toile up as I use my own patterns, usually from a lot of measurements, but hey we all carry our weight in different ways so it pays to be sure. I am just starting to use them for me as I have a lot of fitting issues (the FBA from hell) and have bought in a few different weights of calico to try to match with my fabric before I hack into the good stuff. I have lots of charity shop sheets too acquired for the purpose but they have funky patterns on so they might just have to go into the wearable muslin pile.

  41. When I’m making a muslin/toile I’m usually using plain ol’ white muslin, and I have the hardest time remembering which is right side and wrong. I’ll often just straight up right on the muslin RS, to keep a bit of my sanity! Not that it really matters if some of it is wrong or right side out, but it does save your sanity when you realize your darts are on the outside yet again…

  42. Pat says:

    I agree with Julia that muslins help with complicated/unfamiliar things in a new pattern. I usually use sold sheets. My family knows to pass them down to me. I just made a muslin of a 1949 pattern. I wasn’t happy with the fit of the bodice so I muslined the skirt and put it together. Sure enough, the weight of the skirt worked magic with the bodice and everything was fine except for a few minor tweaks of the pattern. For looser tops or skirts I generally don’t do a muslin.

  43. redbarngirl says:

    I am one of those rare people who actually fit the measurements of most sewing patterns, but even still I usually make a muslin of whatever it is I am making. However, I always use fabrics that I can either wear or can become a lining for my project. I also try everything on each time I sew a seam and make the necessary adjustments. Also, yes, do the vinegar thing. Works wonders every time.

  44. I always make a toile too. I have a bolt of dirt cheap calico I bought from Ikea for the purpose. I find a plain fabric is easier because I like to mark my toile with an indelible pen so I can see where I have made adjustments

  45. Rachel says:

    I toile just like you – usually only the bodice, with whatever fabric I have lying around (I’ve picked up a bunch of cheap sheets for the purpose) and scraps of thread. I usually just baste all the seams. Maybe one day I’ll know the changes I need to make and can dive in without the toile, but for now, it’s invaluable for tops and dresses.

  46. Niki says:

    After reading this post and the comments I was inspired to raid local charity shops for bed sheets. I’m now looking forward to making a (hopefully) wearable toile of a Sewaholic Saltspring dress from a lovely bubblegum pink duvet cover!

  47. kristonlion says:

    I’ve only made one muslin that didn’t turn into a wearable muslin. this was really made out of a nasty brown sheet. I plan on buying some expensive fabric so that’s why I muslin’d. I think any fabric under $10/yard I won’t be too fussy about. I just keep ripping apart/ripping apart until I get it right 🙂

  48. Caroline says:

    I rarely make a toile these days but have just made one for a new dress pattern. It’s gingham and floral, and partly inside out! If I do toile I tend to use whatever is in stock and of a similar weight. Love your blog! 🙂

  49. Gaenor says:

    Reading all this made me chuckle! Not because of the “to toile, or not to toile” issue (I’ll toile if it’s a new pattern), but because I use the charity shop sheets/duvets to make actual clothes from, not just the rough version! 🙂

  50. symondezyn says:

    I have never once bought actual calico/muslin! LOL I only muslin my bodices, and I use charity shop sheets, so I know what you mean about that funny smell haha ^__^ No finishing, no facings, etc. And whatever thread/needle is in the machine is fine. It’s kind of fun to sew with no rules – that bodice gets whipped up pretty darn fast, lemme tell ya! (unless I have to do several for fitting purposes) LOL

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