Toiles, Muslins & Mock-Ups
What is a toile?
A ‘toile’ (pronounced ‘twahl’) is basically a practice version of the garment you plan to sew. Toiles can also be referred to as muslins or mock-ups.
Toiles are usually not neatly finished or hemmed like the actual garment would be, and they are made from cheap fabric. Often some parts of the pattern are not included at all in the toile if they are straightforward and/or don’t need to be fitted to a person’s individual measurements (e.g. a collar or any kind of embellishment like ruffles). You also don’t need to add elements like linings or facings to a toile either, which saves you more time. A toile is only the prototype after all; not the finished article.
Photo of a blouse muslin by Sasha Werner.
Why would I make one?
Toiles are either tried on by the person who will wear the finished garment, or they are placed onto a dress form in their size; thus giving you the chance to see exactly how the pattern fits on the body.
This allows you to preview the finished garment and make alterations (such as shortening sleeves, making an area looser/tighter, or moving the positions of darts) where necessary. Making these changes on the toile ensures that you will create a perfect fit when you move on to sewing the final ‘real’ version.
Making the final garment should be a much smoother process if you have made a toile beforehand, and the fit should be exactly as you want it without requiring any further alterations.
When would I make one?
Making a toile is optional, but you may find them useful to make if:
- You are a beginner to dressmaking; creating your chosen pattern in cheap material as a trial run lets you practice all of the techniques involved in the construction, which can really help with confidence. Practice makes perfect after all :)
I know that I find it really hard to get started on making a garment using a pattern because I’m worried about making mistakes and wasting my (beloved!) fabric, so making a toile allows me the freedom to ‘mess up’ my first attempt without worrying about it
- You are creating your own pattern from scratch or altering an existing pattern in a major way. In these cases, you may need to make more than one toile until you get the fit just right, because you’ll likely need to make more dramatic changes rather than slight ‘tweaks’. You can visualise your design idea in the flesh with a toile, rather than just sketching it out on paper.
Photo of a dress toile by WCK.
- You have unusual proportions, and therefore standard pattern sizes often don’t fit very well. A size 12 piece of clothing, for example, is not going to fit every size 12 woman equally well, because every human body is a little bit different.
If you have made fitted patterns for yourself before you will probably know already if the standard measurements used for sewing patterns are a good fit for you, or if you usually need to make a specific adjustment like lengthening the sleeves or reducing the bust area. If you have ‘standard’ proportions, a toile may not be necessary.
- You are planning on making a garment out of a particularly expensive fabric and you need a practice run to ease your nerves!
- You are making a tight fitting design, where the fit is obviously very important. Toiles are mostly unnecessary for a loose fitting garment.
- You are making a garment with complicated details and techniques you haven’t tried before. A toile will allow you to learn-as-you-go without worrying about costly mistakes.
Whether or not you make a toile is purely based on your personal preference and what you are most comfortable with; if you don't want to make a toile, you don't have to!
Just as a side note, ‘tissue fitting’ is a method that has the same basic purpose as a toile does - to check the 'fit' of the garment - and is sometimes done even before making the toile; as the very first step in getting the perfect fit. Click here to learn more about tissue fitting..
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What material should I use to make it?
Traditionally, toiles are made in muslin material, hence why toiles are sometimes referred to as ‘muslins’. Using muslin in not necessary though, and any suitable cheap material can be used…emphasis on cheap!
How do you know if a fabric is suitable for a toile? Well, firstly the toile fabric should have similar properties to the material you will be using for the actual garment itself. So, if the final garment will be sewn from a stretchy knit fabric then use a stretchy knit fabric for the toile; if it will be made from a thin woven fabric, use a similar type and weight for the toile, and so on. The quality of the fabric used for a toile is not important.
The material you choose should also be plain and light in colour, so that you aren’t distracted by the pattern design, but instead can 100% focus on the form and fit. Also, plain fabric means you can draw lines, mark out adjustments or write easily onto the toile if you need to, and you can easily see where you have stuck pins in the fabric. A cream or white colour is usually chosen for toile materials. Calico is a common fabric choice for these reasons - it’s a plain light colour, easy to mark, easy to get hold of, and inexpensive - but only choose this if the fabric for your final garment will be a similar material.
If you want to make a proper ‘prototype’, you can use the fabric you will be using for ‘the real thing’….if you don’t mind using it for a test run of course. Using this fabric will give the most realistic idea of how it will look when the final garment is complete, and could be a good choice if the fabric you’ve chosen is cheap anyway and you have plenty of it.
Whatever toile fabric you use, make sure it is wrinkle and crease free before you use it.
Amazing wedding dress toiles by Felt Mistress.
A couple more advantages to making a toile are:
- Once you have created the toile and adjusted the pattern accordingly, you now have a perfectly tailored garment pattern which you can use again and again. This is handy if you want to make multiples of a design…perhaps you want to make your favourite dress pattern in a range of different colours and fabrics?
Just label and store all of the toile pattern pieces until required. You could build up a collection of favourite patterns this way, which you know work well (as long as you don’t lose/gain much weight in the meantime!)
- After making a toile, the time you spend sewing the final garment should be less than it would otherwise have been, and the process should be more efficient because you’ve already sorted out any issues with the pattern. You could also use the adjusted pattern as a base for a design of your own e.g. if the pattern is for a sleeveless full-length dress, you could try and add sleeves next time, or make it into a mini dress. A toile that you know fits you perfectly is a valuable thing.
Video: Why You Need to Make a Muslin
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