Laurens Top Tips on making a toile when dressmaking

Your burning questions answered!

When sewing your own clothes from dressmaking patterns, the term ‘making a toile’ might come up from time to time. Whether you are a seasoned dressmaker or just starting out you might have some questions around this mystifying topic that I hope to shed some light on for you in this article.

If you’d rather hear me chat about this topic, check out my latest Youtube video below, or read on for written notes and a summary of the advice I have to share to help you in your dressmaking journey.

What is a toile?

First of all let’s cover the basics and address what we are referring to when we say toile.

A toile is a version of a sewing pattern that you make in order to check the size and fitting of the garment before you cut into your final intended fabric for the project.

It can also be referred to as a muslin and the terms toile and muslin can sometimes be used interchangeably.

You can break a toile into two broader categories:

A wearable toile

This is a practise version of a garment that is made when you think you will need to correct or adjust the fit, bit not to the extent that it would make this practice version unwearable.

You would make it with the mindset that it might not be perfect or completely as you had envisioned or planned but it would still be good enough to wear and use as a finished garment.

In this situation you would be finishing off the garment as you normally would in order for it to be wearable for you. So for example, finishing off seam allowances, using a regular stitch length to sew the seams and hemming the garment.

A true toile

This is a practise version of the garment that is purely made so that you can assess for fit and adjustments needed. Once you have worked out what information you need from the toile in order to adapt your sewing pattern, the true toile isn’t needed anymore and can be discarded, recycled or kept for reference for future projects.

In this situation you do not necessarily need to cut out all of the pieces of the garment, for example the facings. You can use a longer stitch length to make sewing the seams quicker and easier to unpick should you need to and there is also no need to finish off the seam allowances as it won’t even be worn and washed as a finished item of clothing.

Should I make a toile?

This is never a one answer fits all situations here and if you read around there are also differing opinions on this topic!

I feel that the way you answer this question will be personal to you and these are some of the things you should take into consideration when making this decision for yourself.

  • How much sewing experience or how confident do I feel about my sewing skills? It may be that you want to make a ‘wearable’ toile in the first instance as you are trying out new sewing techniques that you haven’t tried before so you simply just want to practice the construction of the garment and actually it’s less about fit and more about learning new skills.
  • How much will I care if the final garment isn’t perfect and could be improved on fit? Or how precious is the fabric I want to use for the final garment?Consider this one carefully and don’t be hard on yourself here. I promise that no one is going to pick holes in your handmade clothes (no pun intended!) and criticize it! They will just be so amazed that you actually made something! So let go of those self imposed high standards and embrace the learning process. Sewing is fun!
  • How much time do I have to spend on my sewing hobby? If you are short on time, making a toile can be a bit of a creative blow out. I’d refer you to the question above and ensure your own standards and expectations aren’t unrealistically high. We aren’t going for couture here (well you might be in which case that’s another discussion), we are going for having fun, learning new things and having an item of clothing that you feel proud of for whatever reason at the end. Even if the garment isn’t wearable, that reason might be that you worked with a new fabric for the first time, or tried a new technique for the first time.
  • How well do shop bought clothes fit me? If you find that regularly the clothes you try on or buy in the shops don’t really fit that well then it could be a sign that you need to work on identifying certain alterations that work for you that you can apply to the sewing patterns you work with. Perhaps it’s that things always seem long or short in the body, or that things fit over the bust but not the hips or vice versa.
  • Is this a ‘new to me’ pattern company I am working with? Every pattern company will have their own unique ‘blocks’ or starting points that all of the patterns are designed and graded from. This is why you might find that some pattern companies seem to suit you better than others with less alterations or tweaks. If you are working with a new pattern company and are finding that your measurements are spanning several sizes then it could be a sign that making a toile first is a good idea.
  • Is the garment very fitted? If you are making a very fitted or sculpted garment that doesn’t have much give in it, then making a toile first could be a good idea, again if you are spanning several sizes or have known alternations that you commonly do.
  • What type of fabric will the finished garment be made from? If you are making a garment that is made from stretch fabric, this type of fabric is typically much more forgiving in the fitting department so even if the fit isn’t spot on what you want it to be, you can still have a garment that is totally wearable and acceptable without making a ture toile first.
  • Am I falling in between several sizes on the pattern? This in itself isn’t an indication that you need to make a toile as in the vast majority of cases people do fall over several sizes. I would refer you back to my article about choosing a size that introduces this topic as if you consider positive and negative ease from the finished garment measurements chart it may be that a simple blending of sizes at the side seams is enough to get a better fit without the need for a toile to check.
  • Are there any alterations that I suspect I’ll need to make such as a bust adjustment or shoulder adjustment? If you suspect that you might need to make a lot of changes to a pattern, for example a bust adjustment along with shortening a bodice and merging to a different size at the hips then making a toile might be a good idea as you are making a lot of changes to a pattern.

    All of these questions will need to be considered on balance against each other and will likely change for each project you make as well. So just because you sometimes make a toile, does not mean to say you always have to do it and vice versa!

    If you are interested, I personally rarely make a toile. I am lucky in that typically I fall only between two or sometimes 3 sizes and changing the seam allowance at the side seams or center back is often enough of an adjustment for me to get a fit I am happy with. Most of the time this works out fine, sometimes I get something that I’m not 100% happy with and I think, well if I made it again I would do XYZ, but that’s just me. Everyone is different so do make a decision that feels right for you in the situation you feel you are in, using the questions above as food for thought and prompts to help you.

What type of fabric should I use to make a toile?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked in relation to making a toile and the answer again is not a straight forward one…….it depends!

It depends on whether you are making a 'wearable' or 'true toile' but either way, to get the best representation of what your garment will look and fit like in the final intended fabric is to use a fabric that is as close as possible or the same in terms of thickness/weight of fabric and the way it behaves.

Sometimes this might not be completely possible, in which case you have to use a different fabric along with your imagination to get an idea of what the final garment will be like.

Traditionally toiles are made in cotton calico fabric
as they are used for fitting and design purposes, not for ever wearing as a finished garment. This plain fabric is typically cheaper than a fabric you would be making your final garment from. Its plain nature allows you to more easily see what is happening with the garment when its on a body and it can easily be marked or written on when alternations are identified.

The main thing to consider when using calico fabric for making a toile is that it is quite stiff and holds it shape well, so depending on what you are making this could either aid or hinder your impression of what the finished garment might look like. If you are making a coat out of a fairly thick or stiff woolen fabric for example, then making a toile from calico is probably going to give you a pretty good idea of how the coat will hang and fit.

You could even use an old bed sheet or look for some fabric in a charity shop. It's a much cheaper was to make a true toile if it is purely fit or techniques that you are checking.

However, if you are making a floaty blousy dress out of a drapey viscose or rayon fabric, making a toile out of calico won’t give a great impression of the final garment because calico and viscose behave and hang so differently.

You could look for a cheaper alternative of your final chosen fabric to make a toile. For example polyester fabrics tend to drape and move in a very similar way to viscose/rayon/tencel but are usually cheaper as it is a synthetic fiber. We also have some plain woven viscose fabrics that cheaper than the printed ones that are suitable for making a toile and will give you more of an idea of how a garment will hang and look made in this type of fabric.

If you are making jeans for example, then looking for a cheaper denim could also be an option. We also usually have a selection of 'remnants/bolt ends' if denim fabric that are reduced too.

Just bear in mind that all denim will behave slightly differently and if there is an elastane component to the fabric, giving it stretch, the physical amount of stretch will still vary fabric to fabric. Therefore, making a toile will only get you part of the way there on achieving fit, the rest of the journey will need to be done by trying on and adapting the fit of the final garment as you construct it.

How to construct a toile

If you are making a wearable toile, then you will be following the instructions that come along with your sewing pattern and during the construction process you will be trying on the garment to check the fit. It might be that you realise that you need to alter the seam allowances in certain places, adapt the shape of the neckline or change the hem length. These types of alterations are easy to do as you go along and may be things you then want to transfer onto your paper pattern for your next version of the garment. Or the tweaks might be minimal and won’t necessarily affect how you cut out your final version.

If you are making a true toile
then you can skip some stages of construction and don’t necessarily need to complete the whole project with your practise fabric.

  • Take the example of a lined coat, there is unlikely to be a need to construct the whole coat with its facings and lining. You should be able to gauge the size and fit by just constructing the outer shell of the coat.
  • There is no real need to finish off seam allowances or stitch in hems - you could just press the hem allowance back and pin it in place so you can see where the finished hem length is.
  • You could use a long stitch length to sew the seams. This will make the process quicker and also easier to unpick the stitches should you need to in order to make adaptions or tweaks to the pattern.

How to identify adjustments needed to a toile

As you are constructing your toile and once it’s finished you can start to analyse how it looks.

Before I go into more depth on this, I think it’s worth mentioning that there is such a thing as over fitting clothes and over analyzing them.

Remember you are a 3D living, breathing, moving person that needs to be able to move around in your clothes! Depending on how you stand along with your posture and positioning can make a big difference to how a garment hangs on you.

Instead of just standing still in front of a mirror and looking at the garment on your body, which is useful, but not on its own, instead move around. Sit down. Bend over. Pick up your hand bag and put it on your shoulder if that’s what you intend to do. Walk around a bit, reach up, reach forward and then see what the garment is doing.

Ask yourself…

  • Does it feel comfortable to do the things I want to while wearing this garment?
  • Now that I have moved around, what is the garment doing?
  • Is it hanging as I want it to?
  • Are there any creases or drag lines anywhere?
  • Does it feel restrictive or just too big and loose in any place?

How to make adjustments and transfer them from a toile to your sewing pattern

This section on its own is a pretty huge area that lies on a spectrum of small and simple adjustments to more in depth ones. Either way, the crux of making adjustments can be a trial and error situation.

Simple adjustments

Side seams

For example, you might decide that the garment looks too big in certain places, so you then increase the seam allowance in order to take the garment in. You can do this by trying on the garment inside out, standing in front of a mirror, pinching in the side seams and pinning them to the new seam allowance. You then go and sew this on the machine and try the garment on again. You might then realise that having the garment this fitted means its harder to get on and off and when you move around it just feels too restrictive. So you go back and make the seam allowance a bit smaller again in order to make the garment bigger.

Depending on how much you alter the seam allowance here will depend on whether you even want to transfer this adjustment to your pattern before you make your final version. You might think, ok I am going to be XYZ size but I know when I sew the side seam I just need to use a 1cm seam allowance over the waist and then 2cm seam allowance at the hip for example. You don't necessarily need to adjust the pattern to reflect this, you can just make a note a remember to alter that amount as you sew the seam.


This is another adjustment that you can easily change and identify at the toile stage. You might this this is way too long or way to short, so in order to get the most out of my fabric when I made my final version, I’ll just the shorten/length line on the pattern to adapt the length.

Neckline position

You might realise the neck line is either too high or too low when you make the toile. You can measure along the centre front of the garment by how much height you want to change it by and then redraw the neckline curve. If it’s a smooth curved neckline, just make sure that you come out from the centre front at 90 degrees for about 1cm before curving up. This will prevent a subtle v-shape from forming at the centre of the neckline.

More involved adjustments

This is where a can of worms can be opened to be honest. There are many adjustments you can make to sewing patterns to correct or change ill fitting garments.

The first step in this is usually going to be identifying what gets referred to as ‘drag lines’. These are sort of creases or pulls in a garment that can run in different directions depending on what the fitting issue is. For example, it might be pulls across the top of the bust, or going from the arm hole up to the neckline. In trousers it might be pulling around the crotch area.

In this example here, taken from Brookes blog Custom Style you can see that there are drag lines that look like the fabric is pulling from the centre front into the sleeves and also across the top of the back and over the shoulder blades.

Each of these areas can be worked on with different types of adjustments and tweaks to the toile and the sewing pattern. Depending on how involved they are, it may mean you have to make an alteration on the sewing pattern and make another toile before confirming that this adjustment has fixed the issue. Sometimes fixing one issue can even cause another one to pop up - I know, how frustrating?!

Covering all of these individual adjustments are outwith the scope of this particular blog post and need to be addressed separately. I hope that by explaining the context of toiles in more depth and highlighting some of the changes that may be needed can help you to see that there is a broad range of things that may need to be done when and if you make a toile, some of them simple, quick and easy to do and some more involved and time consuming.

Everyone's journey will be different and it should be viewed as a learning opportunity to help you better understand garment construction.


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