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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.