Coat Month: How to Create a Coat Muslin
Sewing your own outerwear can be extremely satisfying, but it often requires a larger investment in time and supplies than your average garment. And it can be a total bummer when you've spent a good chunk of time and money on a garment that just doesn't fit well. For handmade outerwear, sewing a muslin is a crucial step in the process.
A muslin (i.e. a test garment sewn out of inexpensive fabric) can help you avoid common fit problems like sleeve length and shoulder fit. But it can also give you an idea if the garment's silhouette will work for your body shape. If you’ve never sewn a coat muslin before, here’s my process for a quick fit test garment:
Use a Fabric Similar to Coating
Calling my test garment a "muslin" is a bit of a misnomer, because I'm rarely using a muslin-type fabric for this process. I recommend using a fabric similar in weight and hand to your finished garment, so that the fit doesn’t change between versions.
For my Yuzu Coat, I knew I’d be using our Grey Wool Melton for the finished coat, so I found some cheap pink wool in my stash for with a similar in thickness and drape. Cheap copycat fabrics can be found at your local big box fabric retailers or in thrift stores. If I find something that catches my eye in a thrift store, even if it feels ultra-cheap, I usually grab it just for the purpose of making muslins.
Baste the Bodices and Sleeves
For coat muslins, I find it’s only necessary to sew the pattern pieces that have the biggest impact on fit: sleeves and bodices. For the Yuzu Coat I cut out the front and back sleeves, the back bodices, the front sides, and the front center. I didn’t muslin the lining of the coat, but I’ll address how I account for that below.
Then, I skip to the section of the instructions that outlines how to sew these pattern pieces together. I quickly baste them together (i.e. sew with a long, straight stitch) without backstitching.
I always mark zipper or button closures on my muslins to ensure the garment will fit when fully secured. At the intersection of my Yuzu’s button and buttonhole markings, I used a pin to close the garment. If your coat has a zipper, you can baste a zipper into the garment at the appropriate places to ensure a good fit.
Leave Off Hoods, Collars, and Pockets
I don’t typically sew hoods, collars or pockets into my muslins, since I don't find they have a big impact on fit. I do mark where my pockets will go so that I can decide if they need to be moved. If your garment is very fitted and a hood or collar could affect the fit of your tailored coat, you can baste on those pattern pieces too.
Try it On with Bulky Clothing
Once your muslin is sewn up, try it on with the same type of clothing you’d normally wear under a heavy winter coat. For Colorado winters, I’m typically wearing a long sleeved shirt or sweater under my outwear. The clothing you wear under your handmade coat can change the fit of the garment considerably.
Account For the Lining
If you’ve tried on your muslin with the appropriate base layer and it feels a tiny bit too big, that’s ok! If your pattern has a lining, now is the time to account for it. My Yuzu muslin felt a tad large when I first tried it on, but I figured that with a layer of crepe de chine it would likely fit fine in the end. And it does!
If you’re lining your coat with a bulkier fabric than crepe, you might want to account for even more room needed. Flannels and other cotton fabrics will create a bit more bulk than fine, flowing fabrics.
Note Sleeve and Hem Lengths
Perhaps the most common adjustment to tailored coats is increasing or decreasing the sleeve or hem length. After you’ve sewn your muslin you can either cut or iron the sleeves under on the hem allowance to get a good idea of how the sleeves work for your arm length. Extend your arm straight in front of you. The sleeve hem should sit right at or less than an inch behind your wrist. With your arms at your side, your sleeve hems should fall about 3/4” past your wrist.
Also note the hem length and where it falls on your waist, hips, or thighs. If you have a long or short torso, consider making adjustments at the pattern’s lengthen/shorten lines.
Make Pattern Adjustments
Have someone take front, back, and side photos of you wearing your muslin so that you assess what changes need to be made. Before diving into your expensive fabric, I recommend sewing up another quick muslin with your changes. Sometimes, adjustments to pattern pieces can cause unforeseen fit issues elsewhere on the garment.
If all looks good, you’re ready to go! The Yuzu’s silhouette is pretty forgiving, so I didn’t make a single change to my muslin. Here’s what my muslin looks like:
And here's what the finished product looked like:
More handmade outwear goodness is coming your way for two more weeks, so stay tuned!
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