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Musings on Wearable Muslins and Lady Turtles

January 20, 2015

If there’s one thing I’m good at doing, it’s being brutally honest about myself on the internet. Whatever, no one can say anything hurtful about me that I haven’t already said to my own face, so at risk of publicly embarrassing myself, let me tell you a funny story about how naive I am. I don’t claim to be a super experienced seamstress, I’d say I’m intermediate at best, so quite often I find myself having these ridiculous moments of epiphany when I realize how much of an idiot I am. I don’t take anything in life too seriously, so I rather enjoy laughing at myself when I make these epic “discoveries”. See I used to think “wearable muslin” meant you could sew a pattern right out of the envelope, for the first time, in any fabric, in hopes it would turn out okay and you could actually wear it. In fact, if you asked me last month I’d tell you “Oh yeah, I have tons of wearable muslins!” …lies!! ALL LIES I tell you. No my friends, I have tons of me-made garments that don’t fit quite right, made up in fabric that I don’t quite love, sitting in a box in my closet. I don’t think those “muslins” count as “wearable” at all.


No seriously, you can laugh at me because this is actually funny! In fact, a collective facepalm would also be entirely appropriate here. In an effort to mend my idiot ways and sew clothes that actually fit me, I bought a Craftsy class on sale called Custom Fitting: Back, Neck, and Shoulders. Since working through that class I’ve had two gigantic moments of enlightenment: 1.) Some people can sew a pattern right out of the envelope, in any fabric, and fit as they go, but for the rest of us who aren’t shaped like idealistic PGM dress forms, we need to trace our patterns and sew everything in muslin fabric first. Always. No exceptions (great, so much for being lazy) and 2.) Taking side profile photos of your shoulders and back to try to analyze potential fit issues is potentially depressing when you realize you have a serious S-curve to your spine, and not in a sexy Beyoncé kind of way. No, you might in fact be shaped like an emaciated lady turtle.


Exhibit A.) What I wish I looked like: A 1930s illustration by Carlos Masberger for Gente Menuda, and Exhibit B.) What I actually look like: A lady turtle.

I didn’t wallow in self pity for too long (even though the terms “Dowager’s Hump” and “Hollow Chest” were thrown around in the class and I may actually be 127 years old based on my physique, which I suppose is an accurate age for a Terrapin) before I realized the beauty of this enlightenment. I now know exactly why nothing ever fits me AND! thanks to Kathleen Cheetham I now know how to fix it. After all, there’s no reason why a Beyoncé Ninja Turtle love child can’t have nice clothes that fit well …after making adjustments for narrow shoulders, forward sloping shoulders, a rounded upper back, a hollow chest, and an epic sway back, of course.


The last project I completed before the new year was a first attempt at the Wiksten Tova. This was the project that drove me to purchase the Craftsy class because my “wearable muslin” was actually a terrible muslin. Every time I try to sew a mandarin collar it funnels up off the back of my neck in the most unflattering way, causing my turtle shell back to look even more rounded, and my turtle neck to look even more slumped forward. I’m not even planning to re-sew this dress any time soon because I’m kind of over it and need a bit of a break from over analyzing it. So I moved on to a more simple design (New Look 6889) with a center back seam, which I hoped would make fitting adjustments easier. Much to my surprise, it did!


With this new pattern I wouldn’t allow myself to cut corners even though I was tempted countless times. I almost didn’t trace anything and I almost used a printed cotton instead of the brand new bolt of muslin I bought. But, I brought my failed Tova muslin downstairs and left it in plain sight where it would be a haunting reminder: Dear Idiot Face, this is why nothing fits you and you never wear your handmade clothes!

Thanks, Tova. Good pep talk.


First I traced the original tissue pattern and then made one muslin at half length to check the fit of the back, neck, and shoulders. It actually wasn’t too bad, but I had some serious gaping at the back of the neck, and some tightness under the arms at both the front and back of the arm scythe. Trying to follow the Golden Rule of ONE CHANGE AT A TIME, I traced a new curve at the upper back along the center seam, basted it in, and then tried it on. Nearly fixed! I did this one more time and found it to be a pretty great non-gape-y fit, so then I moved on to address the arm holes. After using a pen to trace what I thought would be a more comfortable opening, I cut along that line and tried the muslin on again. Much better! I was really starting to understand why this whole muslin fit thing is all the rage in sewing. Um, it works. (insert another facepalm, here)


So after I got my first half-length muslin to a good point, I traced those changes and cut another muslin at full dress length. Once I tried that on and decided my changes actually worked and improved the fit, then I decided to attempt the wearable muslin in a floral print cotton, including a self-drafted neck facing in lieu of bias tape. Why am I calling this floral version a wearable muslin and not a finished garment? Well, after wearing it all weekend I feel like the quilting cotton is a bit too bulky, especially paired with winter sweaters and leggings. I’m also not 100% in love with the print for this particular pattern. The dress has a seam down the center front and back that flares out to the hem, making pattern matching a nightmare. It would be much better suited for a solid fabric or a true scatter print with no directional/linear qualities. I’m so guilty of picking the wrong fabric for the wrong project which makes it hard to tell if I truly don’t like a particular pattern because of the pattern, or if I don’t like it because of the material.


The only thing to do is make this dress up one more time in a scatter print fabric with much more drape and see if I love it as much as I think I do. After all, I think this mirror selfie proves it’s pretty darn cute with some real TNT potential.


I’ve tried making real muslins before but I think because of my lack of patience and lack of knowledge to actually fit them, they never worked and I decided why bother doing that every single time. I used to just give up after one bad muslin and try a different pattern company instead, thinking maybe they’d be drafted to fit my shape. Well, unless a pattern company starts drafting patterns for lady turtles, I’m pretty much guaranteed to make three muslins each time I sew anything. But that’s okay because that’s the kind of sewing that separates the naive intermediates (with a box full of unwearable handmade clothes), from the people who can make it through Me Made May (and the rest of the year) with confidence.

I’m making progress, though. One embarrassing turtle shaped epiphany at a time.