Making Muslins, the Correct Way

Let's get this out of the way: no, I don't get paid for promoting learning platforms like Craftsy, Creativebug, Domestika, or any other. I just like to know that if I can help one single person avoid all the fumbling that I had to go through before feeling confident enough to share my sewing journey here, well that's all the reward I need.

So here is my latest discovery: it's a 15-module course by first-class professional Susan Khalje and though it's called The Couture Dress, to me the value was learning the proper way to make a muslin (aka mock-up etc.). It turns out I had been doing it wrong all those years. Not 100% wrong, but with the professional secrets I learned in this course, I know my sewing will improve.

The course is included in my monthly Craftsy subscription, or I could buy it for $30, then it would be added to my Craftsy Library where it would remain forever. I already have over 30 courses there, which I had purchased before the platform turned to the subscription model.

Craftsy changed hands recently, and now both options are available, which is just perfect.

Trust me, the muslin I'm making this week will follow all the rules I learned in this course. I'll be back here to show it to you soon. Stay tuned!



A Doll As An Embroidery Sampler, Why Not?


Making this doll - her name is Josephine and I found her in Dollmaking for the First Time by Miriam Gourley - was just an excuse to practice some different hand sewing stitches, and some embroidery that relies on stitches more than on pretty pictures.

The stitches were inspired by these books. Not much of a collection, you may think, but there are enough stitches in there to last me several lifetimes!

But my main sources of inspiration were a course on the Domestika platform by Mexican designer Garbriela Martínez of the Ofelia y Antelmo studio, and another on Craftsy by Natalie Chanin, author of The Geometry of Hand Sewing, above. She also heads her own design firm, Alabama Chanin and the School of Making. 

I had already become familiar with Sashiko sewing from a couple of beginner tutorials on Creativebug and Craftsy.

I LOVE hand sewing and plan to decorate my future hats and garments with some decorative stitching. 

This small project taught me a lot! First of all, cotton twill is a lousy support for embroidery! I mean, the weave is so tight I had to use pliers to pull the needle through!

Secondly, the seed stitch I used on the border of the doll's skirt is easy all right but it takes forever! So in case you’re tempted to use it as an allover pattern like on this top... 

Copyright Ofelia y Antelmo

...remember that the designer lives in Mexico where she employs women to do the embroidery for her!


More Fabric Shrinkage Info

 The following applies to 4 metres of 100% linen fabric purchased online at Club Tissus . This is the fabric in question:

Fabric after washing and ironing

I had purchased 4 metres and received slightly more, that is 437 centimetres instead of 400 (172 inches).

The width was 150 centimetres (59 inches).

After washing in hot water (as per all recommendations) and machine drying (at lowest setting), and ironing at the Linen setting with steam, the piece measured as follows:

WIDTH: 147.5 cm (58 inches), a loss of 2.5 cm (1 inch);

LENGTH: 434 cm (171 inches), a loss of 3 cm (1.25 inch).

As you can see, the shrinkage was minimal, a little over 1% on the width, and way less than 1% on the length.

CONCLUSION: For this particular fabric, pre-washing would not be justified EXCEPT for the fact that the unwashed fabric was as stiff as cardboard. 

And "stiff" is not what linen is supposed to feel like. The typical drape and slightly wrinkled look of linen can only be obtained by removing the stiffening agent that is applied at the mill.

I will continue to experiment with different fabrics, and report my findings here.


About Fabric Shrinkage

I ran a test on the unbleached cotton I use for all my muslins (aka mock-ups), and this is the result.

As you can see in this photo, the 3-metre piece I used (actually a bit over, at 119.5 inches) measured 63.5 inches wide (from selvage edge to selvage edge). 

After washing in hot water and drying at the hottest temperature (to maximize shrinkage), then ironing with steam, my piece ended up measuring 60 inches wide.

Yes, there is a zigzag on the raw edge.

As for the length, I ended up with 109.5 inches. 

Total shrinkage: 5.5% on the width and 7.6% on the length. 

Click to enlarge

The third photo shows how open the weave is as it comes off the bolt. 

I wanted this information because I sometimes use the muslin for other projects that would eventually get washed.

Note: I usually purchase this fabric by the bolt at Fabricville (as it is known here in Québec, Fabricland elsewhere.) 


Does Your Back Hurt After an Hour of Sewing?

I belong to a few sewing groups on Facebook. They are useful for a lot of things, but some of the members ask questions that they could easily solve by consulting their sewing machine manuals.

Some are just about common sense. This morning a woman asked if she should get a new chair, given that her back hurts after an hour of sewing. This question comes up all the time. 

The surprise would be if your back didn’t hurt after sitting and sewing for an hour! I can’t help it, I tell them to get up and stretch their back, shoulders and neck, and stretch their legs, every 20 minutes or so. 

I'm always the only one making this suggestion. Members send photos and links for their own chairs, suggest adding cushions, and so on, and commiserating about their own backaches.

Here's a routine I found without really looking:


Christmas - in August!

 Yesterday was, in fact, better than any recent Xmas. Judge for yourself:

AM: went to Purolator depot to pick up this item:

Yes, that's a whole bolt of unbleached cotton for making muslins (aka "toiles"), doll bodies, etc. 

20 metres, 60 inches wide. (Pardon the mixed systems!) Enough for a year, maybe more.

PM: Went to mailbox and found this:

This is a rare, out-of-print book that I had to work very hard to get at the publication price and not at the inflated (3-4 times the value) that unscrupulous used book sellers are listing it at.

My copy is new and if I have it it's thanks to an independent librarian in Sherbrooke (QC) who went to the trouble of hunting it down.

The book is everything I was hoping for, and then some.

No doubt you will see some of what I make from it and this will be very soon, so stay tuned!


Several Decades of Irons

What is it about irons that no matter how much you pay their lifetime is infuriatingly limited? I like this new Chi so-called Professional Iron that I just paid $75 for, but I have no illusions about its lasting longer than its 2-year warranty period. 

It may have 1700 wats, 300 steam holes and a 12-foot cord, but I will bet that my old Black and Decker travel iron will outlive it as it has outlived at least 6 others.

And that's not for lack of use. In-between all those others, B&D has always been there - sometimes for months and months while I tried to find the perfect iron - at least one that was within this regular person's budget.

Here is my beloved travel iron:

Yes, it only has 21 steam holes and the water tank only holds about half a cup of water, but the handle folds down for packing,  the cord is the longest I've ever seen, at 15 feet, and if you wonder why that's important, try using your regular iron in a hotel room.

I wouldn't make such a fuss if ironing wasn't such an important part of sewing. It's impossible to produce a high quality article without constant trips to the ironing board, and that's why professional tailors and seamstresses pay multiples of a thousand dollars for ironing equipment of this type:

I wish I could afford that!