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thoughts on muslins and community

Posted by Jessica Povenmire on


Last week, I finished a nine-month sewing book club at Drygoods Design, here in Seattle. The idea of the club was to meet once a month and work on patterns from The Stylish Dress Book. At first glance, the patterns appear simple and straightforward; I was sure I would get through at least three or four during the course of the class.

Fast forward nine months, two patterns, and countless muslins later, and I have one finished dress. Well, two if you count the repeat I whipped up the other day from the same pattern. For a girl that has to talk herself into making muslins on a regular basis, this is saying something.

For my first dress, I decided to make Pattern N - a pleated shift dress. 5 pieces of fabric. Nothing fancy. Boy was I wrong.

At first, there was too much fabric everywhere. Then not enough in the chest. But then too much in the waist. And then too little in the arms. And so it went...version after version after version. By month four, I was feeling incredibly discouraged that I couldn't figure this pattern out...what was so difficult about these pleats? I took a break from it for a couple months and then came back to Pattern N, only to finally come to the realization that pleats plus a full bust don't work well together.


I found another pattern (D) that fits me well after some adjustments and is incredibly versatile...who knows, maybe I'll even try some pleats! But I don't know if I would have been quite as appreciative of this good-fitting dress had it not been for the trials and tribulations of Pattern N.

See, for a long time, I was in denial. I figured that if I made ________ in my size, it would look good (fill in the blank with the pattern of the day). And I was lucky-for the most part, I chose patterns that did look good. But then came Pattern N, and after countless muslins, I realized that no matter how badly I wanted it to work, it would never look right on my body. It has completely made me re-evaluate my handmade wardrobe plan and question what I will actually wear, versus what will just hang in my closest.


Seeing other people in my book club face the same problem brought us closer together. The number of versions we had each gone through became a running joke each month. I can honestly say that I don't think I would have stuck with it as long as I had without the support of everyone else in class to keep my motivated. Because of them, I learned so much more about fit and apparel construction than I anticipated at the beginning of the book club.

At the end of the day, I took away some good lessons from book club that I think will stick with me throughout my handmade wardrobe journey:

  • Always make a muslin (or four). Even if you're feeling lazy, it will help more in the long run with any new pattern.
  • Truly assess your muslin - there's a reason you made it. Just the smallest changes can make a huge difference in your end product. You'll go from a piece you only wear once in awhile to one that's a daily staple.
  • Know your body, what you like, and what looks good on you. Of course there are things we all wish were different about our selves, but if you're going to take the time to make clothes that fit you, make clothes that fit you. Appreciate yourself every step of the way.
  • Find a sewing buddy (or four). There's power in any support system, even if it's just someone to talk through a problem with you.

For those of you in the Seattle area, Drygoods Design will be starting another book club later this year! I'll be there for sure (and I might even finally tackle pants!). If you're not in Seattle, start your own! Find some friends and make some time to create something together. I'm sure you'll find endless inspiration.



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