Muslin. What is it? Why do you use it?

Muslin test garment

Muslin is a plain cotton fabric easily available in a natural unbleached color, kind of an ecru or a bleached white version. Sometimes I have seen dyed black muslin. Muslin comes in several widths from 36 inches all the way up to 90 inches. The easiest to find width is between 42 and 45 inches. 

Muslin also comes in several qualities, from inexpensive $0.99 per yard to about  $7.00 or $8.00 per yard. I like to keep several grades around to use when I need to create a muslin version of something, either to practice a technique or even a full complete copy of a pattern to check all of the details of a fit before I commit to a more expensive fashion fabric. It is best purchased by the whole bolt. The price is even better if you have a large discount coupon.

Inexpensive muslin is a wonderful fabric to use when you need to make a test garment for checking fit and style compatibility. Sometimes a pattern looks adorable, but is incompatible with your shape or personality. With all the time it takes to create a finished garment, it is worth the low cost of muslin to be sure the finished product will be something you will want to wear. In this case the muslin I create will probably not be a completed item, it will just be the basics, enough for me to see if it is really as expected for me. If I still like it, then I use the muslin to mark fit adjustments, any alterations or pattern changes. I will also be using the least expensive muslin I have on hand.  

Marked sewing line on a muslin test
If I am going to take the time to complete every detail I will use a higher quality muslin that is bleached white. If everything is as expected the muslin can be dyed and worn as a regular garment. Sometimes I do this if I am checking something for a teen. They will enjoy dying the muslin copy and have both garments. This works especially well if you want to know how a garment will wear. Send them out in the dyed copy for a test wear.

Sometimes I only need to check the fit on a portion of the garment. Most recently it was a dress bodice and how it fit at the waist. I needed the full bodice portion and enough of the skirt to sew to the bodice. The dress skirt is quite long, but I made the bodice and a long peplum. It served the purpose and I saved time.
Adjustment stitched in red
When is a muslin not a muslin? Sometimes I purchase clearance sale fabrics. It is not the plain uninteresting color of muslin but is still inexpensive fabric. Other times I may pull fabric from my stash to use as muslin. This is usually a piece of fabric that has been in the stash so long I don't remember purchasing it, know I will never have a real use for it and probably don't even like it any more. It will also be less expensive than the planned fashion fabric and maybe even less expensive than a high quality muslin fabric.

Once fit has been tested then your test garment can qualify for your "tried and true" approval. That is when you know that the garment fits perfectly, looks great and you love to wear it. The pattern can become a go to choice for future garments and you will not have to spend the extra time testing fit again.

Muslin on rolled on bolt
From Online Etymology Dictionary:

bodice (n.) Look up bodice at Dictionary.com
1560s, oddly spelled plural of body, name of a tight-fitting Elizabethan garment covering the torso; plural because the body came in two parts which fastened in the middle.

fit (n.1) Look up fit at Dictionary.com
1823, "the fitting of one thing to another," later (1831) "the way something fits." Originally "an adversary of equal power" (mid-13c.), obscure, possibly from Old English fitt "a conflict, a struggle" (see fit (n.2)).
fit (v.) Look up fit at Dictionary.com
"be suitable," probably from early 15c.; "to be the right shape," 1580s, from fit (adj.). Related: FittedfittingFitted sheets is attested from 1963.
fit (adj.) Look up fit at Dictionary.com
"suited to the circumstances, proper," mid-15c., of unknown origin, perhaps from Middle English noun fit "an adversary of equal power" (mid-13c.), which is perhaps connected to fit (n.1). Related: FitterfittestSurvival of the fittest (1867) coined by H. Spencer.

muslin (n.) 
c.1600, "delicately woven cotton fabric," from French mousseline (17c.), from Italian mussolina, from Mussolo, Italian name of Mosul, city in northern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) where muslin was made. Like many fabric names, it has changed meaning over the years, in this case from luxurious to commonplace. In 13c. French, mosulin meant "cloth of silk and gold." The meaning "everyday cotton fabric for shirts, bedding, etc." is first attested 1872 in American English.
skirt (n.) Look up skirt at Dictionary.com
c.1300, "lower part of a woman's dress," from Old Norse skyrta "shirt," see shirt. Sense development from "shirt" to "skirt" is possibly related to the long shirts of peasant garb (cf. Low German cognate Schört, in some dialects "woman's gown"). Sense of "border, edge" (in outskirts, etc.) first recorded late 15c., and the verb meaning "to pass along the edge" is from 1620s. Metonymic use for "women collectively" is from 1550s; slang sense of "young woman" is from 1906; skirt-chaser first attested 1942.

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