sdsa: prepping the muslin

We’re still a week away from cutting and beginning to fit the muslin, but now is the time to start thinking about adjustments you’ll need to make to the pattern prior to fitting the muslin. Rarely do I just cut out a test garment straight from the pattern; usually I do some measurements and adjusting before my scissors ever touch the muslin. Why? Because this eliminates some (not all!) of the fitting problems I might encounter and allows me to focus on the larger issues that may need to be fine tuned.

But first, I would highly recommend taking a set of measurements for yourself. This can be a bit tricky if you’re alone, but is very helpful to have. Threads Magazine published a great guide on what measurements to take and jot down. (If you have Cal Patch’s Design It Yourself Clothes, so has a good section on measurements and how to take them.) Of particular note for this project will be: bust, waist, hip, waist to desired skirt length, and shoulder to waist.

Once you have your measurements in hand, it’s time to pick out a size. I recommend tracing this pattern since it’s printed on heavy paper–or if you’re using the at-home printing option because of taped together the paper pieces (which just get awkward to work with). This will allow you to create a custom-fit garment pattern without ruining the original pattern. For tracing I use medical table paper, but as I mentioned in the supplies post, banner paper, large sheets of tracing paper or even non-fusible interfacing will work.

Now if you’re like most women, it’s likely you may span more than one size. If you do, don’t worry! You can easily blend one size to the other over various areas where you need to go up or down a pattern size. For example if you have a hip measurement a size larger than your waist: trace the waist measurement from the smaller size and gently curve a line out to meet the line for the larger size over the hip. I’ve included an example above of just that (black line is size 12, and the red line shows blending from the size 12 waist to a 14 hip).

Once you have traced all your pattern pieces, you will want to start making some preliminary adjustments to the pattern. I plan on doing a post on Monday about adjusting the bodice and sleeve lengths, but some others that may need to be taken into consideration:

  • Sleeve Cap Ease As I mentioned in my most recent version of this pattern, like most 40s inspired styles, there is a lot of ease in the sleeve cap, which makes it tricky to sew the cap in smoothly. I did an entire post on how to adjust this here. I highly recommend doing this prior to cutting the muslin!
  • FBA or SBA Large or small busted, you may need to make a Full Bust or Small Bust Adjustment to this pattern. I think this pattern will work well for ladies with a C or small D cup size, but outside of that you’ll need to do some tweaking (I need to do an SBA on mine). Despite how intimidating it sounds, it’s a very simple adjustment to make. Gertie posted a roundup of tutorials on bust adjustments awhile back that are super helpful.
  • Skirt Length I have short legs, so I almost always have to adjust the length of a skirt. While you could just chop off the couple extra inches at the hem, this will also affect the sweep or hem circumference of the final skirt as well. Plus if you’ve got the opposite problem (taller than the pattern allows for), you’ll need to lengthen it. I’ve documented how to make this easy adjustment below

Begin by determining how much you need to add or subtract from the skirt length. Remember I said to take note of your desired skirt length measurement? Generally most 40s dresses end just below the knee, although I tend to make it slightly above because that’s a more flattering length on me. Take the front skirt piece and measure it from the top to the hem, subtracting 1 1/2″ (1/2″ for the waist seam allowance and 1″ for the hem) from this length. Compare this to your skirt length measure (which is just your waist to wherever you want the skirt hem to hit), and figure the difference. For me, it’s about 3″ that needs to be subtracted from the skirt. So I’ll be taking 3″ off the length of all the skirt pieces. Jennie has made it super easy by including a “lengthen/shorten” line on the skirt.

Begin by cutting the skirt piece at the “lengthen or shorten” line.

Using a ruler, mark a line the length you need to shorten this piece (in my case, 3″) from the cut line.

Overlap the top of the skirt with the bottom, lining up with the line you just marked. Tape the pieces together. Using a ruler or yardstick, blend the side seam edge from the hem to the point where the pieces are taped together.

Trim the excess away from the side seam and you’re ready to go! You can also opt to fold rather than cut the pieces along the “lengthen/shorten” line, but the end result is just the same.

To lengthen your skirt pieces: cut along the “lengthen/shorten” line and spread the pieces apart the desired length to be added. Tape a piece of paper underneath the two pieces to reconnect them with the desired space between, and smooth the line from the hem to the join at the top piece as shown above. Basically it’s just the opposite of the shortening process!

I think that should do it for now. If you have time this weekend (and your pattern has arrived!), I encourage you to go ahead and trace the pattern and perhaps begin on some of the adjustments you may need to make. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to help!

January 20, 2011 · 33 lovely thoughts
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Sarah-theaftercraft January 20, 2011 at 16:30

Sigh I wish I had time to make this.. but there are sooo many projects on the go.. so alas I will watch you make this and drool with envy :)

Jen January 20, 2011 at 16:31


I had started on this muslin a while back, but was discouraged by the fact that the torso length of this pattern is significantly longer than mine (I think her instructions say the nape-to-waist length of the pattern is 17-18″ and mine is ~ 3-4″ shorter). I have tried folding out some of the excess, and I am getting awfully close to the armhole. Just wanted to ask in advance if you could address this issue when you get to adjusting bodice length in your posts. Thanks! :)

Casey January 20, 2011 at 16:40

I certainly will be addressing this issue, Jen! I plan on going over how to either shorten or lengthen the pieces, per the need. So keep an eye out for that next week! ;)

♥ Casey

rebecca January 20, 2011 at 16:55

Hey Casey! Thanks for this! I never thought of using non-fusible interfacing to make the pattern – I really like the idea (particularly as it is on sale at the moment!).

Stephanie January 20, 2011 at 16:56

Where do you get medical table paper from?

Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:33

I purchase my tracing paper from Amazon. I bought it last year with another sewing friend and we split the box. I’m down to my last two rolls, but it’s certainly been a cheap way to trace patterns!

♥ Casey

Portia January 20, 2011 at 17:58

Non fusible interfacing is genius!! I usually use tracing paper but will pick some interfacing up next time I get a chance.
Finally restocked our printer yesterday so will be printing the epattern out tomorrow hopefully.
Has anyone else started on the epattern?

Kirsten January 20, 2011 at 18:06

Do we need to factor in the placement of the front midsection belt piece on our bods when we’re contemplating our ideal skirt length? Is the seam where the front skirt pieces join the midsection piece supposed to hit us at the waist or below?

DISCLAIMER: I tend to over-think things, so feel free to tell me I’m over-thinking here. :D

Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:35

I’ve never factored that in when I’ve adjusted the skirt length, and if you make a muslin you can always perfect the length on that. If you want, you can factor in a difference of about 1 1/2″ drop in the front with the midriff piece, but remember to shorten all the pieces the same amount so the side seams match!

♥ Casey

Anna January 20, 2011 at 18:15

Hi Casey!

Couldn’t wait to get started on the pattern when it arrived yesterday, so I traced it right away. But now I’m troubled because my waist and hip sizes vary more than one size. Can I still just draw the sizes together like you showed? Or do I need to do some other adjustments?
Thanks! :)

P.S. I used butter paper or greaseproof paper (not sure what the correct name is in English as it’s not my mother tongue but I hope you know what I mean :) ) for tracing and it works great! Plus it’s cheap.

Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:38

I checked with my pattern alteration books and here’s what I found: you can add up to 1″ at the exterior hipline seam, or if you have also added up to 1″ at the waistline an additional 1″ can be added at the hip. So depending on how great your difference is, I’d say yes.

♥ Casey

mia January 20, 2011 at 18:49

I’m most nervous about making the appropriate fitting adjustments and I’m glad I can get a few done before messing with my muslin.

Elizabeth VP January 20, 2011 at 22:17

My pattern arrived this afternoon, and I spent the afternoon adjusting it. The bodice took a *lot* of shortening (I’m petite-proportioned and 5’1″), and once I had it pinned right, I traced it onto butcher paper and started adjusting lines. It helps to have a dress form to pin pattern pieces onto to check length. I don’t know if I’m going to go ahead and cut out a muslin bodice with it, or wait and see how you adjust the bodice pieces (I’m used to adjusting bodice length, just not this much). Muslin is cheap enough, and it doesn’t take long, so I may just go ahead and see how my adjustments worked.

Liz January 20, 2011 at 22:44

I’m still debating which fabric I want to use, and I have a question…
Are we going to be lining/underlining this dress at all?


Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:40

The pattern design doesn’t lend itself very easily to lining, but I am toying with the idea of at least including some pointers about underlining the pieces. I got my fabric for my dress yesterday and it’s a bit lighter than I anticipated, so I am contemplating underlining my dress anyway. :)

♥ Casey

Seersucker Sally January 21, 2011 at 05:29

I love the Cal Patch book! I’ve used it (along with a few other sources) to go patternless this past year. Returning to patterns for the sew-along, of course. I’m working on piecing together the e-pattern

Kelly January 21, 2011 at 05:59

I’m excited to start! I just printed off all the pattern sheets (I’m in Australia so access to the “hard copy” was limited) and will begin taping tomorrow.

I’m a little disapointed with the quality of the pattern though. There are no guidelines on the sheets, no page/column nubers and I guess I expected the pattern to be drawn in a CAD program or similar. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be the easiest epattern to put together, I think it will be a good idea to number the pages right after printing!

Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:41

I do hope that it wasn’t too hard to piece together! I have been using the printed pattern (since I already had it–it seemed silly to buy the epattern version), so I do hope that this hasn’t caused too many headaches for those who chose to go the digital download route…

♥ Casey

Kristin January 21, 2011 at 08:36

I haven’t even printed out my e-pattern yet, either! I need to do that and put it together today or tomorrow. I’m hitting Joann’s today for my fabric. =)

Erika January 21, 2011 at 10:04

Me and a friend I’ve talked into joning the sew-along are going fabricshopping on Tuesday. So much fun, but how to stop at fabric for just one dress?! =)
I haven’t printed out the pattern yet, so apologies if I’m asking something that’s alreay given in the pattern! The question: Can one cut the skirt on the bias? I know it makes it a bit different to work with (avoiding stretching and all that), but I keep thinking that the bias-effect would work well for this style.
Ideas, anyone?

Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:43

The skirt would have to be adjusted a bit to cut on the bias, since it’s designed to be cut on the straight of grain. I can’t recall all the steps to converting a vertical-grain pattern to bias-cut, but I know it involves adjusting the length/width a bit. You could always cut the pieces on the bias in muslin to test if you’d like!

♥ Casey

Marie January 21, 2011 at 20:33

I had the same question as Liz about the lining/underlining, as my fabric is pretty sheer. Looking forward to doing this. Thanks Casey

Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:44

I’m thinking seriously of at least including some pointers on underlining the dress pieces. The pattern design doesn’t lend itself very well to a full lining, but underlining is always a great option to add some opacity to otherwise sheer/too soft fabrics. I’m actually toying with the idea of doing that with my fashion fabric!

♥ Casey

Gina January 21, 2011 at 23:18

I ALWAYS learn something from reading what you write, it was a good reminder to me to STOP cutting fabric out and then trying to FIT a garment! Why do I do things backwards!!! I usually look at my sloper and eyeball, but don’t really know if something is off a bit if I need to do something with it, like armholes being a little low, does that matter? It’s the bodice that gets me into trouble most of the time. Anyway, I am looking for any help as we travel through the sew along that you have, I am reading the post and printing them up!

Megan Medsker January 22, 2011 at 02:52

I’m also hoping for some guidance on lining, as I’m using a fairly sheer fabric. I’ve also been looking at Etsy, and they have some lovely vintage slips that would be great under the dress! I actually went ahead and bought one, but I still would like to (at least partially) line my dress. Thank you so much for leading this sew-along! I’m already having a lot fun with it.

Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:45

I think considering the number of requests I’ll include some pointers going forward on underlining the fashion fabric for those who need it! :)

♥ Casey

Jacquie January 22, 2011 at 16:11

i won’t be able to do the dress, but will be reading along the process because i really think you have some great advice and resources!

Ann January 23, 2011 at 00:26

I’m having trouble creating the SBA for this pattern. I’m looking to decrease the bust area 2-3 inches in total. You posted some links, but I didn’t find them very helpful for this particular pattern. Do you have any further guidance or pointers. (A visual using this pattern would be awesome!)

Casey January 23, 2011 at 11:46

I’ll see what I can do about a little SBA tutorial for this pattern and get back to you. Unfortunately I’m really busy right now so it may take a few days! :)

♥ Casey

Jillbert January 24, 2011 at 14:17

OK….I’m joining in. I traced my pattern — surprisingly, I fit one size so don’t need to adjust there (notice I don’t mention WHAT size…..I’m kinda horrified by the size I traced…..). I do need to make bust adjustments since the bodice is too short for me. I’ve never made a FBA so I’m kind of scared but excited that I might turn up with something that actually fits. I’ve never sewn a dress for me and don’t have many that fit well. This will be a challenge.

seeks corey January 27, 2011 at 19:45

The best part of this is that you’ve already done the measuring for the sleeve ease for me! :) It made it much easier to know I was aiming for 19″ without having to measure everything. Thanks!

I am also shortening the bodice, and I see the lengthen/shorten line in the back but not the front bodice… is that going to matter? I’m so new to this, I don’t know what to expect or what to presume.

Thanks again!

seeks corey January 27, 2011 at 20:46

Ooops! found that I just didn’t transfer the line. :p

seeks corey January 27, 2011 at 22:31

Holy moly! I just adjusted for my skirt length, and I’m getting rid of about a third of the skirt!! Any suggestions on how to true the pattern well? It’s pretty comical to look at the transition. I’m posting a pic (the most drastic one) on the flickr group soon, so you can see it there.

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