sewing | making samples

Do you ever make samples before starting on your actual garment?

I know, you’re probably thinking “Really, Casey?! Not another thing I’m supposed to do before I start the fun sewing!” I get it, I really do! (Especially now that I have a wiggly baby who vies for my sewing time.) I promise this kind of sample making isn’t like making a muslin (though those are still a good idea for certain designs). But these quick little trial-run pieces might just save you a headache further down the road and can really help improve your technique and accuracy as each fabric behaves differently. After years of sewing samples, it has become second nature and in some ways a lot of fun!

Case in point: this dress I made last summer which featured bound buttonholes. While I usually just pull out my Dritz Bound Buttonhole Tool, the fabric was linen and a loose enough weave that it shifted around easily–making using the Dritz jig a little too indefinite for me. I decided to go ahead and make the buttonholes the old fashioned way, which I hadn’t done in awhile and needed a refresher. I tried a couple different methods (including Gertie’s–which I love, but produced a buttohole that was just a tiny bit bulkier than worked with the linen) and also used the method that the vintage pattern I was working with outlined (worked, but I could improve it!). I used scraps of fabrics for making the test buttonholes–which proved just as well because I managed to mess up one of the samples. Like sewing the buttonhole lips on the wrong way messed up. But imagine if I hadn’t taken the time to make up those buttonhole samples and instead sewn, cut and then discovered my backwards buttonhole on the fashion fabric! I don’t even want to think about how heartbroken I would have been.

Samples can be useful for so much more than just a reminder on working bound buttonholes:

  • Help determine the correct tension, stitch length and needle size for your fabric.
  • Make sure the tension is balanced for your serger and is correctly forming along the edge of your fabric.
  • Double check the correctness of the interfacing weight you’re using: is it too heavy or too light for the application?
  • Work out a new (or not often used!) technique like bound or corded buttonholes, eyelets, etc.
  • Assist in choosing the correct seam finishing technique for your garment by testing the compatibility with the fabric weight and whether it prevents raveling.

So before you toss that pile of odd scraps after you cut out your next project, remember to keep a few for working a sample or two!

July 19, 2013 · 48 lovely thoughts
posted in sewing · tags: ,

Tammy July 19, 2013 at 07:16

I do this! Especially for buttonholes, but even for things like hemming. Narrow hems are still not in my comfort zone so practicing before attacking the garment is in my best interest!


thisblogisnotforyou July 19, 2013 at 07:16

I often use sample and also think they are super useful! I’m prone to making very stupid mistakes when sewing and have ruined some garments before by using the wrong stitch or tension. Now I always try it on a sample piece. In the end, this is faster than having to unpick or cut out the whole thing again!


Stephanie July 19, 2013 at 07:30

I do samples for buttonholes sometimes-especially if I’m working with a new or difficult type of fabric. I also like to try out topstitching thread colors before starting on the real deal.


emily July 19, 2013 at 07:50

i find that sampling can sometimes make a daunting project a little bit less scary because you know where your going after trying out a few things :)


Jessica Cangiano July 19, 2013 at 09:13

Excellent advice – it reminds me instantly (and rather fittingly) of the classix axiom, a stitch in time saves nine.

♥ Jessica


Sunni July 19, 2013 at 09:25

Great advice! I don’t always make samples and I always want to slap myself after for not doing it because inevitably, I always mess up with bound buttonholes and welt pockets! Making samples are such a great way to avoid this and ensure a clean make on the actual garment.


Diane @ Vintage Zest July 19, 2013 at 10:14

I will only test out certain techniques on scraps of the same fabric, usually the pieces left over after I’ve cut out my fabric between the pattern pieces. It’s very useful, especially with serger tensions!


Kristen July 19, 2013 at 11:04

I did this recently! It’s the first time ever making piping and I had a cord to cover that is 55 inches long. NO WAY I was going to turn a tube that long! So the section attached to the bodice is piping with a seam allowance and the straps are roughly 20in of tubing. That was the 1st trial. 2nd was trying to turn woven fabric. I tried to make bias strips/tape… nope. I was about to use lycra and make the tube a contrast (overly contrast… euw….) and I sewed a few test pieces to get the right stitch. Finally I realized I could cut the cotton fabric strips on the bias and have the strips that way! It works!! Will look even better with the right thread. ^_^ Sewing Happy Dance!!


trish July 19, 2013 at 11:12

Thanks for bringing this up! I probably would not have thought of it, but now that you mention it–I DEFINITELY need to do a test run before attempting buttonholes on the jacket I’m working on now. P.S. I enjoy your style (and your hair!)


Tasha July 19, 2013 at 13:28

Great tip! I definitely do this too. The first time I tried handworked buttonholes, I did at least 3 before going ahead and doing them on my project (in part because it was on my Sew for Victory jacket towards the completion, and there was no WAY I was going to mess it up at that stage! lol). I also do this when I can’t quite visualize a technique, like if I’m unsure which side works out to the wrong or right side, things like that. It definitely can save you a lot of heartache and frustration!


Bunny July 19, 2013 at 16:43

I have been doing this for years and it definitely saves time and heartache. Once I have settled on the successful sample for the fabric I will write on it with a Pigma pen the stitch length, tension, needle, etc. I keep it handy while working on the garment and when done all my samples go in a sample box, labeled in little ziplocs. I find I don’t have to remake the wheel. My box is full at this point and almost always I find a sample just like my current project and move ahead on it. Yes, I’m a big sampler.


ooobop! July 20, 2013 at 01:47

I’m slowly learning to do this but as you say, short on me time, when all time is swallowed up with work and smalls leaves a precious amount of time. So my samples end up being worn too!


Elora July 20, 2013 at 08:30

I remember the first time I made a dress, and I made a sample first. I ended up turning it into a bonnet, I think. ;D


Emma July 20, 2013 at 11:05

I never realised that it was optional! :)

In school we never even learned a word for it. It was just a step you had to do every time you changed any setting on your machine (unless you are changing it BACK to something) or if you changed anything about your fabric.


Gabrielle July 21, 2013 at 09:14

Before I start sewing something up I’ll always test my sewing machine stitch length and tension on a little scrap of fabric (preferably a long bit with a couple of curves in it), and similarly for my serger. If I have buttonholes I’ll do a couple of test runs first on scraps layered with interfacing to replicate the section where I’ll be making the real buttonholes. I don’t think it adds much time – and it certainly saves lots of unpicking!


Sheila S July 21, 2013 at 19:57

Thank you for mentioning the techniques that probably need a sample (or 2) made. Great idea! And thanks for posting the link to Gertie’s buttonhole. I can’t wait to try that one. BTW, the dress you made in your “case in point” is my absolute favorite dress! I really want to make one for myself. I figure that I wouldn’t be able to find the pattern, so…maybe one day, I could try to draft a pattern for it…or modify a pattern I can find. Beautiful dress!


Danielle July 22, 2013 at 11:02

I’m deeply impressed with your dedication ;) I tend to not have much patience with muslins or samples, but I’m trying..I really am!


A July 23, 2013 at 10:30

Totally unrelated but thought you might like this:


Lyric August 1, 2013 at 10:25

Geeez, like you said yet another thing to do, LOL. I state in my blog taking my sewing to the next level. I suppose no one said it would be an easy jump from present mediocrity to this next level.

Ya know, one thing that gets me is my finances and sewing at the next level. It takes muy money to purchase the extra fabric for mock ups and such. Sigh. A sewist has gotta do that a sewist has to do.


Su August 3, 2013 at 11:05

Great advice! I have sometimes done this when I’ve needed to try a new technique (like buttonholes – I haven’t got as far as bound yet!) but more often than not my sample making comes AFTER I’ve messed something up on the garment when I need to figure out what I did wrong and how to do it right. I’m gonna try and remember to start with a sample in future as, like you say, it may save me a lot of time and heartache! Thanks.


Rachel August 4, 2013 at 17:31

I think your buttonhole example is a perfect one for when you would want to use scraps to practice on and refine your technique first. So far, I’ve never done samples, but then, I’ve never bought really expensive fabric or tried a whole new skill yet.


Brigid August 8, 2013 at 12:55

I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a blog award over at my family’s blog!
You can check it out here:



Hannah Abigail August 13, 2013 at 15:42

Hey Casey, I just wanted to say how much I love your blog. You are definitely the reason that I started to become involved in the blogworld at all, and now I have my own. I would love it if you would take a look at my blog at
And I definitely make samples, I would be scared silly to try and make a buttonhole without testing it first! haha


cristina August 14, 2013 at 05:19

I made a trial buttonhole for my skirt refashion. It was my very first buttonhole and I didn´t want to ruin the whole waistband. Besides, my machine was new and featured a 1-step automatic buttonhole presserfoot: too much going on without stopping for control ;-) .
I realized afterwards that samples were necessary and fun, and it´s gorgeous finding that experienced seamstresses do them as well!
By the way, how does that Dritz thingy work? Is it explained anywhere in your blog?


Francesca September 3, 2013 at 08:34

This is such a great post!
I never ever make samples, but I should haha
You have such a great blog! I love it!
I’m checking out your older posts and I’m following you on Bloglovin,
If you like, I’d be so honored if you follow back!

La Dolce Moda


Heidi September 10, 2013 at 15:02

Hi Casey, are you still doing your blog? I’ve noticed it hasn’t been updated in ages (which is totally understandable btw) but I wondered if you were still blogging or have moved on to other things?


Nicole September 17, 2013 at 16:14

I actually like to do “wearable muslins” ie.) something I can still wear but it’s not in my really beautiful fabric. All the first runs of any pattern I make are generally not in muslin (unless it’s something I’m REALLY unsure about) and I get to play with color, texture, trims, etc before using the really awesome fabric.

I’m sure a wearable muslin is nothing new to you, but perhaps might be to some commenters, so that’s why I’m posting. :)


Kristy l. October 1, 2013 at 13:19

We miss you, Casey! I hope all is well. I hope you can start blogging again soon when you’re up to it.


Deanna October 2, 2013 at 11:53

It’s been quite a while since this post. I hope that you are just super busy being a mom and having fun with baby Audrey, and that all is well. I really love your blog, it is one of the first (and best!) that I started reading.



Elaine November 2, 2013 at 23:26

Hey, this used to be one of my favorite blogs, but since you haven’t posted in so long, I am taking this of my my fav list. It’s too bad that such a great blog just faded away like this, I wish that that there was at least a fare well from Casey. Seems like her readers don’t mean so much to her. Otherwise, there may have at least been some sort of goodbye. Bummer.


Ember November 10, 2013 at 19:42

This comment is very disheartening. I do not know Casey, except through this blog, but she doesn’t strike me as one that would just disappear with no reason. We can only hope and pray that all is well on her home front.

Casey…hugs and prayers to you and your family.


Michelle November 13, 2013 at 19:18

I agree with Ember – such a thoughtless, crass comment. We can only imagine what could have happened to keep Casey away from her blog – her baby, her Husband (a military man!) not to mention the rest of her nearest and dearest.
I wish you well Casey, I hope that everything is good and you are simply enjoying the pleasures of motherhood: you owe us no explanation, we only care that you’re OK xx


Jaime January 9, 2014 at 04:00

Wow, Elaine. Your comment is rather disgusting. Casey is a new mom and her husband is in the service. While I love her blog and hope for more updates soon, I hardly think one can draw your conclusions from her lack of updates. I hope nothing like a serious illness or something like that has happened… We don’t know and frankly don’t need to know details of why a blogger takes a break, they are individuals with lives outside the blogosphere! Perhaps it would befit you to remember that.
On a lighter note, Casey, I do hope you and your family are well!


kristy November 11, 2013 at 19:23

I agree, Ember. I’m really worried about Casey and her family. I’m checking the blog everyday for news and hope all is well also. Something doesn’t seem right because she would never just quit blogging. We are thinking of you Casey and send you our love.


Kathryn Eisenreich November 24, 2013 at 05:20

Hi Casey, it is 8pm here in Australia. Bedtime for the babies. Just checking in while feeding to see how you and your family have been doing. I hope you have been super busy IRL and enjoying the change of pace that mothering brings. You are not alone. I found our first child a massive shift. Lots of love, kind thoughts and good wishes. Faithful reader, Kathryn xx


Zoe November 25, 2013 at 20:13

I do that with most projects. I practiced welt pockets a lot before I put them on my jacket an I generally test tension/stitch length on scrap fabric, especially when working with knits or expensive fabrics :)


Viviane December 5, 2013 at 12:50

Adoro seu blog, já li ele todo, seus looks são perfeitos. To com saudades de mais postagens.
Sua filhinha é muito linda parabéns. beijos.


Viviane December 7, 2013 at 12:33

Será possível que ninguém sabe onde esta Casy??? estou preocupada com sua ausência querida. beijos Viviane.


Jana December 16, 2013 at 01:12

Hi Casey! Just wanted to wish you a very merry Christmas–your first Christmas with your sweet little girl! Your lovely website has brought pleasure to so many–thank you for sharing the gift of your creativity, and best wishes to you and your family for a lovely holiday season and a joy-filled 2014!


Doris December 27, 2013 at 18:45

I miss the blog too but was delighted to see that Casey still updates every day on Bloggers need time for their own lives too! Casey: <3 I do hope to find a new post here in the future, bevause it's such a lovely blog. No stress though! It's just lovely to know that you are well.


Kristy L. December 28, 2013 at 10:19

Thank you for letting us know!! Now I can follow here there. I was worried something bad happened, so I’m glad I/you have found Casey again!


Deanna December 30, 2013 at 00:37

I’m so glad you posted this! I’ve been concerned about Casey and her family. That comment above was unfortunate. I think we should all understand that she is a new mom and a military spouse (I spent some time as one myself, and it isn’t easy). And if I remember right, her mom had been having health problems earlier this year. She probably doesn’t have much time on her hands. I hope she knows we all appreciate her blog and doesn’t bother about it until she has time and inclination for it.


Alla December 30, 2013 at 22:12

I’m so happy to see you are doing well, Casey! I’ve been really worried about you and your family, and I’m glad Doris posted your address on Instagram – I gain so much inspiration from just peeking into your life. This said, I hope you put no pressure on herself about continuing to blog to entertain strangers like myself. People in your real, not virtual, life are infinitely more important. Thank you for the many gifts you shared with us online already. Happy Holidays to you and your beautiful family!


Carrie December 31, 2013 at 20:53

So glad someone posted on here that Casey was alright! I have been checking weekly to see if anyone knew anything! Thank you thank you!


Ananasa January 7, 2014 at 02:43

Amazing tips and advice, thank you for inspiring us! Home For Handmade


AliceAva04 January 25, 2014 at 08:41

I just stop by to let you know I love your page and I had a good time reading it.I’m glad that my friend emailed me the link to this blog.


Stephie Schafer January 29, 2014 at 14:05

I really miss your posts! <3 I wonder if you're ever going to come back here. I visit your blog every week hoping you're back.
Wish you the best and hope you're just mommy busy.


Angi Trout March 1, 2014 at 10:26

Hi there! I know you’re probably busy with your beautiful little girl, so no pressure! I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog and look forward to hearing from you again someday. I’ll keep checking back. You’re very gifted, so don’t hide your light for too long!


Care to comment? Thank you ever so much for taking time to share your comment! Although I try to answer questions, I am not always able to respond to each comment individually. But please know that I appreciate from the bottom of my heart every comment I receive!

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