To Toile or Not To Toile

Pattern – McCall’s 7969 size XXL

Fabric – Double cloth “Earth” from Spotlight, calico for toile

Notions – Rasant 120, clothing label

Definitions – Toile: make a test garment in a similar fabric to evaluate fit.

Look, I’ll start by saying, I rarely toile. If I have fabric and a pattern in mind, I’ll usually jump right in and start cutting and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I can make alterations on the fly, and sometimes I’ve just got to live with what I cut.

But I want to get out of that habit. I feel like patterns can only start to become tried and true (TNT) when I know they suit my style, they can be made up in the fabrics that I like to wear, and when all alterations have been made for the desired fit.

So when I fell into the sea of gorgeously gathered balloon sleeves on the #M7969 pattern, I knew I wanted to take my time to get it right. So here is a run through on how I toiled and made alterations to the pattern.

I toiled in calico, which is pretty standard. It was close enough if a little stiffer than my main fabric but did the job. Sometimes washing and machine drying calico can soften it up if that is what’s needed.

I realised I would only need to toile the top half of the garment so I only worked with the bodice and sleeve pieces. Often when toiling I will only make up one half of the garment, especially if I’m only fitting to a mannequin. I went into auto mode and only cut one sleeve and bodice…lol this was just not going to work with this pattern!

Looking at some of the alterations that folk my size made, I had an idea where alterations would need to be made. I marked out the pattern quickly in pencil and added extra seam allowance (SA) to the waist, the side seam, and the raglan armhole on the bodice and the sleeve. I wrote on the pattern how much SA was there in total so I wouldn’t lose track. On refection I probably didn’t need to add so much, but it’s one of those things that is a bit awkward to add or guess if you don’t have it!

I used a contrasting thread on a long stitch to mark the waist and centre front. You can do this with any visible design lines like hems, necklines, or cuffs as well to give you a better idea of the finished length.

I like to sew my toiles using a long stitch so they are easier to unpick (or rip open!) on the go if need be.

I decided to do some tests on each sleeve to see how different the gathers on the sleeve head and cuff would sit if I used a longer or shorter stitch length. The longer stitch length created larger tucks which made a slightly rounder, higher puff. The shorter stitch length made smaller, more delicate gathers that sat slightly flatter and were easier to disperse more evenly.

Long stitch gathers and wider opening at wrist
Small stitch gathers and tighter at wrist

The pattern called for a wider opening on the sleeve cuff, but again after testing on each side I pulled the gathers in tighter for a more fitted and extra balloony shape.

When trying on I noticed that the front neckline was gapping. Although the pattern calls for the bias bind to be pulled tightly over the finished neckline which would help, it is often the case with low or crossed front necklines that they need to be tightened for a better fit. I pinched out a dart on both sides and saw how it felt. Taking it back to the pattern I averaged the amount from both darts and dispersed the amount along the front and back armhole and sleeve head, folding back to create a new seam line.

Gap dart at neckline marked in after altering on body.

I also ended up lowering the waist by about 1cm all around. On reflection I could have just done this at the front, as the back seems to sit a bit lower, but I think I’ll live with this one!

And then…it was time to cut! This terracotta/earth tone is something I’ve been wanting to push myself to try as my comfort zone colour is usually anything blue. But I love it! The double cloth was also something I’d never worked with before. Doing some pressing tests it didn’t take much to over press the fabric and have it lose its bubbled texture. So I recommend gentle steaming without putting the full weight of the iron on the fabric.

I don’t have that many dresses in my wardrobe so I was excited to add one that I absolutely love now. It had it’s first outing at a birthday picnic last weekend, and was the floaty dream I had hoped it would be.

My top tips for toiling:

  • Use a similar fabric to what you will eventually cut or even one you could make a wearable toile from
  • Mark out design lines for easy reference
  • Use a longer stitch length to make it easier to make quick alterations
  • Add extra seam allowance where you think you might need it
  • Write notes as you go so you don’t forget, I write mine on my toile sometimes!
  • Try out different techniques or finishes on each side if you aren’t sure about the way it looks
  • Wear the undergarments you would normally wear with the finished garment when trying on your toile. I usually go bra free when I’m sewing at home but that would make a very different fit and look!
  • Keep toiles for recycling into other toiles or test garments

Would love your thoughts on this very first Cloth & Roll blog post and whether you toile or throw all caution to the wind when making! Checkout my insta for further videos of the process. If you have any questions as well please don’t hesitate to ask.

Oh and yes that is Frank N. Furter in the portrait looking over my shoulder!

One thought on “To Toile or Not To Toile”

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