Thursday, January 14, 2016

Make Mine Muslin

I'm a radical. For some reason, I don't seem to be able to go with the flow with anything.

The latest victim of my folly is muslin fabric, the plain jane material used to make toiles/muslins/test garments in sewing. Traditionally, unbleached cotton muslin is used straight off the bolt (with a pit-stop at the pressing station if you're fussy). Not me. I wash mine first.

You're probably rolling your eyes at that last sentence, wondering why on earth I would add a step to a process most people skip because they think sewing test garments is too time-consuming and tedious. I have my reasons, two in fact.

The first: Sizing is added to muslin during the manufacturing, which stiffens the fabric considerably. It's difficult to get a feel for the fit and appeal of a garment when it looks like it's been made out of construction paper. Run a length of muslin through the washer and dryer, and it turns into real fabric with drape and texture. It gives on the bias, and follows the body's curves instead of standing away stiffly.

And second: Things made with straight-off-the-bolt cotton muslin are not intended to be worn. Unwashed muslin is meant to be part of the pattern-making process, never an end product. It may live forever in the pattern file, but it will never find life outside the workroom. It can't be worn because it can't be washed. First time the completed garment hits the wash-water, it will shrink and shape-shift, rendering it unwearable.

Not being able to wear a muslin garment probably doesn't matter to most people. It's expendable, a means to an end. But the more I sew, the more uncomfortable I am with the idea of making disposable garments on purpose. What a waste of time, resources, and effort. So un-green!

Washed muslin is an attractive fabric. A little plain, perhaps, being cream-coloured and without pattern. If it's an everyday garment (and not a fancy-smancy dress), it could go into your wardrobe rotation as a neutral. Or something to wear when gardening, or at the beach.

To be honest, not many of my muslin test garments remain intact enough to wear. Most are so chopped and altered, they'd be indecent to don in public. In that case, I'm fine sending the remains to the rag bag, the fabric has served its purpose and I can let it go.

It's the garments that are basically intact that prick my conscious. They look like a regular dress/skirt/shirt/pant; their only sin is being made in an utilitarian fabric.

      Lady T

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