To Toile Or Not To Toile?

Hello! We would like to introduce you to something called “toiling”…… no, we aren’t going to stop sewing and start gardening… .. we are going to show you how you can get the perfect size garment so that when you come to measuring and finding the right size you know where you can make adjustments.

For those of you who are new to sewing a toile [“twahl”] is basically a mock-up or practice run of your garment using a cheaper but similar fabric to the one you intend to use in the final project. The reason people do this is so that they can see how the garment will fit and decide whether they need to make any adjustments before cutting into their lovely fabric. You might think that you’ve taken your measurements so surely the pattern should fit you perfectly?. There may be those of you out there that this is the case (lucky you!) but for the majority of us it doesn’t usually go that way. We’re all built very differently: we might have narrow shoulders, a sway back, be petite or tall – to name a few. There is no way pattern manufactures can cater for every body shape; there is more to fitting than bust, waist and hip measurements. The real joy of creating your own clothes is making something that fits you perfectly, a toile can really help your chances of doing just that.

Some people see making a toile as too time consuming, giving you yet another thing to do before getting to your real project, which we’re all itching to do. While it does take time to construct a toile in the end it could save you a lot of stress and a lot of money, especially if you are new to sewing. By making a toile you’ll have already experienced the steps required to make your pattern, plus you’ll know in advance if you need to sew a wider seam in the waist or at the shoulder or whether your sleeves need to be shorter etc. so you won’t need to take any time fitting and tweaking the final project, you can simply sew it together.

Toiles were traditionally made from calico, an unbleached cotton but this can be quite an expensive fabric nowadays, meaning it doesn’t really make sense to use it any more.  Often you’ll hear people discuss using old bed sheets for their toiles.  This may work for some projects but it is important to remember to use a fabric of similar weight to the fabric you plan to use in the final project. If you’re making your Day Dress from a denim or corduroy a cotton sheet won’t reflect how the dress would sit in your final fabric.  Also, we recommend using a light coloured fabric for your mock-up so that any marks you make can easily be seen. We buy various thicknesses of curtain lining as it’s super wide and, if you buy end of rolls, it can be quite cheap. That way, we always have our toiling fabric to hand when we need it.

There are some projects that are easy to fit and alter so you might find they don’t really need a toile. With this we mean projects that are loose fitting and don’t have many seams like our Raglan Dress.  These types of garments can be fitted during the sewing process using pins and basting. However, for garments that are more closely fitted, have darts, seam lines in obvious places etc. like our Day Dress you might want to consider making a toile first.

For trousers, we would say making a toile is crucial. Trousers are unfortunately the most complex garment to make as there are so many differences in that area of our bodies. If you are petite the waist may be too high and the trousers far too long, or vice versa!. It would be such a shame to cut out your trousers only to realise this once they are made in your beautiful fabric! Sleeves are another area that often need adjusting. Imagine your garment had a sleeve with a beautiful finish or cuff – you want to be absolutely sure that it finishes at the perfect point on your arm. By making a toile first (you don’t need to make both sleeves) – your garment can be 100% perfect for you!

When deciding whether to make a toile remember you don’t have to make the project in full so it won’t necessarily be that time consuming. For example, you don’t have to put zips or other fastenings in, construct collars, add in facings or finish seams (unless you want to).  It is more important to concentrate on the parts that need to fit your body, making sure they sit exactly where you want them to. Once it’s all together you try it on and mark where changes need to be made. You can then add these changes to your pattern, feeling confident that the finished project will fit you perfectly – which is exactly what we’re all aiming for right?

However, if you make a lot of adjustments on a toile it’s worth making it up in another toile!

If you do decide to toile our final tip would be to keep it after the project is finished. That way, when you decide to make the same pattern again you can quickly check you haven’t changed in size and it still fits.

The best thing about making a toile? It takes the pressure out of trying something really complicated – when you come to making it out of your beautiful fabric, you’ve already been through the steps and can forge confidently ahead. Often, when following an instruction manual, step 6 only  makes sense when you get to step 8 so if you have already been through all the steps when you get to step 6 again for “real” you’ll understand it perfectly!

So, when you are looking at choosing sewing patterns and buying fabric, think about whether the garment may need to be made in a toile first and pick up some extra cheap fabric or ensure you always have a spare stash.

Next week we’ll touch on tracing a sewing pattern – a great way to save the “master” pattern if you go up and down in garment size, but also a great way to make adjustments to the pattern and always have the original to go back to.

What do you think of toiling? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Posted by

Founder of London based indie sewing pattern brand - The Avid Seamstress

10 thoughts on “To Toile Or Not To Toile?

  1. Hi. I’ve just read your article on toiling and wanted to share my experience. When I first started sewing I’d never heard of making a toile and to be honest it would have seemed way too much work. However, most of the garments I made back then were never a great fit and for many years I gave up sewing because I thought I wasn’t very good at it. Fortunately my love of sewing brought me back, older and wiser. I began to invest the time and effort in making toiles for the more complex designs and found out I had a narrow chest, long arms a tummy that need some work but also narrow hips. Now I don’t consider myself a freak shape but clothes I make – fit – very nicely. So for anyone reading this take note. If you make a garment and don’t wear it because it doesn’t fit you’ve wasted time and money. Make a toile, get a great fit, enjoy your handmade clothes.

  2. What fabric (inexpensive) is best to use for a toile when one is using a knit fabric for the final garment? (Knit fabric is very expensive …)

    1. Great question! Yes you are right, knit fabric is very expensive so you would either need to find something really cheap at a discount fabric shop or fabric market. If you make a lot of garments in knit it is worth then investing in the cheaper stuff when you come across it.

      Alternatively, if that just isn’t an option, we suggest using your “real” fabric but basting the seams instead of sewing them so that you can fit it and make any adjustments – your real key is going to be the finished garment measurements as these are going to show you the finished size of the garment. If the measurements are not quite right and you really want to try that pattern then you might need to invest extra to make a toile, but then once perfected you can make it in lots of fabrics.

      Does anyone else out there use knit fabrics and have any suggestions on where to buy cheaper knit for toiling?

  3. I recently bought the Craftsy class (offered at under $15 at the time) , Sew the Perfect Fit by LInda Maynard.
    i don’t normally toile patterns but then again i don’t always get a good fit. i thought making a toile was time consuming and unnecessary. I usually make a flat pattern FBA , leave extra fabric at the shoulders because my shoulder lines are not the same as the pattern and i have a bigger waist than the pattern for my bust size.
    After watching the class I was keen to try this fitting out and i am now a convert to toiles and fitting them. I toiled a pattern for a dress i had already made which gapes at the front and is too roomy all over.
    i found that by dealing with my shoulder lines first , and keeping everything as per the horizontal and vertical lines ,everything else changes.
    After fitting the toile and adjusting the pattern I took a leap of faith and cut out and made the dress up without trying it on at all. It fits really well all over , i have to now make slight change to the zip at the back neck , and it should be perfect. Overall including toiling ,changing the pattern and making up the new dress, it was quicker and wearable. i am a convert to toiling.

  4. I have started making toiles when I make a top especially as find that the fit often needs to be adjusted. Hadn’t realised that it had to be in a similar fabric although it does sound like common sense. Thanks!

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