Why should I make a mockup or toile when I have a pattern? Isn’t it overkill? This concern comes up often so I think it’s important to clarify the importance of making a mockup. What is toile or mockup? It is a test run of your garment. When I went to sewing classes, we didn’t make mockups (or muslin toiles in fancy talk). There was a big emphasis on flat pattern alterations based on personal measurements. We also practiced sewing details like stitches, sewing yoke, collars, sleeves, pockets and such. Every course would begin with students measuring each other and working on their patterns on day one. From day two, you jump straight to cutting and sewing. I started making mockups myself after a few failures when the garments I made straight from the pattern, even with alterations, looked horrible on me. I remember feeling discouraged.
This is my advice based on years of experience: please make a trial run with every new pattern, especially at the beginning. You will not only get the perfectly fitted garment as a result, you will get a boost of confidence that’s worth its weight in gold. The main reason for avoiding making the mockup is usually time constraint. It is understandable that you want to jump straight to fun, start sewing and get the garment ready to wear. An extra step could be too much to ask. In these times, when everyone’s attention span and patience seem to be so short, the consensus is not to make anyone do the activity that seems boring so as not to lose interest. But what if you change the way you think about the mundane things that we all have to perform? We do it with our kids all the time. We may as well practice what we preach.
Don’t think about making a mockup as a waste of time and fabric. It is never that. Make it interesting. Play a fashion designer for a day. Think about it as fun, a chance to see the prototype in action, your first glimpse at what the design is going to look like. You can make important adjustments; try out details that you pattern doesn’t have, like pockets or trim, do some pinning and playing around with different ideas. It is a brainstorming session and we can all use some of that. You will notice that after you make a mockup/toile, your actual garment construction will go like a breeze because you know exactly what to expect.
You need a mockup for every new pattern. As you work on it, make notes, take photos and add that to the pattern folder. For example, I have a library of patterns that are tested with mockups and I know exactly what my alterations are. I can pull any of them at any time and make another dress or a jacket and I know that it will be a perfect fit, as long as my body measurements are the same. If your body measurements have changed, however, you will need to make another pattern and another mockup. Yet another reason to work out every day and have a well-balanced diet. By the way, if you get vintage patterns, making a toile is a must. Vintage patterns have interesting details of construction and fit that you may not be familiar with. I get pleasantly surprised every time I get a new vintage pattern. The older the pattern, the better the surprise.
Any fabric available, really, but white or off-white cotton with plain weave is preferred. Muslin or calico is the fabric of choice because it has a plain weave which you can see on close up. This fabric has well defined weft and warp threads and it holds the shape well. It is crisp enough so you can easily pull your toile apart and transfer any alterations to paper pattern. But in a pinch, I used bed sheets, my husband’s old shirts, even old curtains. It goes without saying that I don’t use expensive fabric for mockups. Before the pandemic hit us, I used to make a trip to the fabric stores or thrift shops to stock up on muslin fabric on sale. Once I am happy with the fit and all pattern alterations are made, I pull the mockup apart and reuse the pieces for other projects or other mockups so I have minimal waste. Please recycle your fabric as much as you can and always be mindful about the impact on the environment.
Your mockup should be a shell of your garment that you can actually try on complete with zipper, collar, pockets, sleeves and any relevant pieces of detail, such as marked or drawn placements of your buttons and buttonholes, and even a rough drawing of applique, embroidery or bead work. If you need to practice any sewing technique, this is your chance. You should also baste hems in place so you could see the length of the sleeves or garment. I sew the mockup by hand as much as possible but larger pieces are best basted on machine with long stitch length so you could pull the pieces apart easily. I always use leftover thread for mockups and try to reuse the thread as much as possible. Again, the focus is on being very apprehensive about waste.
You can use markers, chalk or coloured pencils to mark any alterations right on the shell. You can draw the decorative stitching on the toile to see what the effect is going to look like. Test out different belt buckles closures and finalise button sizes. Don’t bother with interfacing, underlining or lining at this point. The main focus is on fit. Be critical of the comfort as well. Walk, sit, even go to your car and get in and out.
This is my final work flow after the test run is successful. Once my mockup is finalized and I mark the necessary alterations, I pull the muslin pieces apart and carefully transfer the corrections to your paper pattern. I usually make a separate copy of the pattern for each design using Pellon Easy Pattern or a similar durable material. I make notes about the buttons, thread and trim that I used and add them to the pattern. At the end of the project, everything goes inside a separate Ziploc storage bag with a photo of the finished garment on top.