A toile is essentially a test garment that is used to check sizing, fit, and proportion.
There are typically two different types of toiles - wearable and true.
Wearable: These toiles are made with the intention of being worn, being finished properly and made from a wearable fabric. You might create a wearable toile when you feel fairly confident with the pattern you are using, with the possibility of only minor alterations needing to be made that aren’t going to render the garment unwearable.
True: These toiles are more of a test garment, and are not intended to be 'pretty'. You may create a true toile first (even second) time round when you are less confident with the pattern you are using, when trying out a new skill, or working with an unfamiliar fabric. The beauty of true toiles is that there is no need to cut out facings, pockets, binds, linings, etc. as it is still possible to determine the fit, size and proportion without them.
A wrap-up of this how-to
When to make a toile?
On a personal level, I don't love the process of making a toile. They can be time consuming, a little wasteful on the fabric front, and pretty uninspiring especially when working in calico. However, I always create a toile for patterns I have drafted myself, as it is rare that I will get a perfect pattern first go. Visualising something in 3D when working flat in 2D can be challenging sometimes. Therefore, creating a toile can be helpful in understanding how the flat pattern will fit the human form.
On the other-hand, when it comes to commercial patterns, I rarely create a toile. I find that I can work out my sizing pretty well, typically falling within 1, maybe 2 sizes. I also rarely (if ever) make fitted garments, so fit is less of a problem in this regard.
If you are unsure, there are a few things you might like to consider that may help you decide whether to make a toile or not:
What is your confidence level? This could be in regards to both your sewing skills, the pattern you may be using, or the fabric. You may feel more confident with certain pattern brands than others because you have used them before and are more familiar with their sizing. Maybe you are more confident with woven fabrics than stretch.
Do you ever have trouble finding things that fit? The beauty of sewing your own clothes is that you can tweak garments so that they fit you perfectly. Maybe you often find yourself falling between sizes, being more of an 8 on top but a 10 on the bottom. Maybe you find yourself constantly have to alter the hem, adding or removing length.
How valuable, or expensive is the final fabric? When starting out, testing a pattern beforehand could save you a lot of heartache (and money), especially when you plan on investing in your final fabric.
How much time do you have? If slowing down and enjoying the process is a priority then taking the time to toile may just add to the experience. However, if you need the piece for a particular occasion then maybe only toile part of it. I recently found myself with this conundrum. I decided to only create a toile for the bodice of a dress (see photo above) because it was quite fitted, but didn't bother with the skirt as I felt quite confident with the style and that it would fit.
What do I already own? Do I own something similar that I could use as a guide in regards to fit? I often refer to existing trousers, for example, when determining the appropriate length of a garment.
What fabric is most suitable?
Typically, toiles are made from calico (an unbleached cotton material), as it is usually a cheap, easy to handle fabric, and you can draw any alterations straight onto it. However, calico isn’t always the most suitable option.
When deciding what fabric to use to create your toile I would consider:
What is the final garment going to be made in? Is it soft and fluid, or a more structured fabric? Will it be a woven fabric or a knit? Will it have stretch? I would always recommend trying to use something that has a similar handle as the fabric you intend to use for the final garment.
What type of toile are you making? If it is your first toile and you are simply trying to get an idea of proportions and design lines, calico might suffice. You might then move onto a more similar fabric for your second toile, testing for fit.
Expense: At the end of the day, toiles are a practice run, so you probably don't want to be spending a lot of money on them, and as I recently came to realise, calico isn’t always that cheap. So if you are looking for an inexpensive alternative (particularly if making your first or second true toile), I would try your local charity or discount store, or even take a look around the house for ol bed sheets or table cloths.
How might a toile differ to a finished garment?
A toile is essentially created to check size, fit and proportion, not finish! Therefore, when it comes to cutting and sewing your toile, there are a few things that can be done differently to sewing the final garment.
There is no need for facings, zips, buttons, pockets, overlocking etc.: However, if you want to check the positioning, you can always pin, or mark them using a pen.
Sew in a longer stitch length: This makes it easier to unpick and make changes if needed. Sewing in a different coloured thread may also help visualise design features, so this may also be a good option.
Remove the seam allowance at places like the neckline. This simply means you don't have have press or sew it down, still giving you an idea of where the garment will finish.
Stay-stitch to avoid stretching: You will undoubtedly be trying your toile on, therefore stay-stitching at places like the neckline, or armhole will just help avoid the garment stretching and altering the fit.
Add a little extra hem if you are unsure about length: This could be at the sleeves or the garment hem. In doing so, you just just have that little bit more fabric to play around with.
Press your toile: Treat the toile like you would the actual garment to ensure you get an accurate idea of fit.
Make changes on the toile: This coud be in the form of pinning, marking with pen, or using tape. These alterations can then be transferred onto your pattern ready for cutting out. I have drawn in the deired neckline, and pinned darts to the toile I created above. These alterations were then easily transferred to the pattern.
What do you do with a toile?
Try the toile on inside out: Whether it be on a dressmakers mannequin or yourself, trying the toile on inside out makes altering any seam allowances that little bit easier.
Ask someone to help: If trying the toile on yourself, having a second pair of hands can be super useful. Pinning out excess fabric at the back armhole is tricky, to near impossible, on your own.
Move around in it: Sit, pick something up, walk around. You will be moving in this garment, so you want to ensure it is going to be comfortable.
Keep an eye out for the following:
Do the side seams sit nice and straight, or are they creeping forward or back?
Are the pockets correctly positioned, or are they too high or low? Put your hands in and see how they feel.
Are you front or back openings large enough to get the garment on and off?
Is the neckline shape and depth appropriate from both a design perspective, and ease of getting on and off?
Is it the right length, or do you need to add or remove from the hem?
Does your hem sit straight, or it rising at the front or back?
Is your sleeve sitting nicely on your shoulder or is it falling off or creeping up towards the neck?
Is the garment pulling anywhere indicating it is too small?
Are your design lines in proportion?
Sadly that is beyond the scope of this post to suggest ways of rectifying each of these issues that may creep up. However, there is plenty of information out there, and I will hopefully cover some in upcoming posts.
How do you know you are ready to move on to the real thing?
The decision to move on to the real fabric is a personal one. It really depends on how you feel about the changes you have made and the confidence you have in your new pattern. If you have adjusted your pattern quite a bit, maybe rustling up one more toile is a good idea. However, if the change is something straightforward like moving the position of something 1-2cm, or adjusting the length, it is probably OK to move on to the actual fabric.
How can we make the toiling process that little bit less wasteful?
Let's admit it, toiles can be pretty wasteful! But there are a few things we can try to do to make the process that little bit more sustainable.
Try where you can to make wearable toiles, helping to reduce fabric waste. You can always keep the garment for yourself, or pass on to a friend.
If you find you don't need or want the toile, why not reuse the fabric.
Label your toiles so you can use them for future reference.
Be creative with where you source your fabric. Try charity shops, look around the house for old sheets and table clothes, or patch together different pieces of fabric.
Please get in touch or leave me a comment. I would love to know if you found this tutorial helpful, or if you have any of your own tips to share on creating a toile.
Thanks for reading!
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