Any of these familiar?? Quite possibly, I hear you say! If you haven’t said any of these yourself, you’ll no doubt have heard them from someone else’s mouth.

Let me address these objections to toile-making before diving right in. But first, definitions.

What is a toile?

A toile (pronounced to rhyme with ‘snarl’) is a prototype of whatever garment you want to make. You don’t need to make it with the utmost care, but you do need to make it well enough to do its job: check the fit. Doing this means you can adjust the pattern and save your alterations forever. You’ll also be cataloguing your unique fitting needs and getting to know your body shape really well, which is a BIG DEAL. This knowledge will be well worth it in the long run.

Toiles are typically made of calico, which is a cheap unprocessed cotton fabric, but you can make them out of any fabric. For items with drape or stretch, it makes more sense to choose a toile fabric close to the fabric you’ll use for the final garment.

Objection 1: “I’m making the entire thing twice”

Nope! You’re having a practice run. Think of toiles as your training pants, or training sessions. It’s always a good idea to do a practice run of making something, especially if there are new techniques involved or you’re using a pattern from an unfamiliar company. Context and order of construction are important. Practising on toile fabric is easier because there’s less pressure, more freedom, and greater perspective. Understanding how the pattern comes together beforehand makes you much more confident about working with your final fabric. You’re also less likely to panic if you get stuck on the instructions. Reading them through and following them can be two different things – ask me how I know!

Objection 2: “I don’t have time”

Making your own clothes is very much a tortoise and hare situation. I’m not going to pretend I don’t enjoy the speed and convenience of picking something up in the shop, paying for it and going home. What I can tell you is that it feels rubbish when you realise – and stubbornly accept – that you have added yet another disappointing piece of clutter to your wardrobe. You can shove it to the back, far corner, or bury it, but you know it’s there, mocking you and your poor decision-making. And then people around you don’t understand why you have nothing to wear. ESPECIALLY as you’re shopping all the time. You can’t win. You weren’t meant to win. But a toile will give you a head start.

Objection 3: “It’s a waste of fabric”

I mentioned in passing that calico is inexpensive fabric because it’s relatively raw and unprocessed. What that also means is that it’s very biodegradable! Using calico or similar cottons or linens means that you can add it to your nearest compost heap. Nothing is wasted or environmentally unfriendly. All natural fabrics can be returned to the earth, and they’ll keep the slugs busy.

Objection 4: “Can’t I just fix things as I go along?

You can…if you know how. This is one of the merits of jumping in at the deep end; even if you mess it up, you’ll learn something. And if you’re the kind of person who learns by doing – whether that means doing the right thing or the wrong thing – this can be an advantage. Often, we only learn how to fix things by breaking them. So the real question here is how your morale will hold up if your project goes t*ts up. If you’re also the type to take knocks on the chin, go for it. The experience will make you even better at sewing, and as a result you’ll see the benefit of making a toile. On the other hand, if this approach is likely to batter your confidence, spare yourself the heartache. Make the toile.

And last, but not least…

If this opinionated-but-sincere soapbox moment hasn’t made you click away, and you’re new here, allow me to introduce myself! I’m Natalie.

Natalie Warner

I design size inclusive knitting patterns for clothes makers who want their garments to fit well. Clothes should serve you, not the other way around. You alter clothes to fit you, not alter yourself to fit the clothes. This is at the heart of everything I do.

I also teach other people how to design knitwear and am currently creating a comprehensive, year-long knitwear design course, covering everything from illustration to pattern grading.

If you’re enjoying my content, you can get more by reading my blog, which features several articles on garment fitting, alterations, knitwear design and sewing pattern reviews, following me on Instagram or Pinterest @natalieinstitches, or signing up to my newsletter.

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May I also recommend the Stitches and Notches category from my blog? There are lots of sewing related posts there for you to dig into. I hope you enjoy reading them!