Grainline Archer Sew-Along: Muslin, Yea or Nay? (part 1)

Ohhh readers, you are in for a very, very special treat today. The incredibly generous, kind, self-made expert-of-all-things-shirts, David Page Coffin, is going to share a sampling of his wisdom on making a fitting muslin. Or not! This post covers WHY you might even be interested in making a muslin at all, and in a subsequent post he will cover a bit of the how-to-do-it stuff. Enough of me, and now for the real deal. Take it away, David!



So, do I HAVE to make a muslin first for this new Archer pattern I’ve got?

Here’s how I see it:

NO, you don’t have to, if:

  1. you’re quite happy with the way most of the ready-to-wear shirts you’ve bought fit and feel, or
  2. you have even one shirt that feels really just right, or
  3. you’ve made lots of other tops that fit perfectly well with no alteration—or with the fixes you’ve learned to always make so your top patterns work out better, or
  4. you’ve tried on your friend’s Archer and it looks great on you

If any of these are you, and you’re still reading, what I’d do in your shoes is get out that best, most favorite shirt or altered-as-usual pattern and measure it in the following places:

  1. the shoulders from armhole to armhole just below the back neckline
  2. across front and back just below the armhole
  3. at the waist or hip if your shirt happens to get wider as it moves down towards waist or hip

Then I’d pick the Archer size(s) that best match these measurements using the Finished Garment Measurements chart from the Archer booklet, and just dive right in.

And for all you folks who know you’re going to make a muslin anyway, I’d strongly suggest you do the same thing with your favorite shirt, even if you think its fit could be improved upon. In other words, at the very least, you should know how your Archer is going to compare to something you already know well, and don’t choose a cutting-out size for it that’s smaller than what you know without some careful thought. It’s easy to adjust for smaller, but not for bigger!

You’ll note that I mention measuring the shoulders, even though there’s no shoulder measurement included in the chart (very few patterns do include this, unfortunately). I measured all the Archer yoke patterns from CB to the shoulder notch, subtracted the seam allowance, then doubled; here’s what I found:

0=15½”   2=15¾”    4=16″    6=16¼”    8=16½”    10=16¾”    12=17″    14=17½”    16=18″    18=18½”

If you’re an A or B cup, (or you already know you’re going to add front darts or do some other FBA, because you always need one) you could skip measuring the shoulders. But if you’re a C cup or bigger and you want to see if you can get away without adding darts to this pattern (especially if your favorite shirt is also without front darts), or if you’ve got noticeably wide or narrow shoulders, I recommend measuring your comfortable garment’s shoulders. You may choose to ignore this factor in your initial size choice, but here’s why I think it might be a good idea to at least be aware of it:

Comparing the Archer front to a bunch of other (all Big-4) women’s shirt patterns at the same size I saw a strikingly wider shoulder and bigger overall circumference than typical:


Shirt muslin process by Sew Maris


…which I interpret as a deliberate strategy for reducing the need for a front dart, very much the way a big-shouldered man’s shirt often does when worn by a woman. It’s not just the bigger circumference that does that trick, the widened shoulder is critical as well; you could think of it as containing an unstitched shoulder dart. It seems very likely to me that this feature of the Archer draft is a large part of why it’s so popular, so, whether or not you need or want to apply your shirt’s shoulder measurement to your size choice for the Archer pattern, it’ll be a good thing to know about, and perhaps to adjust as an option further along if something’s not working as well as you’d hoped.

OK, back to diving right in for the no-muslin folks:

Before cutting out the collars, collar stand, cuffs, and sleeves, I would cut out ONLY the fronts, backs and yoke from the fashion fabric (FF), making the neckline a little bit smaller on the yoke and fronts so I’ve got more wiggle room to adjust this, and then pin or baste up the body for a test try-on. I’d just baste the center fronts together at this stage, rather than finishing the bands on these edges, but you could do that now if you’re confident. Then I’d confirm the neckline is to my liking or adjust it, measuring it to re-establish the length of the collar pieces needed if changed, and measuring down from the yoke’s armhole seams to nail the sleeve length I wanted, given the Archer yoke I’d settled on. I WOULD probably pin on muslin versions of those pockets at this stage…

IMPORTANT CENTER FRONT NOTE: If you’ve bought the pattern recently and it has separate and different right and left front pattern pieces (unlike earlier versions which only have one front piece), the CF on the right side is also the cutting line. So, to baste your fronts at CF for this FF try-on, you’ll need to add a temporary extra 1/2 inch SA on the right front piece, if you’re going to put off doing the bands ’til after tweaking the neckline.

In fact, I’d go further at this stage and see if some fine-tuning at the yoke and side seams could improve the shoulder and body fit. If I was smart enough to remember, I’d probably even cut out the fronts and back with 1-inch seam allowances at the sides and yoke to facilitate this. I’d do this tuning-up just like I would in muslin, as I’ll describe next time.

And NO, I wouldn’t make a muslin, if any of the above is true, but I still wanted to try out any of the construction steps coming up that were new to me or seemed challenging. I’d just make samples of those details, ideally in my fashion fabric and selected interfacing if I had enough of it, especially if it was the collar or cuffs I wanted to practice on. No way would I want my final collar in my perfect fabric to be a first-time venture!

MAYBE I’d make a muslin, if I was trying out some quite non-typical, or very new to me fabric and had some concerns about how it would work…but it’s hard to imagine just what that non-typical Archer-suitable fabric would be…so, nah; I’d probably still only do a few sample seams and details just to loosen up and feel better prepared, especially since this would actually need to be a test garment in the fashion fabric if I was doing it right, not really a muslin at all, and I can’t recall ever being able, let alone willing, to do that.

Definitely YES, I’d make that muslin, if I was in any way not happy with how RTW shirts or all my previous DIY shirt projects have always fit!

But just as described above for tweaking the cut-out FF, I would NOT simply cut out everything and make up a sample garment with collar, cuffs, pockets and sleeves all in place. In other words, I’m not trying to see if maybe, against all odds, THIS pattern will magically fix all the shirt fitting problems I’ve always had before, no matter how many rave reviews it’s gotten. I’d want to have maximum opportunity to fix things I can be pretty certain will need fixing before moving on to other things! So, my muslin, too, would include only a yoke, neckline and body, with muslin sleeves cut and tried on only after those were tweaked, if at all, which may not be necessary if your arms have never before caused you to alter a shirt-sleeve pattern. You might however want to check how they fall from an altered or redrawn armhole.

So I hope this helps you make a good decision about the eternal question To Muslin, or Not To Muslin. In my next post I’ll show you how I’d work an Archer-fitting on 2 very different body shapes.

Wowsers! Thank you David, for such a thorough analysis of why we might want want to muslin the Archer pattern specifically, as well as some great measuring tips that can be applied in all fitting/muslining decisions for any garment.

Happy sewing!


10 Responses to Grainline Archer Sew-Along: Muslin, Yea or Nay? (part 1)

  1. WoW! This was great David. I loved the overlay example. I am curious, when making a muslin for this type of shirt, with the collar being so important, do you make it up with the interfacing in it so that you get a true idea of how it will stand and turn over? Or simply make it without it?

    I just wanted to say how fortunate I feel to have found this Sew-a-long. What a blessing it is to have such support and guidance. It’s getting exciting!

    • Hi Karen; glad you found this useful! Good question, too; it raises a bunch of thoughts that should probably have been in my piece to begin with, were it ever so long:)

      My short answer would be; It depends…on what you want to find out from your test collar. I don’t call it a “muslin” collar because making it in something other than the FF is only one of the ways you might approach adding the collar to your test-this-first list.

      For example, if I just wanted to see how the exact shape and proportions of the provided collar/stand would look on me I might simply cut these out from bond or colored paper with no seam allowances except enough at the inner collar edge so I could tape this to the stand. That might be plenty for holding up against my face and around my neck to get the picture. This is a great quick way to try out different collar shapes you might want to swap for the original. Or to try out different collar lengths, to see how closely you want the collar (and thus the neckline) to fit around your neck; no reason to have fit like a neck-tie-ready dress shirt if you’ll never wear it like that. You could also do this with a single layer of fabric, perhaps starched to some useful degree, if you wanted to pin it on the neckline and watch it fall when unbuttoned.

      If that was my main concern, how the collar would drape with the shirt unbuttoned in some particular way I always like to wear my shirts (such as top two buttons undone, or with the neck open but the first button below the neckline maybe placed higher than typical because I’d done this before and liked the less than fully gaping-open result, or several favorite ways, etc.), I’d probably make it up as directed in the muslin fabric with maybe a little starch to simulate the interfacing…or just interface it with my intended product. Starch would be perfect if I wondered how it would look in various stiffnesses and didn’t want to make a bunch of tests with different interfacings; I could make it without interfacing and try it unstarched first, then lightly, then more heavily starched, etc.

      Of course if my FF was distinctively different in hand or drape than my muslin (silk organdy, say, or satin-backed crepe, some kind of lace, or a heavy brushed cotton, denim, etc.), clearly I’d have to test the collar’s drape in the real thing. And so I’d likely do this after I had the FF body together, either just basted as described in the post, or completed.

      If I was new to making shirt collars and was mainly concerned with trying out and perfecting that technique, I’d do it first in muslin with interfacing, probably skipping attaching it to the neckline the first time, and doing this a couple of times if I was unhappy with the first try in any way, then when more confident, test it again on the neckline in my FF/interfacing. Doing it this way I’d also have plenty of opportunities to check out the other aspects of collar-testing mentioned above.

      Getting the collar looking great is a pretty big deal, so I think it’s worth testing thoroughly, but which aspects will depend mostly on your prior experience, whether it be with the fabric, the techniques or simply the pattern shapes. Or maybe it’s all of these, in which case I might do all the tests described above in the given order, starting in paper, then in muslin, then in FF. As a card-carrying, lab-coated shirt nerd, I’ll happily admit that this is essentially what I do, altho I’m usually working with a well-known body pattern so the fitting part is in the bag.

      This long “bonus” ramble neatly clarifies, now that I think of it, my whole approach to the this “Muslin Yay or Nay” question! Thank you:) Ask instead: What exactly do I need to know before plunging in with my perfect, precious, irreplaceable fabric?

      Of course, maybe you just want to cut to the chase and make the whole thing up in some pretty quilter’s cotton or a neglected stash item so you’re testing everything at once and your test will at least be wearable around the house no matter what you decide to do differently in the good stuff. You’ve got to factor in your own tolerance for fussing about!

      My main point in all this ISN’T to badger folks into ever more testing and gratification delay, after all. It’s to suggest as many ways as I can think of to narrow down the testing process so you get what exactly you need from it as efficiently as possible. Hopefully others will have some tips in that direction to share, too!

  2. Wow! I am learning so much already. I have already made 2 Archers, but I haven’t been super thrilled with the fit of either one. I am interested to go and measure shoulders now. Thanks for this!

  3. The overlay was very interesting. I guess I was surprised to see it was larger than the Big 4 shirts. There is so much bashing on the web about the generous sizing of the Big 4 and so many raves about Archer that assumed they would look very different than they do. I have to admit though, that I have had similar experiences fitting Indy patterns as I do fitting the Big 4 so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised after all.

    • Thanks Lynn. I think sometimes we are able to find a pattern brand that fits us pretty well, and sometimes not so much. I really believe everyone who sews adult garments needs to learn something about fitting so they are satisfied with their final products.

      • It’s my understanding that this shirt is drafted to sit slightly off the shoulder for an oversized look. I’ve noticed that popping up in RTW shirts recently, usually ones described as “boyfriend” fit. But it’s easy to adjust if you don’t like that look. 🙂

  4. I so appreciate the shoulder measurement tips, thank you! I’ve never NOT made a muslin, but now I feel like maybe I can compare to my favorite shirts, first. I think this Archer is wider and looser than I’m used to, and I’m also thinking that I will like the style.

    • Thanks Robyn!

      Comparing pattern measurements to RTW, and/or understanding some of the basic body measurements to get the fit YOU like is super helpful. If you want to try a looser fit Archer, maybe make it up in your less-than-dream fabric first. That’s what I did with my first Archer. I used fabric I had in my stash that I liked, but wasn’t going to cry over if it didn’t turn out correctly. Turned out fine, and I love it!Thanks so much for participating!

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