Toile Scrap Wrap Shirt
Getting the most out of the design testing process
What is a Toile?
Toile, muslin, mock up, sample, test: all different words for a means of testing the fit of a design before cutting into your final fabric. In one sense, this practice aligns well with sustainability goals. You avoid wasting materials on a garment that is poorly designed and ultimately not worn. If resources go into a toile that is ultimately discarded, however, that feels wasteful as well. My most recent project was an attempt to slow down and find the best of both worlds. I used inexpensive fabric I had lying around to test out the basic fit of a design and then used fabric scraps to finish the toile into a wearable garment.
The sustainable advantage of a wrap dress
For this project, I was testing the fit of a wrap dress. I’ve been wanting to finalize a wrap dress design for a while now. It’s a beautiful aesthetic with sustainable fundamentals to boot. Because wrap dresses are typically adjusted around the user’s waist with every wear, they are more forgiving of changes to the body. If your body can grow and change in a garment, it can have a longer life.
A toile for testing fit
Since the skirt portion of my wrap dress design is loose, I didn’t feel it was necessary to make a full toile dress. Instead I made a shirt with a peplum, which will be lengthened for the dress version. This also reduced the amount of fabric needed.
For my final wrap dress, I will be using a beautiful caramel lyocell twill gifted to me by Sitka fabrics in exchange for photos and social posts of my final piece. I love working with lyocell in general but I really love this color, so I definitely didn’t want to cut into it until I was 100% confident in my design.
For the toile, I used a striped polyester that I had picked up from my local fabric store when I first started sewing as an adult and was not putting a lot of thought into fiber types and sustainability. Even polyester in your closet is more sustainable than new organic hemp, so I was excited to be able to put this fabric to use. I had used it to test out a few other designs and was left with about a half a yard plus a whole bunch of smaller scraps in various shapes and sizes. I was able to cut front and back pieces from that remaining half of a yard, which provided enough of a sense of the fit to finalize my design.
Toile to wearable garment
Traditionally, you would discard the toile and start cutting from the final fabric at this stage. Instead, I decided to slow down and think through how I could combine the toile with other discarded scraps to create a wearable garment. I considered incorporating other fabric I had on hand, but couldn’t find anything that worked well with the print of the polyester.
I did line the bodice with black cotton from DIY curtains I made several years ago. Since I was only testing the bodice, my toile only extended about an inch below my bust, which is not exactly a “wearable” look for me (although PSA: all bodies are crop top bodies). I opted to add a ruffled peplum. I surveyed my scraps and determined I had enough for two short sleeves and a 7” peplum.
The peplum is made from eleven different pieces. I usually don’t spend much time matching prints across seam lines but, for this garment I was very careful about matching the stripes. I also opted for French seams so that all those many seam lines are beautiful inside and out.
When I moved onto the sleeves it became clear that my estimations were a bit optimistic. The pieces I had planned to use as sleeves weren’t large enough for the slightly puffy look I wanted. I dug a bit deeper into my scrap pile and inserted a panel into each sleeve, which provided the volume I was looking for.
Making this wearable garment gave me more information about my design than I would have gotten from a traditional toile approach. This is probably not the case for more experienced designers but, for me, turning the toile into a wearable garment forced me to think through the non-structural components of my design. For example, I interfaced the ties on the sleeves because they are an extension of the sleeve band, which needs the extra stability that interface provides. The extra stability on the ties, however, just made them difficult to tie. For my final dress, I’ll know to not apply interfacing to that portion of the band.
A worthwhile challenge
One of the things I loved about this project was how it shifted my perception. At one point late in the process, I was truly overjoyed to find two additional 8” scrap pieces. Those pieces were in my smallest scrap drawer because I had considered them useless annoyances but felt obliged to do something with them. But with a change of context those bits of waste became a precious commodity. I went back through the same pile of scraps many times throughout this process and each time my standards loosened. The more limited my resources became, the more potential I saw in any given piece.
I am happy with how my wrap shirt came out and how invisible a lot of the seam lines are but, honestly, I kind of love the seamlines. They strike me as a sustainable badge of honor and a reminder of the power of creativity against limited resources. I’m looking forward to challenging myself with more projects that recast scraps as precious goods. Right now, I have a bureau full of scraps giving me the side eye every time I buy new fabric.