Sewing a test garment (and the ongoing search for the perfect tunic dress)


Here’s a great Saturday sewing project idea from Janome Canada artisan, Trina:

There are several different ways to approach apparel sewing but what it really comes down to is whether you want to test out a pattern and sizing, or if you want to just dive right in. I admit, I’m usually that person who falls into the second camp. Just get in there and make the pattern! But after some failed attempts that resulted in a final product that doesn’t fit, to the point that they aren’t wearable, I’ve tried to become a bit more savvy before cutting into what is sometimes some precious (and not inexpensive) fabric.

There are generally two ways to do a test run of a pattern. Creating a muslin is a great way to test a pattern. Muslin is an inexpensive fabric, usually very thin. When sewing a muslin you only need to use the essential fabric pieces so that you can best gauge the fit of a garment. In fact, generally a muslin is assembled using pins or a basting stitch. Secondly, you can also choose to do a test garment. When using this method, you  generally use an inexpensive fabric or something that you have on hand but it isn’t the final fabric you would choose for your garment.

If you have the time, it’s always great to do a trial run either by muslin or a test fabric. It may feel like an extra step but it is worth it to get a finished product that has great fit and finish.

You may have noticed that I’ve been on the search for the “perfect” tunic dress lately. By shear definition, it shouldn’t sound that complicated but I’m looking for a particular fit. Something loose but somewhat fitted around the bodice (i.e. not too boxy), knee length so I can wear it with tights, and I’m on the fence about sleeves or sleeveless.


I’ve been trying a lot of different patterns and recently came across the Bella Dress. It seemed to fit the criteria for my quest so I downloaded it and gave it a try. An extra little feature of this dress that wasn’t on my list, but will be now, is this tunic dress has pockets!

I found this fabric in my stash (it was actually donated fabric from a friend who had decided she would never use it) and I just happen to have enough to cut out all my fabric pieces and use it as a test run. It’s actually kinda cute for a tunic dress. Just enough interest to be able to pair with tights and a cute scarf (in the cooler months, of course).

The construction of this dress is fairly basic. I love apparel sewing on my Janome Skyline S9. This machine is so versatile. One day I can be sewing a dress and the next I can be working on a machine embroidery project. I love how easy it is to use the superior needle threader, and the automatic thread cutter makes projects go even quicker.

After assembling the front and back main pieces of the dress, the collar facing was sewn on. And from there the bias binding was attached to the neckline.


There is one tip I can share about choosing a test fabric: sometimes dark colours can be harder to work with. Especially when using a dark thread. For my test garment, I could have (should have?) chosen a contrasting fabric just to be able to save my eyes from some extra squinting.

This fabric frayed a bit. Thankfully there are many different stitch options on the Janome Skyline S9 that I can use to prevent fraying and finish off the raw edges. The pattern calls for an overlock stitch.  On the Janome Skyline S9, the zigzag stitch is a simple option, but the overedge or the sewing machine version of an overlock stitch are also great alternatives (utility stitch 13 or 17).


And the free arm helped get that cuff hem done right!


Finally, the sleeves were attached at the shoulder. The sleeves on this dress have a little bit of extra ease so a basting stitch with extra long stitch length was used to create a gathering stitch. I set my stitch length to 4.0 for this step.


After easing in the sleeves and a quick hem, my test run on my tunic dress was done!

I’m really glad I did a test run on this dress. What I found was despite measuring to see what size I should need, I actually needed to size down at least one, if not two sizes. So with my chosen fabric, that will be my next project. Although with the right accessories, this test garment is has a future in my wardrobe as well.


Do you do a test run on dress and other apparel patterns? Have you found the perfect tunic dress? And finally, pockets or no pockets?

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4 Responses to Sewing a test garment (and the ongoing search for the perfect tunic dress)

  1. Anne Lunn says:

    Excellent article, thank you.Definitely pockets!!



  2. I feel your aggravation on size. On thing I do is if I have a garment (ready to wear or made by me) that fits the way I want, measure THAT…flat on the bed or a table. Then measure the pattern, and compare. That gives you an idea of what modifications (and which size line) to follow. Knitting patterns are better than cloth-fabric patterns at giving finished measurements at various points (underarm length, side seam, bust, waist and hip, thigh, bicep etc). I’ve learned to read between the lines with “fitted” meaning usually 0-2″, or negative ease (0 to less than zero) for the bust measurement on a knit since you need the knit to skim/snug to the body *then* flare out. I know you know, but for other readers, just make sure your existing garment and intended garment are of similar fabric (so knit to knit, and even the same type of knit…or woven to woven with similar drape). After 50 years of sewing, the hardest thing for me to learn in the pre-internet days was the importance of ease and a fabric with suitable drape for the project.


  3. Terry says:

    Pockets for sure.


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