Bedsheet chic: not an effective toile

A toile made from an old bedsheet
Readers, I have a problem. Those who have less inclination or sewing time may think, if pressed to think about it, that I am a reasonably prolific dressmaker, but actually I feel permanently stunted in what I would like to make. I pore over my Japanese sewing books several times a week and think through what I'd like to sew, what changes I might add in, what fabrics I might choose. I sketch dresses and tops and then draft full-size patterns for them. And then I do nothing. Because I am always so worried about wasting or ruining fabric: about not making the right choices. A sensible person would suggest that this dressmaking paralysis could be cured by making a toile.

Crumpled bedsheet chic - I don't think the top half is quite as fitted as I might like it to be
Well, I do have an awful lot of toiles. I thought I was being incredibly thrifty by using old bedsheets as my toiles, but actually I think this may be a large part of the problem. It's so hard to tell whether you have landed on a wearable pattern when you find a strange creature staring back at you decked out in something rumpled that once covered your bed as a student fifteen years ago. It's not a look that inspires you to take out the precious lawn or voile from your stash and cut into it with confidence.

French-sleeved dress from Simple Chic
Let's focus on this most recent one. Its a toile for the above 'french-sleeved dress' from the beautiful book Simple Chic, This dress is one that I have particularly fallen in love with. But bedsheet toile made, I still have no idea whether I have a wearable dress in the offing or not. Instinct tells me that it's a little too baggy across the bust and stomach area, but almost perfect across the bottom and thighs (I have jeans on underneath in these photos which adds a little bulk in this area, but still, I think it's a good fit there)...but I can't actually be sure of this because the unaligned crumpled checks and stripes that come in from all angles obscure the view. I don't want to end up with a body-hugging dress, but equally, I don't want to make a potato sack.

The belt is made from the duvet closure strip...I haven't been sewing decorative buttons onto my toile.
So last week I bought five metres of inexpensive thin voile-weight bleached calico in the hope that it might liberate me and pave the way for more dressmaking. I think if nothing else it would undoubtedly make me feel happy if I eventually end up with a rail like this:

Toiles from the Japanese pattern book 'Sewing Recipe'
There's something so deliciously crisp about a calico toile that I find it almost as lovely to look at as the real thing. I love the way that in Simple Recipe they show the garments both as a toile and as a finished item (although, I'm not sure I'd recommend buying this book for a beginner as the make-up instructions aren't shown from beginning to end, but instead are placed throughout the book in non-consecutive order as a series of techniques).

You can find Simple Chic here at M is for Make... by the way - and if you're still feeling hesitant about dipping your toe into dressmaking in another language, Kate's Japanese sew-along posts can all be found here and will tell you everything you need to know about the process.

Too busy to sew yourself (I know, not an option I usually entertain)? I did a quick Google search for a photo of toiles, before remembering that there was one on the front of Sewing Recipes. However, I happened across Susie Stone who makes bespoke women's clothing and then mislaid several happy minutes getting lost in her beautiful site. I love the ethos of her dressmaking and can only imagine that one would feel entirely wonderful wearing one of her custom-made dresses. It all looks so serene.

Florence x

* The responses to my last post have really made me think - thank you. I don't think I hold quite the same stance on things now, and I'd really like to write a whole post about it, so perhaps after Easter (this post was pre-written before the holidays...that's organisation for you, no? I know, most out of character...but that's how strange a bad bout of tonsillitis can make a girl feel).


  1. I've made a couple of toiles from bed sheets and regretted it as the fabric doesn't drape very well and I'm never sure what I have at the end of it all. Also calico doesn't work so well when making something that is destined for voile like my sew along. It is great when making something structured as it holds it's shape so well, and irons folds like a dream!

    I made a top way back from an ikea duvet cover as the fabric was so cheap, that was great as it was quite light-weight, though felt a little bit like a waste.

    Also I have this exact same bedding from the 90's!

  2. I do the bedsheet toile (though I'm about to stop because the grain/drape is never right and goodwill sheets aren't that much cheaper than $1/yd for muslin), but if it's a lined dress, I also sew the lining first, basting up the sides, as a second test for fit.

  3. I think you'll definitely want to take some width off the chest and waist because you're so petite, but otherwise this looks well fitted. This will be a great dress on you!

    I really love the two dresses in the last picture and was thinking about maybe copying it for myself...but I'm afraid it'll look a little too Elizabeth Bennett-y for real life..

  4. I read recently about someone using shirting fabric for her toiles so they could be worn and all the effort not wasted.
    Perhaps you need to spend more time at the pattern fit stage?
    I've just been on a dressmaking course and much was made of pattern fitting.

  5. I was just talking about this with DH several minutes before I read your post! What timing! I have a problem of even using thrifted fabrics for toiles because I worry about wasting them, not using them in the best way possible. I even hesitate to refashion things often because I worry that I will 'ruin' a perfectly wearable, if not wearable by me, article of clothing. Intellectually I know it is ridiculous, because there is plenty of fabric, and clothing out there, and I deserve to make something fun for myself, even if it doesn't work out perfectly. But the worry remains... Even though my sewing skills are decent. I think I also want everything to always look very well done too, so the perfectionism thing gets in the way.

  6. Okay I am afraid I think you just have to go for it. Yes you will make a mistake sometimes, but otherwise you spend too much time and money just doing practice runs that never look right. Cut into the fabric go on it will work and you will be saving time and money in the long run when you get a great result.
    P.S. I actually thought the bedsheet version looked okay so it will obviously look superb in good fabric

    Looking forward to seeing the finished result soonest

    Best wishes Cilla Rule

  7. Kate, I completely agree, the cheaper and lightweight the fabric, the better the drape tends to be!

    I can't quite remember where the bedding was from - Habitat maybe?

    Daiyami - that's a good idea - I like the idea of double checking!

    Adrianna - I can't imagine you looking even vaguely Elizabeth Bennett & thank you so much for the fitting advice.

    Gigibird - I am green with jealousy, you lucky thing. I'd love to find a good course - the ones I've found are all just a little too far away.

    Handsnhearts...that perfectionism thing can be such a hinderance, can't it.

    Cilla Rule - that's really kind - thank you.

  8. I understand this post on so many levels; the sheets as muslins (toiles?), the stunted feeling when looking at japanese books and trying to decide what to sew...*sigh*

  9. I'm a little late to the party, and I haven't read your whole blog yet so maybe you're already familiar with this technique, but... When you make your calico toiles, it might be helpful it you mark your waistline, bustline, etc on the fabric when you cut your pattern pieces. That way, even if the fabric you use for your final project doesn't drape the same way as the calico, you will have an idea of how the finished product will fit you. This also helps with fitting because you can see where some pieces need more fitting. P.S. I love your blog and hope to come back often!


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Florence x