Working with a Toile to Develop the Jumpsuit and New Dresses

On a cool Spring day in May, I travelled to Fashionworks’ offices in Moorgate, to work on some new garments in my collection: the jumpsuit, the shift dress and the swing dress. We would be working with a toile to develop the jumpsuit and the other designs, and this was my first experience of working with professional dressmakers in this way. 

Katy Cordina, the director of Fashionworks London, and Janet Rodney, director of the boutique factory in Nottingham where my garments were to be made, would be taking me through the process of the toile fitting. I was curious and excited to understand more about how my designs would become finished pieces. In the space of a few short months, we’d taken the ideas in my head to the stage where these designs would soon be out in the world. 

The toile is an initial mock-up of your garment 

Toile is from the French word meaning “linen cloth” or “canvas”.  It’s modern usage entered the English language in the 12th Century. In the United States, a toile is referred to as a “muslin”, after the unbleached cotton fabric used to make them. 

The process of making a toile provides an opportunity to ensure accurate measurements for fitting the garment to the body. Without this stage in garment development, many important aspects of wearability and appearance could be overlooked. 

It is important to make sure the fabric is on grain, so there isn’t any distortion when the pattern is cut. It is also imperative to choose the correct fabric weight. The toile fabric should behave and drape like the fashion fabric. The use of light colours is recommended because they are easy to mark up with dressmaker’s chalk and coloured pins. 

So why bother working with a toile?

  • sizing helps, but you still need to fit the garment
  • you can afford to make mistakes in calico/muslin
  • precious fashion fabric remains intact until a fit is perfected
  • extremely useful in complex projects without having the fear that you would ruin expensive fabric
  • you can experiment with design ideas directly on the inexpensive fabrics 
  • it cuts down the sewing time to a minimum

A well-fitted toile is invaluable for manufacture

You can re-use it, adding or removing design elements, making subtle changes here and there. Karl Lagerfeld explained the value of making a  toile like this,

“If you use the real fabric right away you may not get a good fit. It’s risky, so it’s better to work from a basic structure or pattern that’s discarded when the dress is cut. The toile gives you the proportions and an idea of the finished product, so you can avoid making mistakes.” 

As someone relatively new to design and garment manufacture, I’d suggest to other newbies to take advantage of the great opportunities offered by working with experienced designers and their manufacturers. Don’t be nervous about working with a toile as it really helps you to see how your design becomes a fully-realised garment. 

In the photographs, you can see how we worked with the initial mock-up of the jumpsuit to make some noticeable alterations to it. I felt the full-length sleeves and legs needed to be cropped as this looked more in line with my other Magi Rose garments (like the Bagi) and would be better suited to the design of the fabric I had already chosen for this piece. 

Katy and Janet were impressive to watch, as they worked with great skill and efficiency. They could discern a required effect and mark it up or pin the fabric in exactly the right place where the adjustments would need to be made, and seemed to do so with speed. 

At the end of the day, I felt very satisfied with the outcome of our work on these pieces and filled with hopeful anticipation to be able to soon add them to the growing Magi Rose collection.