Tilly and the button’s Megan dress – bring on the toile

I finished this make back in the summer but life has been a bit busy over the last couple of months so this blog post has been a little while in the making! If it’s left a while it then becomes harder to remember all of the details! Well let’s see what I can do, here goes….

The Megan dress is one of 2 dresses in the fantastic book ‘Love at First Stitch’ by Tilly Walnes (of Tilly and the Buttons). I have also used this book to make Tilly’s Delphine skirt, Brigette scarf and Clemence skirt. Despite the Megan dress having been on my wish list for a while, I wasn’t 100% convinced the style was right for me for my usual day to day needs. I thought the style might be a bit formal for me. In fact the fabric I used was originally going to be for a Ruby dress from Love Sewing magazine. However the Megan kept calling me and I had seen so many cute versions on other sewing blogs that I couldn’t resist. Bring on the Megan!

Having now made several garments for myself, on reflection I have been lucky on the whole in that I didn’t need to make major alterations from the shop pattern in order to achieve a good fit. I have however been a bit disappointed with the final fit of a couple, particularly around the back of the neck area. Alongside this I recently became a happy owner of a dressform to help with fitting. There was nothing else for it..it was time to make a toile.

A toile is basically an initial test version of a garment, traditionally made in a cheaper plain fabric or calico. You can also make a ‘wearable toile’ by choosing a fabric that might be a little cheaper or that you are not too precious about if it doesn’t go to plan. If it turns out ok though, you have something wearable at the end. Bonus!  In fact you can use anything you like really, even an old bed sheet but the important thing is to use a fabric that  is very similar to your ‘final’ fabric.  You can make all your fitting alterations to the toile first. When you are happy with that version you can transfer any changes to the pattern pieces and then it’s time to cut into your final fabric. Making the toile first may seem to make the whole process longer. However, if you end up with a fabulously fitting piece of clothing at the end rather than something that you’re just not happy with, who could argue with that extra time spent?!

I have previously been too impatient to do a test version and preferred to get stuck in straight away. However, I am sure the realisation comes to most sewers at some point, as it did with me, that alterations are far easier to do at the beginning rather than at the end when things like facings, seams, bias binding and linings get in the way. It’s all in the planning!

In order to help me along the way I used a few resources to load myself with knowledge! A post on Karen’s ‘Did you make that?’ blog gives some nice pictures on transferring adjustments onto the pattern piece. In addition to a useful section in Tilly’s book, there is also a very comprehensive blog post on a guide to making a toile on the Tilly and the Buttons blog, here. I also found a useful post on accurate fitting by Lorna Knight on the Sewing Directory website.

My Toile

Having done my background reading on making a toile I set to work by taking my measurements and comparing them to the pattern. My measurements were 34″ bust (size 3), 30″ waist (size 4) and 34″hips (size 1-2). I decided to go for a size 3 first of all as I usually end up taking things in at the waist and made a note that I might need to take some off the side seams at the hips.

I decided to toile the main pieces of the garment – the bodice, skirt and one of the sleeves. The guidance I had read suggested to adjust the length first, then the circumference and then any further personal adjustments e.g. sway back.

I usually have to lengthen patterns due to being approx 5’9 ish. I had a feeling that I would probably need to add some length to the bodice aswell as the skirt. This was therefore a really useful step of the toile in order to get the proportions right. I cut out the bodice and skirt pieces, sewed the darts and dart tucks in place and then sewed the bodice and skirt together. As I thought, when I tried it on I could see that the waist seam needed to be lowered and the skirt also needed to be lengthened. The bodice pattern piece had a handy lengthen/shorten line on it so I slashed the bodice open along this line and inserted 4cm in. With the skirt I added 2cm onto the bottom.

Lengthening the bodice by 4cm

The bust darts on the bodice also needed to be shortened by 1cm in order that the apex finished 2.5cm away from the bust point.

Once I was happy with the front, I then moved onto looking at the fit across my shoulders at the back where I have had previous problems with the fabric not lying flat. I was looking forward to learning how to adjust this on my toile.

Below you can see the baggy excess fabric around the shoulder blade area.

You can see here the baggy fabric around the shoulder blade area

I then pinched out the excess fabric and pinned.

Pinching out excess fabric on the back of the bodice

What I was uncertain about is what to do next – how do I transfer this adjustment onto the pattern piece?! I did however recall seeing a similar picture on a blog post by Lauren Guthrie on adjusting necklines and thinking ‘that’s what I need to do’!!  The blog post is here and the changes I needed to make are outlined towards the end of her post. I needed to pinch out 1.5cm of fabric in order for it to lie flat. An ‘L’ shape was drawn on the pattern piece and cut as per Lauren’s tutorial and the pattern piece ‘hinged’ so that it overlapped at the neckline by 1.5cm. The neckline was rounded off and all was good! I also altered the back facing by 1.5cm in a similar fashion’, to follow the line of the back bodice and made sure they matched up.

Adjusting the back neckline

After having made several adjustments I didn’t feel ready to cut into my fabric yet so decided to make a second toile just to be on the safe side. I enjoyed this fitting process a lot more than I thought I would! And it fitted beautifully – I was chuffed!

Second toile made

I was then ready to crack on with cutting into my fabric.

The fabric I used was bought at this year’s Sewing for pleasure show at the NEC in March. I can’t recall which stall I bought it from but it was a 145cm wide cotton and I used approximately 1.6m of it. I had the Megan dress in mind when I bought it and am really pleased with the choice.

Of course, once you have made a toile and in this case, 2 toiles, the make up of the dress was quite straight forward as I had already sewn the component parts a few times and practised the techniques.

So after all that, here it is…


A much improved fit across the back of the shoulders. Hurrah!
Set in sleeves and invisble zip closure

I did toy with the idea of adding some buttons down the centre front bodice but on this occasion felt that simple and classic was better, it didn’t need it. You know, the less is more approach! I did have to hold back though as sometimes the temptation is to embellish-away!! I also remember reading something Jane from Handmade Jane said in one of her blog posts about how she wished she hadn’t made the neckband of her Lady Skater dress contrasting as it gave it a juvenile feel. No right way or wrong way though I guess, so just do what feels right at the time!

After the initial hesitation about whether the style was right for me, I am super happy with the dress. I wore it a few times throughout the summer both during the day and in the evening. Bring on next summer so I can wear it again!


I am also totally sold on the toile idea so will definitely be doing more in the future to perfect the fit!

Until next time

Happy sewing!

Lorna x

P.S. Well done if you have got to the end of the post – bit of a long one this time! Gold stars to you!!


  1. Amy
    October 7, 2015

    I’ve made a few toile’s for some of the dresses I’ve made as I wasn’t brave enough to cut into my fabric and it turned out I needed to make quite a few adjustments! It’s worth it in the end when it fits so well. Just wanted to say Hi to you as I’m making your merit badge for the sewbrum meet up (just starting it today!). Really looking forward to meeting you and the other sewists in a few weeks!

    • Lorna
      October 10, 2015

      Hi Amy, yes looking forward to the meet up soon. Must start your badge soon and not be a last minute Lil! 🙂

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