Sunday, January 26, 2014

Crafting: Make your own Dress Form

We all have that one thing in our dream crafting supplies that we'd love to make a reality, right? For me that's been a dress form. I love to draft patterns, and most of the time I use traditional slopers and blocks, but when it comes to finished tailoring of a piece I can't help but wish there was another "me" present so that I could really get the adjustments that I want.



Yesterday, my husband I made another "me"! (Pardon the "mussed" look. I've been moving things all over the place and haven't ironed my blouse muslin since...)

I've been eyeing tutorials on duck tape dress forms for a long time, but I remember a couple of classmates in college who tried it and had a miserable time. They ended up scrapping the idea, several dollars less-rich and several hours of frustration later. Being mildly claustrophobic, I always figured that between their observed failures and my nerves it just wasn't an option for me.

A certain amount of "zen desperation" (as I've taken to calling it) can transform a lady, though! The itch to have a dress form became a raging need this week, when I sketched up a blouse design that I am incredibly excited about. This pattern will require a drapey, semi-sheer fabric (pure silk, in my case - yay!) and will be a very challenging design to draft, as it uses carefully placed gathers to form-fit, rather than darts. Gathers are all fine and dandy until you realize that it's nearly impossible to get them just-so without, well... another "you".

I spent a few hours reading every single duck tape dress form tutorial that I could find and took lots of notes. I specifically looked for complaints, boasts, methods and results from each tutorial I read and after a while I began to feel more comfortable with the whole idea.

So last night, armed with two plastic garbage bags and three rolls of duct tape, my husband and I went to work. I felt prepared, both mentally and emotionally. However... The one thing I didn't remember to do was take lots of photographs! I don't know if it was the fact that I was being taped up in a plastic mummy-esque cocoon of anxiety, or if it was some deep-rooted desire to not have photographs taken of me while I was in such a vulnerable state, but I didn't take a damned one. *facepalm*

So, I will provide you with links to two of the amazing tutorials that I read, as well as the few snapshots I took toward the end of the process... As for the rest, I shall paint for you, with words. I've included all of the tips that I've collected, as well as the seriously awesome filling that I used that really helped me shape my dress form exactly the way I wanted. 


First, the tutorials that have more pictures than I do!:

The tutorial I started with was from Natasha over at "Little Pink Monster" since she mentioned that she used plastic wrap, instead of a t-shirt, for her dress form. I was definitely intrigued by this, as I had read (ages ago) that using a t-shirt was giving some people a very bulky result. Of course, wearing plastic wrap isn't for everyone, and since I didn't feel like using all of our plastic wrap I opted for a garbage bag. Little Pink Monster also had a list of things she felt she did wrong on her first attempt, which was SUPER helpful. She mentioned that on her first try, they used long pieces of tape which folded and added bulk in a few rather unflattering places. She also talked about how the dress footprint form became much more round rather than oval, when it was being stuffed. The filling I used to stuff my dress form solved this problem, big time!

The other tutorial that I really enjoyed was from Sarah over at "Offbeat Bride". She had very specific and helpful ways to start the duck tape layout in order to preserve bust shape and size ratios.

There was one other tutorial that I have unfortunately lost track of that offered the best advice I could possibly think of, despite not having followed it myself. This particular blogger had the foresight to cut most of her tape pieces ahead of time! She stuck them all over her house, and she and her partner then wandered around, taping her up as they went. The most time consuming part of this is the cutting of tape, so I can imagine this cut down on her "mummified" state by considerable minutes. I definitely should've done this!


And Now, my own method/madness:


FIRST: I made a wearable plastic garbage bag by cutting the corners and a small slit for my head to squeeze through. I wore the best bra I own, to make sure I was well shaped and supported. The garbage bag was a bit ridiculous, and very cold dressed like this in our 19th century cottage, but what's a girl to do?











SECOND: My husband began taping me up. We found that using a few long pieces to start with helped eliminate the excessive stretching that we were getting with the plastic bag. We did bands around my bust, waist, hips and shoulders, and were careful to fold the plastic bag as flat as possible under the tape.

THIRD: We did a supportive X around my bust (much like Offbeat Bride did) to keep it in an appropriate shape. My guess is that this is just as important if you are small chested as it is if you are large chested. You want the dress form to "form" to you, rather than squishing your bits this-way-n-that the way you might if you just started taping every which way.

FOURTH: We started using short pieces to patch all over, slowly but surely covering my entire bust/torso/hips. We were really careful to make sure the tape was really flat. One place that seemed to bulk up quickly was my waistline, and unfortunately I didn't notice this until it was too late. My dress form ended up roughly 2" bigger around than my waist, but knowing this I can take it into account and shore up the ease in the waist when I am tailoring something.

FIFTH: Once we had finished covering me in a layer of duck tape, we started again, but this time we applied the tape nearly perpendicular to the original layer to add strength. Anywhere the strips ran horizontally, we taped vertically for the second layer and vice versa. After roughly two and a half layers of tape, we were finished!

SIXTH: Jeremy took a permanent marker and marked important lines on the duck tape such as front center, back center, hips, natural waist, bust line, underarm line. All of those important things that you're supposed to concern yourself with if you draft your own patterns.

SEVENTH: Jeremy cut straight up the center back line that he had marked and I (thankfully) slipped out of my plastic mummy costume. I didn't realize how desperate and anxious I had gotten until he started cutting me out... suddenly I just couldn't wait for him to finish cutting. I may have gotten a bit testy. This was one of those special experiences that really requires an assistant that you are allowed to spaz out on a bit. 

EIGHTH: I ran a 6" wide piece of cardboard up the back of the split open dress form and used that to help me tape the split closed. Once I taped the split closed from top to bottom I cut out a circle for my neck hole and half-circles for my arm holes. I fit them into place and taped them lightly, assuming correctly that I would have to revisit them later to aid in stuffing the dress form.

This is mid-stuffing. The arms and thighs are kind of saggy looking since they aren't packed tightly enough yet. 

NINTH: I inserted the pole I was going to use to mount the dress form (in my case it was an old coat stand, but I've heard of people using IV stands, microphone stands, music stands, etc) and began stuffing the shell.


I used taxidermy pine straw which is like thin strings of pine, but you can use crumpled paper or wood shavings (not chips! the kind of fine wood shavings used in livestock pens). The thing I liked about the pine straw is that I could twist it and pack it into shapes that fit the areas inside the dress form. Also, once the form was nearly filled I could literally punch this stuff into place. If I had an area that was awkwardly shaped or slightly malformed I would just work at it for a moment and the pine straw shifted inside to pack more tightly in that area, eliminating the odd bulge here and there.

TENTH: Once I got the dress form stuffed – I mean really stuffed – I then over-stuffed the bottom and cut cardboard to fit it. I duck taped the cardboard on, cramming the overstuffing into the shell to give it a really firm feel. After this, I revisited the arm holes and neck and reworked the stuffing a bit, making sure the bust was evenly filled and very firm, and fleshing out the shoulder-blade area, which is an easy area to leave slightly hollowed. Once I was satisfied, I firmly taped the arm holes and neck hole closed and stepped back.

The contrast between the shiny and non shiny duck tapes makes her look a little lopsided, but she's perfect!

Of course I had to try it out immediately, so I pinned up a little 1940's yoked blouse that I have yet to put buttons on and it fit beautifully! You can see I have a little string attached to the top of her. This lets me hang the dress form if I need to, and it's attached simply by looping around one of the structural pieces of duck tape along the back of the neck.

WOWZA. There she is... a headless, armless, legless, duck tape ME!
I hope this has been marginally helpful for anyone who happens across it. I cannot praise the pine straw enough. I was able to manipulate it in ways I am sure I wouldn't have been able to, other fillings. 

It's tradition to name your dress form, and I just haven't quite got a name for this lady yet! I'm sure I'll come up with something soon, though. She can't stay nameless forever! 

Be sure to check in next week when I'll be posting about using a similar method to create a hat form for draping pieced hats!

Also, I'll be posting a tutorial on how best to cover your duck tape dress form as soon as I get around to taking some photos!

Do you use a dress form when sewing clothing? Did you build your own dress form, or do you use a conventional one? (No judgements here! I'm a big fan of the conventional ones!)

xoxo Emily