From scratch

The anatomy of a DIY dressform

   This is by no means a tutorial. If anything, this is more like “The mistakes to avoid while DIYing a dressform” guide… except even if you do make these mistakes you will end up with something semi-similar to your body and semi-useful. So here comes the lowdown of how this “little” baby was built.

   The essential ingredients for a proper duct tape dressform are at least 2-3 rolls of duct tape (obvs.), a bin bag/ old t-shirt,  preferably polyester batting for filling and 2 helping hands. My version’s ingredients were slightly different:

  • duct tape (1 roll),
  • a bin bag,
  • scrap fabric,
  • shredded paper,
  • plastic bags,
  • and a massive paper tube.

   The first problem was the lack of duct tape. We ran out of it before my body was covered in the first layer. I tried to patch it up with masking tape, then with cling film, once we ran out of that too. After we cut it off my body, it looked as if it pretty much lost its shape, but once I started filling it up, it looked just fine. (Sorry about the blurry photos, click on them to make them big…and blurry)


    Once I had the shell, I wanted to find a stand for the dressform. We bought a carpet a few weeks ago, and I kept the paper tube that was holding it in place during delivery. I then laboriously cut it in half and “drilled” some holes into it so that I can insert some screws to hold the form later. This tube went straight into the duct tape body and I cut a cardboard in the shape of the bottom of the form, attached it and closed the bottom bit with some masking tape. Then I started filling it with shredded paper.

   The funny thing about paper is that you can compress it. Did you know that? Yeah, I apparently didn’t. I only realized this, once I was pushing the paper to the edges and the form became heavier and heavier, and it felt like the 2 large bin bags full of shredded paper won’t even be enough to fill up my bum.

   After I filled my double up with the remaining paper until my waistline, I could see that it was a little lopsided. Even though it looked pretty big, according to the tape measure it still was a few centimeters short from my actual hip measurement. I padded the form out with some wool leftover fabric, and stuck plastic bags and whatever scrap fabrics I could find to fill out the top half. The most difficult bit was moving the paper tube around so that the form stands up straight on its own.

  Once I closed the opening on the back, I started taking measurements and compared them with my real size. This was very much like sculpting, as I was just taping pieces of batting on parts where it needed some centimeters added and where it didn’t look symmetric.

   When it finally looked balanced and proportionate, and the measurements were close enough, I put an old bra on and filled it with batting, to create some shape in the breast area. I made the cover by pinning the fabric on the form and cutting the excess off. The cover is still open at the bottom as at some point I might come up with a way to put something inside the tube that will serve as a stand, although it is hard to imagine that I’ll ever find something steady enough to hold its weight.

  I have already used it to try to take photos of some finished projects, as well as for draping (yes, I’ve skipped using a toille fabric, because I’m that lazy! 😉 ). Even though it is not a perfect copy of my body, it really is close enough to use it. Putting pins into the dressform is not exactly easy, but I’ve managed so far, and the first dress draped on it has already become one of my favourite makes.!

   All in all, I’m quite happy with it, although I think the fact that I am more interested in draping than a few years ago, when I made my first duct tape dressform, really pushes me to make a good use of it. Have you tried your hands at making a dressform? Do you use it for making up patterns or for adjusting them to your size? Also, if you know a simple technique to copy the markings from the fabric on the form to paper, I’m all ears!


5 thoughts on “The anatomy of a DIY dressform

  1. I think it looks really good, and certainly more lady-shaped than my dressmakers dummy, Alan. One day, I hope to get round to padding him out with a few curves (he is meant to be a woman, honest – I actually named him before I even saw him, mostly to annoy my mum). Still, he’s good for hemming.

    • Well, it sounds like Alan and my twin would make the perfect dummy. I’ve just realized a few weeks ago, that not only do I hate hemming, I’m actually really rubbish at it. Having a dummy that’s your same height is still the dream in this house! 🙂
      I was considering buying a proper cheap one and do the padding, and I’m still not sure if that’s not the better idea, so I’d suggest you do give it a go! There are loads of tutorials on how to do a removable cover with your personalized padding, (I’m sure you’ve seen them already), and that way Alan can remain a man…in drag! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Au revoir 2014! | The Secret Costumier

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