Dress Forms

The Custom Dress-form

Many sewers dream of owning a dress-form that duplicates their body. Anyone who sews knows how tough it can be to fit yourself. Imagine the luxury of being able to put your semi-completed garment on your body and step away to evaluate the look and fit.

I posted details of my method to create a custom form in 2014. Fitting For Couture in April and Dressforms Continued in May.

I’ve tweaked the form a few times since then (extended the hipline lower) but the method remains the same. My reference lines (bust, waist, high and low hip, center front and back seams) are marked by machine stitching with two strands of black thread before attaching the cover. The style tape in this photo is for the gown I was draping.
This gown was draped and fitted on my custom form and required very little final adjusting.


My key to knowing where and how much to pad the form is guided by a custom drafted moulage (Suzy Furrer’s Craftsy Class walks you through the drafting) which is sewn in lightweight canvas and forms the new dress-form cover. Several readers have asked about using one of the fitting patterns by Butterick/Vogue, etc. or even a princess line dress pattern.

Butterick patterns were on sale so I made bodices from B5627, the fitting pattern. I measure for a size 12 but normally cut an 8 when using one of the big 4 patterns. The results:


Size 12 on the left, size 6 on the right. I adjusted the bust for a C cup on both samples.

The size 6 fits my form pretty well but the 12 is ENORMOUS! Who allows this much ease in a fitting shell? Another view showing how much extra room.


Experienced sewers know to downsize but if you blindly follow the measurement charts the result will be a very over-sized garment and multiple fitting adjustments. If you want to skip pattern drafting at least choose the size based on your high bust measure (that’s the one taken high up under the arms) and EXHALE when measuring.

The size 6 still needs minor adjusting but wouldn’t be impossible to work with. I’ve narrowed the back, added to the front and taken a dart to conform to the chest hollow. The bust point needs lowering by an inch. I would also raise the underarm in front if using this for a form cover.


The process is messy but worth it. Un-bonded cotton batting makes it easy to feather out edges and it also compresses well. Rochford Supply sells this by the roll; too much for one form but maybe split among your sewing buddies. Don’t use light weight muslin for the cover. It needs to be sturdy and drill cloth works wonderfully.


Have fun with this. It’s not a project to finish in a day but once completed you will not regret the time spent. Next post I’ll show how I construct a pair of flexible arms.  Questions, problems or suggestions: please comment.

My suggestions for specific forms:

Wolf: The top of the line. Very well made by hand from paper mache. Heavy base and cage very smooth and well finished. Mechanism sturdy and constructed to last more than a lifetime. I have one of these (found on Craig’s List for $200). The cover was almost gone but inner structure functioned perfectly and with a new cover she looks wonderful. New Wolf forms are $800 and up depending on options.

Superior, Royal, Milano: Very well made with sturdy mechanisms and heavy cast iron bases. The cages are well finished and no rough edges to snag fabrics. Very close to the quality of Wolf. I found a Milano form at a going out of business bridal shop. These brands sell new for $650 to $750.

PGM, The Shop Company: Fiberglass forms covered with a layer of foam and canvas. These are probably the most cost effective if you are buying a new form. PGM forms cost more ($299 to $229) than those from The Shop Company ($195 to $219). The skirt cage on the PGM form has more supporting wires than The Shop Company version. I’ve worked with these forms and the wire cages have rough edges which are a snag risk for fabrics although this is easily overcome by covering the cage with canvas. I haven’t used either brand long enough to attest to the longevity of the shoulder/height mechanisms. If you are looking for the least expensive option this is probably the way to go. You will probably be adding padding and your own canvas cover so the fiberglass and foam covering won’t be a factor.

Adjustable Forms: Don’t waste your money. Flimsy bases and they tend to tip over. The body proportions are STRANGE. I once took a hacksaw to the shoulders of one because they were so badly shaped.  They aren’t that much less than the much sturdier version by The Shop Company. I’ve also worked with these and the gaps created by changing sizes and the adjustable dials bothered me less than the lightweight base. Fitting entails a fair amount of tugging and pulling on the garment and it’s extremely frustrating to have your creation on the floor because the form constantly tipped over.

Duct Tape Forms: Wrap yourself in duct tape or plaster casting tape. There are tons of videos demonstrating this process. Some have had luck but most have ended up trashing the final product. I think the toughest part of this approach is constructing a solid stand. I actually tried this once just to see how it would work. For the time, effort and money for materials I would opt for one of the lower cost professional models with cast iron base.



23 thoughts on “The Custom Dress-form”

    1. I suggest looking for a Wolf, Superior,or Royal on Craigslist. Look for one two sizes smaller than you are.

  1. Love it! You have touched on the subject that occupies my sewing dreams–getting a dress form. Thought about ordering one but it is hard to spend the money when I know it will have to be customized. Since I have few resources where I live, would you consider offering any cost/benefit reviews of forms? I want a heavy-enough base with wheels and a good foundation to add a custom moulage. Any suggestions you have would be fabulous.

  2. I’ve edited the post to answer your questions. I wouldn’t view customizing the form as a negative. Made to measure forms are available for mega bucks but what if you gain/lose weight? I would personally rather have one which fit my bone structure (neck/shoulder) and left room for adjusting. You are absolutely right in being interested in a good foundation and heavy base.

  3. Thanks for your responsiveness about the extra detail on the forms! I like having some criteria for evaluating a “find” if I should be so lucky to run upon one. In fact, I wish I could attach a photo of an antique form a friend found in an antique mall near Chicago. The form has a heavy metal base and appears to have wheels. It is adjustable with a lower metal cage that looks a bit flimsy. I may take a chance to see if it has a foundation that can be padded. Not sure at all about the slope of shoulders and neck. I guess there are still saws.

    1. You can send me a pic at mf953 at aol dot com and I’ll be happy to take a look. I have a couple of vintage forms that I was given. They are also adjustable. The proportions aren’t great on some of the antique type forms but might be useable if the shoulders fit. The biggest thing for me is a heavy stable base. Good luck with your search.

  4. Good post. Sadly, Wolf closed last year. I bought a used Wolf that looks like new a few years ago for $300. My form was customized with a Fabulous Fit kit and batting.

      1. I have a Wolf size 8, dated 1979. I rescued her from a factory that was closing down about 1990 in downtown Seattle. Norma L Modell (Normal Model) has survived numerous moves, uncountable fittings and pinnings, even some errant blue fabric paint on a few spots, but the shoulders still collapse, and the cast iron casters still roll. She is a little tattered at some of the seams, but I have a feeling Norma is probably going to out live me.

      2. I’m sure you love your Wolf form. Having worked with some of the less expensive versions, I agree with you that the Wolf forms are simply the best. Mine was also tattered but all the mechanisms worked perfectly and she was definitely deserving of a new cover.

  5. Thank you for this post and for your update about forms.
    I have bartered an Elna 5 stitch overlocker for some block fittings and I hope to get a decent fitting bodice and torso block to use for this purpose, as you describe. I don’t have a suitable form , though. I have the form I adjuste, including height, for Helen – I’m just a little less tall but a lot bigger in girth but that’s no problem. Hers started as adjustable but was made rigid in the adjusting process. David feels we should hang onto it as is. I have a ‘mature’ or just bigger size adjustable form but I share your views on these – plus it would need major adjustments and the bust is already too big and in the wrong place. I fancy collapsible shoulders! So I will go ahead over the next few weeks to get the custom drafted moulage. Not sure what to do about the form, though. I don’t have all of those brands you mentioned available. No Craig’s List either! However, my sewing machine dealer picks up some amazing machines from Gumtree so I will look out for a suitable form. Anne

  6. Thanks so much for your detailed posts on custom shaping dress forms!
    I found a beautiful dress form on Craigslist, and am working on making my bodice block to cover and stuff it.
    I see in an earlier post you mention Suzy Furrer’s Bodice Sloper class. Do you need the skirt sloper class as well in order to extend the moulage all the way to the bottom of the form? Or is there a simple way to elongate the sloper?

    1. Thanks for letting me know that this info is helpful to you. Draft the sloper to the hip line, trace it (you never want to cut up the master after all that work) and separate along the princess seam lines front and back. I extend the hip down as far as you want and fit. Use the seams on the mannequin as guides for shaping over the bum down the upper thigh. Make sure your side seams run perpendicular to the floor. The skirt sloper won’t have the necessary shaping. Hope this helps. If you have additional questions please ask.

    1. You are right that my method isn’t super quick. It does take time to draft a close fitting duplicate of your shape, pad the form and sew on the cover. However you do it once.

  7. I found a ‘form’ or at least the legless, worn remains of one in a skip. I set it on the heavy base of a fan. and covered with neoprene. Using a metal rod, from a curtain store to connect base to form made it easy to get my height. (I’m not tall, 171cm, but taller than most forms I have encountered) I have since acquired another from ‘reverse garbage’ and am giving it the works.

    1. I’ve found the condition and shape of the dressform used is much less important than a sturdy base. You can pad to shape and cover anything that resembles a body. Sounds like you are well on the way to making a very useable form.

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