Make a Custom Flexible Dressform Arm

Before I start on the instructions to create a custom arm for your personal sized dress-form a quick update on Wolf Dress-forms. Sadly the company is out of business and Peter Lappin of Male Pattern Boldness tells the story. Wolf forms occasionally show up at tag sales, store closings, on EBay or Craig’s List but they can command a hefty price. If you are lucky they can be purchased for around $200. Best of luck if you embark on a search.

I’m always looking for snippets of information as to the workings of couture ateliers. The film, Signe Chanel, shows an inside view of Chanel’s workrooms and I noticed that the mannequin arm is extremely soft and flexible. Not at all like the rigid arm form which came with one of my forms.

Pre Made ArmPre Made Attachment

This arm is very heavy and intended to be attached by tying the tapes around the neck. Unfortunately this never worked well and was difficult to insert into the garment sleeve. I’m including my pattern for a custom sleeve form as a printable pdf document. Hopefully I’ve formatted it correctly. This is my first attempt using Adobe Illustrator and have found the learning curve fairly steep. The pattern tiles are 7.5 x 10 inches so expect 1/2 inch margins all around if you are using US paper. It should also print out on A4 paper fine, just adjust the margins. Print out page 1 to check that the size box prints at 4″ x 4.”

PDF Layout

Mannequin Sleeve

There are NO SEAM ALLOWANCES. I used cotton drill cloth for the two main arm pieces, cotton muslin for the oval armhole and wrist covers and cardboard to insert into the armhole/wrist covers.

Fabricsitch lines

I’ve traced the stitch lines in blue dashed lines and am adding 3/8 inch seam allowances. Transfer the vertical and horizontal balance lines also. I use washable marker. Notice the vertical line down the upper arm pivots at the elbow.

There is ease on the upper arm at the elbow point. If you try and match up the stitching lines there is excess fabric which needs to be eased in to create the elbow shape. Stitch the back seam first.

Elbow EaseElbowElbow 2Completed Seam

If your balance lines are slightly askew at the elbow, blend into a smooth line across the seam. The marks will dissolve with water after you topstitch the line. Press the seam open. I use a topstitching (has a larger eye) needle and two strands of black thread to trace the balance lines using a 3.5mm stitch length. There are three horizontal balance lines, one at the elbow, one at the underarm and another about 2 inches up from the underarm. Extend the upper balance line to cross both sleeve sections.

Elbow with corrected lineCompleted Seam

Close the remaining seam matching the stitched balance lines. Press open. Close the dart at the top of the sleeve. Cut the shoulder piece (looks like a shoulder pad) from drill cloth. It needs a seam on one side only. I serge the outer edge to prevent fraying. Using a 4.5m stitch, sew along the top of the sleeve. It will gather up slightly which is all you need. Don’t try and ease it like a set-in sleeve.

Top DartAdd SeamsCap Ease

Clip within the seam allowance on the shoulder section. Mark the mid point and attach it to the arm, matching the mid point to the dart on the sleeve. Make sure you have right sides facing each other. It should look like this.

Completed shoulderCompleted shoulder right side

To stuff the sleeve I use soft polyester fleece. I cut a piece the length of the sleeve plus about 2 inches. Roll up the fleece, not too tightly, and gauge about how much is required to fill out you sleeve. I want the sleeve to be full but not tightly packed and stiff. The wrist and lower arm needs less fill than the upper arm so I shape the fleece like this. I’ve used about 30 inches an have cut off one corner so that the lower arm has less stuffing than the upper.

Cut Fleece

Begin rolling at the shorter end forming a soft cylinder which is fatter at one end. I safety pin a length of ribbon onto the slimmer (wrist) end, insert the ribbon through the top and pull it through. If you want more or less fill pull out the roll and adjust the amount of stuffing.

Rolling fleecePull through

Trim the fill at the armseye end leaving enough to fill out the top.

Fleece at top

Cut ovals from cardboard for the wrist and armseye covers. I use lighter weight muslin (the drill cloth is too stiff to gather) and add about 3/4 inch seam allowances. Stitch around the edges, insert the cardboard and pull the threads up to create the covers.

Cardboards

I place the armseye cover against my form and mark the shoulder seam point. Notice that I’ve angled it towards the front to better replicate my arm position. Human arms tend to fall slightly in front of center. Line up the wrist oval to simulate the wrist shape. Again wrists aren’t circular; they are wider when viewed from the top of the hand than the side.

Scye cover rotatedAttach Wrist

Hand sew the covers in place with a whip stitch. Your new arm can be attached with a few pins (I use flat head pins and push them at an angle to avoid snagging the garment). This pattern is for the right arm. If you would like two arms just flip the pieces and make a matching form for the left side. See how easily her arm bends and I’ve found this version much more workable than the premade ones.

CompletedBendable Arm

This will make a fairly slim arm. If your arms are larger and you want to adjust the pattern I would suggest this method. Trace the pattern onto your preferred paper and slash the upper and lower arm sections. I don’t cut up my master pattern until I’m happy with the changes. If the first alteration doesn’t work I haven’t destroyed the original and it’s much easier to start over.

Adjust

Divide the amount you want to adjust by 4 and spread the pattern sections by that amount. It doesn’t need to be the same for the entire length of the pattern. You might want an extra inch at the wrist and an extra 2 inches at the bicep. Overlap the sections if you need a smaller arm. Likewise the length, both above and below the elbow can be adjusted. The ovals for the armseye and wrist covers will need to be adjusted and I would just use trial and error. There is a mathematical formula for figuring out the circumference, long and short axis of an ellipse but you don’t want to see it. Anyone with a math background will understand! Enjoy.

23 Comments

Filed under Dress Forms

23 responses to “Make a Custom Flexible Dressform Arm

  1. cindyann

    Thank you! Terrific post. I can’t wait to make an arm for my form. It will be so helpful.

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  2. Maria

    Thank you!

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  3. Magda

    Thank you, wonderful post and thank you for taking the time. I have been looking for instructions everywhere. I really love your posts. There is always so much information that are fantastic. And I love the clothes you make. Thank you Magda

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  4. Pingback: Tidbits #4 – Sewing Tidbits

  5. Christine

    Thank you so much for this post and the resulting pattern. After doing Suzy Furrer’s Bodice Sloper course last year I purchased a 50yr old mannequin/dress form on Gumtree for only $50. I then followed your instructions (2014 post I think) to pad and cover it and it turned out fantastic and has made such a big difference when fitting my garments. This latest sleeve addition will definitely help with the next project on my (long) list – a LFJ.
    Thanks again Christine

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    • Thank you Christine for letting me know about your success. Old dress forms work just fine and I’m sure you find your custom sized form a big help. Enjoy making and using your new custom arm(s).

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  6. Thank you for taking the trouble to supply this pattern and such clear instructions. One day!

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  7. Vera

    Muito bom. Deus te abençoe! Obrigada

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  8. Hi Mary, i have some questions, maybe you can help me out 🙂
    Getting married next year and i’m sewing my own dress. I found the perfect model but i cannot decide on the fabric. Everywhere i look on the internet they say this dress is made out of 4 ply silk crepe. Silk crepe to me diesn’t seem this shiny so i was wondering if it has anything to do with momme in the silk crepe. If you have any ideas i’d be gratefull. Thank you!
    link to dress: https://www.theknot.com/fashion/tatiana-gown-monique-lhuillier-wedding-dress

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    • I don’t think the sheen is from the momme weight of the silk. It may be the lighting or perhaps the fabric is crepe back satin which would feel like heavy crepe but have a shiny surface. I would get swatches of fabrics you are considering to be sure. Congratulations and enjoy.

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  9. Hi Mary
    Hope it’s okay we put a link to your arm design! We are going Open Source with our DittoForms and will be sharing information on how we assemble them. This is a genius solution! We love it.

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  10. Eleanor J Cerny

    I am a new to this kind of sewing and I want to sew my own clothes. The problem is, how and where do you all get your custom forms? I have been searching for a form but I am at a loss when I need to decide which one.
    This site is going to be so exciting for me. Thank you.
    Eleanor Cerny

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    • I have several posts about dress forms, where to buy, different models and how to customize them to fit your body. Scroll down to where you see a drop down box and click on dress forms. I hope that helps. If you have a specific question send me a message and I’ll try and help.

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      • Eleanor Cerny

        I did not know that you had to put the pinnable canvas cover on yourself ! And you must stuff it yourself also. It looks very hard to do.
        Thank you for your kind reply. I have so much to learn.

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      • The form comes with a pinnable cover already on. You could use the form as is but it will save time in the long run if you adjust the size to fit yourself. Very few bodies are the same size and shape of manufactured dress forms. The purpose of making another cover is to customize the form to be a replica of your body. The form you buy must be the same or smaller than the body you are fitting. You can easily add padding but you can’t cut away volume from the form. Always happy to help. It’s a process that will take a day or two depending on your sewing and fitting experience but well worth it. The nice thing is that you can always start over if necessary.

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      • Eleanor Cerny

        I bought one from JoAnne’s and it has no covering at all. I have been looking for a separete cover to put on it.
        I wear a size 14 so I should buy a 12 and fill it out then. The form I have now is a large size and it is adjustable. Since I bought it I have lost 40 pounds so I have to remeasure but I do not think it is going to work for me. I dropped from a size 20 to a size 14. Yeah, it feels good. Anyway, on-wards.

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      • Congratulations on your weight loss. I’m sure you feel great and definitely deserve a new dress form. I’ve worked with the adjustable models such as JoAnns carries but please consider a professional style with a cast iron base. The lightweight base tends to tip easily and I find the dials annoying. The Shop Company has a professional style and is the least expensive source I’ve found. The cages (wire section at the bottom) on their forms can be rough and I cover with fabric to avoid snagging the garment fabric, but definitely make a professional style form affordable and the bases are heavy and solid. Don’t go by pattern or RTW sizing when choosing a dress form size. Check the measurements against your own. Most important: get the size that corresponds with your shoulder width!!! Anything else such as bust, waist and hips can be padded to fit but it’s difficult to make the shoulders wider and IMPOSSIBLE to make them narrower. Good luck. Any other questions please ask.

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