Category Archives: Dress Forms

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.

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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.
style-lines-2
This gown was draped and fitted on my custom form and required very little final adjusting.

20170115_212318

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:

fitting-1

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.

fitting-2

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.

fitting-4fittting-3

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.

padding

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.

 

 

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The Dress Form in Action

Here it is, the first dress created with the help of my new custom molded dress form. This would have been next to impossible to get right without the help of a perfect body double. Much of the work took place on the back. I needed a semi-formal dress for a destination wedding in the Bahamas. The bride requested all guests wear white. Although the ceremony was beachside, the reception called for semi-formal attire. Try buying something that fits that bill.

Ceremony on the Beach

I created a version of the Dior design worn by Nicole Kidman some years ago. I thread traced the seam lines into white 4 ply silk crepe and embroidered floral designs on the front using multiple hoopings. Since embroidery can cause the fabric to shrink and/or pucker, check the seam lines against the pattern after all embroidery is finished.Full Length View

 

 

Silver metallic mesh was positioned on the back and I printed templates of the embroidery designs on transparent film to finalize the design. The embroidery designs were placed to create a picture frame effect around the metallic mesh. The mesh was somewhat stretchy and having the dress on the form made getting the placement so much easier.

Back View

Another view of the back with skin toned fabric underneath. The zipper is hidden in the left side seam.

Back EmbroideryLiningAs this was to be worn in the tropics, I chose a fine Swiss cotton jersey for the lining. This was comfortable to wear and provided opacity so that the hot pink skirt lining did not show through. To attach the lining I put the dress on the form inside out and fitted the lining around the neck, armholes and back.

Back Lining

Finally a hot pink lining for the lower skirt which shows when walking.

Skirt Lining

dress 5

This is entered in the SewStylish Spring fashion Challenge at Threads Magazine.

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Dress Forms Continued

After my last post I acquired a couple more dress forms and decided to do two things. First was to use Suzy Furrer’s method of drafting a moulage for different shapes.  Second was to try using those moulages on non-professional forms and post a review. Although a professional form is a very nice addition to your sewing tools, it can be pricey and you may have an older form and not have the space or funds for another.

The good thing is that this is a one-time purchase. You need to select a dress form based on your bone structure, NOT  your bust measurement.  I have found the most accurate way to do this is to compare your cross-front  width to the form. PGM publishes this on their website: pgmdressform.com.  If buying a form from  EBay or Craig’s list, ask the seller to give you this dimension. Also check the shoulder length and cross back width. Your form should fit you at the shoulders and neck. Anything else can be padded. If you start with form that’s too big in the shoulders, you’ll never be able to get an accurate  fit. Compare your shoulder, cross front and cross back measurements with any form you are considering.  Get as close as you can with these three dimensions and fix the rest with padding. The padding can always be redone if you lose or gain significant amounts of weight, but your bone structure won’t change. The most common mistake seems to be getting too large a form.

There are many companies who make professional dress forms and I’ll list some of them here.

Wolf has always been the gold standard of dress forms. They are made by hand and last more than a lifetime.  They are also the most expensive.  Pricing depends on the options you select and Wolf forms can be over $1000.  Occasionally one shows up on EBay or Craig’s list  but they usually aren’t any bargain.

PGM sells online at pgmdressform.com. They offer three options: collapsible shoulder and shaped hip for $399,  collapsible shoulder with flat hip for $299,  non-collapsible shoulder and flat hip for $199.  You can always create your own hip shaping with pads but the shaping is nice to have a place to start.  Collapsible shoulders make it easier to get garments on and off the form. The main drawback I found is that the wire cage at the bottom isn’t as nicely finished as the Wolf form,  and can snag delicate fabrics. You can cover the cage with muslin if this is a problem.

Roxy also sells online at roxydisplay.com. I have no experience with this company. One review I read rates them below PGM but better than the adjustable with dials. Foxy has forms with collapsible shoulders for $249.

Fabulous fit sells a molded foam version for $387 and a professional  model which looks like the ones at PGM and Roxy. The professional model sells for $887.  They also offer a kit of fitting pads for the bust, shoulders, hips, thigh, etc. You can purchase this separately. I found  the molded foam version at a garage sale for $25. I wouldn’t suggest these. There are better forms for less money.

Least desirable in my opinion are the forms which feature dials that allow you to adjust the bust, waist and hip. The base is lightweight and they tip easily; very frustrating when you are trying to pin or adjust a garment. The dials leave spaces which can be annoying to work around. I did cover one just to try and make it somewhat usable.

Now for the moulage review. I made three moulages for totally different figures and each one fit almost perfectly on the first try.  I found learning to take accurate body measurements the hardest part. My three drafts looked entirely different but each fit amazingly well.

Once you have your chosen form, draft and sew the moulage. I left the center front seam open when fitting myself and the center back open for fitting others. When you are happy with the fit, sew a final version in whatever fabric you choose for the cover.  I would advise a medium weight cotton or linen.  A natural fiber fabric will mold to the form easier than a synthetic. You want to be able to pull the cover tightly over the form so a knit is not suitable.

Here is my Fabulous Fit form ready to begin.

Fabulous Fit Form

Lower edge extended

I used cardboard to add 5 inches to the length.  She also needed minor surgery at the back armhole and a slight breast reduction. This was accomplished with a kitchen bread knife. Bra cups were stuffed and positioned on the form with pins. Since the neck was rough I draped a pattern to cover the neck and sewed it to the moulage before starting to pad.
Neck cover

Notice the side seams are 3/4 inch wide and have been stay stitched. This makes it easier to turn and sew the sides evenly. The moulage is sewn together at the shoulders and armhole facings attached to neatly finish the armseyes. The side seams are left open. Also note the position of the armhole on the form and on the moulage. The form positions the arm angled backwards. The moulage reflects a more normal arm position.

Finished Moulage before padding

Start fitting the cover and padding at the top. Notice how the shoulders fit well but padding is needed to fill out the remainder of the cover. After the shoulders are fitted, position and pad the bust. You can use bra cups or a bra that fits well and you are willing to sacrifice it. Fabulous Fit also offers a kit of fitting pads but I did just as well using bra cups and shoulder pads.

Bust pinned in place
Continue to work your way down the form. I used a combination of shoulder pads, fusible fleece, heavy felt; just about anything you have on hand will work. Do frequent checks to be sure you are getting the desired shape. Pin in place and remove the pins as you add subsequent layers. I also used a steam iron to compress the padding as I worked.
Bumm shaping
I used two large shoulder pads to establish the bumm shape and refined it with upholstery batting. I also added a layer of upholstery batting as the final layer. Upholstery batting feathers easily and covers the irregularities. Take your time. It can take a few redos to get the shaping right but you will do this once and have your double for years.

Once she is stuffed pin the sides together and do a final check that you are happy with the fit. Leave one side pinned while you sew the other side seam; otherwise the cover will shift. Fold the side seam allowances in and mark every inch to help keep the front and back aligned as you hand sew. I started at the waist seam and marked up and down from there. If you don’t put these guide points in and just start sewing you will wind up way off when you reach the end of the seam. Guess how I found that out?
sewing side seams
I find it easiest to start at the bottom and sew up. Use a 36 to 40 inch length of upholstery thread. You want enough to finish the seam but not so much the thread knots and is too long to work with. Why not just use a center back seam? First I found the padding shifted around too much when I tried to get a back seamed cover on and off. Also you need the side seams raised so they can be felt when you use this form for fitting and draping. Look at the professional forms. They are all finished like this.
Insert the needle about 1/8 inch from the folded edges keeping the needle parallel to the floor. Pull the thread tight (you want this seam raised) and place the next stitch about 3/8 inch away. I sew with my right hand and hold the thread taut with my left. You may need a clip or two at the waistline.

Finished! All she needs now is a heavy steaming to shrink the cover slightly.
finished

This custom cover was done on an adjustable form with dials. The figure was petite with a small bust. The moulage draft fit on the first try with one minor adjustment to shorten the front waist.
image

Another draft for a fuller figure with large bust and abdomen. Once again the moulage instructions produced a perfectly fitting mold.
image

If you want to make fitting much easier, invest some time to create your own double. I’ve done a few now and it still takes time but what a difference when I’m fitting garments!

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Fitting for Couture

How do you fit yourself? Fitting another person is hard enough but doing it on yourself while looking in the mirror and getting stabbed by pins is impossible. One of the hallmarks of couture level sewing is perfect fit, so what to do? I decided to take a lesson from the couture houses and pad a dress form to duplicate my exact shape.
There are countless sites about making duct tape copies of yourself but most finished results I saw were not what I had in mind. A professional dress form is HEAVY and stable. I had messed around some years ago with the adjustable ones with dials, but they too are lightweight and tip over easily.  A custom made form is VERY expensive and not what I had in mind either. I was lucky enough to find a bridal shop closing its doors and bought a couple of their forms. If you decide to give this a try, get a size that fits your shoulders and body ABOVE the bust. I found that if the form is the correct size at the full bust it is usually much too large through the neck and shoulders. You can pad the form but you can’t cut it down. I usually sew a size 8 and found the size 2 form fit me at the upper body best. My back waist length is 2 inches longer, waist and hips larger but those changes are easy to do with padding.
Now I needed a guide as to where and how much to pad. I signed up for the Craftsy class, Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper with Suzy Furrer. This is definitely not a beginner class and does take a fair amount of time to work through, but her instructions of drafting a moulage were easy to follow and produced amazing results. Here is my completed draft. The toughest part of this was measuring the body correctly.
pattern
Next Suzy walks you through cutting out this draft into a skin tight moulage. Since I was fitting myself, I left the opening down the center front rather than the back. I can barely breathe and it looks a little wrinkled because I’m holding the camera but it does fit like a glove when I’m standing still.
Me in the moulage
I tried the moulage on my dress form and noted where and about how much to pad. I used non-bonded upholstery padding which tears very easily and allows you to feather out the edges. I also found it helpful to cut the cups out of an old bra and pin them in place to help shape the bust. Here is my girl with bra cups in place and partially padded.
bra cups
More padding until the moulage is filled out. This will take several tries but just keep shaping until the moulage is filled but not bursting. For my form cover I made another moulage from linen and added neck and armhole facings.
batting
I left the side seams of the linen cover open. The upholstery batting sticks to itself and the cover so it’s impossible to get it on smoothly if you leave just the back or front open. It also sews together better at the side seams. Pin both side seams closed before starting to hand sew the side seams. I marked the seams every inch and used these marks to help keep the cover aligned while whipstitching closed.
sewing closed
My completed clone. I added tape to the center front, back, waist, hip and bust lines.
completed me
Notice the different armhole angle on me versus the form. No wonder things didn’t fit.
armhole angle
Constructing this required several sessions of work but I’m very happy with the results. Imagine having a clone of yourself that stands still for hours of fitting and doesn’t mind pins. Please comment if you have questions or need sources.

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