Having a dressform that duplicates the figure you’re sewing for makes the process SO much easier! Your model stands perfectly still for hours and doesn’t mind being stuck over and over with pins. She also eliminates the need for multiple in-person fittings, which was a life-saver during the worst days of COVID.
Here’s my process to create this gown which made it’s debut at the recent opening of Carnegie Hall in NYC. The design was inspired by this exquisite pleated tulle from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.
I start by draping the fabric on the mannequin and experimenting with how it will drape and best positioning of the design. This fabric was meant to have a full skirt with one seam at center back. Additional seaming would have interrupted the flow of fabric. I also secured a full tulle underskirt to the form to get a clear vision of how much fabric was needed for the skirt.
The bodice looked best using the denser side of the lame portion at the neck and semi sheer section along the waist. I tried two versions, one using the sheer tulle for the back, a second option with the gold. I decided on the first option as the sheer back seemed more interesting; the gold back was too much gold. With the skirt basted into a grosgrain ribbon waistband, the design was complete.
Pattern work for front bodice: left photo is 1/2 of front which will be cut with fold at center front. In order to cut it with the neck gathered fuller, I drew 6 evenly spaced lines from neck to waist, left the pattern attached at the waist and spread out along the neck edge until the side seam was parallel to center front. The altered pattern was traced onto a new sheet of paper.
Left photo shows altered pattern on the tulle. Neck is at the top, waist at bottom with center fold at the right edge. Placed on the form, checked for accuracy and waistline thread traced. The back was cut from sheer portion of the tulle with pleating running vertically.
Basted everything together for a final fit check. I opted to finish the neckline with a stand collar of gathered tulle cut from the gold portion. A zipper in both underskirt and tulle allows the outer layer of tulle to hang freely; attaching it to the inner layers resulted in unattractive pulling. An inner waistband of grosgrain ribbon holds everything in place and supports the weight of the skirt.
Final try-on in the studio; fit was perfect on the first go thanks to a custom form and worn for gala night out.
Download and print the pdf file. Pages should be assembled as shown.
Be sure to set your printer to print at “actual size” or “no scaling.” The test square on page 1 should measure 2 inches square. The file is 7 pages. Tape together as shown and cut out the pieces. You will have an upper arm, lower arm, wrist cover, armseye cover, and shoulder attachment which will enable you to pin the arm to your dressform. The pattern has NO SEAM ALLOWANCES. This is to make any alterations you need to do easier. It is drafted for a bicep measurement of 11 inches. If you want a smaller or larger biceps, cut on the dotted lines and overlap or spread the pieces to desired measurement. Measure along the balance line located at the underarm on the lower arm and corresponding balance line on the upper arm. The length of the two balance lines added together are the finished biceps measurement. You can also lengthen or shorten the length between shoulder and elbow and elbow to wrist as desired. If you alter the biceps width, remember to add to the circumference of the large oval the same amount you added to the biceps. The wrist circumference can be increased or decreased in the same way. Adjust the wrist oval in the same way so that the circumference of the oval matches your desired width.
Here’s a sample layout if you want to increase the biceps width. Cut the upper and lower arm patterns apart on the dotted lines. Spread by the desired amount (if you want an additional 1 inch, spread the sections 1/4 inch). Notice I’ve increased the wrist only 1/8 inch at each cut line for a total of 1/2 inch more at the wrist circumference. You’ll also need to alter the wrist and armseye covers to compensate. This can be a bit of trial and error as the circumference of an eclipse (oval) isn’t straightforward math the same as a circle. Smooth out the seam lines over any spaces.
Cut out pattern pieces and lay out on sturdy muslin. I use this heavy weight muslin: Cloning Couture ~ Products ~ Muslin, Heavy Weight ~ Shopify (myshopify.com) but cotton drill cloth is a good sub. Add 3/8 inch seams with these exceptions: 3/4 inch seam allowance around the armseye oval and 1/2 inch around the wrist oval. Cut two shoulder attachment shapes. I prefer to mark the cutting lines lightly in pencil. Tracing with dressmakers carbon paper can leave unwanted marks on the finished arm form.
Mark all balance lines and match points with an erasable marker.
Stitch two rows of machine stitching 3/8 and 1/4 away from the cut edge along the elbow. Pull bobbin threads to take up ease in the elbow area. Tie threads.
Steam the elbow area to smooth the seam. Make sure you don’t have any creases. Join the upper and lower arms along points A, B and C. Press the seam open.
Close the dart at the top of the shoulder. Press towards the back.
You can add the balance lines now. Either stitch along the vertical and horizontal balance lines with contrasting thread or draw lines with a permanent marker. The lines can also be added when the arm is completed but it’s easier to do now when it’s flat. Smooth out any little jog at the elbow.
Stitch the remaining seam along points D,E and F. Press the seam open. I use a sleeve board and seam stick made from a length of stair rail handrail with one flat side.
Stitch along the top of the arm with a longer (about 3.75mm) stitch at 3/8 and 1/4 from cut edge. Pull bobbin threads to create a curve at the top of the arm.
Steam the seam allowance to shrink excess fabric. Be careful not to press in creases. Tie thread ends. Place the two shoulder attachment pieces right sides together and stitch around the outer convex curve. Trim seam to 1/8 inch, turn, press and stitch close to the edge. Clipping the seam isn’t necessary if you trim the seam allowance to 1/8 inch.
Matching shoulder points, pin the shoulder attachment piece to the top of the arm. Make sure you orient so that front and back are correct. Start at the shoulder point and work out from there. The shoulder attachment will end just past the seams.
With the arm on top, stitch the arm to the shoulder attachment.
Turn the seam allowance towards the arm.
Cut the batting to stuff the arm. I use high loft quilt batting to stuff the arm. Using small bits of batting to fill out the arm shape will result in a lumpy, bumpy arm. A better way is to use a larger piece of batting rolled. I start with a piece of high loft (about 3/4 inch) polyester batting cut 30 inches by 24 inches. Roll up the 30 inch width and determine if that gives you a roll the measurement of your biceps. 30 inches of my batting loosely rolled results in a tube 11 inches in circumference. If you adjusted your biceps, then the 30 inch dimension might need to be adjusted. 24 inches is the length of the arm from tip of shoulder to wrist. If you lengthened or shortened the pattern, adjust as necessary. Tear, rather than cut one 24 inch side. This will give a smooth edge when rolled. Start rolling from the short (13 inch) side. The resulting roll of batting will be fatter at one end and taper to a smaller diameter which will be the wrist. Temporary quilt adhesive spray helps adhere the edge. Test the dimensions of your roll and when all looks good, spray the feathered edge with adhesive spray, roll and press the feathered edge down. You should end up with a roll that is fatter at one end and tapers at the other, like an arm.
To pull the roll of batting through the arm, pin a length of ribbon to the narrow end. Attach a weight and drop the weight through the top of the arm. Pull the ribbon through while pushing the batting in from the top.
Turn up 3/8 inch seam allowance at the wrist end of the arm. Cut cardboard the size of the wrist cover pattern. Hand sew a running stitch 1/4 inch from the edge of the fabric. Pull the threads to gather the fabric around the cardboard shape And tie securely. Press to flatten. Mark all match points. The wrist should be an oval with the longer side of the oval matching the marked balance line on the upper arm.
Check that all points match and whip stitch, using strong thread, the fabric covered oval to the wrist.
Cover the armseye oval in the same way. Handsew a running stitch around the edge, pull thread and tie, covering the armseye oval. Mark the match points. Make sure you have the underarm and shoulder points oriented correctly. The back armseye length is slightly longer than the front, so the shoulder point is slightly forward of center. Press to flatten.
Check that there isn’t excess batting in the armseye area and the arm will sit flat against the dressform. You want enough batting to fill out the top of the sleeve but not so much that the arm is pushed away from the dressform.
This is the hardest part: attaching the armseye cover. Pin match points at the shoulder. Work around to where the shoulder attachment ends on both sides, pinning in place as much as possible. I use a sturdy needle and upholstery or heavy duty polyester thread. Begin sewing so that you will attach the section along the top of the arm first, then moving towards underarm section. If you can use a thimble, it will help immensely. I’ve found stitching like this: bite into the arm section and take a small stitch parallel to the seam line. Pass needle through the fabric on the armseye cover along the edge of cardboard, then back to the arm. Pull tight every stitch or two. Keep an eye on your match points to be sure all will line up.
Take a couple of extra stitches where the shoulder attachment ends as that will be a stress point when you use the arm form. The area along the underarm can be sewn with a whip stitch as the arm is flexible and easier to sew along that area.
Attach the arm to your form with pins. I use Clover double forked pins and angle them so they are pointing inwards. Use one pin at the shoulder, one in front and one in back. Push them in parallel to the surface so that just the tiny curve is visible. There are no pin heads to snag on clothing. Determine the best pitch (angle) for your arm. Some arms are pitched with the arm more forward, others figures have the arm angled more towards the back. You can draw the shoulder line on the shoulder attachment when you’ve determined the ideal placement.
I use Clover forked pins to attach the arm to dressform. Angle the pin so it’s pointing downwards. It holds the arm securely and the rounded tip doesn’t snag on clothing.
The idea for a flexible arm came while watching Signe Chanel. The film gave an inside view of Chanel workrooms and all their mannequins were outfitted with these wonderfully flexible arms. I’ve tried the arms supplied with commercial forms which are rigid and heavy. I’m much happier with this version. No wonder this is what Chanel uses.
This pattern makes an arm for the right side. If you want an arm for the left side, just flip the pieces over and duplicate. You can also print the pattern at 50% and use it for a half-size dressform. If making a half-scale arm, use regular quilting weight muslin as the heavier weight will be difficult to handle. I keep seam allowances at 3/8, maybe trimming slightly, but 1/4 inch tends to fray easily and makes things difficult. Enjoy!
Ever wish you could clone yourself? How much easier to make fitting adjustments if you could just step outside your own body and work on you. Here’s how: pad a standard dressform to your measurements and cover it with a custom drafted muslin to replicate your own shape.
Why construct your own form? Once you have a duplicate of your body, fitting becomes SO much easier. You’ll also have an understanding of pattern drafting so style/ fitting changes to commercial patterns are less of a mystery. If your size changes you can adjust the padding and cover to reflect those changes. Couture houses create custom forms for their clients so why not do it for yourself?
The process begins with accurate measurements. Those numbers are used to draft a custom pattern which duplicates the body.
The pattern is cut in muslin and any adjustments made. It’s a skin tight fit.
The pattern is cut apart and transferred to heavy weight muslin. Additional seaming is added to the bust area for better shaping.
Use a dressform that’s SMALLER than you. If you start with a form by bust measurement, it’s invariably too large across the back and shoulders. I usually chose a form that’s at least 3-4 inches smaller than the bust.
The cover is sewn together at the shoulders leaving the side seams open. That makes it easier to get the cover into place without dislodging any of the padding. Start at the shoulders and work down the body. Bra cups fill out a larger bust; shoulder pads can be used to fill out the hip area. Polyester quilt batting works well to smooth out the shape. Tear rather than cut the batting to eliminate ridges. A small steamer helps compress the batting and makes it stick to itself. This is like sculpture. It can be helpful to have a photo of your body: front, back and side views. Work from the top down. Fold the cover down to check if you have padded too little, too much or in the wrong place. Pin the sides closed to check. When the cover is filled out you’ll hand sew the sides closed.
Fold seam allowances under and whip stitch the sides together using strong upholstery thread. Draw some registration marks every couple of inches to keep the sides aligned while you’re sewing.
Steam the cover well. It will shrink slightly and tighten up. Draw balance lines (bust, waist and hip) with a permanent marker. Vertical balance lines at center front and back can also be added.
For a custom arm, here’s the pattern I use. There are NO SEAM ALLOWANCES. I use either heavy muslin or cotton drill cloth for the two main arm pieces and shoulder. Lighter weight muslin covers the cardboard ovals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Trim the fill at the armseye end leaving enough to fill out the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
I’ve received requests to teach this and have done several workshops. With the current stay-at-home situation, on line classes are a necessity. I’ve taught this remotely using Zoom and it worked well. Those who participated had a buddy to help with measurements but it is possible to fit yourself. I’ve done it and it’s not impossible. There are a few tricks like putting a separating zipper at center front to make the cover easy to get on and off. When the fit is perfected, the zipper is removed and side seams opened. It’s also more accurate than pinning. A few measurements (like the cross back width) will need to be calculated rather than direct measure.
The dressform cover pattern can also be adjusted with ease added to create a custom size master pattern block. You can use this to either create your own designs or help with adjustments to a commercial pattern.
If you’re interested and want more details, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch. Everyone stay safe.
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’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.
What is your interpretation of “beach chic” attire? This was for a very casual beach front wedding. If you google the term “beach chic” the attire most often suggested for women is a long sundress.
I had fabric purchased at Mood last summer in the stash. It was a silk crepe de chine panel print. Very interesting but would definitely require some creative cutting to make the most of the design. I had two panels and planned to use one for a long wrap skirt and the second for the bodice and trim.
Skirt draping started first. I have a professional style dress form which has been padded to my size. I find the effort spent constructing this saves so much time that I can’t imagine working without it now. The process I used is detailed in my post on April 25, 2014. How time consuming to drape and fit a design only to need to make alterations because the dress form is shaped differently than your body.
I basted a lightweight silk/cotton batiste to the silk and thread traced a reference line for the hip. Start at the left side which will be the skirt underlap and work around to the right side seam. At this point, just get the hip aligned; don’t worry about the waist shaping.
When you reach the right side seam, smooth the fabric downwards from the waist, which will drop the reference line. My post on November 3, 2015 also gives an explanation of how to drape this style of pleated skirt.
Form the first pleat. Second and third pleats are formed.
Shape the back darts, pin in place and thread trace. Thread trace the waistline. I’ve also placed a thread mark at the center back line
Next you want to accurately mark the front waist and the pleat shaping. I pin a narrow ribbon around the waistline. Remove the skirt from the form, being careful to keep everything pinned in place.
Now I cut the waistline seam leaving a 1 inch seam allowance.
I wanted the front overlap to gently curve from the hem to waist. An easy way to experiment with possible shapes is to use a length of leaded drapery weight. It is easily shaped yet is heavy enough to stay in place while you cut.
I had considered a lapped closure but as the bodice and skirt were attached the easiest solution was to insert a zip at the center back. How to do this with no back seam? I found inspiration from Valentino. Here is a center back invisible zip with a contrast satin welt.
Why not turn this into a design detail? Construct it like a narrow welt pocket.
The bodice was a simple scoop neck with tiny piping at the neck and armholes. It was cut on the bias so the design is shifted 45 degrees from the skirt. I left the center back seam open to the waist so ties at the back neck were in order. I used thin drapery pull cord; measured the amount needed for the neck edge and added about 15 inches to each end for the ties. The ends were done first, cording removed from inside and then a bias strip covered the center portion. The bodice was lined to the edge with the same lightweight silk/cotton and fell stitched to the piping seam line.
I must also mention that in addition to his medical practice, my husband decided to become a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain, which gives him the authority to officiate at weddings. We are close friends with the bride and groom and they were thrilled to have him conduct the ceremony.
I came across this Donna Karan Vogue pattern. The jacket looked like a fun, easy to wear, garment. I also loved the interesting style lines and curved seaming.
First a word about size selection. I’ve found that it works much better to select your pattern size by your high bust measurement, NOT the full bust. I measure 32″ high bust and 34″ full bust. That would mean I should cut a size 12. Size 12’s are ridiculously huge on me. The neckline gaps open and the shoulders are HUGE. I go down two sizes and cut a size 8, which is 31.5 bust. That fits me much better in the neck, armholes, and shoulders, areas which are much more difficult to alter than side seams. I’ve found that the high bust is a truer measure of your bone structure and will give a better fit. You may need to alter for a full bust and/or fat tissue, but those changes are easier than the neck/shoulder areas.
Here is my first muslin, cut exactly according to the pattern. It’s shown on my form which is an exact duplicate of my shape.
Here’s the back view.
There is a huge amount of ease at the underarm along the side seam. In order for the side seams to match up the front piece needs to flare out away from the body. Not the look I’m after.
The side seam also flares out at the hem much more than I would like. The pattern line drawing looks to me like a fairly slim fitting jacket. I have a long torso and the waist also needs to be lengthened by 1 and 3/8 inches.
Here’s a view of the original on the left side and the altered version on the right side.
Changes to the pattern. The red lines are the new seam lines. I’ve raised the underarm and reshaped the armseye. I’ve also removed fabric from the collar at both the neck and front edge.
Style tape makes it easier to redraw this seam line. The triangle shaped section has excess pinned out which will be removed in the redraft. I’ve repositioned the bust dart for a smoother fit.
The altered flat pattern.
Most of the alterations are along the side seam and armhole. One major change is to reposition the grain line on the triangular shaped piece. I wanted more waist shaping but didn’t want to add additional seam lines to already busy lines. I placed the bottom and back edges of the triangular piece on an almost true bias and the front edge was slightly off grain. Stretch the bottom and back edges while steam ironing.
How it now conforms to the body curves and shapes the waist better.
The curved edge along the jacket front will also be steam stretched to hug the body.
The collar and front piece is basically a curved ruffle. Take a tip from Roberta Carr (her book: Couture:The Art of Fine Sewing) and do not clip this seam until after it’s sewn and then clip at precise intervals to control the ruffles.
If you try this pattern pay attention to the fabric choice. A softly draping tweed or loose weave will work best. Anyone else tried this design?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Another draft for a fuller figure with large bust and abdomen. Once again the moulage instructions produced a perfectly fitting mold.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My completed clone. I added tape to the center front, back, waist, hip and bust lines.
Notice the different armhole angle on me versus the form. No wonder things didn’t fit.
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.