Tag Archives: custom dress form

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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What to Wear to a Beach Chic Wedding

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.

Silk Panel

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.

Begin DrapingContinue Draping

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.

Right Front Drape

Form the first pleat. Second and third pleats are formed.

First PleatSecond PleatThird Pleat

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

Back Darts PinnedThread Trace Waist 2

 

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.

Front WaistRemove Front Waist

Now I cut the waistline seam leaving a 1 inch seam allowance.

Trim Front Waist

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.

Drapery Weight

Front Curve

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.

Valentino

Why not turn this into a design detail? Construct it like a narrow welt pocket.

Zip 2Zip 1
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.

Cording 1Cording 2Cording 3Piping

Finished!

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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.

Officient

 

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Vogue V1440: Tweaking the Fit

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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.
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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.
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Here’s the back view.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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The altered flat pattern.
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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.
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How it now conforms to the body curves and shapes the waist better.
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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.
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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?

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