Drafting Patterns, Dress Forms, Uncategorized

Building a Custom Dressform

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.

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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.

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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.

imageSteam 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.

Mannequin Arm Pattern

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..

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drafting Patterns, Dress Forms

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.
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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!