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’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.