Dress Form Quest: The Big Bertha Prequel

In keeping with latest cultural trends, next up is of course a prequel to a prequel. So, how about a survey of dress form options I considered before settling on Big Bertha?

Now, you must understand, I have two criteria for my selection:

Aesthetics   &   Intended Purpose

Having been artsy fartsy most of my life, and having a job that requires none, I simply couldn’t stoop down to an ugly dress form in my leisure time. But on the other hand, my job has drilled into me Function Function Function (over Form – those damn artsy fartsy creative w**ker types! ;-). So  I can’t settle for pretty but useless dress forms either.

Here are the Rejects:

Ready made rejects

1. Adjustable dress forms

Reject Reason: Aesthetic Atrocity.
And now I find out from a Did You Make That? blog post & Connie Crawford’s Pattern Making Made Easy book another defect: gaps in places when you adjust the form to your measurements. Pros: if you sew for others, it saves you having to make & keep multiple forms. But then I’m in the Cult of Elaine (sorry Selfish Seamstress, “Cult of the Selfish Seamstress” just doesn’t have the same ring to it), so this is no cup of tea for me.

2.Professional dress form + padding out

Reject Reason: Black Art. (+ expensive!)
These are of course very aesthetically pleasing. I drooled over…

  • The collapsible shoulder version.
  • The leggy version.
  • The Project Runway  version with bum cheeks.
    (Why do sewing patterns still pretend they don’t exist? Where I work there are lots of finance / City types, and a lot of the girls look curvy yet professional in their bootylicious skirts and pants. Come on pattern companies, move with the times!)
  • The Japanese real average body dress form. These are designed jointly by Bunka Fashion College and the Digital Human Laboratory. They’re based on actual measurements of the college’s students. So they reflect real figures (dress form on the left) rather than the idealised figures used in most professional dress form (dress form on the right). I like the scientificness of this, but it would still not match my real figure. The Fashion Incubator blog has a whole discussion about these forms.

Out of the box these are all utterly useless, not to mention expensive. And sculpting with wads of cotton batting seems like a Black Art. Fabulous Fit does have a fitting system that’s meant to speed this up somewhat. But even then it’ll take ages, if ever, to get it exactly right. So one for those genetically blessed with a standard figure & measurements. Not for me.

3. Uniquely You

Reject Reason: … actually I had one of these long time ago.
This one you get a form roughly your size plus. You fit the skin-tight cover on yourself (with a pair of extra hands of course). Then the cover reins in the extra bulk. So theoretically this should be perfectly you. But it does have ugly legs. And it’s not exactly cheap either.

And you really need a dress-maker friend whose hands you’ll be borrowing. BFs and hubbies probably won’t do. (Mine is long gone, abandoned across the pond. Which is just as well since I’ve gained a few pounds and a couple of pattern sizes crossing the pond.)

Update: I just found this blog post with great pictures and discussion about fitting Uniquely You. Check out her video of unpacking the form. Hilarious!

Custom made rejects

1. Molded papier mâché dress form

Reject Reason: My days of mucking about are over.

The process is just too messy, complicated, and time-consuming. I simply don’t have the patience to watch papier mâché dry!

You have to cast a mould first using plaster tape. I read in a Thread article some poor woman ended up overheating and fainted – plaster supposedly release heat when drying. So unless you’re quick with the moulding…keep the smelling salt at the ready.

And after all that you still have to build up your form in sections, then glue them together (see picture above)…See what I meant by mucking about?

2. My Twin molded polyurethane foam dress form

Reject Reason: My days of getting high on fume are also over.

The end result does look quite good. But again, the  process is messy, and presumably also fummy.

Again you have to cast a mould first using plaster tape. But then instead of using papier mâché, you pour this expanding liquid polyurethane foam into your cast. I can smell the toxic fume already!

3. Standard paper tape dress form

Reject Reason: Armadillo.

This is similar process to making a Duct Tape Double, but you’re using paper packing tape. The one shown is the type that you have to dampen to make it stick. I don’t know how strong that would be, so how form-fitting you can make it. But presumably there’ll be no sticky pins problem pinning into this.

But my main gripe is with the Armadillo look. Presumably the tape isn’t very flexible, so the edges sticks out where your body curves away. So No! on aesthetic ground.

Having said that…I just discovered a variation of the paper tape dress form that I might try next time, which is:

Not yet a Reject:

Connie Crawford’s hybrid paper tape dress form

Non-Reject Reason: I don’t want gummy pins.

This I found in my copy of her Pattern Making Made Easy book. The end results looks decent enough. I’m hoping paper tape won’t leave sticky residues on my pins, and will be easier to stick into than Big Bertha’s thick skin. Here’s a DVD sample on YouTube:

And some picture of the end result from the book…

But for now, Big Bertha will do.

 I’ve invested too much to give her up. She’s my girl, thick skin and all.

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