Custom Dress Form v2.0: wrap up

To all of you who complimented Q, she said “Thanks!” with a huge grin on her non-existent face! Thought I’d let you know via a post since I’m not sure you get notified of my replies to your comments.

OK, let’s wrap up with a few thoughts and suggestions for those of you less crazy than me but still looking for a serviceable dress form.

Do I need a pinnable dress form?

Will you be creating new designs by draping or just checking the fit of flat / commercial patterns? If you just want a fitting tool, then you may not even need a pinnable dress form. After all, you won’t be pinning into your flesh. So you may even get more accurate reading if you let your muslin or garment hang off the form like it would on you. That way, you’ll spot the too large neckline or other bits that might not stay put before it’s too late.

Yes pinnable won’t hurt if you have good fitting habits. And it would certainly be needed if you aspire to designing by draping. But give yourself an easy way out if you don’t have the money to buy one or patience to make one.

How accurately should the dress form reflect my figure?

OK, I’m no fitting expert, so take my 2 cents here with big pinch of salt. It’s tempting to have a mirror image of you. But I wonder if it’s really necessary to see every bump. Especially since we shift shape constantly. Just by breathing, moving, how much we ate that day, time of the month, etc. It’s probably one reason why it’s so difficult to get accurate measurements. I don’t know if it’s even possible to have a dress form that will be completely faithful to your figure 100% of the time. Any of the wrap methods – Plaster + Expanding Foam, Duct Tape, Paper Tape – will wrap in your breathing ease. So even the most accurate Plaster + Expanding Foam method will need adjusting.

But since most of us will be making garments with ease rather than skin tight garments, I’m not sure that level of accuracy is absolutely necessary. I think the Duct Tape / Paper Tape methods will be accurate enough. If you have figure variations that are significant enough to affect fit of garment with some ease, then they will probably be big enough to show up in your Duct Tape / Paper Tape dress form.

Some of us also are uncomfortable having such an accurate model of ourselves in the house for all to see. The Duct Tape / Paper Tape methods when covered with fabric probably produce a less scary version of our body.

You can tell Plaster + Expanding Foam method isn’t my favorite can’t you? 🙂 For me, the benefit of it’s accuracy – and it certainly is the most accurate of the various methods judging by the forms out on the blogsphere – isn’t enticing enough to overcome the mess and fume of that process. But maybe you don’t mind the mess and really want the most accurate form possible. In that case I’d recommend checking out these links before you start:

Duct Tape or Paper Tape?

There sure are a lot of Duct Tape forms out there. A lot of the period re-enactment costumers seem to make Duct Tape forms, even with legs and arms.

Having tried both I think I like Paper Tape form better now. Duct Tape forms you definitely need to stuff for the form to maintain your shape. And you’ll be surprised at how much the stuffing weighs once tightly packed in. So you’ll need a sturdy stand.

Paper Tape form if you add enough layers seems like it’ll be stiff enough to hold its shape without stuffing. After all, Wolf Forms are a variation of paper forms – their forms are hollow and made of 3/4″- 1″ thick cardboard Papier Mâché. Mine which is about 1/8″ thick took about 11 layers of tape. If you’re concerned about sturdiness, you can try reinforcing the paper tape form with a 1″ layer of expanding form inside like this woman did. The short of it is your form is more likely to be light enough to not need a heavy duty stand, which may or may not be easily available / affordable depending on where you live.

Additional tips for Paper Tape form…

What to wear underneath:

  • Do wear the type of undergarment you normally wear. Don’t wear old bras that don’t support you as your normal bras do. This method won’t ruin your undergarment if you cut carefully. So give your form the shape you normally have!
  • For the base layer of the form, wear a dry cleaning plastic bag or garbage bag. You can use plastic wrap, but you may need multiple layers which you then need to peel off from the inside to avoid air bubbles between paper layers. It may also stick to the skin more and be harder to cut off. Avoid T-shirt etc since they add too much bulk and cause inaccuracy. Tights, leotards, and swimsuit may have the opposite effect of compressing your squishy bits and again cause inaccuracy. Shapewear may be OK if you normally wear them, but it may be harder to cut off.

Type of paper tape:

  • Many people make theirs with gummed paper tape that you have to moisten. I’d recommend doing the wrapping with self-adhesive paper tape, then reinforcing with the gummed paper tape only after it’s off you. The self-adhesive tape is less messy and quicker to use for the wrapping process – no time wasted wetting the tape or drying it enough so it’ll hold its shape. This means less immobility for you as a wrapee, and less patience required of the wrapper.
  • 4-layers of self-adhesive tape seemed stiff enough to hold the shape long enough for the form to be cut off, taped together, then reinforced.

Maximizing accuracy:

During wrapping:

  • Wrapping order is important! Both for your comfort and to minimize inaccuracy. The longer you are wrapped in the more likely extra ease is going to get wrapped in as you try to catch your breath or fidget in your tight paper sausage case. I like the order recommended by Connie Crawford: Bottom first, then back and side underarm, then chest and bust, and lastly abdomen. That means the areas most affected by breathing is left free for as long as possible. But you might want to vary this depending on how you tend to breath – some people breath into their belly, others into their chest. Observe which area expands the most when you breath in and wrap that last. Connie’s instruction is available as video on DVD, which seems quite detailed, and in her pattern-drafting book in less details. It was also featured on Sew News website, but is now gone. (I saved a copy while it was still online.)
  • It doesn’t seem like it’d be possible to wrap too tightly, but some people do get over-enthusiastic when wrapping the squishy bits. Make sure your wrapper is mindful of this risk. Unless you wear shapewear all the time, you probably don’t want your squishy bits to be overly compressed. You’ll only end up with a less useful form even if it looks more flattering.
  • The breast area is another tricky area. Make sure you use the cross-your-heart duct-tape trick to built in some cleavage in your garbage bag base. And be careful not to wrap the girls too tightly.
  • For all curvy / shapely areas, use smaller / thinner pieces of tape to avoid wrinkles, air bubbles, flattened shapes, or having to cut fiddly darts in the paper tape. It’s OK to wrap diagonally if that’s where the curve want the tape to go. Just make sure you end up with about 4 layers everywhere before cutting off.

After it’s off:

  • Once you cut off the form, tape it back immediately and reinforce with a layer of self-adhesive paper tape on the inside. Then a layer of gummed paper tape on the outside and another on the inside. Next trace the holes – neck, armholes, hem. This gives you insurance against inaccuracy introduced by any subsequent tinkering. Make sure to mark the front, back, right, and left.
  • Check the key measurements.
    • If they are larger, check if they are the same as your measurement when you inhaled and held your breath. If it is the same or smaller, then it’s probably breathing ease you wrapped in. You need to decide if it’s worth removing this. If you’re always going to make garments with some ease, you might want to keep the form as is and just note how much breathing ease is already built in. It means when you’re fitting garments on your form, you can make it more close fitting.
    • If the larger measurements isn’t due to breathing, then you may want to remove that by cutting and re-taping where necessary.
    • If it’s too small by quite a bit, you may want to use something else to add bulk first before smoothing over with more tape – eg card boards, foam pads (result may be a bit squishy). Trying to bulk up simply with more tape will take a long time. I learnt the hard way. Or if you’re adding padding for a pinnable form, you can always wait until the padding stage to fatten your form where needed.
  • If the measurements are all good (enough), then time to decide if you want pinnable or not.
    • If you don’t need pinnable, then simply reinforce the form with more layers of tapes on the inside, and expanding foam if you want. Then cover up the holes with cardboards cut to the tracings you made earlier. If you’re adding a stand, you may need to cut a hole for the stand first before you cover up the holes.
    • If you want pinnable, you can go down the fabric cover route for less hassle. You’ll have to pin to the fabric rather than stab the form.
    • You can use knit for an easier cover to make. But keep in mind that any guiding lines drawn or sewn on the cover (eg CF, CB, sides, bust, waist, hip) may shift, so won’t be accurate.
    • Woven cover is probably better, and you don’t necessarily need to learn draping to make one! You can try Fashion Incubator’s saran/plastic wrap sloper pattern-making method on your form to create the patterns for your woven cover. That way you also get an easy moulage as well! (Not quite a sloper with wearing ease, but the skin-tight version.) Do double-check the accuracy of the patterns by trying out a muslin or your cover on yourself. It should be skin-tight with minimum wrinkles. For the cover you may want to make it with princess seams or more darts than normal to ensure better accuracy.
    • If you’re going down the same route as me – performing a reduction surgery, then fattening back up with padding – I’d still recommend making your cover at this point. It’s more insurance against inaccuracy introduced by any subsequent tinkering. I wish I had done this. I was only saved by having drafted my moulage separately. But plastic wrapping the form at this stage is an easier alternative. The rest is as I’ve already written. Just use the same cover patterns for the fusible interfacing to rein in the padding.

An arm or two for Q?

Tina Lou mentioned arms for Q in her comment on my last post. And indeed I do plan to make arms for Q. Just not yet. Too much effort all at once even for me!

The Sew News version of Connie’s instruction does have a brief instruction for the arms. Not sure if her DVD covers them in more details. (Contact me if you’re desperate for a copy of the Sew News instruction.)

But the best instruction I’ve come across so far is Pandemic Apparel’s photo-illustrated instruction for dress form ‘sleeve’. However, I might do the plastic wrap method on a duct tape arm I made for Big Bertha that I never used instead of drafting a sleeve pattern from scratch.


So that’s about it then for the dress form wrap up. I’m now desperate for a wearable project. If only I have more time off work…sigh.

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