Can’t do without…flatbed sewing set-up

I notice a lot of sewing bloggers I follow have very simple machine-on-table sewing set-up. Many are advanced sewers. Which leaves me thinking maybe my sewing skill just ain’t up to scratch. You see, I can’t seem to sew straight if I don’t have a flatbed set-up – ie large surface around the machine that is the same level as the machine sewing surface.

setup_flat-bed-sewing For my sewing machine, I got a sewing cabinet which has adjustable platform for flatbed & free-arm sewing, as well as hiding the machine away when not in use. For my overlocker I’ve had to improvise with stacks of books for now as there isn’t space for more sewing cabinet!

But now there’s a chance that we might move abroad because of MR’s work, I’m considering getting portable flatbed extension tables. There’s a couple that I’m drooling over…

Sew Steady “Wish Table” Portable Sewing Machine Extension

Shame this one isn’t adjustable for different machine shapes like this one below…

What about you? Do you love flatbed sewing or managed to do without just fine?

And a couple more distractions…

  1. I finally change Q’s feet so she won’t run away from me as I stick pins into her while draping / fitting. I’ve had to replace all four castor wheels as the new ones with locks aren’t the same height as the old ones.
  2. My pattern-drafting / cutting tool drawer was getting a bit unwieldy. So I finally got a couple of cutlery drawer inserts to keep things in place. Sadly the inserts are a bit chunky & not adjustable, so there now less room for stuff. But at least I can find the bits I need when I need them…for now.

OK, better get back to my furry projects. I could really do with some of those surgical masks that everyone in the Far East wear. I’m choking on the fine mohair bits flying everywhere as I cut & sew!

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.

Custom Dress Form v2.0: part 4

As you’ve already met Q, let’s get straight down to business shall we.

Most of the following steps are a hodgepodge of Suzanne Stern‘s couture dress form customization instruction on Threads Archive DVD (issues 44, 45, 48) and Wolf Forms production process article again on  Threads Archive DVD (issue 141) and the How It’s Made TV segment on Wolf Forms on YouTube.

3-3 To recap, I’ve now got Q post reduction surgery and on her one flimsy PVC leg with a hefty wooden hoof. Next up was fattening her back up.

As she was originally my size with a fairly uniform reduction (1/2″ at CF, CB, sides), theoretically I can put an even layer of padding on her. But I might have complicated things a little bit by also taking in a little bit for the breathing ease that was wrapped into the original paper tape – I want the option to be able to make skin-tight corset or evening dress.

So one precaution I took was to cut rayon seam binding tapes measured to my key circumference measurements (+ a bit for overlapping & pinning / sewing close). After I wrapped an even layer of 2-1/2 oz cotton-wool blend upholstery padding, I wrapped these seam binding tapes around the padded form and made sure the fluffy padding can be compressed to the right size. If the tapes won’t close at the markings then there’s too much padding, if it’s loose then there’s not enough padding. Here she is with her lovely rolls spilling over the tapes!

4-1 4-2

A second precaution is to use my moulage pattern for the thin non-woven interfacing that covers the fluff. This way, I can adjust the padding to better fit the cotton drill moulage cover that will be Q’s final skin.

First though I needed to do a final check on the moulage fit. So I made the cotton ticking moulage cover next:


OK, there still seems to be some draglines in the photos. It actually doesn’t look as bad in real life. As I’m not a starlet who’ll be papped on the red carpet for the tabloids I gave myself permission to ignore the less than perfect photographed results.

5-1So with moulage pattern checked, I cut and pinned together the thin non-woven interfacing version. I then put this on Q with CF closure and checked the amount of padding again. Most of it was fine. It was a tight fit, but with a bit of careful tug and occasional spot fusing with a dry iron, I was able to rein in the fluff and get the interfacing moulage on.

The bust was a problematic area. I had to add extra padding to fill the bust out. I also used the underwires from an old decent-fitting bra to check the bust shaping. A pin was hammered in between the girls to get the cleavage right. Once it all checks out, I fuse the interfacing to the padding with dry iron on wool setting. The pins holding the interfacing moulage together came out after I’ve fused the seams.


Here’s Q after interfacing wrapping, still sporting her rolls:


Next up is a thin cotton jersey cover. I needed this extra layer because my cotton ticking cover doesn’t cover the neck.

6-16-26-3 6-4

This was actually a hand-me-down from Big Bertha, my previous Duct Tape Double. So it was already shaped to fit my figure and just needed closing off at the neck and armholes.

Again, I hammered pins in to create the underbust and cleavage shaping. The bottom, like the interfacing layer, is folded over the hem edge and in this case stapled to Q’s cardboard bottom using a staple gun leftover from my collage days. (The interfacing was just fused to the cardboard.) … And where have the rolls gone?

And this brings us up to date and those photos of Q in her cotton ticking  moulage skin, which is made with a center back zipper so it can be taken off if I ever want to check the fit on myself again.


The ticking I got from John Lewis’ home decor fabric department is relatively thick – probably mid to heavy-weight. It covers any stubborn left-over rolls. You could probably use drill or canvas as well. I stained mine with cheap tea to give it an antiqued look. And although I added a CF bust fish-eye dart, I still hammered yet more pins for a more defined cleavage. The key circumferences are thread traced with top-stitching threads to guide future draping projects.

The neck and armholes I could have just left with the jersey covering. But as I had some craft brass wire mesh and decorative floral head tacks in the stash, I added metal looking caps to make Q look even more like the Wolf Forms. The mesh is wrapped around a cardboard layer, then tack in the center to the cardboard layers already covering these holes. More pins are hammered in closer to the edge of the disc to make it more secure. One downside of this prettification is that the cut edges of the wire mesh is a bit scratchy. Hopefully they won’t snag any fine fabric draped on Q.

finished-detail1 finished-detail2

And look, Q takes pins no problemo! I could pin into just the ticking cover or I can stick one right into her. The middle pin is as far as the pin will go and it looks pretty secure.

So mission accomplished. Well done Q!

Now obviously not everyone’s going to go through the trouble for a dress form. So maybe I’ll write up some tips & learnings from my experience next time.

Custom Dress Form v2.0: part 3 & a bit

Q is finally finished late last night. Just in time for me to go back to work and do nothing with her for a while. Typical!

It may take me a few days to organize a proper write up. In the meanwhile, here’s a preview of what she looks like to keep you sweet:

Humm, that CF & CB seems to be twisting. But they seem to be twisting in the same direction. So may just need a little tugging with the cover.

Custom Dress Form v2.0: part 3

So let’s get back to Q. Yes, I’ve decided to christen her Quasimodo. Or Q for short (with a sideways nod to James Bond). She’ll be my smart cookie gadget girl, slightly deformed but still beautiful.

And what tricks has she got for us up her sleeves? Well, you already know about her hidden foam bra cups. This time we’ll check out her innards & leg. Yes, just the one. But she’s got one hefty hoof to keep her grounded…

And here’s the tidied up master plan with lessons learnt…


  • With 11 layers of paper tape that amount to about 1/8″ she was sturdy enough to be left hollow.  OK, you can’t take a sledge hammer to her or squash her with a heavy load. But draping & fitting don’t usually call for such tactics anyway.
  • To keep her PVC pipe spine vertical, I added the shoe box at the base and cardboard at the neck.  Both have holes cut to exact diameter of her spine to wedge it in place. Hot glue gun comes in handy too.
  • The holes – hem, armholes, neck – were then sealed off with 2-3 layers of cardboard, cut to the inside diameter of these holes, then glued & paper-taped in place. I plan to cover the outside layer of the neck & armholes with this craft metal mesh I have in the stash. Can’t even remember what I bought that for, but it’s preeeee-t-t-y.
  • Her spine goes over a narrower pipe in the stand. This makes her turnable – though the swivel caster wheels would have done this as well. More importantly for a dress form without collapsible shoulders, she can come off the stand. It’s handy for putting on pull-over garments that won’t easily pull down over her stiff wider shoulders but would happily pull up her underdeveloped hip.
  • As for the stand…sadly for me in the UK many of the usual suggestions for stands (IV drip pole, swivel chair base, 2nd hand dress form, xmas tree stand, PVC pipes, etc.) are either not cheap or not pretty & sturdy enough. So I concocted something my limited DIY skills could just about manage with timber planks, PVC pipes, & swivel caster wheels. It’s based on a DIY xmas tree stand instruction that someone posted on Artisan Square. I made the wood base taller because I was worried that without enough support the PVC pipe might bend or tilt over time. The weight of the wood also adds to the stability of the stand. I was able to get most of the PVC parts in black & stain the wood so that the stand match other furnishing in my sewing room.

Next up, fattening Q up! It is coming up to xmas after all.