Adventures in Dressmaking: Sewing Circle: How to Buy a Dress Form

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sewing Circle: How to Buy a Dress Form

Welcome to Sewing Circle!
This time, I got a question from Cheryl, who asked:
Q: I am a quilter but lately the sew-your-own-clothes bug has surfaced and I have begun to purchase patterns of garments I would like to make. I seriously want a dress form but am clueless as to what is out there. Googling helps only to a point; I would like to hear from a serious maker of apparel, as you enthusiastically are, so that I can purchase a quality item.
A: Well, Cheryl, good question.  I don't currently have a dress form myself, but have grown up using the several that my mom has in her sewing studio and may someday acquire one (when I have more money and room to sew in!).  I asked around to my favorite sewing sources, and used what I know, and here's the break-down: you can:
  • Buy a new dress form online or at a store (usually $100-300).  JoAnn has coupons, and Amazon, etc. often have everyday discounts.
  • Buy a used dress form (don't pay more than $50 unless it's super great).  I often see them at Goodwill, and if it's close to your size, it may not be a problem to add some padding here and there for shaping.
  • Make your own dress form (uh... about $3?).  Takes the extra work and won't be as pretty, but it'll be your exact size.
Types of dress forms:
  1. Adjustable rolling dial dress forms, that can be tailored to exactly your measurements (not shape, of course), but I've heard often break and end up being essentially one size.  Some people have success with them, although they are difficult to pin into.  They often come in different "body types" to help with fit.
  2. Non-adjustable, one-size dress forms that approximate your size, and can be pretty close depending on how you're built.  You can buy one that's slightly smaller in some places and add on to it, if you like.  See this tutorial on doing that.  Usually made of foam, these are easy to pin onto.
  3. A duct tape or paper mache dress form that is exactly your (current) measurements and curves.  Threads has an article about how to make your own dress form out of duct tape or paper mache.  Sounds gross, but is actually a fun and very effective way to make a personalized form!  My mom and I did this once years ago, but I have changed size many times since and we threw it out.  But, hey, it only cost a few dollars and and old t-shirt!  There's also a tutorial on Etsy Labs.
Some people love having dress forms, especially for tailoring and more complex sewing, and the investment can be a good one.   However, of course, if you gain or lose weight, the form you bought may not work.  You can always add padding or shaping (try a bra on it!), and, to cover the lumps and ties holding on the padding, try making a sheath that fits your measurements exactly to put on the mannequin--zip it up the back, skin tight!  Before buying, check reviews on the one you're most interested in; there will probably be someone else out there who's bought it and tried it for the same purposes as you.  It really depends on what type of sewing you do, what your experience/comfort level is, and what your body type is like, but based on these factors, a dress form can be a very useful tool!

On this topic in particular, I would love to hear readers' thoughts--you sewists out there, do you use a dress form?  Which kind is your favorite?  Do you think it's worth the investment?
If you have a recommendation for Cheryl, what kind do you think she should use?  Remember, she's a quilter who has picked up garment sewing and would like to try making a dress.
Thanks so much for your input, readers!!

This has been another Sewing Circle feature.  If you have any sewing-related questions, please, send them my way and I'll do my best to answer before putting it out to my readers, too!

14 comments :

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  1. Prudent Baby had a tutorial for making your own also: http://www.prudentbaby.com/2010/06/diy-duct-tape-dress-form.html

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  2. Thanks for the tips! One of these days, I'm going to finally break down a buy a good petite dress form.

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  3. I don't have one because I don't have space. I've been apparel sewing for years without one. Someday I want to get one but for not I just do without.

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  4. I'd love to buy one, but they are just so expensive! I tend to take garments that I know fit and are about the shape I like and use those as my patterns for shirts/dresses/skirts. I usually use stretchy fabric anyway, so it isn't as difficult to get a good fit.

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  5. I have one and love it and modified to fit me better (I have the dial kind). But, until your reader is sure she enjoys garment sewing and would start sewing a lot of clothes, I wouldn't invest in a form. I sew just about everything and have for years. I just invested in a dress form about 3 years ago.
    Good luck.

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  6. I made a paper tape dress form and filled it with the foam that comes out of a can. It probably cost me about $40 to make. I have lost weight now, but I still use it a lot, because I have fitting issues in the shoulder, and my shoulders don't change with weight loss / gain! If you have shoulder fitting issues, it's probably better to make your own form, as the ones you buy do not adjust for square / sloping/ forward shoulders.

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  7. It was a good question, and very good answer! I hope one of dress forms of Threads will be useful for me. Thanks! Ирина (Irene)

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  8. My friend made her own dress form. She called it "Madam Busty."

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  9. Thanks for the great tips! I haven't gotten brave enough to make much for myself yet, but it sure would help when I am making stuff for the kiddos! They hate trying things on (especially if it has pins in it!), and I often try to work when they are in bed. I will have to try to make my own soon. . .

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  10. This was so timely! I was just looking on Amazon for one but was unsure what to look for.

    I think that since I am a very very very new sewer the DIY is my best and cheapest option if I don't stick with this new hobby.

    Although for decor purposes I would love a vintage one.

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  11. Thank you ever so much for such a detailed answer and comments. It seems there are a lot of ladies out there who would love a dress form! I did do the masking-tape/make-your-exact-self one, but when cut out of the T shirt form, I just couldn't see a way to have it be useful to me, as it was not on a stand, I could not make it exactly 5 feet tall, couldn't figure out how to put the hollow body form on a stand, so after hours and hours of my husband taping me up, I chucked the whole darn thing. I love the reader who suggested to fill up the form with hardening foam...never thought of that! And with the foam, you can insert a pole on wheels! My next email will be to Mr. W(onderful) to ask for another taping. Thank you, Suzannah and Katherine H.! Cheryl Furr

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  12. One option that I didn't see listed in the article or other comments was the Uniquely You dress form. I don't yet have a form, but I desperately want to buy one of these. I saw both the dial ones and this kind used in a costume shop and this one won, hands down. Particularly for my type of hourglass, where a dial one can't handle the higher contrast in measurements, this is ideal. It comes with a cover which you take off and put on yourself to pin to your exact shape (kind of like the duct tape version) and then sew to form. Then you squeeze it back on top of the foam core of the dress form and it fills out to fit the cover that is your exact shape. Best of all, you CAN pin into it, steam on it, do anything else you want. It is also cheaper than the dial kind. Alas, I'm in Canada, so shipping for me would cost as much as the form itself almost. I'll just have to keep saving up. But here is a link for it: http://www.allbrands.com/products/abc1325.html

    Hope that helps someone.

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  13. I actually got a dress form that is a store display-type form. It's lightweight, inexpensive, and I've padded it to my exact size using a t-shirt, a bra, and quilt batting. I got it new from a place in New York (can't remember where). It's fiberglass, I think, and covered with a black poly fabric. It has a wooden stand that's adjustable, has a sort of knob/handle thingy that sits in the top, and came in a size range. It looks like one of those forms you might see in a boutique. It was a good solution to the expensive ones --

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  14. In response to Cheryl's problem with the height of her DIY form:

    I made a form from duct tape, and used wooden hangers for the shoulders per the instructions. Then I hung a chain from the ceiling of my sewing room. By hanging the form from different links in the chain, I can adjust the form to be my height, or I can raise it up when working on skirts or pants.

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