Last May I was on my way home from the supermarket, passing a vintage charity shop, when I spotted some dress forms on the pavement. They were on sale for £10 each. Wow! Bargain!
I put my shopping bags and investigated. The shop had rearranged their displays and so had some extra mannequins they no longer needed, so wanted to get rid of them. I picked the lightest adjustable form, it was wrapped in a bin bag to protect it from the rain, and I took it home.
Once home I measured it and it was rather different from my measurements. By 7 or so inches at the full bust. Luckily Threads magazine (issue 161) had a great tutorial from Kenneth D. King about making covers for dress forms – in some theatres they make covers to match the actors’ measurements, which can be added to just a couple of dress forms, allowing for precise fitting and saving storage.
I draped a muslin cover for the form (on its largest setting) and added a zipper at the back, in case I wanted to remove it for any reason. Then I started padding it out. I wrapped it up in thick batting until it approximately matched my waist measurements. I put an old bra on it and kept padding it out. The original plan was to baste all the layers of batting together and to the muslin inner layer, but it soon became apparent that this would be a lot of effort; am I really going to remove my cover that often.
I used a fitting-shell pattern I had worked on a few years ago to create a skin-tight bodice and upper-skirt (and amazingly the shell pattern was still a perfect fit), adding armhole and neck covers. I tried the cover and needed more wadding to fill it out, so had a break until I could get a
second third fourth bagful of batting. Fully fitting the form was a challenge, especially on my wrists due to the pressure needed to get a firmly stuffed body, so this was done over a long period of time. I stuffed and stuffed, then checked my measurements, then stuffed some more, until the form was close enough to me (I think it is an inch too small around the full bust, but I never wear skin-tight over-fitted garments so it shouldn’t be a problem).
Finally I fused some ribbon to the form to mark the centre front, bust and waist lines. If they look a bit wonky, it must be the shape of my body as they are level in real life! Maybe there is a way to quilt all the layers together, but for the moment it is fine the way it is.
The form didn’t have a stand, so I made a few trips to my local hardware store. I bought a 1m chrome tube and a handful of rubber washers. I attached the tube, using the washers, to the inside of the form, where there was already a larger tube (lots of measuring was involved). At first I put the tube inside an old tripod base (the top had broken as it was fairly cheap) but this wobbled and was very unsteady. I went back to the hardware store and got some heavy weights (for window cords?) and made little pouches to tie these to the tripod legs. This didn’t work either Then I remembered I had a fan under my bed from a heatwave a few years ago; we had bought a big fan during the heatwave, but it was so strong and noisy we could hardly use it. It has been gathering dust, so I took the base and put the dress form on top. This was so much more stable and sturdy, due to the heavy, heavy, round base.
£10 for dress form
£5 for hardware
£12 for fabric
£ lost count for batting
=£40-50 for a personalised dress form to help fit and drape custom-fit garments. Quite a bargain in my books.