diy: dress form (personal mannequin!)

Here's my DIY dress form modeling my work in progress, my very first sweater! 

Here's my DIY dress form modeling my work in progress, my very first sweater! 

So, despite what it looks like, I haven't forgotten to blog for the last couple of weeks. I decided to go with a different posting schedule, and in the process switch web platforms, so here we are. So many things have happened over the past month! 

Firstly, my parents and I survived being yoked together at the office. (Phew!) 

Secondly, I got to meet one of my best friend's sons, Oscar Harley, in Jacksonville. I had a super sweet weekend with him and his parents, and he stole my heart (as babies do)! Love you, Ozzie!

Thirdly, I went to two (2!) knit nights with a lovely group of ladies right here in town (Asheville). I can't express how much fun they were, and once again, I have to give credit to Dylan for finding out that this group existed!

Fourthly, I attended the Asheville Yoga Festival, and not only did I get to take a wonderful Bhakti yoga class with the awesome Rusty Wells, but I also got to try my hand at weaving a mandala. One of the knit night ladies, together with two other women from Asheville Mandala Weavers, hosted a workshop at the festival and taught us how to make a colorful yarn mandala. For those who don't know what a mandala is or have never seen one, I previously wrote a post on a sand mandala - a popular meditation tool in Buddhist culture. The idea is the same with a woven mandala, it's a colorful, geometrically-patterned piece of art that can be used as a meditation tool. Did you ever weave a 'god's eye' as a child? It's kinda like that, but a little more intricate.

Fifthly, (we're getting to the end of this recap here, I promise!) I made a DIY dress form with the help of my mom. And that, dear friends, is what brings us to the heart of this post - how to make your very own personal mannequin.

DIY Dress Form

Have you ever started making an article of clothing for yourself, be it sewn, knitted or crocheted, and wondered if it was actually going to fit you? In my experience, it is not easy to try on a piece of clothing while it is mid-craft because of pins, or live stitches, or my inability to detach my arms so that I can get it over my head. A dress form is excellent for this, and one made with your very own measurements is super-fantastic (as my dad would say). I bring you, the DIY dress form!

I guess we should call it a DIY+1, because you definitely need someone's help for this. And may I recommend someone who is crafty and that you trust with your life?! Making a personalized dress form involves someone duct taping you very tightly, so if you think they may tape you up really well and then leave you hanging, try to think of someone else. And a word to the claustrophobic: getting tightly wound with duct tape may be a challenge for you, as it was for me. I had a mild panic moment at one point, but breathed my way through it. My mind got waaaay too busy with thoughts that I couldn't get out of the tape, causing my blood pressure to spike, but long breaths and a little mind consolation did the trick to calm me down.

Another note: It gets quite hot inside the duct tape dress form, so try to have a fan going, or drink cool water, or something so that you don't overheat! 

Okay, now down to the process. I had seen this step-by-step guide a couple of places on the Internet, so I wanted to give it a try. So, while I didn't come up with this idea on my own, I did want to try it myself and figured that y'all may want to too. You in? 

Dress Form Materials

Here's what you'll need to make your (very own/one of a kind/uniquely you) dress form:

  • duct tape (for a size S/M, I used an entire roll of this duct tape) If you're worried that you may not have enough tape, I suggest you get 2 rolls, and then return one if you don't open it. The last thing you want to do is get taped up most of the way and then run out of tape! And just a word of caution, the fancy duct tapes have a lot less yardage per roll, so you may need several rolls.
  • plastic wrap (Saran Wrap or Cling Wrap)
  • scissors
  • a short sleeve T-shirt that you can pull to the top of your thighs (You will be cutting this, so if you've got one in the Goodwill pile, use that one instead of buying a new one.) 
  • old pillows or batting (I used the stuffing from 3.5 standard pillows to fill my dress form)
  • cardboard 
  • a stand of some sort (I went to Goodwill and got a $5 floor lamp to use as my stand, so get creative - is there a floor lamp, coat rack, plant stand, or otherwise tall standing fixture that could be repurposed for your dress form? Check local thrift stores.)


Steps to Making a Personalized Dress Form

Step 1

Solicit the help of a trusted craft-comrade (my mom was mine!). Wear your typical undergarments to get the closest measurements and put on your short-sleeve T. I had to pull mine down and tape it to my legs so that it would be long enough for the dress form to cover my behind!

Step 2

Fashion yourself a collar with the plastic wrap. Your taper will be taping across your neck, and you don't want to accidentally get tape stuck to your skin (ouch). Wrap the plastic loosely around the neck and make sure it extends under the collar of your shirt. You won't see this in the final piece. 

Step 3

Taping begins! First, work at the bust. Place one long piece of duct tape under the bust, across the ribcage. The next several pieces will shape the bust. Criss cross long strips from each shoulder to opposite under-bust (is that a word? See pics below for the visual). You'll always be taping tightly, but try to also keep form here (think bra shaping rather than sports bra shaping). 

Step 4

After the bust has been shaped, you can begin taping around the front - across the chest, rib cage, waist and upper thighs. Get the tape as snug as you can so that the form becomes the shape of your body, and not too loose. While you won't be taping the sleeves of your shirt (unless you want to!), do tape under the arms and around to the back.

*Be careful! Working with duct tape can be a tricky affair. Once a piece gets folded, it is near impossible to unstick it back into shape.*

Step 5

Tape around the back. You may want to extend some pieces from around the sides. Again, snugness is key. (hence why claustrophobia can occur!)

Step 6

Cutting time (thank the heavens!) Once the entire T-shirt has been covered with duct tape, the taper can then cut one long line up the back of the duct tape dress form. Be careful not to cut or scrape the person burrito'd in the duct tape, but do cut the T-shirt along with the tape. (Also be careful around the bra line- don't cut that!) Once cut, you can shimmy yourself out of the form, phew! 

Step 7

Tape the cut in the back of the dress form back together, making sure to get the sides to line up evenly and close together. Tape over the neck hole and the arm holes, leaving a small collar of a neck and a little 'cap' sleeve' of each arm. 

Step 8

Start stuffing! I only cut open one pillow at a time to retrieve the stuffing because I had no idea how many I would need. (Thanks to my mom, we had several on hand just in case!) I am shocked by how little one pillow actually fills on the inside. Stuff the arms and neck really, really well. If your stand has a cross beam for the arms, then you'll want to secure it into place inside the dress form before putting the rest of the stuffing into the form. Depending on whether or not you can detach the base from your stand, this can make stuffing the rest of your dress form somewhat of a maneuvering routine as you'll have to stuff around the entire stand from here on out.

*Side step: My Goodwill light stand was so incredibly perfect - not only could I unscrew all the non-essential pieces such as the bulb, light hardware and shade, but I could also unscrew portions of the stand to adjust the height, or leave the base off until the very end. I was even able to use one of the portions as my cross beam, I just duct taped it to the top of the stand (middle pic below). 

Step 9

Keep stuffing. You want this full. I'm talking no give here. Make sure to press even more stuffing than you think you can into places that need shape (like the bust!) If your taper assistant is still around, ask for help, this part ain't easy! 

Step 10

Cut out the cardboard bottom. What I *should* have done, and will advise you to do, is to trace the shape of the bottom of your dress form onto your piece of cardboard and then cut it. I cut it while it was around the stand and had to keep cutting more and more back because I couldn't get it just right! Also, of course, cut a whole in the middle of your cardboard for the stand to go through. 

Imagine that I traced the outline of the bottom of the dress form on the cardboard and  then  cut it. You can see I cut a line up to the center and then carved out a circle for the pole. It all gets taped up, so it doesn't matter what it looks like at this point.

Imagine that I traced the outline of the bottom of the dress form on the cardboard and then cut it. You can see I cut a line up to the center and then carved out a circle for the pole. It all gets taped up, so it doesn't matter what it looks like at this point.

Step 11

Slide the cardboard bottom onto the stand and up to the bottom of the dress form and start taping it to the duct tape mannequin. Tape some securing pieces first, and then (you guessed it, we're not done stuffing), grab handfuls of stuffing and get some more in there before you seal the rest of the bottom to the form. Almost overstuff it. But, you know, don't.

*Side step: Keep pillow stuffing away from animals! Takk, the ever-curious who wants to bite everything, started munching on some stuffing when I was taping away. Thankfully, I don't think he actually ate any of it, but he scared me enough to make this notation for all you animal lovers out there. (He also started gnawing away at the neck of my dress form at one point when it was laying down, *sigh*)

Step 12

Attach your base if it's not already attached, and make any final taping that you'd like and then stand that puppy up and admire your hard work. Give your taper/stuffer assistant a high-five while graciously thanking them and then go relax a bit on the couch. I'm telling you, after the all the stuffing, I was pooped! 

Because all of the taping photos are headless (much like the dress form), here's a little full-frame, time-lapse video of the taping process. Watch how fast my mom is! (Thank you, mom!)

*Is it just me or does it look like I choreographed a little arm dance to go along with dress form making?*