4.20.2016

Things I Can't Sew Without: In Praise Of The Dress Form



I had a mildly erotic dream about my dress form last week. This is probably due to the inordinate amount of time I've spent over the last few weeks with my arms wrapped around it, draping yards of fabrics for a Broadway opening (*not mine*). Lofty silk organza shot with hard metallic swaths, crisply whispering Italian brocade, and a velvet infused viscose...all of which had to be fondled. Hell, it was absolutely begging for some heavy petting.


I MEAN. YUM. I told Ruggy about the dream, PG 13 at best, but still, he immediately deemed it Unsuitable For Blogging. And I always listen to Ruggy. HOWEVER. My sleeping mind illustrates a point I daydream about constantly: I truly love my Wolfie girl. Far more than her poorly thought out moniker shows. She holds a high and revered (if slightly inappropriate) place on the list of Things I Can't Sew Without.


Even before she landed generously in my lap, I knew I wanted a proper dress form, but having only used a badly shaped and rage inducing "Uniquely You," I had no idea how much I'd adore the real thing. Initially, I thought she was just for draping, but she's really my sewing assistant. Instead of standing in front of a mirror, wrangling fabric around my body to get an idea of print placement, wishing I had eight arms, I can do this:


AND THEN I CAN LAUGH OUT LOUD AND GO FOR IT ANYWAY.

Speaking of eight arms, I have at least four when I'm working with my Wolfie girl. She's helped me hem a 200 pound heavyweight denim skirt, and that bias cut silk organza that brought on fever dreams...


ACK THAT SKIRT. I've been knee deep in that draped skirt for 10 days!

Since she's padded out to be my double, I fit patterns directly on her using swedish tracing paper. She's wonderfully helpful when using a pattern! Even taking a step back during construction is eye opening. Standing across the room beats standing in front of a mirror for perspective. Say, when you realize that dress is meant to be worn dangerously open, to make room for tatas...


If memory serves, Sewing on The Edge made a great point about using your seam roll to train your fabric to be successful in its new life as a shirt or dress or whathaveyou. (Or maybe she said dress form? Cannot specifically find the exact point, hope I'm quoting the right source, but even if I'm not, her blog is FULL of awesome and you ought to just dive in.) It struck me that I've been doing that for years with Wolfie, just by dressing her up in whatever I'm in the middle of creating, and leaving it be until I return. I love the idea of my half made garment settling in to its new life as it waits patiently for me to continue creating.


But I think my favorite part is lifting her up high enough so that I can see underneath her skirts, copping a squat on our hardwood floors, and quietly evening out a hemline by eye. It's one of the most calming things on the face of the planet.

Peeps have asked me what equipment is worth the investment. Looking back on what I use the most, my shortlist would be: sewing machine, scissors, iron, dressform. Of course, a Wolf is not in my current budget--or my past budget! I was lucky to have a super generous friend who just happened to have one collecting dust. Still, the best you can afford is better than nothing! As much as I hated my first dressform, I had great fun with it. You can find a dial-a-size job for around a hundred, but for a bit more, PGM & Roxy Display carry models from $200 up. I've only seen the PGM forms in person (when I lived in Lala land), and I thought they looked pretty damn good. Alas, this was during my "Uniquely You" phase, and having already plunked down 200 bucks for that sucker (I WAS THE SUCKER), I couldn't bring myself to part with more dough. Especially when I could have had a decent, sturdy form for the same price in the first place. So impulsive!! Don't get me started on the bullet breasts I had to hack off.


No angled weapons here! Oh, my Wolfie has such beautifully rounded breasts. So supple! EGADS ENOUGH ABOUT TATAS! Lest I talk myself into another night of very strange sleep!

So, is there a dressform in your arsenal? If not... have I seduced you?

31 comments:

  1. What's your opinion on DIY duct tape dressforms? Are they worth the hassle or should I just start saving up for a real form?

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    1. you know, i considered mentioning those, but honestly i've never tried it! every time i thought about making one, i just got stuck (haha) on the thought of all that duct tape... and HOW would i pin through it...you need to be able to pin on your dress form! and then there's the issue of wrangling an adequate stand...hmmmm. maybe someone with a duct tape gal will chime in. i highly recommend saving your pennies, or, sometimes craigslist can be a gold mine if it's available to you!

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    2. I LOVE my dress form soooo much! Madeleine {she's French and so chic} has been the biggest ooomph to my sewing game. And to think, we met on craigslist.

      Anyways, to sort of answer your question...we made paper mache dress forms back in high school. It was okay. The fit was spot on, at least while I was that tiny high school size, but there is so much more you can do with a dress form that has shoulders and is willing to be pinned and ironed.

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    3. I have a duct-tape form and an IV stand to mount it on, but haven't gotten to the stuffing and mounting steps yet. I think the biggest issue is going to be the pinning, even if I cover it with some sort of fabric-like material.

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    4. I've made both duct tape and water activated paper tape forms. The paper tape forms are much better. The duct tape forms don't hold their shape well and stretch out over time. You can find lots of tutorials for paper making paper tape forms. I have some tips for working with paper tape here: https://growyourownclothes.com/paper-tape-skirt-form/

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    5. @lustywench an IV pole! genius! and thanks for the link @leila :)

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  2. Wouldn't be without my beautiful Adjust-o-form Taylor - splashed out a while ago but soooo worth it!

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  3. I have the newish Dritz Celine dressform. It's the first one I've ever purchased. And, I padded mine out too in addition to putting a real bra on her. It's GREAT. I use it mostly for hemming. But, now that I've got it padded out I do use it to pin fit patterns. It's also much easier to do blog photos with a dressform too.

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  4. YAH! I love love love my Alvaform, though it's too expensive for non-professional sewists, I think. If anyone else here is interested in plus size forms specifically, I wrote a little thingummyjig on it here:
    http://www.cashmerette.com/2016/02/plus-size-sewing-dress-forms.html

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    1. oh, i remember drooling over that post! GREAT info.

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  5. I love my dress form, I got mine second hand for a steal. It stands proudly in my sewing room and is named Peggy after my mom who taught me to sew and the love of thrifting and refashioning. I agree, a dress for is a must have!! Cheers, Michele

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  6. A wonderful tribute to the dress form Oona.

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  7. I love my paper tape stunt double but it was a bit of a job. She's mounted on an old coat stand!

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  8. I have three dress forms. One I bought used at FIM that's my size, one full body childs size 5 for draping kids designs and a Wolf I bought twenty years ago as a student that's too small now but is my daughter's size. I love draping but it's also great for checking commercial patterns before I make a muslin.

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  9. I can one-up your mildly erotic dream. When I moved a few years back the only way I could fit my dressmaker's dummy Ilse-Jane in the car was face down between my legs. Even though she's a headless body it looked kinda inappropriate!

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    1. Heeee.....heeee.....heeee.....heeee.......

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    2. HAHAHAAA! remind me to tell you about the time i carried a full body form around on NY streets...

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  10. Oona - I was just thinking of you and in a round about way, this very topic. I have seen some really nice spring dresses that have prompted some colorfully creative thoughts regarding fabric placement and lines. I came up with a dress in my head and thought the burst of color would be worthy of Oona. However, when I got home I realized that I need my (or a new) dressform for this mode of free-styling. My old forms from the 80s are/were adjustable Dritz I got on sale and are in many pieces far far away in storage. I told them to let me upgrade you and looked at Wolfs but realized that I have not settled in to an appropriate final size yet. So it is one of my motivating prizes to stay on track with my health. Not paying $$$ just to outgrow - or undergrow - the thing. Anyway my draping thoughts with color had your name all over them. :-) Thanks for this post, the warnings, the ideas, and the links.

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    1. you're very welcome, and i hope you find your dream mate for those spring dresses! you might keep an eye on Ye Olde Craigslist :)

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  11. I'd give my kidney to have a Wolf. Because I am pretty sure that a kidney in black market costs as much as getting a Wolf lady over here. I do have a dial-up plastic beauty that I use, she has been of great help.

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    1. HAHAAA. i mean, kidneys are dispensable, i hear...

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  12. Just purchased a new one from The Shop Company, which also has a connection with Uniquely You and purchased the padding system to pad it out at a deeply discounted rate. It's a very well made, heavy dress form and I couldn't be happier with it. Collapsible shoulders, heavy iron base, adjustable height, etc. the lovely Jean Margaret had mentioned them on her blog, Sew Jean Margaret (I think that's right) and I'm so glad I checked them out!

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    1. oh good shout out! i've heard about them.

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  13. Sewing without my dressform would be a lot less fun. Got my current form when a neighborhood shop was going out of business. They used pinnable dressforms for display. And they gave them away! My size! Several of us lucked out that day. The forms went very quickly.

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  14. Your apartment is very like mine - tall windows, pale gold walls and hard wood floors, although sadly our brick has been covered over. Lovely!
    Nothing much to say about my dress form except it is useful for building 3D details like ruching and applique. Fitting on a dummy is the privilege of the lean of body. xo

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    1. some of our brick had ceiling paint splotched all over, and i pulled out a 13 foot ladder and went to town on them with 6 shades of brown. CRAZY.

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  15. I got my dress form from a store that was going on out of business - it's not a Wolf but it's a really nice form. The bottom half had to be padded out to mimic my, um, bubble butt (for lack of a better term), but the top is a pretty good match. Matilda is currently modeling my UFOs (a skirt and a top) and she looks fabulous. When I saw the Broadway mention on Instagram I thought I was going to read that you were going to be a replacement Schuyler sister!

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    1. haha! you're like the 80th person to think that about Hamilton! but nope, i've never even auditioned for it ;)

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  16. Oh yeah! Dress form for ever! I have a french siegel & stockman. What else I like about my dress form is the posture. I don't want to fit on my slouchiness brought on by my job in front of a computer + some general physical tiredness (I sew mostly at night after a full day). I want my clothes to be fitted on a nice posture so when I wear them I remember to stand up straight cause I know my shirt looks better

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    1. good point! when i started pinning on a form, that's when i realized i have an erect posture that wasn't usually reflected in patterns.

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i thankya truly for taking the time to comment, i love a good conversation-- and hope you know my thanks are always implied, if not always written!