I’ve had a dress form for years, but I’ve yet to properly pad her out to match my measurements. At one point I wrapped the mannequin in jersey scraps to mimic my shape. The circumferences were correct, but the volume distribution was all wrong.
That’s why I signed up for “How to Fit a Dress Form to Your Body” at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo. I wanted to learn how to pad a dress form the right way. I came away from the class understanding how to mold my body double, and it’s intel I hope you also can put to use!
Joe Vecchiarelli, the Dress Form Whisperer
Fit specialist Joe Vecchiarelli taught the class. Vecchiarelli works for ABC, specifically on “Dancing with the Stars.” He makes sure the costumes fit correctly and stay on during all those spins, twirls, and thrusts.
Vecchiarelli also runs a sewing-supplies company than imports French European dress forms. “Project Runway” uses French European dress forms, according to Vecchiarelli.
Vecchiarelli’s been in fashion for four decades, and he says he’s yet to see a body he couldn’t double with a dress form. And he’s fit literally thousands of bodies by this point.
Why Bother with a Dress Form?
Vecchiarelli relies on full-body dress forms (the ones with legs) to fit celebrity dancers. The DWTS fit squad only has three minute for final in-person fittings, Vecchiarelli said, so the stars’ body clones are invaluable.
If you’re looking for a great fit, a dress form is more important than a sewing machine, Vecchiarelli said. And if you want to make pants, get a full-body mannequin, he added.
A body double also lets you drape patterns, which you can reverse engineer into a flat pattern, Vecchiarelli said.
How to Pad a Dress Form
Look, I know that YOU know the basic idea behind how to pad a dress form. It’s not rocket science.
These directions will help you get volumes of flesh in the right place, and that might be something you’ve struggled with when it comes to padding. Volume distribution was my hang up, and I can’t be the only one!
1.) Measure Up
Grab your nearest sewing buddy and measure yourself — bust, waist, hips, vertical distances between these elements, etc. (This table from dress form maker PGM reveals many critical dimensions.)
Vecchiarelli was adamant that your waist measurement goes around your navel and NOT around the smallest part of your body (usually up a few inches near the floating rib). He said your bellybutton is a better reference point than your natural waist because the waistline for most garments is not at the natural waist.
2.) Gather Your Tools
To clone your figure on a dress form, you need a dress form (DUH). Size down when buying a form so you can add padding or strip it off to accommodate weight fluctuation.
An arm for a dress form helps determine ease, and you only need one. Vecchiarelli also puts a bra on a dress form; it’s important to fit over foundation garments.
In the class, Vecchiarelli used batting that peeled apart like an onion to pad a dress form. It’s easy to build volume with thin layers. Key seams and lines on the body — princess seamlines, bust apex, waistline, hips, etc. — were marked with draping tape (affiliate link), a very thin (maybe quarter-inch) tape that doesn’t leave residue on fashion fabric. Basically, it’s super-skinny painter’s tape.
3.) Double Your Body
Here’s how Vecchiarelli recommends padding your dress form to match your measurements:
Hips: Pin batting over hip from front princess seam to back princess seam.
Tummy/Waist: Pin batting to FRONT waist and lower abdomen between the princess seams. If you think about it, this makes a ton of sense. The back of your waist is flatter than the front of your waist, so padding the back isn’t necessary. This was my problem when my first attempt at padding failed.
Forward Shoulder: Cut a shoulder pad in half and place it on the front of the shoulder. This gives you ease in the upper back.
Sloping Shoulder: Build up one shoulder with shoulder pads. Fun fact: Property Brother Drew Scott, who’s on DWTS this season, has a sloping left shoulder, Vecchiarelli said.
Rolled Back: Pin batting between the princess seams on the upper back. This brings ease to the upper chest.
4.) Smooth the Bumps
After the batting and whatnot are in place, a cover made of thick four-way-stretch jersey is zipped over the dress form. Vecchiarelli said his business sells custom covers for each dress form size.
I took a hard look at the cover and concluded that I could make something similar for my dress form with a stretchy knit and a separating zipper.
Of course you don’t need a dress form to sew, but a body double makes fitting go a whole lot faster, especially when you sew by yourself. My advice to sewists on the fence about getting a dress form is to go for it and buy the best one you can afford.
Over to you, sewing friends: Do you have a dress form? If yes, what kind to you have, and how much do you use it? What tips can you share for how to pad a dress form? If you don’t have a dress form, what’s stopping you from adding one to your sewing arsenal? Please sound off in comments!
P.S. ICYMI, here’s my post from last week: Yona Coat: Proud as a Peacock. I made a coat and I am PSYCHED about it. I wore it to Oktoberfest, and it did a fab job keeping me warm in the cool night air. (The beer helped, too.)
P.P.S. I’m planning two more posts about my sewing expo classes, so watch this space for the next few weeks for all the details! (You’d be watching it anyway of course, natch! 😘)