A DIY dress form is a game-changing sewing investment. My custom-fit dress form, which is made of fabric — not duct tape! — and is fully pinnable, helped me learn how to drape, and let me design a sewing pattern for plus-sized bodies.
Pretty smart stuff for a “dummy,” right?
Unlike a professional dress form, my custom dress form didn’t cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, but instead started with a $24 sewing pattern from Bootstrap Fashion and fabric and materials (mostly) from my stash.
I’m crazy-pleased with my plus-sized DIY mannequin from Bootstrap, and if you’re a garment sewist who’s serious about expanding her me-made wardrobe, this tool is worth your consideration.
For the record, Bootstrap offers more than plus-sized dress form sewing patterns. They also offer:
- An arm form (more on this below, ’cause I sewed one!)
- Made-to-measure dress form sewing pattern for misses (the misses version of what I made)
- Dress form sewing patterns in standard misses sizes 2-14
- Dress form sewing patterns in standard plus sizes 16-28
- Made-to-measure dress form cover sewing pattern (so you can pad out an existing dress form)
- Made-to-measure dress form sewing pattern for male bodies
Basically, if you have a corporal form, there’s probably a DIY dress form product for you at Bootstrap. No ghosts allowed. 🙅♀️👻
Keep reading to:
- Find out why any sewist might want to sew a personal dress form
- Hear my story on why I sewed a plus-sized dress form
- Get pattern and instruction details on Bootstrap’s dress and arm forms
- Learn what fabric and materials the DIY dress form calls for
- Discover my hot takes on what’s good about the dressmaker’s dummy and what could be better
I can’t keep this gem of a sewing room project to myself any longer! I hope you read with great interest.
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TOPIC SPOTLIGHT: FITTING
Pattern Fitting Tips for Woven Jogger Pants (Pivot-and-Slide Method)
Flat Pattern Measuring for Fit Adjustments
How to Make a Full Bust Adjustment on T-Shirts (No Darts)
Sewing Pants, Part 1: The Measurements You Need for Success
Sewing Pants, Part 2: Altering Pants Pattern Pieces
Sewing Pants That Fit: A 3-Part Series
My body type analysis (aka, me in my underwear)
M6696 update: Worshipping at the altar of Nancy Zieman
Why Sew a DIY Dress Form?
In my brain, there are four compelling reasons to construct a fabric (important!) dress form:
Fitting by yourself is a complicated bummer. A custom-fit dress form lets you see fit issues on your body without contortions in front of a mirror or constantly getting dressed and undressed (and dressed and undressed…).
Similar to solo fitting, draping on your own body is almost impossible, especially if you’re draping a block that needs to fit like a second skin. And once you learn how to drape (and how intuitive it is), you won’t want to stop.
You easily can pin into a sewn fabric dress form. You can’t pin into a DIY dress form made of duct tape, paper tape, or papier-mache. If you’ve got a partially sewn garment or are draping, you need a pinnable dress form.
Back in the day I made a duct tape dress form, and she was a revelation when it came to fitting garments. But she wasn’t the nicest thing to look at (silver strips of plastic tape and PVC pipe) or fun to make (being mummified in duct tape ain’t a good time). Why not sew something out of pretty fabric instead?
When you start poking around online about DIY dress forms, you come back with lots of duct tape body form results. This post is here to say, “You can get something better — and better looking — than duct tape!”
RELATED: What Do You Get When You Buy a Professional Dress Form?
Why I Sewed a Dress Form
In summer 2020, I was designing Cass, Sie Macht’s free T-shirt pattern PDF. I struggled to develop a plus-sized version of the pattern. What came up time and again was my need for a plus-sized fit model.
A plus-sized dress form could be my fit model, I thought. I started Googling “how to make a plus size dress form,” thinking, “Oh, I can hack this somehow. Someone else has had this problem and found a solution.”
That’s how I stumbled across Bootstrap Fashion and its proprietary software for drafting custom-sized sewing patterns, including sewing patterns for DIY dress forms. You enter a bunch of body measurements into Bootstrap Fashion’s site, and the company uses the dimensions to generate a sewing pattern.
Naturally, I had to research my research, which meant going to PatternReview.com to see others’ experiences with Bootstrap’s custom-fit dress forms. And the testimonials were overwhelmingly positive. I decided to buy the sewing pattern.
The DIY dress form sewing pattern is $24. (I also made an arm form; that sewing pattern is $10.) I thought, if I sew the dress and arm forms and they don’t work out, the thing I’ve lost of greatest value is my time.
I’m happy to report that the DIY custom dress form and arm form did work out. Having this dress form helped me get into draping, which I used to create a knit bodice block that fit a D-cup bust for Sie Macht’s plus-sized range. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this cheap dress form has changed the way I design sewing patterns.
Dress Form and Arm Form Pattern Description
When you buy a dress form sewing pattern from Bootstrap, you get PDF pattern with 18 pattern pieces and a 44-page instruction booklet. The arm form is nine pattern pieces and comes with a 31-page instruction booklet.
Bootstrap also emails you a 3-D body avatar based on the custom measurements you provide for the sewing pattern. This is useful if you’re using your own body dimensions; you can see if the form will look like your body before you sew a stitch.
DIY Mannequin Fabric and Materials
I used mediumweight gray wool suiting from my stash. It came from the clearance section at Vogue Fabrics years ago. I had this vision that I’d sew a suit for myself with it, but let’s get honest for a hot second. The only suit I’m wearing these days is a SWEATsuit. A dress form is a much better application vs. a vague “someday” project. Plus, with the DIY mannequin, I can see and touch this gorg fabric every day. RELATED: Go Fabric Shopping with Me! | Vogue Fabrics [VIDEO]
Bootstrap Fashion recommends woven nonstretch fabrics with slight drape, and specifically calls out upholstery fabrics, which often have fun colors and textures. A bunch of the dress forms on PatternReview.com were made from fun home dec fabric. RELATED: Amazon Tricks for Fabric Shopping: The Ultimate Guide for Sewists
The dress and arm form pattern pieces are reinforced with interfacing, and the inner support structure of the dress form is interlined for even more strength.
The instructions call for cardboard for the dress form base, armholes, and wrist (in the arm form). I used foamcore from the dollar store.
To make the stand, Bootstrap recommends a coat rack stand or a dress form/mannequin stand (Bootstrap suggests these two). I used the stand from my old dress form, which is more retail mannequin than seamstress tool. To make the dress form the correct height, I got an additional length of pipe and a connector from the hardware store. Bootstrap also suggests using plastic tubing to adjust height.
My dress form and arm form are stuffed with a combo of polyester fiber stuffing (Poly-Fil) and fabric scraps. (I’ve got some thoughts about Poly-Fil vs. fabric scraps; keep reading!)
To round out materials, you also need craft glue, a craft knife, and two zippers to make the dress form. The instructions call for inserting a sponge into the neck; I stuffed the neck with fabric scraps. (TBH, a sponge would have been better, but fabric scraps are F-R-E-E.)
Dress Form Size
The measurements I used for my custom dress form are averaged ASTM measurements. (I use ASTM measurements for drafting Sie Macht patterns.) In Sie Macht sizes, this dress form is size 26/28D. This size has the following circumferences:
- Upper/high bust: 50 inches (127 cm)
- Full bust: 54 inches (137.2 cm)
- Waist: 49.6 inches (126.1 cm)
- Hip: 58 inches (147.3 cm)
I made the dress form size 26/28D because it’s in the middle of Sie Macht’s plus-sized D range — D for D-cup bust sizes with a difference of 4 inches (10.2 cm) between the upper/high bust and full bust. RELATED: How to Make a Full Bust Adjustment on T-Shirts (No Darts)
Dress Form Instructions
The instructions are heavily photographed; there’s a photo for almost every step. I noticed some typos and questionable English, but I think English is the second language of the folks behind Bootstrap, so I’m not going to hold it against them. The instructions obviously didn’t keep me from sewing a dress form.
Bootstrap’s sister company, Tailornova, has this video about dress form construction, if you like 3-D instructions. It doesn’t go through the process step by step, but it’s a solid overview.
Tips for Sewing a DIY Dress Form
After going through this sewing project, I’ve got some helpful tips for stitching your best DIY dress form.
1.) Stay Organized
The curves of my DIY dress form pattern are thanks to its many, many, many sewing pattern pieces.
More pattern pieces = more opportunities for body volume and curves.
But, because there are so many pattern pieces, staying organized was difficult. In the main fabric alone there are 24 pattern pieces to cut out!
Take great care about right sides and wrong sides of fabric if they’re similar, and pay attention to left side pieces and right side pieces. TBH it wouldn’t hurt to label the pieces.
It helped me to print the list of pattern pieces from the instructions and cross off pattern pieces as I cut them out (and double checked their status before stitching).
2.) Mark Body Landmarks
Do not skip marking body landmarks — bust, waist, hips — with a dense zig-zag stitch.
And, while you’re at it, zig-zag along the princess and center front/back seams, too, and side seams if you can maneuver the dress form shell under your needle without too much aggravation.
These lines are INVALUABLE as you use your DIY dress form for fitting — and especially for draping. You need all the reference points you can get.
The zig-zag stitch should be something you can easily FEEL with your fingers through a layer of fabric, because there will be many times that you need to make an alignment or need a reference point and you can’t SEE what you need.
3.) Use Solid-Colored Fabric
There are pretty, printed handmade dress forms floating around blogs and PatternReview.com. And I may be the world’s biggest sucker for a saucy print.
But, the nice thing about a solid-color dress form is that it’s easy to spot pins on it. I generally use white-headed glass pins, and they’re very easy to locate on my dark gray dress form.
I worry that a dress form with a busy print might collect pins like some sort of sewing room black hole.
Anyhoo, food for thought. If you have to look at it every day, you should DIY your dress form any darn way you please.
What’s Good About the Dress Form
I’m blown away by this product. A sewist literally could drop hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on a plus-sized dress form. And I made one mostly from items that I already had on hand — chiefly fabric that already was in my stash. These DIY dress form sewing patterns could be be the best-kept secret in me-made wardrobe creation!
What Could Be Better About the Dress Form
I see two things that could be improved:
1.) The Instructions Need Illustrations
Illustrations in the instructions would be helpful at some points vs. the photography. The right side and wrong side of the fabric used in the dress form instructions was too similar.
2.) I Should Have Thought Twice About Stuffing with Fabric Scraps
Fabric scraps are cheap but heavy. Poly-fil stuffing is expensive but lightweight. I saved a lot of money by filling the body cavity of my DIY dress form with fabric scraps, but girlfriend IS NOT easy to move around.
The fabric scraps are so heavy that the body drags down and the center support post pushes up; there’s a lump in the top of the neck. I’m nervous that the center post will one day blast through the neck. Maybe I’ll replace the interior neck top with a piece of plywood or MDF. Or maybe I’ll re-stuff with polyester stuffing from thrifted pillows.
Editor’s note: I did upgrade my plus-sized dress form. I restuffed her with polyfill, the guts of stuffed toys (!), and pillow innards. The form ended up losing 14 pounds — making her 39 percent lighter than her original weight of 36 pounds. Definitely worth the effort.
Would I Sew Another DIY Dress Form?
If I needed another custom-fit dress form, I would sew another pattern from Bootstrap Fashion in a heartbeat! I actually might go for the made-to-measure dress form cover to have a dress form with my personal measurements.
But, I gotta tell ya, this was not a minor project. There are a lot of pattern pieces to manage and interfacing to fuse.
(Sidebar: I sewed two arm forms so I can photograph plus-sized sewing patterns on my plus-sized dress form. Right now, I’m not in a financial position to hire a curvy model for photoshoots.)
Do I Recommend the DIY Dress Form?
Absolutely! It looks professional and wasn’t particularly hard to sew. Tedious, yes. Hard, no. But sewists kinda revel in the tedium, don’t we?
Over to you, my sewing friends: What’s your experience with dress forms? Do you sew with one? If you do not, why not? Have you DIY’d a dress form, maybe a duct tape model? How did it go? Please share in comments! Thanks for reading.