I’m back again with the reader-favorite DIY dress form.
This time you get the tale of why and how I restuffed the H-E-A-V-Y homemade dress form with thrifted polyester filling. It’s a story of procrastination, sustainability, saving money, and ingenuity.
Sewists are problem solvers at heart, so I think you’ll vibe with my adventure. I hope you get inspired and learn a thing or two about where to find and how to use slightly unconventional materials.
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Background on the Dress Form
This goddess of a dress form is called Debra, after Beck’s iconic song of the same name. I wanted a name that started with D because she’s the block size for Sie Macht’s D-range (plus) sizes.
(My B-range (misses) dress form is still unnamed; I want a B name from another song — any suggestions?)
Editor’s Note: After careful consideration, the B-range form is named Bernadette.
Debra is a custom-sized PDF sewing pattern from Bootstrap Fashion. You send Bootstrap a bunch of body dimensions for your desired dress form, and Bootstrap’s computers (beep boop bop 💻) send you a sewing pattern for a DIY dress form.
These are Debra’s dimensions for Sie Macht’s size 26/28D (my block for plus-sized pattern development; it’s in the middle of the plus sizes):
- 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 love my dressmaker’s mannequin from Bootstrap, and I wrote a review about sewing a DIY dress form.
If you’re a garment sewist who’s serious about expanding her me-made wardrobe, a dress form — whether it’s a professional dress form or a DIY dress form — is worth your consideration. For the record, Bootstrap offers more than plus-sized dress form sewing patterns. They also offer:
- An arm form (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
Why I Restuffed My Dress Form
When I first stuffed Debra, I used a little polyester fill and a lot of fabric scraps and old clothes from my sewing room waste bin. New poly fill can get expensive, and this was an inexpensive and eco-friendly solution. Yay, fabric scraps!
But, Debra’s majority-waste-fabric stuffing made her heavy. Like surprisingly heavy.
Turns out that because poly fluff is mostly AIR, it’s LIGHT. Duh.
I couldn’t pick her up or move her across my floor with ease. She was unwieldy.
Check out these stats:
|Restuffing Debra: By the Numbers|
|Dress Form + Stand||36 pounds||22 pounds|
|Dress Form||24.5 pounds||10.5 pounds|
|Stand (Pipes + Platform)||11.5 pounds||11.5 pounds|
Debra dropped 14 pounds — a 39 percent reduction.
Because my DIY dress form was nearly too heavy to move, I wasn’t using this important tool to its maximum potential.
I used Debra to develop my 26/28 D-range block for knit tops — the block off which the Cass T-shirt and its hacks were designed.
The dress form needed to be easier to use, which mainly called for making her more moveable. A reduction in mass and addition of a slippery, floor-friendly stand pad were just what the doctor ordered.
How to Restuff a DIY Dress Form
Here’s a mostly pictorial journey of how I restuffed Debra with poofy poly filling.
First, I collected poly fill donors:
- Half-empty pillow: This was hanging around my sewing room.
- Bag of poly fill: From ye olde St. Vincent de Paul thrift shoppe.
- Stuffed giraffe: From St. Vinnie’s. 2.5 pounds.
- Backrest pillow with eyes: Also from St. Vinnie’s. Also 2.5 pounds.
- Bolster pillow: Another Vinnie’s find.
The 24-inch ruler is for scale.
Here’s the bottom of the dress form when it’s detached from the stand.
Here’s the scary inside of Debra: a combo of stuffing and waste fabric. The poly fill I did use was pushed toward the outside so the dress form exterior was lump free.
This is the casing where the stand pipe is inserted.
Here’s Debra’s waste fabric guts exploding over my sewing room. Poor girl. Look at that volume.
Here’s more of my sewing room, with Debra and fabric scraps in the background.
So, after the fabric scraps were extracted, I turned to the poly fill donors, starting with the half-filled pillow and bag of poly fill. Then I moved on to the giraffe.
When the giraffe was empty, I cut open the backrest with eyes. I only needed about one “arm” of the backrest stuffy to fill Debra. I didn’t end up using the bolster pillow.
The next step was to hot glue cotton quilt batting from my stash to the bottom of the wood stand platform. The pad makes sliding easier and protects my sewing room’s (new!) hardwood floor.
The final piece was sliding Debra back on the pole and making sure she was 5-feet-5 (approximately my height).
And, all along the way, I took Debra’s measurements (upper bust, full bust, waist, and hip) to make sure I wasn’t adding too much or too little fill.
How Much Did It Cost to Restuff the Dress Form?
I wanted to use thrifted materials to restuff the form, because:
1.) I like supporting the mission — to eliminate poverty and hunger — of my local St. Vincent de Paul.
2.) It keeps polyester floof out of landfills.
3.) I am a deal-seeking, thrift-store-lurking, flea-market-loving, rummage-sale-frequenting treasure hunter 4 lyfe. (Don’t even get me started about Poshmark, Depop, Facebook Marketplace, and Thredup. I may have a problem.)
Initially I figured I’d thrift a ton of pillows. But, then I had a brain wave to check for oversized stuffies. (The pillows weren’t as inexpensive as I’d hoped they’d be.)
Here’s a cost breakdown:
- Half-stuffed pillow in my sewing room: Free
- LoftPlus Premium Polyester FiberFil, 16 ounces: $2.88
- Backrest pillow with eyes: $6.38
- Stuffed giraffe: $6.38 (there wasn’t a tag on it, and I think they gave it to me for the same price as the backrest pillow)
That’s a total of $15.64. (The bolster pillow was $1.99, but I didn’t need it.)
To compare, a 5-pound box of polyester fiber fill at my local Joann is $24.74.
How Long Did Restuffing the Dress Form Take?
All told, I bet it took no more than an hour to take the fabric scraps out of Debra, restuff her with poly fill, and glue the pad to the bottom of the stand. It took basically no time at all, and I don’t know why I procrastinated on this upgrade so long! (Story of my life.)
The trickiest bit of this project was reinserting the pipe into its casing inside Debra. I couldn’t get the pipe in the fabric casing when the pipe was vertical. I had to place the stand on its side on the floor and work the pipe horizontally.
The next thing I’d like to do with Debra is add straps to her arm forms. That way her arms can hang off her neck vs. being pinned to the shoulder, which is less secure. Hey, it’s another mini-project to start procrastinating on!
Over to you: What’s the last sewing project you procrastinated on? If you’ve completed it, how did it feel when it was over with? If you’re still putting it off, what’s one thing you can do today to make progress? Please leave a comment!
Buttercup for your B model. From Build Me Up Buttercup by the Foundations (even the group’s name works, as in foundation garment).
OOOOOHHHHH, I like! Thanks for reading and commenting! <3
Two identical pair of navy knit slacks recently emerged from the fabric stash, cut out & marked for pockets but nothing further. Probably 20 years old or so. So handy now, as they are badly needed. I’m having to re-learn the pocket construction.
Oh no, that’s quite the elderly work in progress, Carol! I hope you take things step by step and finish those pants! You can do it.
Even though my name’s is Barbara and I remember the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann from my youth, my vote’s for Bernadette (the 4 Tops maybe?). Just SOUNDS like a name you’d actually use while working with her (at least I would – I talk to inanimate objects all the time).
Bernadette DOES sounds like an inanimate object name. Don’t know why, but I get what you’re saying.
Thanks for reading!
When I first saw the post I thought of mentioning thrift stores for the fiberfill – I’ve picked up several bags that way – so glad you are supporting St. Vincent’s, too. The floors are beautiful, which leads to my uncompleted project – it wasn’t a sewing project (although I have a few of those…). A renovation project meant the bottom step of two steps in our dining room needed to be re-stained – for some reason, it took me years to get around to it – I felt so, so good when I finally just got ‘er done! Congratulations to you for lightening your load – literally!
LOL, Mary Jean, would you believe that uncompleted hardwood floors ALSO are a thing at my house, too? We’re redoing the hardwood in stages; can’t wait to chuck our nasty old carpeting!
And yes, fiberfill from the thrift store is the way to go. To get rid of the thrift-store smell, I set out the stuffies in the sun for a few afternoons. Worked pretty darn well.