Sewing Mannequins

Sewing mannequins, commonly referred to as dress forms, are used to drape, measure, design, alter and fit clothing. The dress form is adjusted to the measurements of the person who is to be fitted with the garment. You can buy a dress form or make one out of household items.

Black Female Dress Form Size 12-14 Large 39" 41" 31" (French Series)

Dress forms provide a real-life model to work on when designing a clothing pattern. It enables you to experiment with length and draping so you can see exactly how your pattern will look.

They are covered with muslin, linen or foam so you can push needles into the form to hold your fabric. Most have an adjustable rotatable stand, so you can view at different heights and angles.

Buying a Mannequin

You can buy used or new sewing mannequins n various shapes and sizes. They come in men and women, full-body, torso (with and without hip; with or without collapsible shoulders) and pants form, as well as children and pregnant forms.

Singer DF250 Adjustable Dress Form, Small/Medium

In addition, you can buy magnetic arms, miniature half scale and antique dress forms or custom orders.

Dress forms also come in different sizes and are usually adjustable within a range. For example, a standard might accommodate ladies, petite and small sizes. Sewing mannequins can be costly, so some sewers choose to make their own dress form. There are four different ways - two with duct tape, one with paper-tape and the fourth with Papier-Mâché.

Making Duct Tape Mannequins (2 Methods)

The materials you will need are 2 rolls of Duct Tape, a long T-shirt, plastic wrap and a pair of old scissors. The end product will be made of three layers of Duct Tape:

  1. Have model wear a long T-shirt.

  2. Wrap tape horizontally at bottom, mid-thigh area; wrap snug, but not too tight.

  3. When you arrive at the waist, do not wrap as tight as first layer.

  4. Use shorter pieces of tape as you cover the bust; arrange pieces to radiate from center; place short pieces in different directions.

  5. Use longer pieces to cover the back.

  6. Place plastic wrap around the neck; use tape to form edges of neckline and armholes.

  7. Wrap 2 more times, first vertically, then horizontally.

  8. Have model bend lightly forward and mark waistline.

  9. Carefully cut up the back, through the t-shirt and tape layers.

  10. Remove form, close back with tape, being careful to maintain form.

  11. Stuff with newspaper or batting.

  12. Place on table or attach to a stand.

The second Duct Tape form is slightly different from the first. Here, you start at the torso, wrapping a “cross-your-heart” pattern around the bust.

With this method you need to tape tighter than the first form and to wrap tape around the upper arms and neck.

Finally, place a wooden hanger in the finished form before stuffing and use a piece of PVC piping placed in a Christmas tree stand to hold the form upright.

Why not take a course on How To Make A Duct Tape Dress Form if this approach really interests you!

Paper Tape Form Sewing Mannequin

The supplies you will need are brown paper tape, a tight-fitting T-shirt, water and a sponge.

  1. Wet brown tape on a wet sponge while model dons the T-shirt.

  2. Begin wrapping wet tape horizontally, above and below the bust.

  3. Form neckline and armholes.

  4. Use “cross-your-heart” strips between breasts and then cover bust.

  5. Cover the rest of the body, including back, waist and hips.

  6. Repeat for 3-4 layers.

  7. Speed up drying process with hair dryer (optional).

  8. Before tape is completely set, cut through tape layers and T-shirt.

  9. Reclose with layer of tape.

  10. Stuff hardened form with newspaper

Papier-Mâché Mannequin Form

Papier-Mâché is the most accurate of the homemade forms. You will need plaster bandages (like those used to make a cast for a broken bone), paper-pulp insulation and wallpaper paste (both can be found at a home improvement or hardware store).

  1. Make a body cast, cut and remove the 2 halves

  2. Mix paper-pulp and wallpaper paste to make the mâché

  3. Line the inside of the cast-mold with paper towels

  4. Pour a ½ inch layer into each mold, wider along the edge

  5. Let both halves dry (you can speed up with hair dryer)

  6. If needed, smooth out rough edges and fill cracks with papier-mâché

  7. Adhere two halves together with a thin layer of glue

  8. Tie together while the glue dries

  9. Reinforce any weak or cracked areas with papier-mâché if needed

  10. Cover the form with linen or muslin – any material that you can place pins into

You can also find easy steps to make an adjustable stand that rotates for this form as well. Dress forms are an invaluable tool for sewers, especially those who are designing new clothing or making alterations.

Sewing mannequins can be bought new or used and come in various shapes and sizes. These are often costly and, as a practical alternative, many sewers choose to make their own dress form out of duct tape, paper tape or papier-mâché.

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