Making and modifying dressforms

Making the dressform was my very first project and I started with no previous experience (apart from messing up some curtains). I was looking out for a way to learn the basics and didn't imagine I would be confidently patterning from scratch 2 months later.

I found body image to be the biggest problem in selecting a dressform. Even after that was fixed I needed to find a way to modify mine as I would get a huge crease in the back when trying things on. Mostly this page is about what I did to figure out how to alter a dresform to fit my shape.

Side view

Custom dressform patterning

I bought a Bootstrap fashion custom fit dressform pattern and I think they are brilliant. You can type in your own measurements, pick your body shape from a choice of silhouettes then buy a computer generated pattern. The instructions are not perfect but reasonable. A sew along on Youtube helped me a lot. There were many techniques I still didn't understand but looked up the words and found tutorials. The dressform was my first project and was how I learned to sew. It took me 4 days (maybe 30 hours) to sew together.

There were still some obstacles. The image on the right compares my body (red) with my second dressform (black).

Body image and dressforms

There were a few options of dressform to choose from and my initial idea was to chose a female pattern. While I am biologically male I wanted to make female stuff so it seemed logical to go for a female pattern. I made one but it didn't work out too well. Very quickly the dressform had a mastectomy so I could use breastforms instead.

The armscye (armhole shape) was the other big problem. The male armscye extends downwards and forward of the female so I always had to modify arm holes during fittings which was inconvenient.

So I made a second dressform based on a male form pattern. That worked better and only took 2 days to make. The armscye was much better but suddenly I had fit problems at the back. Anything draped on the form would wrinkle at the back when I tried it on. You can't fix the back when you are trying stuff on - that's why you need the dressform in the first place!

Modifying the dress form

Back curve modification

To figure out what was going wrong I ended up taking photos of myself in front and side view and overlaying them with photos of the dressform. These are not the sort of photos I would ordinarily post on the internet but the page makes no sense without them. In the photos my silhouette is in red and the dressform is a real photo.

The most noticeable thing is the difference in back curve. My lower back curved forward more than the dressform and my upper chest was further back. There were a choice of back curves when ordering the pattern and I seem to have chosen the wrong one. It is likely some of the other problems would have been fixed had I ordered the correct one in the first place.

I cut out the inner reinforcement and patterned a new one adjusting for the differences in the photo. That worked for the back curve but didn't correct well for the upper chest as the outer panels wanted to go back to their original shape after stuffing.

That change to the inner reinforcement is the difference between the first two photos to the right of this page.

My belly and love handles seem to be larger than expected. I admit to have been lazy recently. I made a 'cushion of shame' to pin around the waist to pad it out. It is useful to use a cushion rather than incorporate it into the dressform so I will be able to modify or remove it again if I get a bit less lazy. You might be able to make out the cushion of shame in the photo at the bottom of the page.

All this made the profile almost perfect so I was disappointed to still have the wrinkle problem at the back.

The cause of the problem

Cushions added

The thing causing trouble with the back wrinkles was my curved upper back and this became more obvious after I altered the inner reinforcement. In the top photo you can just see it sticking out a little past the dressform, and in the second photo it sticks out much further. My guess is this is bad posture as a result of too much time on computers as it also gives me neck pain.

I made a little cushion for the upper back and the wrinkles were fixed. Not knowing whether it was spine or shoulder blades causing the protrusion I made the cushion full width and it seemed to work so I didn't investigate any further.

In the bottom photo the overlays now match reasonably well and and now if I can get things to fit the dressform they will generally fit me. My shoulders are still a bit more slopey than the dressform, but the shoulder seam tends to be the last thing that needs to be adjusted and just needs a quick fitting to pin in the right place.

Body image

We are all different shapes, but if you can get the dressform spot on it opens up a whole world of fashion that lets you try out tricks to visually modify the form. They say never lie to your tailor. Most of all never lie to your dressform as it's only purpose in life is to dutifully help you make you make clothes that make you look good.

The fashion industry is all about showing off on impossibly small and beautiful models but it doesn't always seem to scale well. If you design for your own size and shape you can make your own fashion which will inevitably be more comfortable and flattering than anything anyone that someone else designed for a different shape.

Dressform cushions

The cushions in real life

For the photo the cushions are held by a couple of pins, but I tend to pin them to the dressform with a lot more pins so they don't move around during patterning. I made them quickly and roughly but the important thing seems to be to just have something there to pad the form.

One edge of my cushions is not sewn so I could make them and turn them inside out. Then I pushed pillow stuffing through the unsewn seam using a pushy stick to get it to about the right place. I have found no need to stitch up the open seam and have left it open.