DIY Dress Form Part 3 – Fabric!

Since my second muslin was good enough, it was finally time to get started on cutting out and making the actual dress form.

I thought that I would talk through some of the choices I made with the fabrics and why I decided to make them (or why I was forced to make them) for future reference.

I wanted my dress form to look like a traditional form and most of these come in natural creamy colours. I know that a lot of people who have made this pattern have gone for brighter and more fun colours and patterns, but I wanted to go for something plainer and lighter coloured so that I could easily drape on it. As my dress form will be out most of the time, I also wanted something that would go with the rest of my home decor and also wouldn’t clash with any changes I make in the future.

The pattern suggests upholstery fabrics as they’re quite stiff. I watched some videos by a youtuber called Royah, who has extensive experience with making dress forms, and she suggested Cotton Duck Canvas. I bought this Canvas from Minerva in the colour cream. I bought 1.8m of it for £17.98. I’m usually quite conservative when buying fabric, but this was enough for everything, including the inner support, to fit.

The interfacing is a pretty important part of the dress form. I bought 1.1m of this iron on woven interfacing from Minerva. I prefer woven interfacing and, whilst I’ve been moving away from fusibles recently, I decided to o with this so that I could bulk fuse it onto the fabric making it easier to cut it out. I didn’t do a very good job of ironing it on though, partially my fault but I think it was partially down to washing the fabric as well. I should have pinned things down a bit more so I could get it straight, but the fact that it didn’t stick properly was also due to the glue being washed away during the prewash.

The instructions for this pattern recommends prewashing, but Royah doesn’t as it makes the fabric softer and harder to work with. I decided to prewash as I wanted to be able to use my iron directly on the form without worrying that it would shrink in a weird way. There did end up being a few issues with prewashing though.

First, duck canvas creases easily and it doesn’t iron out very easily. In fact, I wasn’t able to get the fabric to iron out properly at all. I tried everything, including ironing the fabric wet and pressing with a lot of force. This just left some ugly marks on my fabric and didn’t help much. I also bought some crease releaser which made the fabric ‘slicker’ and smell a bit nicer but did not release the creases. I’ve just accepted that the fabric was going to be a little creased

Secondly, my interfacing shrunk. I didn’t fit all of the pieces, the neck arm and base didn’t fit. I used a 1cm allowance to get as many of the pieces in as possible. For something like this, with a lot of curves, 1cm is actually fine because it means that the curves fit together better, but it also means that I don’t have any room to play with if I want to make alterations further down the line.

I decided to fuse the interfacing with the cross grain along the selvedge of the main fabric as I thought that this would add a bit more strength and a bit less stretch across the body. I’m a little annoyed as I ended up having to use a felt tip to mark the fabric, my fine liners weren’t thick enough to mark the loose weave of the interfacing. Essentially, the thinner the marking the more accurate you can be when sewing, which means that I’ve lost a bit of accuracy with this. Hopefully it will end up okay.

It did take me a couple of evenings to draw out all of the pieces and cut them out. It’s just not a fun part of the process for me but I’m glad that I can move on a start sewing this up (finally!)

DIY Dress Form Part 2 – Where I Keep Putting it off

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, but I’m here with the second post about my Bootstrap Dress Form. I honestly thought I would be done with it by now, but I had some difficulty with it which means that I’ve been procrastinating. This is very bad because I’ve actually got a few more projects in the queue that I don’t want to start without finishing it, and even one that might really depend on it. I figured that I’d catch this blog up and hopefully it will give me the kick in the arse that I need to finally get it done.

When we left off, I had cut out all of the fabric pieces that I needed for a mockup out of an old beige bedsheet. This actually didn’t take me that long to sew up and numbering the pattern pieces really helped. I used an invisible zip in the back and once I was done I was able to try it on.

I was worried about the negative ease, but that truly wasn’t an issue at all. Neither was the length measurements, my waist and hip were the same as on the pattern, which was great because I was sure that this would be the biggest issue. Unfortunately, the actual issue was much more difficult to fix. The bust point was off by a fair amount and the cups went further down on my body than my actual breasts do. I’m not expecting an exact body double, in fact I mentioned in my last post that I would find that to be pretty creepy, but we’re talking about 3cm of breast that I just don’t have so I needed to fix it.

I tried a couple of things, draping on my own body, flat pattern measurements and I eventually settled on a mix of both. Again, this took me a while because it was something that I had no experience with and therefore did procrastinate from.

I can’t really tell you the method, I was able to bodge something together and thought that I would finally just cut it out and try to make another mockup from it. I decided to only cut some of the pieces out just because I didn’t feel like cutting everything out in one go. This turned out to be a good idea because when I sewed the cups and the upper bodice together it became clear that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. See the evidence below.

There’s no way that this is what it’s meant to look like.

This was immensely frustrating for me, and I did consider giving up, but I’d already bought my stand so I knew that I needed to keep going.

I realised that the biggest issue that I’d had with the adjustments that I made was because the bust points were really off. I just did not know how to fix that. I double checked my measurements and realised that I’d actually given the wrong bust apex to apex when I bought the pattern, as well as the wrong bust height measurement. I was probably wearing a padded bra when I took those so it makes sense why they were a bit off. I decided just to fork out and buy another pattern with those adjustments in mind. I figured I’d already bought everything so why not just fork out another £18 to get it done (especially considering I’ve been working on it since July!)

When the new pattern came, there were still some things that I needed to do, but they were relatively minor changes. I compared the new pattern piece to the one I’d made when I tried to fix it myself and realised that the breast root was still too low. I reduced the cup by 1.5cm and to make up for it added 1.5cm just under the bust. This was a really basic lengthen and shorten adjustment, the only slightly tricky part was making sure that I remembered to do it on the cup and under bust pieces and making sure to do it the same way on both.

The pattern pieces with pink around them are the new/final pieces and the plain ones are the old ones

I remade the mockup, I decided to just do the front as I knew the back fit me well as I didn’t want to waste much more time. It only took me a morning to do (though I wasn’t very neat) and when I held it up to my body it looked so much better. It is now close enough that I’m comfortable going ahead and working on the actual dress form. Hopefully it wont take me three months.

The first attempt on the left and the final on the right!

DIY Dress Form Part 1 – Reasons and Decisions

One of the things that I’ve wanted since I first started sewing is a dress form or dressmakers dummy, but up until now the time wasn’t right. I’m finally at a point where I have the space to have a dress form, as well as the inclination to actually use it so I decided to take the plunge.

Dress forms aren’t necessary, especially if you’re a beginner. I made my first couture garment without one and I’ve been able to adequately fit garments using a combination of flat pattern measurements, toiles and the good old ‘try it on as you go’ method. Even with a dress form, there are things that you will never be able to figure out if you don’t try the garment on, such as whether the amount of ease is comfortable, if you can move about in it and how it feels when you sit in it. That said, there are some benefits to having a dress form that have encouraged me to add one to my plethora of sewing tools.

  • Firstly, it’s a lot easier to hem a garment if you use a dress form. Especially if you’ve got a long skirt, or a circle skirt that needs to be hung. I found that even when I’ve had help, it’s been pretty difficult if the other person doesn’t have any experience with hemming.
  • Dress forms also make draping easier. So far, I’ve used commercial sewing patterns or tracing for all of the garments that I’ve made. This has been a great way to learn about construction methods and I now feel ready to take what I’ve learnt and start draping some of my own garments.
  • I’d like somewhere to display my garments, particularly as I’m making them. My previous method was to fold up the fabric and put my sewing away, which leaves creases in the fabric and means that I always have to start a sewing session by figuring out what each piece is again. Having a dress form should help me avoid that because I’ll have somewhere to hang my half made garments. I’ll also be able to judge things like style lines and colour without having to try things on multiple times during a sewing session.
  • It will be a lot easier to fit places like my back which are hard to get to without distorting the garment and my body. There are lots of places where having the ability to pin really helps, like around the bust or when dealing with finicky details like pleats.
  • It looks really cool!

There’s actually lots of different types of dress forms and after doing some research I decided to make my own. This was mainly due to the fact that I primarily make clothes for myself, so getting a form that fits me and all of the quirks of my body was important. I wouldn’t have been able to do that with a regular dress form as whilst padding is a really popular and couture method of creating realistic form, it’s not really feasible if you’re petite. You need to start off a form that is smaller than you in every way, and if your back length is shorter or longer than average you need to be doubly careful about measurements. This option seemed a bit too risky as I knew I’d have to order it online and not be able to check.

I also vetoed Adjustoforms. These are pretty popular because they’re cheap, but as my form will be for draping I wanted one that I could pin into, and you can’t really do that with them because they’re really hard. The large dials and gaps around the body mean that they can look quite ugly, and as there’s a potential that this dress form would be on display a fair amount of the time I didn’t want an ugly dress form.

Companies like Ditto and Beatrice take scans of your body and cut out foam in the exact shape of you, which is a seemingly good way to get a dress form that is entirely like you, including any asymmetries and non standard measurements. They seem like a cool idea but they’re really expensive and they don’t ship to the UK. I think I’d be really annoyed if I spent £1000 on a dress form and then gained or lost a bit of weight and couldn’t change it, so even if I could get one here, I doubt it would be the option that I went for.

After this you’ve basically just got DIY methods left over. The most accurate one is probably making a plaster cast of your body and filling it with foam. This is also, potentially, the messiest method and it requires another person so I decided not to go for that. There is a really good video by Morgan Donner explaining the process, and her dress form looks really good! Another popular method is the Duct Tape/Packing Tape method. By far the cheapest and by far the ugliest method. Again, this requires another person, but the dress form isn’t really usable afterwards either. You can’t pin into it as your pins get gummy, the many layers of duct tape mean it simultaneously flattens out certain parts of your body and bulks other parts up and I’ve read stories if them distorting.

All that was left was the ‘moulage method’. You make a moulage (or very very close fitting base pattern) and stuff that. This is usually how half forms are DIYed, and it seemed like a good way of creating a pinnable dress form that was close enough to my body to fit on but not so close as to be creepy. I could have made my own moulage, but I decided to go with the Bootstrap Patterns Dress Form as that would mean that I didn’t have to draft it all by myself and it also has defined breasts which means that I could use it to fit garments like bras and swimsuits or anything with a sweetheart neckline.

To get your pattern all you need to do is put in your measurements, pay around £18 and wait 20 minutes for them to email over your pattern. The website takes 5 regular measurements: Height, Bust, Under Bust, Waist and Low Hip. You can also add some optional measurements, Neck, Bust Height, Front Length, Back Length and Back Width. Interestingly, they used have an additional measurement, Shoulder Width, but they’ve gotten rid of it for some reason.

I put in all of the measurements that I could, as I wanted the closest fit. I did need to get help with the Back Width as that’s really hard to do on yourself, and I did ask for opinions on the subjective questions like belly protuberance and shoulder slope. One of the things that came up in a lot of the reviews that I read was that the belly protuberance is more exaggerated than people expected, so I decided to claim that my stomach was flatter than I think it is in order to combat that.

Lots of people said to get a pattern with seam allowance, but I decided to forgo that. It meant that I could draw out the seam lines directly onto the fabric, leading to more accurate sewing. With the need for such a close fit and the number of seams in this pattern, a couple of millimetres here and there really add up and I didn’t want to end up with a form that was too big or too small in the end.

There ended up being around 20 A4 pages to print out. You can get it printed on large scale paper, but 20 pages isn’t a lot and it’s not hard to put everything together accurately when the pattern pieces are so small.

After holding up the pattern pieces to my body, I realised that the pattern wasn’t as close to my body as I wanted it to be. I knew that this would be a possibility as there are a few issues that keep cropping up in the reviews I’ve seen, such as a low bust point, as well as things that worried me as there weren’t any measurements taken for them (such as waist to hip measurements). Because of that, I’ve decided to make a toile and try in on my body before hand.

I’m not sure if this is a good idea. The website states:

The DIY dress form patterns have 10% negative ease on some of the horizontal measurements – bust, underbust, waist. Do not try to wear your dress from to check the fit, it is not meant to fit you.

I’m going to ignore that. Ultimately, the things that I’m most worried about are length measurements so if it is a bit tight around my body I will try not to be too worried. I’m hoping that as I’m using a very old bedsheet for my muslin, the fabric should have more give than the interfaced duck canvas that I’m planning on using in my final product. This should help to combat some of the negative ease.

So far, I’ve gotten to the point of cutting out the fabric for my toile. There are 18 pattern pieces, but I only needed to cut out 8 for the muslin as I didn’t need the neck, armhole, base or inner support pieces. I cut each piece on a single layer and used a pen to draw around the pattern piece and transfer all of the markings. I’ve also numbered each pattern pieces, there’s a lot of them and I don’t want to get confused as I’m making it.

I’m going to attempt to sew the toile and hope to update this blog in time. There’s not a lot of people who have made adjustments on this (or at least haven’t skimmed over them) so I’ll try to be as detailed as possible.

Overcomplicating The Art of Choosing an Iron

Photo by Sergi Dolcet Escrig on Unsplash

I think that, for most of us, when we first start sewing we don’t put much thought into our irons. I started off using my mums old Phillips iron and when I got tired of lugging my projects around to use the big ironing board, I added a Swan travel iron to do the small bits. It wasn’t actually the genius idea that I thought it would be. It worked in a pinch, but it’s one of those things that you buy to make your life easier and it actually makes it more difficult.

When I had the opportunity to buy a new iron, this time with my sewing needs at the forefront of my mind, I thought it would be easy. I’d just read a few reviews from fellow hobbyists and pick the one that they seemed to like best. There were a couple of issues with that though.

  1. A lot of the people writing reviews were quilters and not dressmakers. Dressmaking makes the bulk of my sewing and whilst there are similarities (such as the need to press seams) there is actually a big difference in iron needs. Quilters tend to work mainly in cotton, whereas dressmakers tend to have more variation in the fabrics that they use. We also use our irons to shape fabrics like wool, so steam is an important feature. Ironing larger bits of fabric, such as lengths for dressmaking or paper patterns also lends itself to a bigger iron than a quilter might need. Finally, our finished garments often need ironing afterwards, especially if you like to use natural fibres like I do.
  2. A lot of the reviewers were American/Canadian or business owners. They tended to have larger spaces that they could fill with beautiful gravity feed irons, or the funds to buy larger steam generator irons. Those options weren’t open to me, I sew in my living room and I don’t want to have an iron around all of the time. A lot of reviews also focused on brands like Oliso which are harder to get in the UK. We’ve got access to some great brands in the UK, like Phillips and Russell Hobbs, which often didn’t get a look in.

I didn’t have a starting point. In fact I didn’t even know how much a reasonable amount would be to spend, so I had to figure out a method that would help me decide. Enter the Iron Matrix. That makes it sound fancier than what it actually is, a spreadsheet.

I picked some categories that were important to me and filled it with the details of all the irons that were available to me. I chose to focus on irons that were available at Argos because I knew I could get nominated day delivery from them which helped to reduce the number of irons in my table. There are a lot of irons on the market, so this was pretty important.

The categories that I focused on were Price, Steam, Water Capacity and Weight.

Price is pretty self explanatory. I didn’t want to over pay for something, but I also didn’t want to go for the cheapest iron available just because it was cheap. The range of prices with irons is wide, the ones that I was looking at were between £16 and £100, which makes it quite difficult to know you’re getting a good price.

Steam is something that’s pretty important to dressmakers. It helps set seams and it’s the difference between a beautiful wool garment and an ugly unwearable one. Most irons have a steam output these days, even mini travel irons, so I chose to use the ‘Steam Output’ in g/min as my comparison point. The higher the better of course.

Water Capacity ties into steam. If you want to make lots and lots of steam, you need lots and lots of water. Gravity feed irons allow for litres of water, which is why they’re so popular in the sewing community, but those of us who can’t get one have to settle for much less.

Weight is an interesting metric. For most people, the lighter the better. For people who sew, it’s actually the opposite. It’s part of the reason that I found it difficult to use people’s reviews as a reference. A weightier iron helps press seams flat, especially on bulkier fabrics and I don’t have any wrist issues so I knew that I wanted to go for the heaviest iron that I could find.

For each of these categories, I gave each iron a number based on how they ranked. I added all of the numbers together and was able to come to my final pick, the Breville VIN401 DiamondXpress Steam Iron. At the time that I bought it, it was around £45 and you can definitely still get it for around that price if you shop around. I’m pretty chuffed with it. I think it’s an ugly iron but it does the job and then some. The steam function is great, and the water capacity is literally the best that I could get so even though I had to fill it up twice when I was steam ironing 5m of fabric, I’m not too annoyed.

Hopefully this iron will last me a while, but if it doesn’t I will be using the iron matrix again. I think it’s a good method for weighing things where there’s a lot of choice and you have specific desires.