March 20, 2009

Wardrobe Refashion: How-to Make Your Dress Form Look Like You (Only Better)

Although I have a pile of clothes waiting to be refashioned and an equal stack of fabric that could become cute new outfits, first things first. My kick-off project was to tackle getting my dress form ready to roll. Since it is a task that many home sewers might not have a lot of experience with, here is some professional advice to guide you. This process is different from making an exact replica of your body. Instead, this form yields clothing that not only fits, but also flatters.
Here is my dress form. Unsurprisingly, it has great proportions and a very standard figure. Very few people in the world will find their measurements to be the same as their dress form, no matter how fabulous we all know we look!
At this point, it is time to make direct comparisons. Take thorough and accurate measurements of your over-bust, bust, under-bust, waist, high and low hip, and those of your form. This is not the part where we flatter ourselves. This process is meaningless without total honesty. Establish where you and the form differ and by how much. In my example, the form and I are the same except for the waist.
You'll need various forms of padding (e.g. shoulder pads, bust pads, and batting) to pin onto your form. The most effective way to pin them is by using straight pins with the length nearly flat to the form, and the tip pointing towards the center of your pad.

The #1 trick of padding a stand is making the measurements the same as your own, but doing so by putting the extra where you wish it was.

If your bust measurement is bigger, try putting the padding on the breasts. If your hip measurement is bigger, add it to either your butt or sides depending which you think looks more pleasing. Even if you carry most of your extra waist in the front, spread it around to give a more even silhouette.

Here is an example with padding added to the breast using a commercial bust pad.This one is for adding a little extra lift to the butt area to extend the hip measurement using two shoulder pads with flat edges together.
Here are the steps I took in my own case. First I used two thin shoulder pads in the small of the back. Then two sets of thick shoulder pads to either side. The tapering edges of the pads help smooth out the shape to keep from having big jumps in size.
Next I used a folded piece of batting directly in the waistline to help bulk it up more. Then I used a single layer of batting to assure the smooth transition to the rest of the form.
The measurements all matched at this point, so I added a ribbon to mark the new waist. Using a Sharpie, I extended my center front and princess lines onto the padding.
The form is now precisely my measurements and will make a dress that fits my body. By fudging the placement, the added bonus is any clothes made on this stand will be well proportioned, which ultimately makes me and my projects look even better.



MaryAnne LoVerme said...

I don't sew, but I still found this post fascinating! I never knew that you could "spread around" the inches creatively to result in a more flattering fit. Quite enlightening!

Kimara said...

Dress forms have always scared me! They remind me the spooky back bedroom at my grandmas house. Plus, I was never quite sure how to get it to look like me. Thanks for a great tutorial. I may just have to get over my childhood fears of headless people and actually start using one!

Jessica said...

what kind/brand of dress form is that?

SarahMae said...

I have a question for you. I have a really small over-bust measurement. I have a dress form that fits my measurements in every other area, but the over-bust just isn't small enough. This basically means I cannot use the dress form for sewing strapless items. Do you have any suggestions on how to get around that? Do I need to go out and measure dress forms until I find one with that measurement and then pad it up?

Ikyoto said...

Unfortunately, I don't know any fixes for draping on a dress form that is too is just so much more practical to work the other way around it doesn't seem to come up much.

Ikyoto said...

Further thoughts on using a larger dress form is that whenever you make something on a dress form, it is still best to do a fitting on the person, so you could make your adjustments after fitting.

Luck(x8) said...

This is really interesting. I never knew the trick of redistributing the padding to keep the proportions even. I will have to store this info away until I have the space for my own dress form rather than just trying things on a million times at each stage!

Beth said...

Really great post. Thanks for this info!

Anonymous said...

where do you get such a nice dress form? I can only find the polyester covered plastic ones? I totally want to do this!

Ikyoto said...

Since I'm in industry, I have the luxury of just pulling one out from the huge work stash... depending on your size, checking listing any school that offers a fashion program after graduation may yield options from students who can't take them home with them.

lsaspacey said...

The form pictured is the Uniquely You dress form, which is completely customizable. I want one of these soooo bad! If you buy the correct size one, you can take off that cover, fit it to your perfect measurements, and then but it back on. Then the foam moves and adjusts to the new measurements.

So if you buy the correct size you don't need to add extra padding on the outside. But of course if you inherit one that is too small, these instructions would be the way to go!

Anonymous said...

there is always the duct tape dress form

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but the duct tape dress forms just aren't the same as pinnable dress forms. Sure, you can pin on the duct tape but it's not gonna pin on as easily and it will leave sticky residue everywhere. I have the uniquely you dress form, though it doesn't beat the wolfform ones, at least you get a better drape and more correct measurements.

Ikyoto said...

I have to agree that a duct tape dress form is fun, and good for a stop-gap situation, but you will get a finer finished product on another type of form.

Jennifer said...

After you finish padding your form, take some jersy and create a cover for the top. That way everything is smooth when using the form.

1. I baste the padding together.
2. wrap the form in the jersey. Or fit an old x-large t-shirt over the top.
3. starting from the widest part, the breasts, pull the fabric tight, pulling from the back. place pins to secure.
4. Continue pulling the fabric to the center back and securing until the fabric on the form is smooth.
5. With a fabric marker, draw down the line of pins along the 'back seam.'
6. Keeping the pins in place, remove the fabric and sew along the marker line.
7. Place the fabric back on the form, wrong side out, and adjust the fit if necessary. Remember to fit the shoulders too.
8. Keep pulling, pinning, marking and sewing until your cover sits smoothly over the form.
9. Place the cover on the form, wrong side in. Enjoy your form and sew.

Lexie said...

I just bought a Fabulous Fit Dress Form that I LOVE! It came with all of these different pads that I can put on the form under these two covers.

What I like about it is that I can change the form over and over to match different measurements of my friends. I sew a lot for my friends, so we are always changing the sizes and shapes. The pads were free with my dress form, and it was only $287.

It also has a really strong cast iron base, so it doesn’t tip over.

I found them online at you can even call them if you have any questions.

Tracy said...

I've had immense frustration with the Uniquely You form. My bust/waist/hip measurements indicated that I should get a Medium, but it was so huge that I persuaded the manufacturer to trade me for a Small.

The Small would fit okay except that the shoulders are too high and the bust is much too large. I've been trying to squeeze it down, hoping that the foam will compress, but it's not working.

I'm ready to give up and sell it. If anyone is looking for one, please inquire. 2157434884

sooz said...

Thanks so much for this fantastically informative post! I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions. Firstly, if you distribute your weight more evenly with the padding how does this make things fit better? I mean, instinctively I would have thought making the clothes to be as exactly like yourself as possible would give the best possible fit so I'm surprised!

Secondly I am concerned by Tracy's experience of sizing. I would be shipping one to Australia, so the shipping will cost me more than the form itself - returning it for a different size could be catastrophic! I have often experienced sizing problems with commercial patterns - if I make the garment size recommended by the pattern sizing chart, it is way too big. I think I take my measurements accurately - if I draft patterns they come out fine! - can you or anyone offer advice about getting the form size right??

Laura Mccracken said...


Thank you so much this is such a great blog. I teach sewing and fashion design in NYC and I have had several students use this wonderful information and they love the tutorial.

Thanks so much,
Laura McCracken

mlaiuppa said...


When I bought my dressform there were directions for making it custom fit. You removed the cover and put it on. There there were a series of twenty of more steps to go through to make darts and take in seams and mark it etc. to make it custom fit. You couldn't do it yourself but needed someone else to do it while you wore it. My Mother did mine for me as it was a graduation gift to me from my Grandmother when I got my bachelor's degree.

Sadly I am no longer that size (who is?).

But it still serves me well. I don't drape on it but it is fine for holding projects in various states of completion.

Maybe I'll take your suggestions and do some padding on top of the cover to make it more my size.

JaDe said...

You are right, you need to find a form that is equal to or smaller than your bust. And if the other areas need to pad up then pad up. Petite dressforms are more likely to have a smaller bust. What you are looking for is a form that is as close to your measurements without going over in any area.

Keren Duchan said...

This explanation is clear and to the point and so useful, and also very clever. Thank you!

Leesie said...

This reminds me of a pair of pants I once ordered where you sent in all your measurements and got your exact fit. They were truly the ugliest pants I ever bought. I think they needed this tip about redistributing the weight where it was most flattering.

JustPam said...

I bought one of these forms a few years ago. I just found your post on pinterest. I have my form to my measurements everywhere but the shoulders. Any idea how to make the shoulder smaller?

Anonymous said...

I have the uniquely you form and it will compress quite a bit if the muslin is sewn well. The other option is to trim the foam down. I have not done it personally but watched a video of someone who did to move the bust volume to a higher position... it is suggested to use an electric knife to cut the foam if possible to keep the cut smooth... hope this is helpful

KendinDik.Com said...

I love your tutorial. I haven't thought about the "padding trick" before. I'll definitely apply it! :)

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Monica said...

This looks like a really nice dress form. What brand is it?

Monica said...

I love the dress form. What brand is it and where can I find one like it? thanks in advance! :o)