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Tips & Techniques > Dressform Overhaul-how to make it fit you

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Posted by: Kathryn

About Kathryn star
Member since: 3/16/02
Reviews: 9 (tips: 1)
Skill level:Advanced
Favored by: 33 people
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Posted on: 1/22/06 11:10 AM
Review Rating: Helpful by 17 people   Very Helpful by 183 people   
Making any Dressform Work

The dressform is a wonderful fitting tool, provided it mimics the body as closely as possible. In order to make any dressform into this fitting tool, it must be padded appropriately.

The basic requirements for a dressform are
1. The form must be smaller than the individual it is intended to mimic. The most critical measurement is the high upper bust, front and back. That circumference and those two dimensions should ideally be equal to the individual’s measurements. They should never be larger. This requirement usually means that the dressform is smaller in the bust, waist, and/or hips than the individual, but that is not a problem, since those areas can be padded out to fit perfectly.

2. The form should have a firm stand. Having a stand with wheels is great.

3. The form should be height-adjustable.

4. The form, ideally, should be pinnable. By that I mean it should be easy to poke pins directly into the form. This is an aid when tissue-fitting patterns on the form, and it is simply easier to have a dressform that is one big pincushion. That does not mean that hard forms cannot be used. Once hard forms are padded out, they become more pinnable.

5. One has to start with an accurate set of measurements for the body. Some of the basics are:
a. Upper bust
b. Full bust
c. Shoulder length
d. Shoulder center to bust point
e. Shoulder to waist, front and back
f. Neckline to waist, front and back
g.Torso just under the bust, about an inch below the bra’s lower edge
h. Waistline
i. Hipline

The theory of padding:
Many firm dressforms mimic the exact body measurements but using them for a fitting tool often results in garments that are too large. This is because there is no “give” to the form. A padded out dressform has a “goosh factor”, I call it—a soft feel to it due to layers of padding under a firm cover. The form acts more like the human body: when I push my finger into the tummy area of my dressform, it indents the same amount as when I poke my finger into my own tummy area, for example. This results in clothing that fits the form more truly to the body, because the form has a “give” in places similar to the body’s. The firm cover over this padding mimics the skin.

How to pad out a dressform:

1. Using quilt batting, add a layer of batting around the torso. The batting pretty much sticks to itself, but you can pin or tape it in place for a temporary hold.

2. Put a bra on the form that fits you perfectly. This is important for two reasons. First, not all bust dimensions are the same. For example, some wearers of a 36B bra have cups that runneth over, while others have cups that runneth under, even though 36B is the correct size. Secondly, pads alone cannot always mimic the shape the bust takes when it is in the undergarment that is usually worn. By using the same bra worn by the individual and padding it appropriately, the bust area of the dressform will exactly mimic the body.

NOTE: It is important that the basic dressform’s cup size be smaller than or equal to the body, since it cannot be altered easily. Some manufacturers make a petite form with smaller cup sizes.

3. Pad the bra with fiberfill, to as closely mimic the actual shape of the bust as possible.

4. Add layers of fiberfill around the bra area in back to mimic the shape of the flesh in this area as needed.

5. Add shoulder pads under the bra straps if needed to exactly mimic the shoulder-to-bust apex or bust point measurement. Some people have one shoulder higher than another, for example.

6. Add more layers of quilt batting, and separate pads, if available/needed (some companies like Fabulous Fit sell pads separately for dressforms).

7. Measure, measure, measure!

8. When all of the padding is finished, pull a formfit slip (a slip made with lycra in it, sold at JC Penneys, Kohls, Walmart, TJ Maxx, etc.) or a bodysuit over the entire form.

9. Stand next to the form, turning slowly and turning the form as well, checking the body dimensions and shapes from all angles. Adjust stuffing as necessary.

10. Measure the form again, and compare to your measurements. Adjust stuffing as necessary.

11. Next, get at least 3 or 4 tops, blouses, skirts, pants, jackets, and dresses that fit you well and try them on the dressform. This is a really critical step, because although the measurements may be accurate, they may not allow for the way the garment fits on you. This allows you to adjust the padding some more in order to ensure that garments fit on the dressform the same way they fit on you.

12. When the fit is as close as possible, pin or stitch black twill tape onto the form, marking the following areas, ensuring that the distances and dimensions are accurate. For example, the center back neck to waistline measurement may not be the same as the center front neck to waistline distance.
a. Neckline
b. Shoulder
c. Center Front
d. Center Back
e. Side seam areas
f. Crotch seam area
g. Bust
h. Waist
i. Hips

Following these steps should result in a dressform that can become a useful fitting tool. Best of luck, and happy sewing!

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IvorySew said... (2/6/16 9:36 AM) Reply
Wow! Thank you so much! This detailed tutorial is very useful. I really appreciate it :-)
carebare1 said... (1/13/16 6:20 AM) Reply
Thank you for the information.
lizzie45 said... (5/2/12 11:43 AM) Reply
This is great information! Thank you. I am wondering about how much smaller the form should be relative to my measurements. Does anyone have a recommendation on this?
Donna Don said... (9/23/11 9:17 PM) Reply
This is just what I needed. Thank you so much.
Barb A said... (8/1/11 7:49 AM) Reply
Thank you so much for this wonderfully detailed post! I'm sure it will help me make my new adjustable Singer 150 a better fitting tool.
sherri60 said... (6/3/11 6:34 PM) Reply
Thanks! This is exactly what I've been looking for. I need step by step directions and your instructions are clear and concise. Can't wait to get started.
dalaimamma said... (1/23/11 2:48 PM) Reply
just about to transform my Diana, so thanks for the tips.
hammermill said... (12/29/10 6:54 PM) Reply
I just received a dress form and this was exactly the instruction I was seeking to learn how to pad it out
timenlove42 said... (12/9/10 11:04 AM) Reply
Thank you for this so detailed teachings
Star M. said... (8/28/10 8:43 PM) Reply
I just did this. Wow, what a wonderful help! I picked up a used dress form at a garage sale, and now it's just right!
delfinelise said... (8/21/10 4:46 AM) Reply
Great tutorial! Thanks a lot!
fascine said... (2/2/10 8:57 PM) Reply
thank you, thank you! very helpful to this newbie.
tonnarae said... (8/24/09 5:46 PM) Reply
oh my... Thank you sooo much, I have been looking all day for great instructions, my grandma has a dress form but she "fits" it alot different, and i am real busty, I am making a form fitting ball gown for this years Marine Corps ball, and the practice dress just wasnt working.... I really appreciate this help!! I cant wait to get started!
txsckb said... (6/24/09 9:29 PM) Reply
This was a very informative article. I want to purchase a dress form but have had difficulty finding out how to make the form "me" without paying for a custom form. This article answered my questions.
jeandoll said... (6/20/09 7:42 PM) Reply
I am new to this site and I cannot wait to start working on my dressform. I found this info very helpful and explains it very well. Thanks
CocoVal said... (4/16/09 11:37 AM) Reply
Thanks for the great info. I am looking to buy a dress form and now feel more comfortable doing so. Your information reassures me that I can change most areas on the dress form if I need to do so.
classy said... (2/1/09 3:22 PM) Reply
Thanks, Kathryn!!! Have printed out your article and will be following it to the letter. I'll use cotton quilt batting as fibrefill polyester has too much loft. I'll let you know how I make out. classy
katmom3 said... (11/1/08 10:24 PM) Reply
Very good information! I have a dress form (forget the company) but will get a friend to measure me and help me pad it out! Thanks for the helpful information!
SewingQueenKym said... (8/14/08 11:24 AM) Reply
Thanks for taking the time to post these instructions. Tho I have sewn for nearly 50 years (I started at 4), I have never used a dress form. But, for my birthday my DH bought me one. So, now to make her look like me!
caseysgirl23 said... (8/13/08 4:27 PM) Reply
This info is what I have been looking for all day! Thank you for being so much for this info!!!!!!!
Earnestine Wallace said... (8/2/07 5:18 PM) Reply
this is an innovative approach to fitting! I can't wait to try it.
nana9 said... (11/29/06 0:03 AM) Reply
Thank you for this information. I will be making my double dress form more like me. Also like that about putting towels around the hips. I sew for a person who is on the heavy side and that will help.
osespice said... (10/11/06 12:36 PM) Reply
Alot of work and time but good one.a brilliant information
Lov2Ski/Sew said... (8/26/06 9:28 PM) Reply
Hi, the tip encouraged me to by the deluxe dress form and "she" is here. I have been playing around with padding her. After trying several items on her I have a few questions? What gage batting would you suggest using? I used #4. Do you pad all of her back above waist? Do you pad the front above the waist before adding the bra and shoulder pads? I tried several skirts on her and found her overstuffed. I had used two layers and some extra padding in the hip. One layer seems so thin to give the "cush" you described, so should I decrease the measurements of the form or use just one layer of batting? After not sewing for 30 years, I am excited to begin again. Going to the Novi Expo in September to catch up on new techniques. Thanks for this wonderful web site. Alice
christine A said... (8/10/06 8:48 AM) Reply
Thanks for the wonderful review. It has convinced me to go with a commercial dressform as opposed to a ddd. Wish there were pictures!
yousewgirl said... (8/4/06 8:52 AM) Reply
I am so grateful to your tutorial, I resently bought a second dressform-this one has the adjustable dials, the other one did not adjust, I got it when I was heavier(can't use it now, unless I gain weight again) and actually had bought it thru Fabulous Fit, but the useage of the pads that came w/ eluded me, so I didn't get the 'form to work for me - with your tutorial on getting the dressform to mimic my body shape will be a huge help to me. I can hardly wait to give it a go!!
OP Gal said... (7/20/06 4:49 PM) Reply
I have a Uniquely You dress form, but your instructions will help me make it mimic my figure much better. Thanks for such great instructions.
Karenza said... (6/26/06 6:46 PM) Reply
This simple step-by-step approach is what I have been looking for and I cant wait to try it.
ClareinStitches said... (4/26/06 4:00 AM) Reply
May I add another 'Thankyou', for having written such a comprehensive and inspiring article. I'm looking forward to improving my 'Paper Tape Double ' now, instead of just using it as a clothes horse.
Butterfli Bleu said... (4/13/06 11:13 AM) Reply
Thank you SO much for posting this! This is wonderful!
clematis said... (4/1/06 3:29 AM) Reply
Kathryn; As usual your instructions are impecable! I'll take a copy of your advice to the sewing room tomorrow as I try to make a model of me.
motorboots said... (3/21/06 11:25 PM) Reply
brill idea!
psayli said... (2/27/06 8:45 PM) Reply
Just got one for xmas....haven't set it up yet...this infi will definitely be helpful
Kathryn said... (2/22/06 8:38 AM) Reply
LearntoSew, I emailed you privately, but I'll add some thoughts here as well. For the rounded upper back, I would make a stack of concentric oval layers of some kind of padding material, like fiberfill quilt padding or polarfleece or even terry cloth and loosely stitch them together, sort of like a huge flat multilayered shoulderpad. On some of my dressforms, when I needed larger hips for someone, I would wrap a folded towel around the hips before adding the layer of fiberfill and then pulling the cover over. It was quick, and gave a more firm hipline, which was nice. (I did this when I sewed costumes for my DDs high school plays and had to make costumes for several differently-sized people.) For the not-as-perky breasts, I would choose a dressform that is much smaller around the bust and then add padding, using the smaller breasts as part of the understructure. Once you have your own bra over the bust area, it will take the shape that you pad it to. If the dressform's bust dimension is too close to your own, so that reshaping them by heavily padding a bra over it is not an option, then I'm afraid you'll have to file the breasts down (if it's a foam form) before adding the bra, or switch to another dressform that has an adjustable bust area. Hope this helps!
Learn To Sew said... (2/21/06 12:56 PM) Reply
I printed out your instructions today. Now I can make Meme look more like me. I began the process last week, but without your instructions. I stopped after padding the bra. Something was not right. I printed out the instructions, and I am glad I did. I was not doing things in the proper order and I would have had to redo her again. When I am done, she should look like me. How do I pad for an upper round back? I am guessing I take a piece of muslin and pad under it. Pin it on in places and stuff it until it looks right. Can I use tape instead of pins, so my pads will stay in place until I get a cover for her. How do I get her bust to "sag" a little? I am not as perky as she is!
Mimicj said... (2/16/06 4:01 PM) Reply
Thanks for this tip. I ordered my form from Fabulous Fit and it should be here next week. Can't wait to get started on this. I have sewn for myself for 40+ years and have always wanted a form but never made that step. Now the only dilemma is what to call her.
Karenza said... (2/5/06 6:00 PM) Reply
I am considering investing in a dress form and did not understand how to get a really good result with one. I am more hopeful now that I can look for a form that will be able to be altered to my needs, and that I will know where to start with those alterations. Thanks Kathryn.
sue falcone said... (1/25/06 8:04 PM) Reply
excellent info, Kathryn! I am now in the market for a better dress form and will know how to shop for the proper size.
ReneeSews said... (1/24/06 6:05 PM) Reply
I too appreciate this information, I was given a Dritz My Double Dressform but it does not go all the way up to my dimensions, the bust measurement only goes up to a 40", with this information I can adjust it the couple of inches I need to mimic my shape! Thank you so much for sharing.
clematis said... (1/24/06 3:56 AM) Reply
Kathryn, this review is extremely helpful. Thanks very much.
AngelaD said... (1/23/06 9:03 PM) Reply
Thank you so much for the very thorough instructions, Kathryn. I just bought a Fabulous Fit dressform and am contemplating turning it into a "mini-me". Now I know exactly how to do that!
10Ksteps said... (1/23/06 6:57 PM) Reply
This is super and has given me the courage to accept the gift of a dress form because I now have a clue as to how to make it useful to me. Thanks for the wonderfully complete set of instructions.
Georgene said... (1/23/06 12:25 PM) Reply
I sometimes use shoulder pads as 'underlayers' in the derriere area to add shaping under the batting. Batting can be cut and added in for addtional sahping in problem areas. Excellent tip Kathryn and very helpful~
Kathryn said... (1/23/06 11:13 AM) Reply
Oops, Anne, sorry for spelling your name incorrectly in the previous note!
Kathryn said... (1/23/06 11:11 AM) Reply
Beth, and anyone else, please feel free to print out this tip and use it. I'm flattered that you would want to make a copy! Ann, for more derriere padding, you may want to check out the additional pads that Fabulous Fit sells. They may help in that area so you only need to add a minimum of quilt batting. Of course you could always make little pillow-shaped pads yourself, stuffing them with fiberfill. I usually just hold the pads in place with pins or tape until I get the cover on. Then I reach down under the cover and remove the pins or tape and shift the pads and padding around until I am happy with it. HTH!
Miss Fairchild said... (1/23/06 9:08 AM) Reply
Excellent tutorial! (It's much more extensive than a "tip") One thing I didn't take into consideration when buying my form was the "goosh" factor, but luckily this works--at tiimes. If it's okay, I would like to print these directions out and keep them handy.
AnneM said... (1/23/06 6:26 AM) Reply
My problem is my dress form's derriere is much flatter than mine. How do you attach the padding?
Agnes said... (1/23/06 0:40 AM) Reply
Thanks, Kathryn! I was planning to do something along these lines. I thought I make a skin-tight sloper and put this on my dress-form and then pad it where ever it needs it. Never thought about the bra and panties thoug.........
Learn To Sew said... (1/22/06 11:43 PM) Reply
This is fantastic. A lot of work, but well worth it. If I do all this correctly, my dress form could really help me sew clothes that fit me, and look good on me. You are an inspiration to all of us.
MarilynB said... (1/22/06 5:55 PM) Reply
Thank you so much Kathryn. This information is awesome.
Kim Winson said... (1/22/06 11:31 AM) Reply
Wow, Kathryn. Thank you for that extensive tutorial.
Loreli said... (1/22/06 11:28 AM) Reply
Wow!!! Thanks for this good tip Kathryn!
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