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Tips & Techniques > Padding out & covering a dress form

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Posted by: EveS

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Member since: 11/26/06
Reviews: 116 (tips: 4)
Skill level:Intermediate
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Posted on: 2/17/08 11:27 PM
Review Rating: Helpful by 9 people   Very Helpful by 50 people   
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In my quest to find a good, sturdy dress form that closely mimicked my body, I really struggled. I really didn't care for the models that Joann's carries at ALL, had no patience for the DTD, and found the Uniquely You to be costly (and something requiring, so I decided to buy this dress form on eBay. I just love it (still, 1 year later), especially since I padded her out to look like me.

Here's the skinny (that term is figurative, of course :) ):

-Commercial pattern for fitting shell in my size
-Sturdy, but not stiff, woven fabric (NOT knit). I used a poly-cotton blend (linen look-alike) from Joannes.
-Packaged seam binding
-A bra in my size - one similar in what I might wear
-Batting. I used a combination of higher loft and thinner batting.
-Long, flat head pins to secure batting to form.
-Thin twill tape if you choose to mark your waistline, hips, etc.

I purchased the Butterick 6092 pattern for the fitting shell, reviewed here. Once I had the shell fitted to my measurements (per pattern instructions), I removed the sleeves and started to nip and tuck to remove the ease. Yes, there's ease. 3" bust, 1" waist, 2" hip, to be exact. This was kind of a slow process...nip and try on...nip and try on. Obviously, this was done in basting stitches to start. I pretty much got the dress to barely fit (skin tight).

At this point I began fluffing my form up. This is a good time to mention that if you plan on padding out your form, you need to purchase one that is smaller than you reasonably expect to be.

I started by putting the bra on her and filling the cups with batting to be firmish. Then I measured her chest and back. Of course, my form was narrower across the back than I (but who isn't), so I put some layers of batting under the bra strap, measuring and padding til it looked like me. By putting the batting UNDER the bra, she even has those pesky little fat "bumps" like I do (sigh). Here's a back view further into the padding process. See? Bumps.

The whole process is nothing more than pad and measure, pad and measure. And look in the mirror. And be honest (but NOT over critical!). Accuracy is key. I set up a full length mirror near where I was working and checked it often, from every angle. Where there were curves, I put curves. And bumps, well.... they're there. I used long, straight pins to anchor the batting in place where ever I needed to.
Front view of padded form

Ok, jumping back to the cover I made. Once I had the cover where I thought I was happy with it's measurements, I put it on over the padding and pinned the center front. Then remeasured. And tweaked. And so on. I'd like to mention that you want the cover stuffed pretty firmly. Otherwise, it'll squish around and change shapes pretty quickly (also why I don't recommend using a knit fabric). It'll also make pinning into it harder, as the pins won't stay put.

I really didn't have to do a whole lot to alter what I'd done on the cover, so I bound the front and armhole seams w/ packaged binding and put it back on the form, anchoring again at the center front w/ long pins. I opted for a non-permanent closure so that if I need to tweak her fluff, alter her measurements, etc., I can do so easily. Plus, zippers don't make friendly pinning surfaces. I was happy with the way it looked (it was kind of creepy seeing "us" standing side by side), so I ended up just tying the lower skirt portion of the cover around the pole. I could've done something nicer, but got lazy. :)

Here is a comparison of she and me:
She's quite close to my body type, and helps me out all of the time. I do preliminary test fittings (tissue or garment) all the time, try out fabric pattern positions (no boob blossoms, thank you very much), experiment w/ trim, etc. I find her quite invaluable to the whole process and I think I use her on most every garment I make at some point. I would like to point out, however, that this is NOT a substitute for testing a garment out on your body for accurate fittings. The dress form helps me with early-stage fittings, but is never a replacement for flat pattern measurements, muslins, and fittings on my body. I still do all of the above.

I use the longest pins I could find (1 3/4") to pin garments to the form. This ensures that you can pin into the actual form as much as possible, since that's always more sturdy than pinning into only batting. Pin on a downward angle.

Oh, and yes she has a name. But there's a story...
When I was a little girl, I had no siblings, went to a parochial school so my school friend were scattered, and no neighborhood kids to play with (we lived on a street of nothing but little old Polish ladies in Detroit), but I had a vivid imagination. So I made up some extra friends...Gingo (pronounced like "dingo") and Eecie (e-c). My mom inquired one day about what Eecie was like. I promptly told her that she was just like me but all dressed up (and Gingo was always being naughty, in case you were wondering). There are a lot of days that my dress form is better dressed than I, and she does inspire my imagination, so I found it only fitting to honor an old friend and name my form Eecie. :)

ETA: I am such a clod...I forgot to give credit to Sewliz, who helped me decide to make a cover like this. A photo of her dress form cover (much like mine, but I can't find the pic now) was the inspiration for me to do this. THANK YOU, LIZ!!! :)

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Pharper said... (6/24/12 11:24 PM) Reply
This is so helpful! Thanks for you detailed review and for your humor! PeggyH
shazbot said... (6/14/12 4:24 AM) Reply
just bought 2 dressmakers mannequins on ebay. They should arrive tommorrow. Can't wait. The biggest surprise was finding out that the owner is a well known designer and boutique owner here in Australia and has usedthe forms for years. One of them has half legs for pants. It's a lucky omen and I want to pad them out right.
carolbee said... (5/20/12 6:14 PM) Reply
April Funcke said... (2/29/12 10:37 PM) Reply
Great tutorial! I really like the dress you made, what pattern is it? I made my form a long time ago, a body cast filled with polyurethane resin. It now needs some (ahem) padding to match my own.
CassandraD said... (7/25/11 2:09 AM) Reply
I'm just about to buy my first PGM style form (I'm getting a Studio One form... because that's all that seems to be available in Australia!). Reading your review made me feel much more confident in what size to buy for my form. My narrowest measurement is my hips (size 6) but I'm going to choose my dress form based on my shoulder, underbust and cross back measurements... since I figure that's the hardest to pad out. It feels strange to consider buying a size 8 but I think that's the frame that matches my body best. Then I'll follow your example and get some quilting stuff to pad the waist out to my current size. She'll be wearing an old bra of mine but I'm not sure what to stuff it with. Someone suggested buying gel style bra inserts (originally sold to increase cup size) but I'm worried that I might wreck my form if I accidentally stab one with a pin!
lrstanfill said... (7/22/11 12:35 PM) Reply
I'm getting ready to embark on a project like this. Your info is great! Thanks so much for sharing.
purpleone D said... (3/2/11 7:32 PM) Reply
Great job
MsCTS said... (2/22/11 8:02 AM) Reply
Thank you, I have a dress form from Joann's, many years old, now I will finally make her more human.
Baloo said... (9/27/10 9:33 AM) Reply
Absolutley inspiring - need to check that my dress form will take the extra padding but I think it will be worth the effort.
Grammyjan3 said... (9/10/10 4:13 PM) Reply
This helped a lot--THANKS!
annwego said... (9/8/10 2:09 AM) Reply
Thanks so much!
RJB said... (2/17/10 2:27 PM) Reply
Thanks! I am shopping for a dress form and I am not sure if all of them need to be padded or if some come already padded. Reading reviews is educating me before I spend my money.
tdecuir said... (1/17/10 5:04 PM) Reply
Thank You so much for this information!
Angela S said... (6/23/09 10:16 PM) Reply
Good detail. Encouraging to those who need to 'go it alone'. Pictures very helpful.
classy said... (3/2/09 12:55 PM) Reply
Dear EveS, You have inspired me to finish padding my own dressform...Looks good. For what it's worth, the dress looks a lot better on you than on your "double". classy
said... (4/5/08 11:39 PM) Reply
Thanks for the great ideas and tips.
Click here if you wish to edit your comment
lilyofthevalley said... (3/7/08 9:20 PM) Reply
Oh Eve, this tip and tutorial is absolutely the BEST! Loved reading your review and here you've laid it out for us. My DTD over commercial dressform is notably naked in her silver tape skin. -Lily
Linda G said... (2/19/08 9:15 AM) Reply
I wish I had your patience to do this. Great review.
[email protected] said... (2/18/08 9:08 PM) Reply
Thank you for the RECENT review. I have a "crash test dummy" from years ago, and my lovely, maturing figure doesn't match the old form. I work full time and, when I sew, it's usually really early on the weekend or late at night. Therefore, I'd like to have something (affordable) to test drive my designs. I would save gas too, as now I have to get in my car and go a few miles to a sewing buddy. I've eyeballed the ones at the "J" store but I've not heard good feedback about most of them.
jhansby said... (2/18/08 12:01 PM) Reply
Great job padding your dressform!!
Cecile Owens said... (2/18/08 11:47 AM) Reply
Fabulous Review!. After a failed duck tape form from a class here in San Francisco, I am going to try to pad my original Uniquely You form to see if I can now (it's probably at least 30 years old if not more) create something that will be the "mature" me. Thanks.
cindyann said... (2/18/08 10:05 AM) Reply
Great looking form! Thanks for the tutorial. Guess what? I have that same dress pattern made in that exact same fabric.
chemmom said... (2/18/08 8:51 AM) Reply
Thanks for your reviews. Even though I have been sewing for ages, I am learning new stuff all the time. I just got a dress form and I told my kids we were going to name her. Ginger/Red/Penelope were all bandied about. My husband suggested Deaselfider. "These will fit her".
Dale C said... (2/18/08 6:22 AM) Reply
Wow, that comparison really shows how well she duplicates you! You've sold me! Now I have to make one too.
Patzee said... (2/18/08 0:17 AM) Reply
Thanks so much -- it's a tutorial! I know I need to try this. Thanks!
Athene said... (2/17/08 11:57 PM) Reply
Great review. The pictures help alot in understanding the process.
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