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MacGyver approved

Sometimes, while I'm going through photos I'm going to put online, I imagine a future in which I'm a candidate running for office and my opponent has all his/her lackeys looking for incriminating photos of me. I am pretty sure I'll have to answer for this post and probably a few of my pattern photos. I am basically unelectable at this point, but I do it for you, sweet internet people.

I have had a pinnable foam dress form for a few years now.

Nehalem Bay Shawl - Front (worn)

It's been indispensable for knitwear design, since it's close in size to the a standard sample size for magazine publishing. And it works well for making garments for myself because while it's a little smaller than I am, it's still a relatively close match and I can gauge my progress.

A little note, before I go any further. I'm going to talk about how I differ from the average for my size and also from the dress form. This could be construed as some sort of self loathing/body snarking/judgement of anyone else's shape that is like or unlike my own. It's not. We are all built the way we are built and everything you wear or knit should be done so with the intention of feeling great while you wear it. It's good to know what makes you want to give yourself the ol' finger guns, winky face in the mirror and what makes you want to crawl back into bed and hide from the world.

Getting back into sewing has made me realize that my dress form is really useless for sewing. Skirts slide right off those slender little hips and it can't come close to mimicking my swayback/bubble-butt combo. Swaybacks cause the pelvis to tilt, arching the lower back. In my dancing days, I was regularly training myself to tuck by butt back into alignment, but I've slowly lost that muscle strength and really have to remember to keep things aligned. Even when I'm conscious of it, my back is still pretty arched, but when I'm at ease, it's quite pronounced. Along with that bubbly butt and a bit of softness around the belly, that sway back is even more pronounced. Wearing clothing that fits snugly at the waist and falls straight down or flares, seems to look best on me. However, shorter skirts like McCall's 5431, that are worked in crisp cotton, really highlight how much higher the back hem sits than the front hem.

McCall's 5431_Take2_01

Along with my body's structural idiosyncrasies, there are more common variations of the type that must of exhibit in one area or another. My shoulders are quite straight across (no shoulder pads needed here) which actually balances out my hips but does require that I adjust sloped shoulder seams accordingly. My torso is relatively long and my legs are short in relationship, so tops need to be longer to avoid showing my belly and pants and skirts should be hemmed higher to keep the proportions in line.

Even if I had the spare money for an adjustable dress form, I'd be unlikely to find one that could account for all these peculiarities of my body. Most are made only to adjust for bust, hips and waist circumference, and possibly torso length.

For the price, a duct tape dress form seemed to be the best option and tutorials online abound, so you know you aren't diving into uncharted water.

This blog post would be too long if I went through each step here, so I made a flickr set and added my notes to the caption section of each image. You can see the set here.

I'm really happy with the end result, though I was trying so hard not to suck anything in, that I must have overcompensated while being wrapped. The waist is now 2-3" bigger than my actual waist measurements, even after I've eaten a good sized meal. It's still incredibly useful, but I may need to try to reduce that circumference at some point.

Here are the two forms, side by side.

Duct Tape Dress Form_07

I decided to roughly cover the form with some lycra I had in stash, to make it a little less duct-tapey.

Duct Tape Dress Form_09

I've already put it to good use, using it to hem a dress.

Vogue 1027_11

And adjust that blue skirt I showed above.

McCall's 5431_Take2_15

All said, we spent about 2 hours for the taping phase and then it took me another hour to stuff and finish the form. The materials, excluding the cover I made and the t-shirts I wore under the tape, cost under $25. About $6 each for 2 rolls of 60ft duct tape, about $2 each for 2-3 bags of fiberfill, and about $4 for a pair of raglan shoulder pads. The chain to suspend the form from the ceiling, was a few dollars more.

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Comments (5)


When I was in college, I did a fair bit of work in the costume shop. They had a ton of gorgeous Wolf dress forms, but still -- no one is ever quite the same size as a dress form. Or as anyone else. So we'd take whichever form was the closest to the actor in question, and then pad the form as necessary to make it match the actor's measurements. The duct tape dress form is certainly a better option when you'll be repeatedly making things to fit one size (your own!) but it's also possible to "adjust" an existing form, too. (And I have an old "adjustable" form, and frankly it doesn't adjust much at all. I'd rather have a solid one that I could pad.)


The dress looks incredible on you, which has to be the perfect test of how well you modeled yourself. Now to find a pair of Spanx for the duct tape that'll bring the waist down to size...

Add a bit more in the way of hips, and you could have made that tape form from my body. There are certainly fit challenges with this lower half ;o)


I always read your posts with great interest. I often design my own patterns, but I have been trying for years to find a dress form that doesn't cost an arm and a leg (haha). May I ask you where you got the foam dress form that figures in your photos? I am a rather standard size 4, and I really don't have the time or the patience to make my own. Any information would be greatly appreciated!

I love your explanation of how your shape differs from your dress form, and how that affects the fit of your clothing. I recently make a duct-tape dress-form myself, (only it doesn't go down as far as yours does...which has me thinking that I'd like to do it again), and I've already found it extremely useful in making sure my sweaters are long enough. Extremely helpful when one is 6' tall.


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