Making a dressmaker's dummy

Jul 21 2014 0 Comments Tags: DIY, sewing

For a while now I have believed that the main barrier to me doing a better job of sewing my own clothes was my lack of a or dressmaker's dummy (aka dressmakers form or mannequin).  When I last investigated the cost of  a dummy, they seemed too extravagant, so I looked for a way to make my own.  There are a few methods around, using plaster bandages, using paper packaging tape, and finally, the one I chose, duct tape!

Not only is making your own dummy very cheap, if you are careful, you end up with a form that exactly matches your own body.  Well its a lot closer than an expensive adjustable dummy anyway.  All you need is a few rolls of duct tape (at least four to be safe), and old tight-fitting t-shirt to wear (and cut up) under the duct tape, a spare 2-3 hours and at least one person to help (pick someone that you don't mind smoothing duct tape over your upper body, I used my husband).  The first element is the easiest, the others can be more difficult, when I got the bag of duct tape out of my sewing cupboard I found the receipt - I bought it in 2012, so it took 2 years for us to get organised to actually make the dummy!  (And in the meantime, my sewing has suffered, imagine what I could have made in that time!).

Here's me with my dummy Betsy

The actual process is very simple.  Put on an old t-shirt and have your helper wrap you in at least 2 layers of duct tape, the smaller the strips the better so that you get a nice smooth finish.  Use plastic wrap around you neck, and any skin not covered by the t-shirt that you want to be part of the dummy.  The time it takes will depend on the patience of your helper, Pete is a perfectionist, so I was feeling a little claustrophobic by the end of the process, while he was getting it to look "just right".

When you are happy with the fit and have enough layers, simply cut the duct tape form along the spine and extract yourself from the form.  Next you need to carefully line up the back seam an stick it together (the challenge being keeping it all straight).  Then stuff the dummy with newspaper, foam, any leftover fabric, but don't stuff it too full or you could distort the shape.  As you work, keep in mind that the dummy is supposed to be the same size and shape as you are, so aim for firm, but not over-stuffed.  As you finish stuffing, you can tape over the arms and neck to finish them.  After you have stuffed the dummy, its easier to make adjustments to the back seam, I sat in the sun and peeled back some of the tape to line it up better and smooth it out, I think this is the main advantage of using duct-tape, its easily adjustable, but I don't know how well it will last.

We decided to mount "Betsy" on a metal stand (guess who wanted to use metal! although he was very clever to find an old candelabra stand at the tip shop), so she needed a wooden base.  The difficult part is making sure you get the right balance of belly and butt when you make up the base.  I got Pete to measure me from hip to hip (standing with one hip against the wall, Pete held a long spirit level up to my other hip and measured from the wall to the level, did I mention he's a perfectionist?).  Then I could use that hip width to make sure I had squished the dummy's hips out enough, as it naturally wanted to get rounder rather than an oval.  I used cardboard to make a template, and when I was happy with that shape I cut the shape from a scrap of plywood (yes, I cut it myself using a handsaw, Pete was busy welding something).  Then Pete helped me to square up the bottom of the dummy (as she was on a terrible lean) and we inserted the board and taped over it.  Finally Pete attached the stand to the board using wood screws that we can remove to transport Betsy.

Some people finish their dummies with fancy duct tape, or by sewing a neat cover.  I decided to leave her silver (rather, I couldn't be bothered doing anything else with her!).  Its quite a strange feeling to have a dummy in exactly your shape and height standing in the corner of the room.  I'm still getting used to Betsy.  We haven't made anything yet, but I'm sure its going to be great to have her to help me fit clothes.  Soon as I finish some more knitting....

What do you think?  Does a lack of dummy prevent you reaching your sewing potential?




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