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February 08, 2017 7 min read

So you’re a home sewer and pattern drafter. You definitely know what supplies you need for your work, but one of the most important of all, which would be of a real help for you, is the custom dress form.Of course, there are various commercial dress forms on the market, but one of the main downs of these, is that they don’t really resemble the human body in its slightest. Besides, it could be a real hassle for you to find that one dress form that perfectly fits your measurements. Or, another problem could be their price. Although you can find some cheaper dress formsout there, it is possible that you can’t invest that much in one of those. So what can you do in this case? The answer to this question is simpler that you may think – create your own custom dress form.

Key details for a great dress form

As you probably know, there are a few key details that your dress formneeds to have. Whether we talk about a dress formthat you buy from the market, or about a DIY dress form, these characteristics are essential:

  • The circumference measurements – this includes the bust, waist, and hips
  • Body shape
  • Posture
  • Shoulders

Among all these characteristics, probably one of the most important are the shoulders. This is because most of the clothing hangs from the shoulders. Therefore, especially when you’re trying to find the perfect dress formto fit your measurements, it is essential to pay attention to this aspect.

Supplies for creating a custom dress form

Here you have the list with the supplies you need to create your custom dress form:

  • 6-8 rolls of plaster bandages
  • 4-6 cans of expanding closed-cell insulation foam
  • Strong thread or twine
  • Polyurethane varnish or other sealant
  • Eye protection
  • Face mask
  • Rubber gloves
  • Old putty knife
  • Old paintbrush
  • Old pair of craft scissors
  • Pair of bandage scissors
  • Container of water
  • Hacksaw and extra hacksaw blades
  • Hot glue gun
  • Large drop-cloth
  • Plain, medium-weight fabric – it could be muslin or canvas
  • Adjustable-height IV stand on castor wheels

However, these material supplies are not everything that you need. As it is probably obvious, you won’t be able to do everything alone, so you also need an assistant – it could be one of your friends or an activity partner.

The process

The process to create your own custom dress formis pretty straightforward. Basically, there are a few steps that you need to follow, to make a durable and nice dress form. Here are the main parts of the process:

  • Cast the body in plaster
  • Create a mold from the plaster cast
  • Fill the mold with foam
  • Mount it on a base
  • Remove the plaster when the foam cures
  • Cover the resulting form in fabric (canvas or muslin)

The first step of this process involves cutting your plaster bandages into usable strips. Arrange these strips on the drop-cloth, within easy reach. Fill the container with water.

You need to focus, as the body-casting process requires you to remain extremely still during it. You can use this tip to make sure that you remain still: draw around your feet with a pencil or a pen and don’t move from the marks. Additionally, find a mark on the wall and stare at it.

Here you have some behind the scenes tips that you may want to consider before actually starting the process. First, keep in mind that the underwear you’ll wear under the cast will get ruined, so make sure that you wear some of your old underwear to cast your torso. Another thing you are recommended is to slather your exposed skin with lotion before applying the plaster, to avoid it from sticking to your skin. In what regards your hair, pin it up if it is long.

Now that everything is set and organized, it is about time for you to start the actual process of creating your custom dress form.Begin by wetting the plaster strips in the container of water. Take the plaster strips one by one for this step. Run your fingers down the length of it to remove the excess water. Apply the strips to your body, as smooth as possible, to avoid any wrinkle from appearing in your mold.

Strips adhere to each other better when they are wet. It is needed of two layers of plaster strips, to create a solid mold. However, you need to work quickly for the second layer, to make sure that the first layer is not yet dry. It is recommended that you wrap from your neck and down to below your buttocks, and include the tops of your shoulders.

It takes about an hour for the plaster cast to dry, before it can be cut off your body. Your assistant will use the bandage scissors for this step, to avoid cutting your skin. Before starting to cut the cast, make marks on the plaster parallel to the floor. This is needed for later use, when you need to match up your mold halves. Once you are set free from the cast, take the two halves of the mold and lay them on the drop cloth. Prop them up to maintain the shape. You need to leave them like that for a few hours – you can leave them overnight.

Once the two halves are dried, it is time to seal the mold. This is required to do, so that the insulation foam doesn’t stick to it too badly. Now use the paintbrush to cover the inside of all the mold pieces with the chosen sealant – polyurethane varnish, shellac or other. You may need to use about three coats, as the first coat is usually soaked up by the plaster.

Let it to completely dry, so that the mold pieces get hard, and then fit them together. Match up the lateral marks you made prior to cut them off your body. Use the thread or twine to thread a sturdy needle and whip-stitch the mold halves together. Make sure the stitches are tight and well done.

Once this is finished, you have a complete plaster body mold of the exact shape and size of your body – shoulders, abdomen, torso and thighs.

Take the IV stand and lock it in at your desired height, then place your form over it. Work over the drop-cloth, to lay the form on its back, so you can fill it with foam. You may want to use cardboard boxes and plastic-bagged books to support the form. However, you can also unscrew the base from the pole and rest it on the ground.

Cut three disks from cardboard or a similar material. You’ll use two of them on the arm holes, and the third one on the neck hole, so that the foam won’t get spilled. Cut lengths of thread, to get them ready to tie the cardboard in place after the upper torso is filled with foam.

For the process, you may want to wear some old clothes. Now it is time to put on your protective goggles and mask, and pull on your rubber gloves. Thoroughly spray the inside of the mold with your chosen mold lubricant. Keep in mind that it continues to expand over the eight hours that it takes to cure, so you are recommended to avoid over-filling your mold. You may try to spray the foam in successive layers, to allow them to cure somewhat before you add the next layer. You need to let it cure for a few hours, but you can let it for 24 hours, to be sure. After it is cured, snip the whip-stitches holding the front to the back of the mold.

Keep your goggles and mask on, and start peeling off the plaster off the plaster mold. Use the hacksaw to cut off any possible bits of plaster that remains stick to your mold. In case you need to build up the form in any areas, you’ll use the hot-glue gun and reserved pieces of foam to do this. To make these adjustments, you may want to refer to your measurements.

It is now the time to make the form’s cover. In this example, it will have shoulder princess seams and two-part raglan sleeves. Take the chosen fabric and cut eight pieces – two center front pieces, two center back pieces, and princess-seamed front and back side pieces. To cut the pattern, you can directly drape the fabric on the mounted foam form.

Work from the center front around. After you sew each seam, pin the cover to the dress formand check it for the accuracy of the fit. If needed, do the necessary adjustments. Do this step seam by seam – sew, press, pin, adjust, sew, press and fit. Leave the center back seam open for now.

Make sure that no wrinkles appear on the dress form. Once you’re satisfied with the fit of the cover, securely pin it onto the dress form.For the raglan sleeves, work directly on the form and use scrap fabric to pin out two pattern pieces. Trim the princess-seamed torso part to make sure it is even and it points straight up to the neck. Sew the raglan sleeves and attach them to the torso part. Press the seams open. Check the fit, by pinning the result to the dress form.

Once you are satisfied with the result, and you are sure that the cover is an exact fit, pin together the two center back panels. Close up the back, using small whip-stitches. Pull down the hem of the raglan sleeve caps onto the underside of the arms and pin them. Cut a piece of scrap fabric approximately to size and pin it over the raw edges of the sleeve and underarm seams. Once you finish doing this, whip-stitch them in place.

You now need to turn your dress formupside down, to pin the hem of the covering onto its bottom. Use a long piece of thread to sew across the bottom of the form, side-to-side and back-and-forth. Make sure you pull the fabric cover in tightly. To cover the neck hole, use a small oval scrap. Pin it in place and whip-stitch.

In the end

It takes time and some effort to do it, but once you finish all these steps, you have your own custom dress form. It is ready to serve you well for creating some amazing garments for yourself. So don’t wait anymore, as now you know everything you need to do to have your DIY custom dress formto use for the many years to come.