Introduction: DIY Custom Dress Form | Make Your Own Decoupaged Dressmaking Aid

About: Multi-crafter, jewellery maker, card designer and frequent procrastinator.

I've always wanted my own dress form, and I finally got around to it this month, and I have to say I'm pretty pleased with the result :) It's not the quickest of projects, especially if you also want to decoupage the dress form and revamp a lamp stand in the process, but I reckon it's worth it.

So why would you want a dress form? Well, if you sew your own clothing you can try the clothing on the dress form to see how it fits and make adjustments to the clothing using pins.

Without a dress form, you either depend entirely on measurements you have taken of your body, and/or you regularly try on the garment you are making. This can be a bit of a faff, and you can't see clearly how it looks on you from all the angles, and it's very awkward to alter it by yourself, and you risk sticking pins into yourself accidentally!

So dress forms are very handy for dressmakers....but the real ones you can buy are pretty pricey.

I reckon this DIY project probably cost me £50 or so at an estimate, although I had a few things like the wood and the glue already.

So if you want a tailor-made dress form of your own, and an enjoyable weekend project, please follow the instructions below. Have fun!

Step 1: What You Will Need

You will require the following:

- Duct tape: You want the heavy duty stuff so it holds the shape better. I used an entire roll of "Super Heavy Duty Silver Duct Tape" (50mm x 50m)

- Cardboard: You will need thin and stiff card, such as greyboard, for covering the open areas of the t-shirt

- T-Shirt: You need a t-shirt that you don't mind cutting up. Try and choose a top that is close fitting and preferably quite long. If I could go back, I would have cut the excess fabric off the baggy sleeves of my t-shirt before starting

- Clingfilm/saran wrap (optional): I didn't use clingfilm because my t-shirt was long enough, however if yours isn't, or you want to add a neck to your dress form, you will need clingfilm to go between you and the duct tape.

- A stand: I used an old lamp stand that I paid £15 for on Ebay, and I refinished it myself (see instructions below). Other options include using a microphone stand or similar, or making your own stand (using a stiff cardboard tube/curtain pole/PVC pipe/wooden rods and sheets etc - get creative!)

- Scissors: You'll need some scissors you don't mind using with duct tape - don't use your best scissors!

- Sharpie pen & a normal pen/pencil

- Stuffing: I used about 1.5kg of polyester cushion stuffing, plus some out of an old pillow. You can buy bags of stuffing or use stuffing from old pillows. I've seen people use old clothes, and even expanding foam as well.

- Safety equipment for any woodwork or spray painting you may be doing: Breathing mask, ventilation & safety specs.

- A piece of chipboard (or other wood), wooden dowel, mini Kreg jig, saw, clamps, a drill and some wood glue:These were the items I used to make a strong support for the neck and shoulder area of the dress form. Using stiff card (or a few layers of stiff card glued together) and a hanger will work for this instead if you don't want to go down the woodwork route.

- Decoupage paper: I used old and used sewing patterns (you can pick them up cheap on Ebay). Check the colour of the patterns before you start...I didn't, and my sewing patterns were very different colours! Other thin paper would work too, or even book pages/sheet music if you use small enough pieces.

- Mod Podge glue for decoupage: I'm sure there are many glues that would do a good job at this, but I used Mod Podge Furniture Gloss Finish. I used most of the 473ml pot.

- A cheap paintbrush

- Items for refinishing a lamp stand (optional - this is what I used to make my stand look pretty again, but you may not need to, depending on the stand you use): Wood scrapers for removing the paint, sandpaper, masking tape, spray paint (I used a chalk paint which I would not recommend to be honest), and a clear sealer spray.

- PVA sealant (optional): I used a small amount of PVA Bond glue on top of the duct tape before decoupaging, but I'm not sure whether this was any help at all to be honest! I would only recommend using this if you are having issues with getting your decoupage paper/adhesive to stick to the tape.

Step 2: Revamp the Lamp Stand

Obviously this is only necessary if you bought an old lamp stand for the project.

I simply used scrapers to remove the old paint from the lamp base and part of the pole where there was damaged paint. Then I used sandpaper on the bare wood and on the remaining paint to try and get an even finish.

I used a breathing mask and good ventilation when doing this, especially as I didn't know if the old paint would be lead paint.

I applied masking tape to the areas I didn't want to paint, such as where the 2 parts of the pole screw together.

I sprayed chalk paint on the pole and base, then returned for a 2nd coat. For some reason, it didn't go onto the base so well and some parts were more solid white than others. Also, chalk paint is really easy to wipe off even when dry, so I had to then spray a (Rustoleum) clear sealer over the top just to stop the paint rubbing off on my hands and everything else it came into contact with! In conclusion, I would not recommend chalk paint :p

Step 3: Taping the Structure

Get your duct tape, scissors and friendly helper at the ready!

First, put on the t-shirt, and if you want to also add a neck area (for fitting collars for instance), then also put cling film around your neck (not too tight!) for the duct tape to attach to, and also put some around your hips/top of your thighs if your t-shirt doesn't come down that far.

My t-shirt was just long enough so that I didn't need clingfilm around my hips, and I decided not to add a neck area.

If you are putting tape around the neck, be careful and do this bit last.

I could have done with a closer fitting t-shirt really, and in hindsight I should have cut excess fabric off the arms because they were baggy, but you live and learn!

A FEW NOTES: Stand up straight during the taping, and try and do this step on a cool day to prevent overheating. Also, limit the time you are wrapped in all of this non-breathable tape/cling film because it can be restrictive.

It looks like a harmless activity, and it is - as long as you don't overheat, don't wrap the tape too tight, and also make sure you breathe in to fill your lungs before the tape is wrapped around you. The last thing you want to do is restrict your breathing. You want a snug fit but not uncomfortably tight.

- OK, so the first piece of duct tape should go around the body, under the chest.

- Then you add shoulder straps and a kind of 'x' shape that goes down over the centre of the chest and over to the back.

- Then it's a case of filling in the area above the under-bust line. Add horizontal strips above the chest and across the back/shoulder area, plus under the arms.

- Use short sections to gradually cover the entire bust area, trying to follow the curves as accurately as you can.

- Next it's the waist line, the hip line and the widest part of your body.

- Finally, fill the rest of the areas of the t-shirt in, fitting the tape to the body as closely as you can manage.

P.S. If you want to mark a few lines on the dress form using a Sharpie pen, now is the time to do it - for instance, centre line, waist line, hips line etc.

To remove the tape, cut carefully up the centre of the back, from bottom to top, being careful not to cut underwear. Sorry to the Instructables Gods for cutting up one of their t-shirts!

Step 4: Tape Up the Back

This is what you should be left with after the fitting.

I then joined the edges of the back together with more duct tape, and also added a bit more duct tape around the neck hole and the arm holes for reinforcement. You want a smooth border around the armholes and neck, as this will help you later on.

Step 5: Cover Up the Arm Holes

Cut out a couple of pieces of stiff cardboard to cover the arm holes. I just guess-timated the size and shape and kept altering it until it fit well....and then made an identical one for the other side.

Because I used a t-shirt with baggy arms (as mentioned before) the armholes I had left were obviously larger than my actually arm circumference, but since they are only flat this shouldn't matter too much when it comes to fitting.

Then you just need to tape those card pieces into place so that they are covered and secure.

You may notice that I have stuffed a pillow into the dress form, and that is because it made the dress form easier to work with - much better than it being flat and flimsy.

Step 6: Neck & Shoulder Support

I've seen people use stiff cardboard and/or a hanger for this bit, so if you don't have basic woodworking equipment, don't wory there are other options :)

The basic idea is to make a piece that is just slightly bigger than the neck hole so that it sits securely inside, and then it's a good idea to support the shoulders too with rods of some sort.

For mine, I first drew a template out on cardboard, cut it out and tested it inside the neck of the dress form until I was happy with the size and shape.

I transferred that shape to an offcut of chipboard I already had, and cut it out on a band saw.

I measured the angle of the shoulders in relation to the neck on the dress form, and then drilled a hole at this angle on each side of the chipboard piece. I drilled using a mini Kreg jig, an electric drill and a 10mm drill bit, as this was almost the same size as the wooden dowel I was going to use. It's best to make holes slightly too small than too big - I had to sand down the ends of the dowel a little to fit them in the holes snugly.

Try and made the dowel pieces sit under the highest parts of the dress form i.e. the shoulder seam.

The wooden dowel pieces were each long enough to sit within the shoulders of the dressform and support them. They were glued into the holes in the chipboard with wood glue (and clamps) and left to dry.

Once dry, this piece was inserted into the dress form.

Step 7: Stuffing the Form

I used over 1.5kg of stuffing for this form, so it does take a lot to fill it up!

Simply push the stuffing into the form until it's nearly full, trying to make sure it gets into all the crevices and curves and isn't lumpy at all.

You really want to make the form as solid as you can so that it doesn't collapse later on. This is particularly true in any areas that stick out like the chest areas. I've seen other people glue a bra into the chest area, or even insert expanding foam into this area and any other places that could be liable to collapse.

Because I'm decoupaging later, this will stiffen the outside so I wasn't too worried, but if you're not going to use decoupage make sure you stuff well.

I also cut out a piece of stiff cardboard to fit the bottom of the form, and cut a hole in the centre where the lamp stand will sit.

I remembered to put this cardboard piece onto the lamp stand before I then pushed the form down onto the stand, after using my arm to make a path through the stuffing. Make sure that the form sits straight on the stand and is not leaning at all.

The chipboard section just sat on the top of the stand and the stuffing kept the stand in the same place, so no permanent fiing was needed. In fact, it was pretty handy because it allowed the form to be spun very easily on the stand!

Step 8: Finish Stuffing

Once the form is on the stand, you can finish the stuffing.

I stuffed as much as I could into the top 3/4 of the dress form until I was happy with it, then taped the cardboard piece to the base of it, leaving gaps large enough for my hand and stuffing to go through.

Then I continued to stuff the form around the bottom until it was as solid as I could get it.

Then I finished taping up the card base so it was entirely covered and secure.

Step 9: Neatening Up

I then proceeded to use up the rest of my duct tape roll trying to smooth and neaten the form. This involved taping over creases and dimples in the tape that weren't supposed to be there and just generally making the form as smooth as possible. This served to add strength and robustness as well.

I also noticed I had cut the cardboard base a little wide at this point so one side was flaring out unnaturally. I therefore rectified this by trimming down the card and re-taping (see the black duct tape in the photo).

The next step is entirely optional and involved me spreading a PVA sealer/adhesive over the whole form. I just used a piece of card to spread a thin layer over the duct tape, and left it to dry.

I did this because I wanted some key/texture on the form to help stick the decoupage paper later on, as I was worried the duct tape wouldn't be a good base to glue straight onto. To be honest though I'm not it made much difference so I would say only do this if you struggle to get your decoupage paper to stick onto the tape :)

Step 10: Decoupage

I have to say I really enjoyed the decoupaging stage because it really brought the form to life....but boy did it take a while!

A few tips to make it go quicker:

- Check what colour the sewing patterns you have are, and if they match. As seen in the photos, I started with one pattern and used it all, then began using another....and to my horror it was a lot yellower! So make sure the papers match, or failing that, use the darkest paper to make a single layer all over, then do the same for the next colour and so get everything looking as even as you can.

- Perhaps consider using a thicker paper first (even just a thin plain paper) to block out the colour of the duct tape below. Then use the sewing paper on top. This way you don't have to do as many layers (due to the sewing paper being so thin you can see through it) and you use less pattern paper.

So how do I decoupage?

You'll need a suitable glue (Mod Podge is a good choice; it's what I have always used), an old paintbrush and some fairly thin paper.

Simply rip the paper up into a pile of small pieces - no bigger than about 8 cm long or so, especially for the curved areas.

Then simply apply glue to a small area of the dress form, stick the paper on top and spread a thin layer of glue over the top of the paper too. And then repeat hundreds of times!

Do this until the form is entirely covered.

NOTE: I ended up using 3 sewing patterns to cover my dress form, and 3-4 layers of pattern paper. I left the neck and arm holes a plain paper colour so there was some contrast between those areas and the rest of the form.

Step 11: Finished!

And that's it!

I really love how it looks and it may be my favourite craft project ever.

Even though this will be mainly ornamental, I will be using it for dressmaking from time to time too. I tried on one of my tops and it fit on the form like it fit on me (except for on the super big arm holes!) so I'm very pleased with it. It may not be exactly accurate, but I think it's as close as I was ever going to get. Thumbs up :)

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial, and I hope you give it a go!

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