So, after many years of sewing, and fighting with "adjustable" nonsense dress forms, I decided to take myself seriously, and make a good, solid, stuffed dress form that is the size of my own body, and that you can stick a pin firmly into, with a deep sense of satisfaction.
Starting with the finished product, with "ye olde corset that I bought for cheap online" modeled.
Step 1: Don't Use Duct Tape
I tried the duct-tape-on-a-tshirt thing, because I thought that you could make a duct tape mold, fill it with stuffing, cover it with padding, and voila! Dress form. Yeah... I say don't waste your time. Duct tape doesn't really hold shape well. As you can see here, my boobies were smooshed in weird unintentional ways. It not only didn't make my dress-form-making process easier, but it was annoying and wasted a ton of my time.
Step 2: Using a Good Basic Fitted Pattern
When duct tape failed me, I had a glass of wine and regrouped. Then I went through my patterns and picked out a nice fitted dress pattern that I've made before that fits my body well. the pattern pictured above is very similar to the one I used (mine is from the 90s, so I couldn't find a picture of it). Something with a well-shaped side panel. It doesn't have to be perfect, because we'll micro adjust later. When you cut out the panels, make sure to leave extra room at the neckline (cut straight instead of rounded down in any way) and cut extra length at the bottom. Cut it out of scrap fabric that has NO STRETCH, sew it together with open neck and bottom, try it on, and make sure it fits you well. Then I covered the shoulder holes with flat panels, and sewed the neck mostly closed, leaving a hole right at the top for easy filling.
The bottom was slightly more challenging, because my body is not a circle! It's a weird oblong blob that is vaguely elliptical. What I ended up doing was measuring my hip circumference (50 inches), then measuring across the front from hip to hip (which was about 18 inches), then I figured out that would be a minimum space of a rectangle with 2 sides at 18 inches, and 2 sides at 7 inches. Then I drew that on some pattern paper (wrapping paper is a good cheaper alternative) and then cut an ellipsis out of fabric that was larger than that rectangle.
Then I sewed the bottom to the dress form until it looked right. I kind of eyeballed it. I tacked it on by hand, and then when I thought it looked close, I went back around the edge with a serger to close it up.
Step 3: Stuff It!
Then when you have a deflated-human-shaped bag, you can fill it with stuffing! I used bean bag stuffing for most of it, because it's a lot lighter than batting, and I got a beanbag at the thrift store for $2, and you can't beat that price.
Warning: Bean bag stuffing can ruin your life.
We will be finding tiny styrofoam balls in the nooks and crannies of our house for the next decade, I think. This is because I wasn't cautious about cutting the bag open and transferring the contents. If I could go back in time, I would have used more care in transferring these little static-y monsters. The way I did it was that I scooped them out with a plastic cup and dumped them into the dress form until it was full. Bean bag stuffing compresses quite a bit, so to add stability, I finished the stuffing with pillowfill batting. I smashed stuffing into the bean bag stuffed form until I had the density that I liked.
Then I sewed the neck hole closed.
Step 4: A Solid Base
To create a firm base, and anchor the dress form to something more stable, I decided to put a wooden base on it. I was hoping to have a portable table-top dress form, so this can be adjusted for your needs. If you wanted to mount this on a stand of some kind, you might want to have some other kind of base. I traced the outline of the bottom of my stuffed dress form onto wood, and used my handy jigsaw to cut the wood piece. Then I took some quilted upholstery fabric that I decided to use for the outer covering, and stretched it around the wood. I got the quilted upholstery fabric from an ikea couch slip cover that I got at the thrift store for $3.99. Obviously, I'm into repurposing things. The nice part about it is that it's got a padded backing that is perfect for sticking pins into.
I hand sewed this stretched around the wood oval using this nice yellow cord. I don't know where I got it, nor what it's called. It's like the consistency of braided embroidery floss, and came on a big spool. It is thin enough to thread through an upholstery needle, which I used for hand sewing with it, and it has great tensile strength. It's probably an embroidery floss of some variety. If you were ordering this online, I'd look for a big spool of braided floss.
Then, I sewed the outer edge of the bottom of the stuffed dress form to the padding on the wooden base!
Step 5: Final Fitting
Now that I had a somewhat blob-like stuffed version of my torso (be prepared to be creeped out by this), I was ready to test it on some of my clothes. I took some of my more fitted clothes and put them on the dress form, and checked the fit! I immediately noticed problems, so I used more of that floss and just tucked in various areas. It made the boob area more defined, and fixed some hip problems with the form. I just kept nipping and tucking until I put a shirt on it, and freaked my husband out, because it looked just like me.
Then, you're ready to finish it!
Step 6: Cover
Once I had a shape that was correct, I used the same pattern I used originally to cut out overlay pieces from the upholstery fabric, and sewed essentially a slip cover! For this process, I laid the pieces over the form before sewing together to make sure the fit was correct, then I stitched it all up, and slipped it over the top. Then I turned the bottom edge, and sewed the slip cover to the bottom as shown above.
When I put this together, I put a pole in the middle of it. It's hard to see in the pictures, but it was just a wooden dowel sticking out of the top. I ended up removing it, because it turned out to not be super useful, and I added a fabric handle to the top for easy toting.
Then you're done!
Step 7: Possible Modifications:
Some people like having a little bit of leg below the torso, so that might be something to develop. Some people also like having a little bit of an arm nub to shape shoulders around. I mostly need dress forms for bust draping, so I fit this to my preferences. But using this strategy, you could pretty much make any 3-D body shape you want!