Bit of a backstory before we begin. I enjoy up-cycling and making my own clothes when I have time, but I've had plenty of mishaps in making my own pattern pieces and ending up with garments not fitting right or not having the shape or cut I originally had in mind. Draping is a technique that is used to solve this problem which involves making pattern pieces with scrap fabric laid onto a dress form. However, buying a pre-made dress form was a bit difficult and quite expensive, so in order to save a bit of money, I decided to make my own.
If you like sewing and don't think buying a dress form is worth the price or you have a hard time finding one that matches your shape and size, this is a project for you.
This projects takes a lot of patience. The sewing skills required are low to average in terms of using a machine and familiarity with stitches. But it does require a lot of mental awareness when it comes to the pattern pieces used and the way the pieces are sewn together.
This project may take a lot of time depending on your skill level so don't get frustrated if progress seems slow. It took me a couple of weeks to actually finish this as I could only sew for a few hours a week. I don't have an exact estimate but again, it will have to depend on your pace.
I tried my best to be as detailed and clear as possible with the steps but I'm sorry if it gets confusing! There's only so much I can explain through text.
I also had to break it down into major steps (which means they include a bunch of smaller steps within) so all the photos corresponding to a set of steps will be above. They are more or less in order with the explanations so I hope you'll be able to follow.
Step 1: Materials
- Duct tape or packaging tape -- around 2 rolls at least
- Cling/Saran wrap -- enough to cover your torso
- Clear tape
- Fabric chalk
- Illustration board (or anything stiff enough to hold the shape for the base)
- Thread matching to fabric/zipper used
- Thread *contrasting color to tape used
- *Any kind of paper to make pattern pieces
- Non-stretch fabric (I used Katrina fabric but I suggest something stiffer) -- 1 to 1 1/2 yards
- Invisible zipper -- any length, preferably matches color of fabric
- Polyester stuffing -- 1 to 1 1/2 kg
- Pins, a lot of them
- Scissors, for fabric, paper, and tape (if you care to not use the same)
- Sewing Machine (you'll only need the straight stitch and maybe back stitch)
- *Zipper foot (this will make life a lot easier but I did without)
- Stand or base for the dress form (I made my own, I'll include how I did it in the end)
*Optional, but will make things easier
Step 2: Making the Duct Tape Form
Typically, if you were to search up how to make your own dress form, this is the most common method that would pop up. I'll explain the steps here, but feel free to look up a video on YouTube so you can get a more visual understanding.
First off, you should have a base, which is essentially anything that hugs your torso shape that is safe to put the tape on and can be cut open. People usually use a fitting long t-shirt that they were willing to cut up. I used cling wrap.
I had my roommate wrap me in saran wrap. After being fully covered in plastic, she then wrapped me in duct tape using small pieces at a time until I was fully covered to the shape I want my dress form to be in.
When wrapping a curved surface with something straight and flat like duct tape, it's best to work with small sections at a time. There is also a recommended sequence for taping to make sure certain parts of the body don't get flattened out by wrapping it. I'll be listing them down here but a lot of the YouTube tutorials say the same.
- You should first start with a piece all the way across the center of the chest just below the bust line. This should be a piece that goes all the way around to the back and meets the other end on the other side.
- Then you should create an 'X' like shape across the chest (between the boobs). The ends of the two pieces should start at the first strip created and end at the shoulder and continue down with a new piece, touching up with the same strip in the back.
- From that X, you should work your way outwards adding more diagonal strips along the edge of the previous ones covering the boob areas until the top ends reach the end of the shoulders. Do this for the front and back
- Then small sections can be laid down across starting at the base of the armpit going down just to ensure everything in the top portion is covered.
- From here, start working downwards adding one horizontal strip at a time to the front and back separately until the entire torso down until the peak of the butt is covered.
Once you're done taping and you're satisfied with how covered it all is and the shape, get someone's help to cut you out of the form with a straight line down along the center of the back side.
Step 3: Stuffing the Tape Dress Form
Using the polyester stuffing, start filling up the duct tape dress form.
When it starts to hold shape (but isn't stiff yet) cover the arm and neck holes with a small square of plastic and tape over to close them off without sticking to any of the stuffing.
Fill it up even more until it's at a desired shape then put it on top of some illustration board or cardboard to trace out the shape of the base. Add a hole in the center of the base big enough for your pipe/stand to go through.
Cut this out and fit it into the bottom of the dress form to hold all the stuffing inside and lightly tape it closed.
Place this temporary duct taped dress form onto your stand and move on to the next step.
Step 4: Marking the Tape Dress Form
Get some colored thread and clear tape (preferably with a dispenser).
Start off by creating a straight line that cuts vertically through the entire dress form, back and front.
The reason why using a thread and tape method is better than just getting a marker and drawing it on is because this way is more ensured to maintain straight and smooth lines. With thread, it's easy to tape down from one point to another and slowly tug to make the thread climb over the curves of the surface of the tape.
After the center line, make horizontal lines going all the way around, making sure the ends meet up and align. Start at around the waist area or lower bust line and go down from there, creating new lines every few inches.
The goal is to come out with small pieces that would all lay flat without losing shape because those pattern pieces, especially if they were from very curved areas, they'll end up with curved edges instead that when put together, will form the round curves in 3D. This is also why it's important that you use non-stretch fabric.
Continue creating marks until you think all the pieces would individually lay flat.
Tips: When working around the bust and other center/pointed portions, work with triangular shapes.
Also make sure that when you're taping down the thread, tape all of it down and don't leave any portions clear of tape because you might lose the marking when you're cutting it up.
When you're satisfied with pieces, mark the pieces with a marker but only numbering one side and reflecting those numbers on the other for reference.
Step 5: Making the Pattern Pieces
Un-tape the base of the dress form and remove the stuffing, and keep those for later.
Start by cutting the dress form in half along the first center line used, all the way from front to back.
Choose the side you prefer to use as pattern pieces (because they're probably not exactly alike) and one of them is probably more cleanly marked than the other.
Cut up your chosen side and keep the uncut side for referencing later when we start sewing.
Using the cut up tape parts, trace them onto paper and label them with the same orientation as the original tape pieces (because some pieces' orientations will be hard to tell apart).This step is optional but I did it to create cleaner shapes.
And with the paper pattern pieces, trace them onto your non-stretch cloth twice, once with your label facing up and one reflected so label facing down. Label them with the same orientation in terms of up and down and add a small indicator for the reflected piece (I put a subscript 'R').
When tracing onto the cloth, make sure there's enough space between pieces for seam allowance but mark the cloth directly against the pattern pieces. This is because you want the accurate measurements and shape of the original cut patterns but you need seam allowance to be able to sew along those marked lines. You can mark on the outline including seam allowance after tracing or just free hand cut since the allowance doesn't need to be uniform.
You can cut out the pieces as you go or mark them all down and cut them up.
Also trace an cut out the arm holes, taking one from the cut up duct tape form and making a pattern piece for it and reflecting it. Make sure to indicate the front, back, up, and down of the shape as it won't be a perfect circle.
For the neck, create a circle and a rectangle, whose width is around 4-5 cm or however long you want the neck portion to be. The circumference of the circle and length of the rectangle should be the same as the length of the rim of the top open edge of the dress form (both halved combined).
As for the base, trace the illustration board base onto cloth and cut out with seam allowance. Mark where the hole is and how large it is and cut out three cuts crossing each other at the center and ending at the end of the whole similar to an asterisk.
Step 6: Sewing It All Together
Here is the tedious yet simple part. Sew everything together.
Using the other uncut half of the tape dress form as a guide, start putting the pieces together.
Tip: I pin the pieces onto the duct tape form to keep them in place and not lose anything.
You want to be as accurate as you can when sewing pieces together. This can be done by being very meticulous about pinning your pieces together before sewing them.
Using two pieces, right sides (unmarked) together, pierce a pin through the corner of the marked shape in one and make sure it goes out through the corresponding corner on the other cloth. Before locking the pin in place, do the same to the other corner where you will be ending your seam. Then from the first pin (which is still just stabbed through so be careful) place another pin just a centimeter or so away along the line and make sure the pin aligns the bottom of the mark on both cloths (as that was the edge of the paper pattern). And lock it in by threading it with the pointy end inwards, keeping the pins horizontal relative to the direction of sewing.
When sewing the pieces together, try to sew along the inner edge of the line as much as possible. The pins could be kept in but be careful because if your sewing needle hits while sewing it could bend or snap (which happened to me like thrice). You could avoid this by removing the pin at the last possible minute as the needle is sewing towards it to make sure the top and bottom pieces don't move as you're sewing.
Sew together a few pieces at a time and then start to combine them, following the duct tape guide to make sure the orientations of the pieces are correct.
I worked on the two halves separately and each half by front and back portions before attaching them together. Don't sew the two halves together just yet to make attaching the arm hole covers easier.
Step 7: Sewing on the Hole Covers
This includes the arm holes, the neck, and the base.
While the two halves are still separate, sew in the two arm hole covers. Right sides on the inside, mark the top point of the hole cover and align it with the top seam at the shoulder portion.
Pin down the circle along the edge following the same technique in the previous step, aligning the inner edge of the chalk marks.
If it doesn't align perfectly when you get to the end (like you have a lot of extra of one piece versus the other) just readjust to space out the unevenness and it shouldn't be noticeable anymore.
Before attaching the neck and base, sew together the front portions of the two halves completely and sew a few centimeters of the bottom of the back. Sew on the rectangle for neck to the top edge and sew that down a few centimeters as well.
The neck hole cover and the base should then be attached in the same way as the arm holes, by first pinning a center point and slowly working around the entire thing and adjusting to make sure everything is aligned.
Step 8: Sewing on the Zipper
Sewing an invisible zipper can be quite confusing and tedious so I highly suggest watching an instructional video on this. I'll try to explain it as best I can through text but a video would really help.
To start off, open up your zipper and lay it down in the area you'll want it to be in.
Figure out the right side and wrong side of the zipper. The right side should be where it's smooth when the zipper is closed up.
Now you'll need to figure out how the cloth is supposed to attach to the zipper.
Normally, I would fold in a portion of the edge of the fabric (right side out) and align a closed portion of the zipper against the folded in bit so that they're matched up in the way that I would want them to be seen when sewn and closed.
Then pinch this keeping the raw edges of the fabric and zipper together as I open the zipper up so that the edges end up facing inward.
Pin this down and align the end of the other side of the zipper to the one pinned down so that they align correctly.
Then do the same fold, align, and hold method on the other side, and pin the zipper down.
With an invisible zipper, for them to be invisible, you want to sew as close to the teeth of the sewing machine as possible. A zipper foot for the machine usually has portion to hold the teeth up and the needle is calibrated to sew right beside it. If you don't have one, you'll just have to hold the teeth away from the needle as you're sewing. You won't be able to get it as close or as straight but it does the job needed.
You won't be able to sew all the way down the zipper because it has a stopper. This will be remedied when the rest of the bottom of the back will be sewn up and will cover the edges of the zipper.
Step 9: Stuffing the Dress Form
Place the illustration board cut out of the base at the bottom of the dress form.
Stuff the now cloth dress form with the same stuffing ensuring every part is filled right.
It's also good to regularly measure to make sure it has the right dimensions throughout.
In my case, I also had to insert the top part of my stand as I added a horizontal support to keep the weight of the dress form focused on the shoulders and not in the neck.
Once fully stuffed, it can be placed on the stand and used!
Step 10: Making the Stand
I made my own stand using PVC pipes and a wooden base.
I bought 3/4" thick PVC pipes and had it cut to 3 pieces, one near my shoulder height, and two the length of half my shoulder span.
I also got a T-joint for the pipes.
The wooden base was created with a CNC router, which cut up the wood according to my design.
I created a design for a 4-piece slotted base to form a pyramid like structure with a hole just large enough in the center to hold the PVC pipe. And a flat square base meant to hold it, with a groove for the pipe to fit into.
I created this design from scratch so if you want to make one yourself, feel free to modify it based on what you need or prefer.
Step 11: Assembly!
Put the dress form onto your stand and admire your hard work!
And when you're ready, grab your cloth and pins, and start draping!