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I Made a DIY Dress Form Using Bootstrap Fashion’s Pattern

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An advertisement for "My Double" dress form featuring a female model, illustrations of the product, and text detailing its adjustable features and benefits for improving dressmaking accuracy—your very own DIY dress form.

Growing up in the 1960s, I was fascinated by a lifesize chain link object in my great-grandmother’s bedroom: a My Double dress form. My Grandma Daisy was an amazing sewist who had taught many young women how to sew in her farming community. As I got older and ventured into the land of fashion sewing, I simply assumed that having your own custom dress form was an essential tool to avoid the “loving hands made at home” look (do people still use that phrase to describe ill-fitting and poorly constructed garments?).

In my video on the Modern Retro Woman YouTube channel, I dive into the details of why making our own DIY dress form isn’t just a project, it’s essential for those of us who love the intricate details and tailored fit of mid-century styles. I share with you both my successes and, shall we say, “misadventures” from my personal experiences creating everything from a paper tape dress form, a duct tape form, a diy paper mache dress form, and even one from plaster! I’ll share some of the highlights and extra details here but I encourage you to watch the video above so that you can see me actually sewing up the Bootstrap Fashion DIY dress form.

Note: This is NOT a DIY dress form tutorial kind of video. I share my experience with making dress forms in the past and give my review of the Bootstrap Fashion pattern while making a new dress form for my personal use.

A group of people work in the Dior sewing room filled with mannequins, clothing, and sewing machines seen through a large window.

House of Dior atelier, circa 1948, image source: National Gallery of Victoria, The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture Exhibition

Why a Dress Form?

For women like us who love and want to recreate the elegance of mid-20th-century fashion, having a dress form is a game changer. Creating a garment using sewing patterns from the mid-20th century requires more than just passion; it demands precision to ensure it fits our own body and adds that touch of elegance that elevates homemade garments to imbue an aura of magnificence. 

Christian Dior, a name synonymous with timeless sophistication, understood this well. He employed custom dress forms for each of his clients.  Since the measurements and stance were identical to the clients they could create custom patterns that ensured the couture garments looked great on the clients–regardless of their body shape–ensuring that every garment was tailored to perfection.

One major thing that separates couture and ready-to-wear clothing is that couture expects the garment to fit the body of the client. Whereas ready-to-wear expects the body to fit the garment. The fit of the garment really makes a difference. It’s easy to feel confident when clothes fit like a glove–not too big, not too tight. But just right.

Much like Dior, who meticulously crafted each piece to fit his clients flawlessly, using a dress form allows us to achieve a higher level of craftsmanship. This tool not only enhances the fit and finish of our creations but also imbues them with the same feminine elegance that characterized Dior’s legendary designs.

A Case for Customization

While researching DIY dress forms for my YouTube video project, I was shocked that there is a debate over the necessity of even having a dress form, let alone one replicating one’s own body measurements. The sewing influencers on the “don’t need a dress form” side of things argue that, unless they are engaging in pattern drafting, home sewists don’t need a dress form and that trying on a garment and checking the fit using mirrors works just fine.

But, here’s the thing: the moment you twist to pin or mark the garment, the fit becomes distorted.

As a woman who is embracing an aura of magnificence by living like my grandmother in a modern world, I am aligning myself with our midcentury mentor Gertrude Strickland’s wisdom in her 1956 guidebook, A Tailoring Manual:

​Because it is difficult for a person for a person to fit herself, and a fitter is not always available, a dress form the exact duplicate of one’s figure is almost essential.

In other words, a customized dress form is a great help when we want to level up our sewing game. While a commercial adjustable dress form that you can buy from the fabric store is helpful, it can only approximate your individual body form. Professional dress forms (the kind with the collapsible shoulders) are based on an idealized figure. In order to get them to replicate your unique figure, you’ll need to add padding and then use special dress form covers. I know I’m biased but that seems expensive and like a lot of work when it is easy to make your own and your finished dress form is an exact (or mostly exact) replica of you.

DIY Dress Form Adventures: The Good, the Bad, and the Quirky

Creating your own dress form is not only cost-effective but it is also immensely satisfying. Over the years, The Mister–a professional sculptor–has helped me make a variety of dress forms.

Duct Tape Double

The first was when I saw an article in Threads Magazine on how to make my own duct tape dress form.  I think that “duct tape doubles” are the easiest and take very little time to make. They are also the easiest way to transition between different sizes if you’re on a weight loss program or toning your muscles. That said, unless you use a cover, your pins will end up getting sticky from the glue. Pro tip: Most instructions tell you to use an upside-down hanger stuck into a cardboard tube or PVC pipe slipped over a microphone stand to support the shoulders. I have found that using an IV stand is perfect and just the right size.  

With an IV stand, the shoulders sit on the brackets that usually hold the medication bags plus it has wheels so that you can roll it around your sewing space.

Plaster Mould Dress Form

Our next adventure involved Plaster of Paris strips. One of my husband’s colleagues used plaster to make a mould that she filled with expanding foam to create dress forms for her clients. She gave The Mister a photocopy of a photocopy of instructions on how to make a dress form this way. My husband was in his element since he makes moulds for his sculptures all of the time. After wrapping me up in plastic wrap, he encased me in the plaster strips and then cut me out when it was dry enough. When it was completely dry, he decided that he had made a mistake because my shoulders weren’t even and other “imperfections.”  So he “fixed” it because in his mind I was a goddess with a perfect figure (and that, my dear friends, is why we’re closing in on 45 years together on our shared life journey!). I felt so bad when I had to let him know that I needed those imperfections to help me make adjustments.

Paper Tape Form v. Papier Mache Form

I continued using duct tape dress forms on my sewing journey until I came across another article in Threads magazine that suggested paper tape forms instead of duct tape. What I like about the paper tape dress form is that it goes together easily, it is sturdier than its duct tape version, and you can pin into it without your pins getting sticky from the glue.  The only downside is that you must moisten the glue and wait for it to dry before you can be cut out of it. (By the way, here is a USDA Extension Services booklet from 1922 on how to make a paper tape dress form: The Paper Dress Form )

This leads me to our disastrous experiment: Using strips of newsprint to make a papier mache dress form. It’s been so long ago that I can’t remember why we decided it would be a good idea. I wore an old t-shirt, and The Mister wrapped me in Saran wrap before he began applying the newsprint strips moistened with liquid starch. It was a drippy mess. Thank goodness we had put a tarp down on the kitchen floor! After I was wrapped up, we waited for it to dry. And waited. And waited. And waited. He then walked out the door without saying anything. I had no idea why he’d left. He returned after what seemed like an eternity with his high-powered blow dryer. But, alas, the paper started splitting apart by that time because I have this nasty habit of wanting to, you know, breathe. Even though it wasn’t completely dry, he cut it off of me. He tried to create an armature to retain its shape as it dried but it eventually collapsed. And that was that.

My Latest Project: Bootstrap Fashion’s Custom Dress Form

Sadly, both of my in-laws passed away during the pandemic due to Alzheimer’s. We decided to move back to California and are currently living in my husband’s childhood home while we empty it and make repairs to it in preparation for selling it (my husband is the executor of the estate). What that means for me is that all of my sewing stuff, except for my sewing machine and cabinet, is in storage. I thought I could get away with not having my dress form handy but…it turns out that I am a perfect example of what Gertrude Strickland was talking about when she said it’s difficult to fit oneself. 

Because The Mister is working like a mad dog, I didn’t want to bother him so I started looking for other dress form options on Etsy. And, lo and behold, Bootstrap Fashion offers a custom pattern made to your measurements. They offer standard sizes but because I’m curvy, I opted to buy the custom version. The process was easy, I received a voucher and then went to their website and entered the information. A short time later, the pattern was in my email inbox.

The Verdict

As you’ll see in the video, the Bootstrap Fashion dress form is fairly easy to make even though I encountered several hiccups in the process which meant that it took me much longer than I expected to make it. But, generally speaking, I’m pleased with the results. The measurements and shape resemble my shape. And I absolutely love that I can pin into it and roll it around because I used a Dritz dress form replacement base instead of a coat rack. Now that I know what I’m doing (such as the advantage of using the A0 option instead of the pattern tiling option and not using such heavy weight canvas), I think the next time I make it, it will go much quicker (we’ll revisit this when we move into our own home and I have a sewing room again!).

Your Turn

Do you use a dress form to take your vintage sewing projects to the next level? I encourage you to watch my video (the player is at the top of this post) where I share my personal experience using the Bootstrap Fashion dress form pattern and let me know if you’ve encountered the same or other “hiccups” and what you did to overcome them.

Also, I’d love to hear about your own experiences and any tips you might have for making a dress form. Share your thoughts in the comments below and let’s inspire each other on this journey to creating magnificent vintage-inspired wardrobes!

Until next time, have a fabulous Technicolor day!

More about the MRW YouTube Channel

The Modern Retro Woman YouTube channel is a community for women who have a deep affection for vintage-inspired sewing. I strongly believe every woman should feel fabulous in her clothes, regardless of age. With videos focusing on pattern drafting and sewing techniques, the channel is your go-to resource to help you build a wardrobe rich in timeless elegance for every season of your life. Embrace the joy of sewing, embody the charm of vintage fashion, and always feel fabulous.

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  1. Loved the section on DIY dress form adventures, Dr. Julie-Ann! I tried the duct tape method before and ended up more entangled than a yarn ball. Might give the plaster mould a go next, seems less sticky haha. Any tips for a smooth finish?

  2. For a smooth finish, make sure to sand it gently after it’s completely dried. Also, applying a thin coat of sealant can help prevent chipping. Good luck!

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