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Some time ago I saw a post on the Australian Sewing Guild’s Facebook page about a pattern for a do it yourself dress form which was available from Bootstrap Fashions. A few weeks later another member wrote a review of her experience making the form, and that decided me to have a go myself. And here is the result!

do it yourself dress form

Meet Myrtle!

Bootstrap Fashions have a website where you can order patterns for clothing customised to your own measurements, and they also offer a pattern and instructions for making a dress form. The site is very easy to use, although obviously a certain amount of honesty and realism is required. It’s no good putting in the measurements you would like to be, the result won’t be very useful! At an ASG workshop earlier this year we all took honest and accurate measurements, working in pairs, and I used those to create my pattern. There are other questions, such as how upright your posture is, how flat your bottom is, etc.with a little drawing of each one, and you pick one from each category. The pattern is generated, and sent to you as a pdf.

I know some people have a horror of printing multiple page pdf patterns, sticking them all together and cutting out the pieces, but I didn’t find it too bad. Because the pattern pieces are relatively small, (there is no ease), my pattern was only 21 pages of A4, and I didn’t find it too hard. You can order a version for a print shop though.

I had the blue and white check fabric in my stash, I think I was given it at some point, and I was unlikely to make a garment out of it, so I thought it would be a nice change to use it instead of the more conventional calico. The checks make it easy to see vertical and horizontal grainlines, although I could have been a little more accurate in cutting out, some checks don’t match very well. Because the fabric was quite a loose weave I decided to stabilise it with iron on interfacing, and that took some time. An ironing press would speed up the process, but I don’t use fusible interfacing much so that’s not top of my wish list.

Cutting out and stitching together was pretty easy, the stitching lines all matched well, and it was exciting to see Myrtle start to take shape. I had thought I would need to sew in the armhole and neck pieces by hand, but they went together by machine quite simply.

The pattern is designed to have a sleeve of fabric up the middle, which you slide a PVC pipe into, and then use the pipe to stand the form on some kind of support. Possibly the bottom of an office chair, the base of a pedestal fan, or you could make your own support from timber. In my case I already had a very old and battered adjustable dress form, so I just used the pattern to make a new cover for the form, and added padding where required. I used an old T shirt to cover the form first, so that all the padding I was going to add didn’t just fall into the hollow space inside the original form. I cut a piece of thin plywood to shape for the base, and made a hole in the middle for the support.

Because I wasn’t following the pattern exactly I improvised a little with the construction. I wanted to put the base in, so that I had something to stop the stuffing falling out of the bottom, but I had already stitched up all the other seams. In the end I put the cover on the old form, and added the base, hand stitching it to the cover. That meant I had to undo some bits of the seams I had already stitched in order to get the stuffing in, next time I might try to figure out a different way of doing this part.

I stuffed until I felt the form was sufficiently full, but not overstuffed. I kept checking her measurements against mine, and tried to get a realistic shape. Then I just stitched up the seams I had undone. I made a small pincushion in the same fabric, and added a magnetic bag fastener to the top of Myrtle’s neck, and a curtain weight in the pincushion, so that it sits there ready to use. Since I used the ready made dress form as a base, her height is adjustable, which will be useful for skirt and dress hems.

pincushion on top of dress form

Pincushion ready for use

All told, I am very pleased with the way Myrtle turned out (the name just came into my head, but maybe I was subconsciously aware of Kate Winslett’s character in The Dressmaker). I have already used her to drape a pattern for a very simple cotton top (another post to come!), and although I have not really done any pattern draping before I think that now I have a realistic dress form there are endless possibilities!

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