I think one of the things most people start wanting when they get serious about sewing is a good dress form. I know when I was in Uni I really wanted one, but they all seemed so expensive and i really didn’t know where to start looking! But I was really quite blessed, because my mother-in-law let me borrow her mother’s (Chris’ Grandmas) vintage adjustable dress form. It’s honestly a wonderful form – and to this day it’s one of my favourites that i’ve every used.
When we moved to the USA we came with pretty much nothing, so I was back at square one again – what to do about a dress form?! After being spoilt with using such a nice adjustable form, I was really quite devastated with the low quality and high price of pretty much every form i found. I actually tried a couple of different adjustable forms around the $100 mark – and was sorely disappointed with all of them. Anyway, since then I’ve used a couple of different forms for different functions, so I thought I’d give you a bit of run down of each, and my thoughts on them, as well as where you can get comparable ones, and what you can expect to pay. Please keep in mind this won’t be an exhaustive list – but i’ll do my best to put down everything i know.
Fair warning: dress forms are not cheap. Sorry to be the one to say it…
This is a Singer adjustable dress form.
The upside: It’s your cheapest option, and they’re pretty easy to find – you’ll see them in most sewing stores. Since it’s adjustable if you change sizes or like to sew for family or friends it’s quite convenient. Pretty much all of them are height adjustable & come with a hem length gauge.
The downside: In my personal opinion, (excuse my French) it’s a piece of crap. I hate it. It’s very light, wobbly, flimsy, and put together terrible. I find the proportions very odd – the difference between the waist and bust is so small that i find it never works well for me – plus the bust is something like an A cup which means it has to be padded to work well for a standard B cup. The only time I really used this form a lot was when i was making a few things for my sister in law, and working on my debut collection and couldn’t fit things on myself (i was 7 months pregnant). I honestly believe this form made the process frustrating. Also something that isn’t immediately apparent – most of these forms don’t have collapsable shoulders – this can make them useless towards the end of constructing some garments as you simple can’t get the garment off (or on) over the shoulders! Don’t get me wrong – they’re still useful, but its important to know the negative aspects as well when you’re considering buying something.
Where to buy:
- Amazon.com (probably the lowest shipping prices you’ll find)
- Allbrands.com (where i bought my Singer form)
- Almost any sewing store (big chains include Jo-Anns and Hancock fabrics in the USA. In Austalia i know they have them at Spotlight and Lincraft)
As a last note. I have been told that you can find adjustable dress forms of higher quality, but I have done a lot of research and honestly cannot find one. If you know of any brands that offer higher quality forms of an adjustable nature, please let me know as I’d love to include a link here so other sewers can find them.
I think it’s important to point out that a display form is different to a sewing form.
A sewing form typically has lots of padding so you can pin fabric to it, and also tends to have a very standard shape – much closer to real anatomy than a display form. A display form is simply created to make clothing look it’s best. They generally do not have a lot of padding (if any), the proportions tend to be odd, and the height is not adjustable. My display form has very wide shoulders compared to the hips and waist, and a rather pointy bust. When it arrived at my house I honestly freaked out because it looked so weird. I was upset. Until my husband convinced me just to try it. And honestly, i was blown away. It makes clothing look amazing. Having said that, I would not drape onto this form as it is not created for that purpose.
Where to buy:
A professional form is a very high quality form made for sewing that is created in a specific size. More care is taken when producing these – they are generally hand finished if not completely hand made, most come with collapsable shoulders, a more anatomically correct form than adjustable forms and other conveniences like skirt cages and easy height adjustment. You also have the choice of a half form (only extends to the mid thigh) or full forms which include legs and often arms. You can also buy additional fitting arms and maternity attachments etc. The option are quite endless.
I’ve seen a lot of people try and make duct tape or paper tape dress forms, and i have to be honest here – they always look like total disasters. Very lumpy and hard and i honestly can’t see how they would be helpful. It’s something I looked into in a moment of desperation when Chris and I were first married, and to be honest, I would much rather struggle through fitting a garment on myself than use this kind of form. the end.
But if you’d still like to give it a try, here are a few tutorials i found around the place.
- Threads Magazine – Clone yourself a fitting assistant
- Etsy Labs Archive – Dress form tutorial
- Prudent Baby – DIY Duct tape dress form
- Ancien Nouveau – Paper tape dress form
- Jezebel – How to make a custom dress form
Don’t underestimate fitting on yourself.
I think most people want dress forms for draping – but there are some (and i was one of them) who think that it will reduce how often you need to try things on yourself. So i just want to say this, please don’t underestimate the importance of fitting things on yourself, as well as on the dress form. No matter how accurately you try and replicate your own figure on a form, garments will always always sit differently on people. We are softer, our shoulders tend to slope, hips can be uneven heights – and those are just a few differences. I use dress forms a lot, but i always always test things out on myself and a fit model too. It’s a must.
- Try to find an old dress form someone is getting rid of – try craigslist, friends etc. I scored a vintage dress form from my neighbour because I happened to see her clearing out her garage one afternoon when i was going for a walk.
- Even though I do hate them, it might still be a good idea to start with a cheaper adjustable form in the beginning. I would try and get one on super sale if i was you – because i absolutely do not believe they are worth their price. I honestly think a professional form is the best best best option – but I think for a lot of people the cost won’t justify it. If you know you will be using it all the time, or have used other forms before – then i believe them to be worth the investment. But as a very first form for a beginner seamstress? Maybe not.