You Should Make Yourself a Dress Form

DIY Dress Form

Why should you make yourself a dress form? It’s probably not news to you that off-the-rack clothing and tailored clothing are completely different beasts. Tailored clothing fits your body perfectly, and off-the-rack clothing fits…

Well, I’m sure it fits someone. I guess I can kind of say that it fits me, if I don’t mind this collar that’s too tight, and that collar that’s too loose, those sleeves that are too long, those other sleeves that are too short, that one waistband that gaps at the back, that other waistband that pinches just enough to give me a muffin top, etc.

Tailored Clothes Just Fit Better

It’s an open secret by now that one of the reasons why many people in the past looked absolutely amazing in their clothes is that those clothes were sewn to their own custom measurements by a trained expert, whether that expert was a professional in a shop or a home-sewist in their drawing room. It’s an even bigger testament to proper tailoring to realize that clothing looked so good even without the fabrics like jersey knit or spandex that we normally use for drape today.

I’m going to guess that I’m not alone in being disappointed with the way a lot of off-the-rack clothing fits me. I’m also going to guess that I’m not alone in often blaming my body for a poor fit, rather than blaming the real problem, which is, of course, the clothing itself.

Custom-Sewn Clothing Can Fit Your Taste

Custom-sewn clothing solves more issues than just my own negative body images, though. I have a teenager, and like many teenagers, this kid has very specific tastes. I’ve always encouraged her to develop her own aesthetic outside of mass-market consumerism, but not gonna lie–that was a LOT easier when she was a little kid with a body like a noodle and could wear any quality children’s clothing marketed for any gender, or have something sewn for her from a vintage T-shirt or pillowcase with just a couple of straight seams and some elastic.

The kid’s got a body image of her own, now, and as much as I, myself, don’t like to be disappointed with the clothing selection that “fits” me and how I look in it, I hate like poison to see those same feelings mirrored back at me from her. I also hate seeing her try to shop for school clothes but not find anything that she genuinely likes, and instead have to settle for clothes that reflect corporate marketing instead of her own self.

I’d much rather help my kid sew herself some clothes that fit her the way she likes and that reflect her own particularly unique tastes.

And that would apply even if my kid and I had those unicorn bodies that made off-the-rack clothes fit exactly right, and if the mass-market clothing offerings absolutely delighted us. Because those mass-market (poorly-fitting) clothes are also cheaply made using unsustainable materials and labor practices, and are of crap quality to keep you constantly trashing what you’ve got and buying something new.

A DIY Dress Form is the Solution

If you can sew at all, then, I highly recommend that you spend a couple of afternoons DIYing yourself a dress form to your specific measurements. It’s a little weird to have an exact model of your torso just standing there, yes, but I have found the ability to custom fit patterns to be quite remarkable. My much more creative kid loves the opportunity to go completely pattern-free and make up her clothing from scratch. It’s easier to alter designs to account for upcycled and thrifted fabrics, and it’s less worrisome to use high-quality organic fabrics when we know we’ll be happy with the finished fit.

Check out this dress form that my kid and I most recently made:

DIY Dress Form

We followed this 2007 tutorial from etsy, back before it had made its two-millionth sale and was still enough of an upstart to have a blog on Blogger. It’s an easy-as-pie walk-through, made even easier with an old Girl Scout T-shirt, a ton of balled-up newspaper for the stuffing, and almost all of the stash duct tape leftover from that time five years ago when my kids and I were obsessed with duct tape for a month. I do still carry that duct tape wallet, though!

Even though it’s not an eco-friendly material, I’ve found that a duct tape dress form works a lot better if it’s as stiff as possible, so this dress form contains an entire can of window sealant in with the newspaper. That plus all the duct tape means that this physical form isn’t, in itself, an environmental win, but its function certainly is!

That being said, if you can point me in the direction of a completely eco-friendly DIY dress form tutorial, please do so in the Comments with many, many thanks!

The dress form is functional with just duct tape as the outer layer, but the pins will be happier with a fabric shell over the top, whether that be a tight T-shirt or a wrapping of bandage gauze. This particular dress form doesn’t have that yet because the kid is too charmed by the gaudy, colorful duct tape. At some point she’ll probably get annoyed with it, though, and let me cover it properly. Until then, she’s happy as a clam with it, and busy with her fashion design hobby.

A DIY dress form lets you tailor your store-bought garments, alter patterns on the fly (particularly tricky vintage patterns with wonky-to-us measurements), and make custom clothes from scratch. Getting to watch your kid use hers to create an outfit from a band T-shirt, Goodwill cocktail dress, Halloween candy wrappers, and as much hot glue as thread is a happy bonus!

Written by Julie Finn

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now.

Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.

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