Do you want to learn how to using a dress form?
This tool is often used by professional seamstresses and couture houses. However, that doesn’t mean that a beginner cannot learn how to use it! In fact, a dress form is a good tool for a beginner seamstress or tailor to simplify patternmaking and the actual dressmaking process.
So now, we’ll walk you through the basics of the using a dress form. We’ll define what it is, how it’s used, and why should you consider getting one for yourself.
What is a Dress Form?
A dress form is a three-dimensional model of a human torso. It is used during dress designing and sewing processes for fitting patterns and clothes.
The dress form serves as a model where you can check the drape and fit of clothes and see how it’ll appear on a real human body. You can also make garment alterations and adjustments on a dress form as necessary.
A dress form contains a layer of foam at the top of its inner shell. It is then topped with another layer of cloth, typically jersey. These soft materials allow you to stick pins on fabrics you drape onto the form.
Dress forms are manufactured in a way that closely resembles realistic body proportions. Modern dress forms even have dials that allow you to customize proportions and measurements on the hips, waist, bust, front, back, and sides.
However, not all dress forms can truly be a replica of you or your clients’ body shapes. Hence, you can typically add pads to a form to reflect your body shape (or your client’s) more accurately.
Dress forms come in both female and male forms. Female forms are colloquially termed as Judy, while male forms are known as James.
Why Get a Dress Form?
There are several advantages to using a dress form, and we’ll enumerate them here:
1. It can be used for multiple garment-making activities.
You can do a plethora of things on a dress form, such as:
- Check the fabric’s drape
- Mark even hems
- Check the position of lapels and collars
- Position and pin sleeves accurately
- Add embellishments such as lace, ribbons, appliques, or trims on your garment
- Fit patterns
- Drape fabrics together to style an outfit
- Fit pants or trousers
2. It lets you easily take measurements.
Dress forms are good tools to aid in taking body measurements. You can use a form to take measurements of the:
- Back waist length
- Skirt length
- Pants or trousers length
3. It makes adjustments and alterations easier.
Most modern dress forms come with adjusters such as dials and wheel systems. These adjusters will guide you in making the necessary adjustments and alterations that would be quite difficult to do otherwise.
It can be tricky to learn how to use a dress form in alterations, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll greatly simplify the garment alteration process.
4. It is useful in checking the garment fit.
Sometimes, you need to see how your garment hangs even when you’re not yet fully done piecing it together on a sewing machine. And your clients may not always be around for such instances.
Hence, dress forms make it easier for you to check your garment’s fit as you progress in your sewing project. It’s a good tool to use in-between client fittings.
5. Lets you create garment patterns.
Dress forms are also used in patternmaking. There’s a French technique called moulage where you directly drape the fabric on the dress form to create a garment silhouette. Then, the pattern is transferred to paper based on how the fabric hangs.
Moulage pattern making is a good alternative to the typical flat pattern making. Doing a moulage on the dress form allows you to experiment with different dress shapes and ideas before you settle in constructing one garment style.
6. Showcasing your finished garment.
You can use your dress form to showcase your finished apparel to clients. Some dressmakers love the classic and elegant look of dress forms and how their garments drape and fall on it. Hence, they choose dress forms over mannequins in advertising their newly-created clothes.
Now, all these advantages of using dress forms can equally be applied to both amateurs and professional dressmakers.
How is a Dress Form Used?
Dress forms can be used by all seamstresses and tailors, whether you’re a DIY beginner, a hobbyist, or an experienced one. However, the most common assumption is that the dress form is reserved for professional use only. Not at all!
Here, we’ve outlined a few steps for you to quickly learn how to using a dress form
properly. It’s not as complicated as you think!
1. Select your dress form.
Choose from a wide variety of dress forms on the market. You can get a standard or adjustable dress form, depending on your needs.
The foremost consideration in selecting your dress form is getting one with proportions closest to your body. Measure yourself thoroughly first, paying special attention to the back neck to waist measurement as well as your bust apex position.
After that, choose a form that has equal proportions as yours. If that’s not possible, select a form that’s smaller than your size. After all, you can always add pads to your foam as necessary to change the body shape and proportions accordingly.
Amazon carries a wide selection of budget-friendly yet superb dress forms. You may also ask around your sewing community and get their insights on where to buy the best dress forms for you.
2. Gather your tools.
Prepare your dress form and a few other tools such as the following:
- Measuring tape
- Cord or bias tape
- Tracing wheel
- Padding material such as foam, fleece, thick fabrics, or batting
- Pattern paper
- Transfer paper
- Marker pen
- Draping fabric (typically muslin or calico fabric)
These basic tools are enough to get started on patternmaking with a dress form.
3. Pad your dress form.
The key to how to use a dress form properly is to pad it to fit your body or your client’s body dimensions. It’s because getting a form that’s exactly tailored to your body shape is almost impossible.
Pad your dress form in the areas that aren’t up to your measurements. You can pad the shoulders, bust, hips, and waist areas as necessary.
4. Mark your pattern lines on the form.
After padding, you may now proceed to sketch a garment pattern on the form itself. This pattern will serve as a template in creating the final garment pattern.
Use a cord or bias tape for marking the seams and hems of your garment. Make sure that the tape lies flat on the dress form with no twists anywhere.
Note that you need to pin down cords or bias tapes only on one side if your pattern is symmetrical. If you’re doing an asymmetrical garment, go ahead and pin down cords on both sides of the dress form.
5. Start draping the fabric onto the form.
Take your muslin or calico fabric and drape it onto the form. Pin your fabric down flatly against the dress form. You can pin above the bias lines and sketches you created earlier.
Then, cut the fabric along the bias lines. Allow for a 5cm excess to serve as extra seam allowances for the arms and neck hole areas.
After trimming the fabric, you may now trace the pattern onto the muslin or calico fabric using your marker. Dot along the pattern lines and use a notch to mark major points such as intersections. Now, a notch is a tick mark to be clipped after the pattern is cut. Notches allow you to match two pattern pieces in the proper places.
6. Fit the pieces for the first draft of your design.
Remove your pieces from the dress form. Then, trim them to their required seam allowance (on top of the extra 5cm allowance earlier). Baste them together to create the first draft of your garment design. After that, try out your garment and see how it fits you.
Your first fit may not be perfect, but don’t be discouraged by this! Patternmaking is a continuous process of making changes until you get it right. Hence, not getting your pattern right the first time is completely common and normal.
After this, take note of the alterations you need to do for the next round of fitting.
7. Make the required alterations.
Now it’s time to make your garment’s alterations. Take your first pattern draft and take it apart. Then, use it to create a new set of pieces with all the changes you’ve placed. You may also redo your draping process and create your altered set of garment pieces from it.
These considerations will make altering your garment pieces easier:
- Ensure that your fabric sits tightly against the dress form during your draping. Also, make sure that your fabric is in its correct place before adding markings or trimming it.
- Align the curves where they are supposed to be. Make sure the bust apex, hips, waist areas, and other pertinent areas are aligned well. It’s harder to adjust bust curves than to contract or extend straps.
- Take note of all changes you make on each iteration. This helps you avoid duplicating changes and allows you to see which alterations worked well for the garment.
- Assess which pieces are too big. Alter them by pinning and trimming them to the proper sizes.
- Note that your dress forms don’t compare to real humans. Body movements that may impact your garments can’t be seen when using a dress form, so consider that when fitting and altering your garment.
You may need to alter a few more times until you get the right fit for you.
8. Draft and cut your paper pattern.
After doing your final round of fittings and being satisfied with the garment fit, it’s time to transfer your pattern to paper.
Take apart your calico or muslin pattern. Then, prepare your pattern paper and add a layer of tracing paper with its face down. Lay each pattern piece down, then use your tracing wheel to trace around the outside of the pieces. Dotted lines will appear on your pattern paper as a result.
After that, smooth out the pattern lines by connecting the dots around your pattern pieces. You can use a dress curve for more accuracy. Also, you can add seam allowances if required as you draw the pattern pieces.
Finally, cut your drawn pattern and add it to your patterns collection!
Now you know how to use a dress form in making custom-fitted patterns! We’ve given you 8 simple steps in how your dress form is effectively used in creating garment patterns easily.
Dress forms are tools meant to simplify the dressmaking process. Forms are not just seen in a fashion magazine and on famous couture houses, but they’re great tools for dressmakers of all levels!
Note that you’ll need a couple of tries to get comfortable creating patterns by draping on a dress form. But your efforts will surely be worth it!