Thursday, December 20, 2007

Making a Dress Dummy to Fit You

I'm a sewer. I'm not one of those impressive Haute Couture sewers that create full Victorian regalia for ren-faires, but I regularly make my own Halloween costumes, skirts, tops and simple dresses when I can't find anything I really like. The problem is that commercial sewing patterns aren't really designed to fit fat people well, so I have to take a pattern, make it out of cheap material, check it for fit, pin it, cut it, put it back together, mark the changes and darts, then take it completely apart and use it as a pattern for the real piece of clothing. Usually, it's not worth the effort. I've looked at dress dummies, but the "plus size" dummies generally only go to a size 18 (which is about a real-world 10/12), and instead of actually being reflective of the plus size body they tend to just be the size 8 dress dummy with an extra panel to make a larger waist. The "breasts" are about a B cup at most. how the hell is anyone supposed to use one of these things to sew something for a real person!?

Oh, that's right. I forgot. Anyone over a size 12 should be wearing mu-mus to hide the dreaded fat. Since we're not allowed to wear fitted things, it doesn't matter how accurate the mannequin is. Heck, we could use a box. Or a roll of carpet. Same difference, right?

It seems ironic to me that fat people are so neglected in this area since so many of us DO make our own things, for want of anything good on the store racks. The big three pattern companies (McCall's, Buttericks, Simplicity) do carry plus size patterns, some even go to a size 32 (dress size about a 26) but many seem to be just blown-up versions of smaller patterns without the extra darting and shape required to really fit. There are a few independent sewers who sell their patterns online, but it's a chore to find the ones that aren't basic and shapeless (or horribly expensive). So generally a lot of patterns for fat people just end up looking pretty home-made. It's an education, really, since it makes me learn through trial-and-error about how to shape the fabric. The problem is that while thin people learn this, they have a dress dummy to practice on. I have to stand in front of a mirror and try not to stab myself with pins.

I've given up on a plus-size dress dummy that actually LOOKS like a real fat person (you know, like with actual breasts and hips?) and am playing around with ideas for making my own. My first thought was to get/make a sort of bodysuit that fit me snugly and stuff it, but the logistics are pretty crazy. I also thought of paper mache' or plaster, but as we all know, fat moves. My shape lying down waiting for the plaster to dry is NOT my shape standing up. Half of me migrates.

Damn you, gravity! I should have voted for velcro.

What didn't occur to me, until I thought to consult the great oracle of Google, was the magical and all-fixing powers of duct tape.

Then I found this site: Clone Yourself a Fitting Assistant

It has instructions on creating two different versions of a dress dummy out of duct tape that would serve as basically an exact replica of your body. Instead of shelling out $100 for a badly made barrel-like dress dummy, you can make a $20 one. If your weight fluctuates quite a bit, you can make several to represent each stage of your normal weight cycle. I have a friend I sew for regularly, and I can't WAIT to have a taping party with her so I can finally make stuff that fits her well.

One addition to the instructions on the website I'm going to try is that instead of stuffing the dummy with actual stuffing, I'll buy maybe three cans of Great Stuff expanding insulation foam from the hardware store. It's fairly cheap, expands to conform to the space, and dries pretty rigid. The instructions for the duct tape dummy state that it doesn't last forever with just stuffing. Since the bustline or breast outline is more horizontal, it doesn't stand up well to the pressure and starts to collapse. By filling it with rigid foam, I'm theorizing that it will stand up much longer. Not to mention reinforcing the somewhat horizontal areas of the Buddha belly.

I'm excited to try this, and will probably get together with friends after the holidays to work on it. Three girls, a pitcher of margaritas, and twelve rolls of duct tape. The guys will be so jealous :-)

According to the instructions you can use a heavy duty cardboard tube and set it in a christmas tree stand to make the mannequin upright. I think instead I'll get one of the big bamboo poles from Hobby Lobby and cut it down. It'll be more sturdy than cardboard. That way I can even make the dummy the right height as well as circumference. Holy crap on a cracker, I'll actually be able to make floor length skirts with even hems, so I can stop buying the dowdy ones in stores that hit me mid-calf!

It is a little frustrating getting geeked on a new project when I have no time to work on it. I have to make two kimono and a quilted wall hanging before Sunday. I have to sacrifice every other project. Including my dishes and laundry. Boy won't that be fun to come home to!


Lindsay said...

I would recommend starting at the top and working your way down; i didn't check for instructions, but the picture on the dummy #1 seemed to imply that you start at the bottom and work your way up.

Starting at the bottom may push weight up, as opposed to letting it be where it is naturally. Starting from the top allows you to wrap it a bit more snugly, thus giving you a more accurate measurement in the end - otherwise the tape itself may increase the size of the dummy.

One of the problems with this is that the underlying material tends to gather at the waist - causing the end result to be off by as much as 3-5 inches. This can be overcome by using a more form-fitting thing than a plain t-shirt.

I'm pretty sure i saw some good pictures and instructions on, but of course i can't find them now. :P

Also: some people are allergic to the adhesive in duct tape, so be careful with that.

Anonymous said...

I've made one.

advice - don't use the duct tape as the outer -- use it to make a pattern for a cover made of trigger, duck or canvas.

The expanding foam seemed to have a chemical reaction with the duct tape, degrading them both (and yielding an unpleasant and probably toxic smell) in a do-over, I'd start by filling the cavity with large firm foam blocks, them medium foam blocks, then I might use blow in foam, or I might just stuff until firm with poly stuffing. It will take a LOT more stuffing than you think.

JoGeek said...

Good tips, both of you, thanks for your help! I might try the instructions with the paper tape instead, maybe it will work better with the spray foam. I'm mainly concerned with the cost of the stuffing, as at some point it becomes more expensive than a commercial dress dummy. If it's necessary, then so be it. It'll still be a better fitting guide than the silly plus size mannequins.

Queen B said...

I read the first line as "I'm a sewer"... as in, a garbage dump... and was about to protest... when I read the second sentence... DOH!

I wish I could sew or was crafty at all! I just make a big mess of yarn... like a cat...

JoGeek said...

LOL! Well, my mind is often IN the sewer, so perhaps my Freudian slip is showing :-)

Amanda said...

There's also instructions for making a dress dummy out of paper packing tape here, which to me looks like it might have the advantages of paper mache and fewer of the disadvantages of duct tape. Compare and contrast!

vesta44 said...

I'm also a seamstress, and one of the things I've found that works well for me is to take apart items of clothing that fit well and have finally worn out. If I like the pattern of a blouse or top, I'll wear it to death and then take it apart and use it for a pattern to make more tops that I can wear out. Using the taken-apart top as a pattern means it lasts a lot longer than a paper pattern too.

Tanya said...

Man... that's something you don't even have to be heavy to face... I'm a size 4-8 (depending on how vanity the sizing and how big they make the thighs/boobs) and a D-DD. And I *literally* have to get button-down shirts custom-made in order to not look like I'm wearing my boyfriend's shirts or busting open. Someone forgot to tell designers that short doesn't necessarily mean slim-- or curveless.

Shawn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hey, how has this gone for you? I just made a duct tape dummy last fall. I finally started using it last week (yes, I am a member of Procrastinators "R" Us) and I am so happy with it. I used PVC tube shaped with joints into a letter T for the frame. I sewed lots of old comforter and sweatpants strips around the T armature until it was about my shape. Then I packed stuffing in to fill in any gaps. I even sewed breast and stomache shaped pockets on it to make sure the stufing stayed where I wanted it to be. I hope you do make yourself a dummy, they are so useful. I know the pain of repeated try ons when making a garment and my dummy has really helped me out.

Anonymous said...

I found a normal size dress form that was not is so good shape (found it at a garage sale) but I used it for the core of my form. I then purchased a fluffy coat from goodwill. I put the coat on the form then placed my duct tape form over all that and stuffed the "air pockets" with fiber fill. I think it just might work....