I spent very little time talking about the value of using a dress form. I guess I lost myself in the excitement of how simple and inexpensive making a custom one could be. So, I thought I would talk about what is so helpful about a dress form, especially one that reflects your body shape exactly.
Most of the time, you may imagine dress forms as being only for designers, or tailors, bridal shops, costumers and SERIOUS clothing makers. And, sometimes the price seems prohibitive, or you just don’t know what to do with it!
Dress forms are a great way to fit clothing, check the drape of the fabric, and try design ideas or alterations of someone else’s design. If you want to make the effort of sewing your own clothing worthwhile, time and energy need to be spent in checking the fit several times during the construction process. A knowledgeable sewing friend is necessary to truly help you fit the garment well to your body. They can pin the fabric to fit better, hang better, flatter your figure better.
Most of us are sewing at all times of the day or night. We may not have that friend available at 1:30am when it’s time to check the fit in the seat. We can contort ourselves trying to pinch and pin and adjust, but it is very hard to do on ourselves.
What if, you had a clone of yourself to stand there for hours, never complaining, never needing to take a bathroom break, willing to be there until all hours of the night? What if they always agreed on your choice of music? Let you stick pins in them? Too good to be true? Not anymore.
The idea of a custom dress form is nothing new. From what I have read, paper tape dress forms have been around since the 1930′s. I’m talking about ones made out of layers of paper packaging/mailing tape, which are done in a similar way to the duct tape forms that I am referring to below. That was a time when most women knew how to sew. Machines would be tucked inside a sewing cabinet which looked like a table. When I say that women knew how to sew, I mean, they really knew how to sew. The styles and details and difficult tailoring were commonplace. Think back to some to the styles and how well fit they were to the body. I love looking at designs in movies from the 1940′s. Back then, it wouldn’t be so hard to find someone to help you with your fitting, because so many of your friends shared the same skills and interests. Now, it may not be so easy.
I love how some item that was designed for one use is used in a completely different way that it was designed for. When I worked at a Sail Loft on Lake Superior, I had this boss named Rich Smith. He wasn’t one to talk a lot or shower one with compliments. Glowing praise from him might be “Good job, LW.” He never used my first name. It would always be Wirkkala or LW. But, I always felt my work was appreciated and that he understood when a job was “yucky” or a pain. (this is becoming a shaggy dog story….) Repairing sails is hard work. The floor becomes your work table. The sails are huge, you crawl around a lot, sometimes they are smelly from being wet or moldy. The sewing machine was built into the floor, actually, it was suspended from the ceiling of the boat shop downstairs. Rich said that he didn’t think I wanted to see what held me and the machine into the floor. The machine was in the floor so that the weight of the sail didn’t pull it away from the machine while sewing. I would have to sit sideways on a stool, to keep out of the way of the sail as it fed through the machine. Sometimes, another person would have to pull the sail while I was sewing so that it would run through the machine straight and steady. The machine was very powerful and would go through very thick material, as much as 1/2-3/4 inch thick. The needle would get so hot from the speed and friction that it would smoke. If the area was really thick, we would spray it with silicone, to make the needle slide through the layers better. Rich had a great sense of humor. He would tell us stories about sailboat racing. Often the funniest were of times when things didn’t go well.
To drum up business, we would go to the sailboat races locally and in Duluth, MN. One time, we went to Duluth for the Wednesday evening race. It’s light late in the summer, until 9:30pm. We arrived at Canal Park for the pre-race meeting. One of the things that happens at the meeting is that anyone who needs crew for their boat, puts out the call and people respond. Since there were 4 of us, we split up between boats. I was put with a small, 22 ft boat with a 3 man crew. Because I worked in a Sail Loft, the captain assumed that I knew how to sail. On the way to his boat, I confessed that I didn’t know anything about sailing except how to be movable ballast. He looked me up and down and said that he doubted that I would be much use in that case. (I was really skinny then and my weight moving from side to side wouldn’t be much help to the boat’s tilt in the water.) When a sail boat is tacking, it heels over, or leans to one side. Usually, in a brisk wind, the crew sits on the high side of the boat to help it not heel over too far and help increase the speed of the boat through the water. If the wind is really slow, the crew may sit on the low side for the same reason, different circumstance. Sometimes, the only job a crew member will have is “movable ballast,” meaning that all they do is switch sides of the boat as it tacks (turns.) Movable ballast is the job given to people who don’t know how to sail.
When we got to his boat and I discovered how small it was, I became nervous. There was barely enough room under the boom for me to crawl from one side of the boat to the other when we tacked, even less with a life jacket on. Yet, I wasn’t in a situation where I felt I could back out. I came to wish I had. There had been a storm on the lake the previous few days. So, even though it was clear, the waves had turned into rollers which were 8-10 feet high. Rollers don’t crest, they just go up and down. Any of you ocean-going people are probably laughing at me right now. I am a lake girl, and where we lived, the Apostle Islands broke up the fury of the lake to some extent, therefore, I had never encountered being on a boat in that condition.
As we exited the canal into the lake, I realized I was in trouble and wished that I had not agreed to be a crew on any of the boats. But, it was too late. The whole time we were out there, I had only 2 wishes. First, not to fall off the boat and secondly, not to throw up.
When we finally finished the race and reconnoitered in Rich’s Suburban, we all sat there, thankful for the lack of movement. Rich said, “you’re out there and you think, ‘If the boat would just stop moving for 10 seconds, I would feel better.” One of the girls with us had been feeling nauseous on their boat, so she got sent to the low side of the boat. That way if she got sick, no one else would have to suffer for it. (Think of spitting into the wind.) This was a brisk night and you can imagine how it must have felt to have been near the water on the low side of a boat, as it is racing across the lake.
So, back to the unintended use of products. When out on a boat and a sail rips, duct tape is often used to temporarily hold the rip together. It works in wet and dry circumstances. Rich used to say, “…..and on the 7th day, God created Duct tape!” So, here I am, over 20 years later, continuing my relationship with duct tape in another way.
Finally, to get back to the value of a dress form. You can save yourself many headaches and disappointments if you can fit your clothing on a form that matches your body. You learn how to change patterns to fit you. What needs to be done to flatter your figure. If any of you watch “What not to Wear,” you will hear them respond to a woman who talks about needing to lose weight, “we want you to dress for the body you have now.” So, if it fits you well, it will make you look good and feel good. You can save yourself money and headaches in the future. It can also help you create with success instead of guesswork. Why? Different fabrics react differently in the same pattern. I made a pattern of a linen shirt I love. I used quilting cottons for my new shirt. The shirt came out fine, but it didn’t fit the same because the linen has a flexibility that the cotton does not. It hangs in a different way. If I had a form, I could check that on it and make adjustments. I will take pictures of those shirts so that you can see a “knock-off.” That means a garment for which the pattern is taken off of another piece of clothing.
So, after all of this, here is what you need to bring with you when you come to the workshop:
- Long T-shirt or close-fitting turtleneck, this will become part of the dress form, so it has to be one that you are willing to sacrifice to the cause! If the shirt doesn’t go past the hipline, we can extend it
- Leggings or tights to wear while being taped
- Undergarments like you wear under most of your clothes, so that the form will be shaped (conformed, constricted, or left to hang) like your body is on a daily basis.
- Breath mints, just kidding!
If you have been to the shop, or see the pictures on the site, you know that there are large windows across the front and on the door. All shades and curtains will be pulled closed and the door will be locked so that we won’t have any surprise visitors while we are holding this workshop. If at any time you feel uncomfortable, we will stop and cut the form off immediately.
I will walk everyone through the process and demonstrate the taping techniques. We may need to do some prep of your shirt, etc. and we will do that, too. I will supervise every form made so that you will be happy with the one you take home with you. No swapping!
I think that teams of 3 work really well. One person being taped by 2 others. One in front and one in back. I think it will go better that way and faster.
There are ways to make stands and fill the forms. I will present them to you and you can decide what you want to do. You will need to buy fiberfill, (polyester fill for pillows and stuffed animals) to fill and support your form. I have seen various options, included packing peanuts. I have seen it recommended that the bust be filled with raglan shoulder pads. Let’s see how it goes and I will answer any questions you have about finishing them. If need be, we may have a short follow-up class.
The final thing is that I can teach you how to use your form through the classes you take for sewing. If your body does change, you will know how to make the form. With help from a good friend, you can remake the form in short order and very little monetary outlay.
I look forward to seeing you soon!