Monday, August 29, 2011

Fleur Deconstructed Part 1 - plus a giveaway!


Today we will deconstruct Fleur, the mannequin

First let me say that this is not a tutorial. It's merely a collection of my production notes. Lots of photos and tips but skimpy on the step-by-steps.  

Second, let me clarify that this is a custom-fit mannequin/dress form. It was made to my exact body dimensions. There was a lot of measuring that needed to happen, and be matched with, and checked, and double-checked. This was largely why it took so long to actually get done, and not because it was a hard project per se. 

Third, let me tell you upfront why this is a fabric and not a taped dress form, which is all the rage in sewing circles and which was all I seemed to find when I googled "how to make a mannequin/dressform". I did find one other useful non-ducttape, non-papertape method which interested me greatly, and to which I'll share a link at the end of the deconstruction posts. With no offence meant to the proponents of taped dress forms, here are my reasons for why I didn't choose that route:
  1. I really, really didn't want to spend an hour++ being wrapped up tightly by a "sewing buddy". 
  2. I really, really didn't want to have to wear a "bra or T-shirt I don't mind throwing away". I've already thrown those away. 
  3. I wasn't keen on the criss-cross taping between breasts that is recommended in the duct-tape method. I use a lot of princess lines and darts in my clothes and distorting the bust by compressing or pushing them apart makes a lot of difference to the apex-to-apex distance in body measurements. Even half an inch (or less) makes a world of difference in princess-seamed garments.
  4. Do the layers of tape add inches to the body measurements? Or does one compensate for the bulk by taping extra-tight? How tight? Were the natural curves (and squidgy bits) of the body distorted by the tight wrapping? I wasn't sure.
  5. How stiff is the taped form after being cut away from the person? I was pretty sure it had some sort of form memory, but does it hold its shape laterally and along its various axes? How do you tape the armscye ovals? The neck opening?
Last year when I first thought about making a dress form, I'd wanted it primarily for taking photos of clothes I'd made. I craigslisted, ebayed, googled and even went in person to stores like Lands End to ask if they had any old mannequins they would sell me. True, I'd have to pin my clothes around these one-size-fits-all dress forms, which is sort of cheating, but they were prettier photographic subjects than the blue foam and metal Dritz forms on sale at Joann Fabrics. On the other hand, those were adjustable, so I could use them for garment fittings as well, provided my body shape was similar. But it was like photographing cyborgs!!!

So I talked to my friend Jen (you've met her - she drafted with me last year) and she suggested using my basic block/sloper to sew one. Brilliant. Sometimes it takes another person to point out the glaringly obvious, doesn't it? I could make one that was precise to my measurements AND decorative. All I needed was time (har har).




Having decided that, Step 1 was obvious - sew a snug-fitting sloper-style form with shoulder princess seams. Just like those wasp-waisted fabric mannequins, except with more maternal dimensions (thanks, Emily, Jenna and Kate). Now, I am aware that, unless you are familiar with basic blocks/slopers/drafting, you might feel like giving up and reaching for the duct-tape before we even start. Wait! If you have a well-fitting commercial pattern on hand, you can start from there, too. 

On that note, let's begin.

Stage 1 - The Muslin
For more information on princess seams, see this post. 
My earlier princess seam sloper had the darts opening into the armscye, so I moved them up to the shoulder points and refined the fit the manual way - several fitting sessions in front of a mirror, pinning and scribbling all over it with a marker. This muslin had a central front opening for easy dressing and undressing.

It was a very snug fit, with a collar stand, so I couldn't afford to slouch. Notice also that the armscye is very small - the smallest possible while still being able to get my arm through it. When my husband saw this muslin, he was aghast at how ugly it was - I had to reassure him that it wasn't a real dress I was planning to leave the house in. The fabric combination is something else, isn't it? But it shows the bodice panels clearly. 

This is evidently the most crucial part of the whole mannequin-making process, at least if you want a custom-fit mannequin. I really took my time to tweak it. A reader sent in this link for princess seams (thank you, Tina!) that I'd read before and forgot all about, and I'm including it here for further reading. I don't pin my princess seams - I hand-baste them in preparation for the sewing machine, using an ancient method called "easing in". Incidentally, I use the same method for sewing set-in sleeves. Someday when I sufficiently master the necessary technology, I shall share a video tutorial. It cannot be demonstrated in still photos. But that's for another day.


Back to the muslin now. Here I will plead with you - if you are making this (or any garment, really), wear your BEST bra. Your BEST. The one you reach for when you think of wedding gowns and special occasion evening wear. Take your body measurements wearing that excellent bra. Wear your sewn masterpieces over that stupendous undergarment, not the droopy-but-comfortable-with-slack-elastic thing you wear around the house when you don't expect anyone to drop in. It makes a huge difference. Grandma (the one who was a tailor) had stories about brides who came for fittings in different (and some bad) bras. She could tell immediately, and would get very angry because their bridal gowns suddenly and mysteriously would no longer fit.

Getting off my soapbox now. Having refined the fit of this muslin, I then left it as is for several months to think of how to make it stiff. In the meantime, I experimented with it- stuffing it with old fabric and polyfill, painting on it with different things to stiffen it up etc. The outcome was absolutely vile - puffy and bloated like the dismembered torso of a drowning victim. The girls loved it, though. They kept dragging it out of the sewing cupboard where I'd hidden it in shame, and using it as the villain du jour in their pretend play. One time I found them stabbing at it with cardboard swords, trying to overpower it so they could rescue some prince.

Stage 2 - The Canvas Form
This is the actual body of the mannequin, but without the funky print. I used canvas because it was already a naturally stiff fabric. I took apart the muslin, used the pieces for a pattern, and made an identical canvas form, also with a front opening.
Wearing the same, BEST bra, I donned this canvas garment, pinned it shut in front, stood tall as if I was in deportment class and brought out my secret weapon:

Did I always know about Stiffy? Obviously not, or I wouldn't have spent those months miserably experimenting. Or maybe I did, but its.. um..name made me blush just to mention it to other people. No - seriously, I heard about it from Katie, the brilliant, brilliant author of matsutakeblog. Have you seen her electrified fox lamp? Genius has a new name. When I saw it, it purred to me, "Mannequin". 

So I painted the canvas form over myself, and yelled for the husband to get the back bits I couldn't reach. I used the Stiffy undiluted and really soaked the fabric with it. If you are worried about your best bra becoming all stiff, do like I did and wrap some clingfilm over it, bandeau-style.  Then he and I took turns to use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. We were done in about 20 minutes, all in, and I removed the pins, wiggled out of the form and stuck it on a cardboard support to dry further overnight:


That cardboard support underneath is just a cylinder with a hanger stuck on top. Notice how the canvas form stands up all by itself - that Stiffy is the bomb! Note also that this is not a perfect process in that there were creases in the waist area and the neck because canvas, especially when Stiffyfied, just doesn't drape well. The pretty outer fabric layer, however, will later cure all that to a very satisfactory extent. 


Again, I let it sit under my sewing table for the next few months while I contemplated the next stage: the cardboard skeleton.


Who would've thought it was that easy to make a custom form? Are you smacking your (duct-taped) forehead and wishing you, too, had a bottle of Stiffy? Then you will love this giveaway! Three readers will each receive a bottle of Plaid's Stiffy Fabric Stiffener so they can make their own custom-fit fabric body armor! Just leave a comment to this post by midnight of Thursday Sep 1, along with an accessible email address and I will pick three commentors on Friday! Note that because of postal regulations regarding liquids, this giveaway is only open to US readers


A huge thank you to the very fabulous Amy of Mod Podge Rocks  for making this Stiffy giveaway possible, and spreading some Plaid love! Check out other Stiffy projects on Mod Podge Rocks for what to do with the leftover Stiffy (how many times can I write the word "Stiffy"  in this paragraph without feeling my face burn?)


And check back again soon for Part 2: The Cardboard Skeleton!!


73 comments:

  1. I love this idea of making a non-duct tape dress form. I was going to make a duct-tape one, but after reading your reasons against that, I've been swayed to do it your way! Not like I need another project. . . but this one would look so pretty in my sewing room! And now, I"m rambling!

    adivamoment at gmail dot com

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  2. Thanks for this great info! I am getting inspired!
    I'll probably have to wait until after I have this baby to start any of this, however...

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  3. That is a great idea!. I used stiffy in a class where we made origami type wallets out of fabric. It is interesting stuff.

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  4. This looks like a pefect solution to a project I've been playing with in my head. I want to do a rocket ship reading nook, but was trying to figure out a way to stiffen the fabric. I hope I get to try this!

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  5. My own custom mannequin! I never even considered it. And stiffy ... what fun that would be. I clicked on that fox lamp link; cool! I might have to make an owl.

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  6. What a project! That Stiffy stuff sounds amazing, odd name choice and all!

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  7. I'm so glad to finally see how you did this. I am not a fan of the duck tape approach either. Yay for Stiffy. I have only used it once when I made a tall cat in the hat costume hat. It worked!!

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  8. So very interesting!

    I won't be making a mannequin, but I'd find plenty of other uses for Stiffy if I won!

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  9. Oh I guess I should leave an email if I want to enter your giveaway.

    Tinastoreyoglesby @ gmail " dot " com - cryptic to avoid spammers

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  10. That looks like great stuff, although I'm a little reluctant to google 'stiffy' to see if I can buy it in the UK! I'm sure that there will be loads of webpages I can buy 'Stiffy' from, just not the kind I want!!!!!!!

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  11. ROFL, love the idea of the girls doing battle with the 'failed' manequin!

    I do have someone that will love this for things other than the battles at the top though - I already have a dressform, but a friend's wife has been struggling and keeps saying she's going to do the duct tape thing, and keeps chickening out!

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  12. What a neat idea. I would love to make a custom dress form.

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  13. Oh my, this is so awesome to learn. I love watching you make your creations & how your thought process work. Thanks for sharing!

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  14. I've been wanting to make a paper-tape form for years now but when you first posted photos of Fleur I knew that I ought to do it your way instead. I don't have the same lovely proportions so the more decorative I can make my form, the better! I need to get a sloper made, too - another thing on my to-do list - I assume you'd advise doing that before looking at building the form?

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  15. Wow! I never knew a Stiffy of that sort existed! There are so many things my girls and I could do with that, although I'm not ambitious enough to try a dress form.
    Jessnmary (at) hotmail (dot) com

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  16. ohhhhhhhhhhhhh that would be the most awesome thing EVER- to have another me with all the disproportional pieces?!?!?!

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  17. What a great idea! I'd love to win the contest so I can make stiffy angels!
    DBarrentineZ@Carolina.rr.com

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  18. If I remember correctly I think Don McCunn has some info on making a dressform from a sloper in his book. Thanks for sharing!

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  19. I can't wait to see part 2! I have previously (partly) made a duct tape double, though I never got around to stuffing it - it looked *so* horrible after we cut it off, and I wasn't sure that just stuffing it with polyfill would be sufficient. So, your double pattern is essentially a high-necked bodice with side seams and princess seams in the front and back? Sounds do-able. Thanks for posting this!

    april (at) knightimecreations (dot) com

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  20. Wow I think you've taken DIY to a new level!! I just know your dress form is going to be awesome. I would love to give Stiffy a try on some other things. Oh I hope I win!

    Barbara

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  21. This is such a fabulous product/invention! I never knew such a thing existed, and now I feel so inspired!

    misshoanggg (at) gmail (dot) come

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  22. How clever; such patience; & a HUGE amount of luck that your DH understands you & didn't have you carted off! Perhaps I, too, can design with "Stiffy" (would really like to know the gender of one who named)& my DH will be as supportive! Wish me luck!

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  23. Thank you. Excellent suggestions.

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  24. I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who wants a double and has spent months contemplating how to get/make/acquire one. The professional one I covet costs $350, which is too much for this PFCMom. Thanks for sharing your great solution. What a treat it would be to win that bottle of Stiffy. rozylass at yahoo dot com

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  25. this has me wanting to actually figure out slppers! Great explanation.

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  26. having done the duct tape version and finding it lacking, I love this idea for myself and my mother, who is bigger than any dress form that can be bought. We also would want to see how much better this is for ladies with, erm... "vast tracts of land" as it were.

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  27. I have a few projects I would love to use the stiffy on. Enter me in the giveaway please
    Connie Haack
    letsgosew at yahoo dot com

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  28. Wow - I had no idea this stuff existed. I'm just starting to sew clothing and I've been thinking about doing the duct tape form...but this sounds so much better! Plus that matsutake fox is just plain adorable.

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  29. Thanks for sharing a non-duct tape version of a dress form. Looking forward to reading part 2!

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  30. So, I definitely won't be making my own body form with the Stiffy I hope to win as I have only just begun shedding my maternal curves (Thank you Dollie!). I do however plan to use Stiffy for for the shoes I am making for Dollie. Dollie has some substantial developmental delays and does not yet walk. "Crib" shoes or soft-soled shoes are IMPOSSIBLE to find in a size that fits. I've been struggling to find a fabric that is sturdy enough (and CUTE enough) for this, and Stiffy, should do the job quite well! I'm EXCITED!! Hope I win - Woot!! angiedoula {at} gmail {dot} com

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  31. I wonder if this is too much work for a two year old version? My model doesn't like to sit still....

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  32. Hooray! Thank you so very much for this post! I have been wanting a custom mannequin for years and this the perfect solution :)

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  33. Thank you so much for this tutorial! It is perfect!

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  34. What a cool idea! If I could sew I would totally make one, LOL! I sure would love some Stiffy though! I bet its great for altered art!

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  35. I've been looking forward to these posts--if nothing else, they make me feel like there was a good reason I delayed making the duct tape form. :) I always love your work and learn so much from it. Thank you!

    7szl11 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  36. I have been looking online for a year now researching dress forms. My incredibly talented costume designer friend made her own duct tape one back in high school, and I had been contemplating its pros and cons...but now, I have a whole new option! Thank you for your inspiration!

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  37. so clever! I made a duct tape double years ago and also wondered whether all that tight wrapping was distorting the squishier parts of my body.

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  38. Thank goodness you have a clever brain and a generous soul! I've wanted a child-sized sloper for a while - but wrapping a squirmy kid in duct tape? No thanks. Painting her? Yes, please!

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  39. I can't win, since I'm in Canada, but I just want to say this is a great tutorial! A while ago in my machine knitting yahoo group, there was a great discussion about making your own mannequin. One woman gave detailed instructions on two versions--one using fiberglass blankets, and one done in wool and stuffed with sawdust which felts and compacts. Both versions sounded interesting and do-able, but yours is even faster and cheaper!

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  40. A giveaway?! Omg, I would LOVE some!
    I want one of these soooo bad! I also want to make one of my 3yr old daughter. Dunno how that would go, seeing as she's autistic >___>
    Anyway, thanks so much for the oppertunity! Off to learn how to do princess seams!

    FitForAPrincessInc@gmail.com

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  41. Wow! This is great. I have got to make one of these. :)

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  42. Wow! That's awesome. I would probably make an unstuffed lamp rather than a mannequin, though.

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  43. Thanks for sharing! Before you mentioned the Stiffy, I was thinking of starch, but I'm not sure how permanent that would have been. I'm very tempted to try this but I know I'm not as good a tailor as you are.

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  44. Ooh, can I enter too?

    Or maybe I'll send YOU three more bottles of Stiffy if you sew that green paisley and blue polka dot sloper back together and wear it to the grocery store or something. : )

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  45. I live in England, so I might not qualify for the giveaway anyway, but I think I might just sneak in before the time limit is up! Fingers crossed! :)

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  46. I just started a sewing guild maybe you want to join.Its near the Pacific ocean and sometimes I can smell that fresh salty air? yea Baby!One of my girls linked us to u 2 heads ~or more~ are soooo much better than one!
    We love the idea.I did a duck tape and when I ended up buying a foam one my son wanted mine for target practice.I walked by it and saw kitchen knives in it LOL!? I think?I didnt like it anyway

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  47. great idea think i will try this

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  48. Gracias!!!!!!!!!!! Probe con la cinta y me morí!!!!!!!!!! ja,ja. esto es sentido común. Un beso desde Argentina.

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  49. Gracias!!!!!!!!!!!!! Una idea genial. Probé lo de la cinta y casi muero en el intento. ja,ja. Esto es sentido común. Un beso desde Córdoba, Argentina.

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  50. Great! but how easily can you put pins into it? thanks, dej

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    1. dale j: Very easily. I literally pin fabric to that white-and-black layer when I'm draping, and I poke pins perpendicular through all the layers (including the cardboard) when I'm marking.

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  51. Am I to understand there is no stuffing put inside? This is so awesome. I have been wanting a dress form for sooooo long and just couldn't find the nerve to buy one that wouldn't be MY measurements. Great idea!

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  52. I'm so thrilled you wrote a non-duct tape guide... those are a sweaty pain!

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  53. Perfect! Mannequins are so expensive!
    When is the next step coming out? I can't wait!
    Shadowfur1998@yahoo.com

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  54. Would spray foam insulation work inside to support the form?

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    1. Oh wow, great idea. But...after time it will degrade. But I would think that would be a mighty long time and would also be dependent on temperature factors fluctuating which being indoors shouldn't be to much of an issue. Though expensive I thought about silicone. I should think the spray foam would be cheaper but still expensive. The other thing with that is it swells so fast that you'd really have to be on it like a bloodhound as to when to stop filling it or it will over flow. Great idea however and I think, personally, it would work. Good for you.

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  55. I just thought of another use for Stiffy. I wear hats and eventually straws get limp....Solution?

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  56. This is so funny. Last month when I was looking at a mannequin at Joann's I though, "this looks like my basic sloper!" I'm so grateful for your article because I'm in the period of the months of thinking how to pull this off. Thanks again!

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  57. Replies
    1. see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_(sewing)

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  58. I am not quite understanding why it needs to be stiff. I've had forms in various iterations but not like this. I found my duct tape form "collapsed" with some very humid weather and no longer looked like me and I chucked It. I can't help but wonder if this would also happen. My biggest success and it is holding up beautifully, is basically making the skin tight sloper. Then I bought another of my "best bras", put it on the form, and padded out the dress form and then covered it all with the sloper. It even caught my crooked shoulder. It has held up beautifully.

    Could you let us know how this method has held up over time? thank you.

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    1. Bunny: Yes, I can. I am happy to report that I am still using Fleur for fitting and photoshoots. She is as stiff as ever, and her shape has not changed. Unfortunately, mine has, and I am now narrower in the hips than she is. Not so narrow that she cannot wear my skirts zipped up, but narrow enough that when they are on her, the bottom edge of her hip shows up as a ridge. Other than that (and the fact that the wooden stand itself has become a little loose over time - more a carpentry issue than a mannequin-method one - she is as robust as the day I made her. You can see the most recent photos of here in this post (early this year), in which she was my draping model for a tutorial on darts:
      http://www.ikatbag.com/2014/12/subtleties-of-drafting-darts-part-ii.html

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  59. Stiffy... What the heck is that? Is it something like glue? Heeellppp!!!

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  60. an't wait for part 2. I use to make a lot of clothes when I was younger and thinner. I have started up again , but the fitting and the patterns are more difficult to fit. I will really make one of these.

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  61. Thanks for the article. I have been wanting to make a dress form for a long time - only mine would have a tummy, and I'd have to hide it in a cupboard with a lock to prevent it being dragged out when we have company and everyone would get to see how I 'really' look. You don't have to use Stiffy, though. Slightly diluted white glue works just as well. You may want to paint on a second coat after you have removed yourself from the form.

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  62. Is there rally no way to make one by taking measurements and drafting a "body" pattern then cutting out the pattern in your choice of materials, preshrunk canvas would be great, then coat with Stiffy and when that is dry stuff it with something that won't breakdown quickly and sticking the whole think on an exact height pole that can be raised for hemming with heels? WHEW !!!! Long one sentence question. What would I fill it with? Since you can always put roller wheels on it to move it around sand would be great as long as Stiffy fills in the pores of the material so the sand doesn't leak out. I would think Stiffy would need to be reused after a long period of time after being poked so many times. Or perhaps pure cotton, bamboo, or cotton bamboo batting, or whatever would work packed in ankle area and that ankle ends up wearing a wood prosthesis to keep everything in place. Making arms and legs that are detachable would be a boon and not hard if you have a handy man with a brain around. For some reason a handy man type guy love to figure out the best way to create something of worth and have it be long lasting AND accommodating to the person using it.I like the idea above but I personally would want something that include my limbs for a totally fitted look and because I know my arm aren't equal nor are my legs anymore than my breasts,eyes, ears, or feet are.Gee, I wonder how we could fill one with silicone. HAH!!! I could then honestly say I have silicone breasts. This is just my rampant mind reaching the 1000 per hour mark.

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    1. Cardboard is superior to stuffing, really. Although I am biased because
      (a) I love cardboard
      (b) It can be shaped exactly to what you want
      (c) I have much better control over cardboard construction than stuffing or foam
      (d) Cardboard is superior.

      Incidentally, and because folks like updates on how a project is faring several years after being made, Fleur has not changed shape, or sagged or become soft in the middle in any way (unlike me). She's still completely pinnable, stuff and rigid on the inside. The only thing wonky about her is the wooden stand, which tends to swivel a bit more now than it did. It really only needs a screwdriver to tighten something on the inside, but that would entail unpicking the base to access the interior support, which I haven't been bothered to do, since it is really a minor imperfection and I can absolutely live with it.

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  63. Great! I've been mulling over how I could make a Form from my Toile. Thanks for your help. Main problem now tho, is my house big enough for 2 of me?!?!?!?
    Joy

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  64. My C17 persona has just fallen in fabric love with you! I could never get the duct tape thing cos I squish too much. Everything you said on here resonates with me and I am about to pootle off and find a UK versio of Stiffy (which is quite as rude as any other language) THANK YOU I shall return

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  65. I did something similar about 15 years ago. I LOVED that dress form. It made sewing for myself so easy! However, time marches on & 15 years of the effects of gravity made my twin obsolete. My daughter, who did all the handsewn alterations while I wore my sloper (it took ALL day & she was not happy), has flown the nest. I do have some awesome canvas, though, & I'm certain my husband would be happy to paint the ... ahem ... "Stiffy" where I can't reach. Sounds like it will be a quicker fabrication this time also!
    After such a great result last time, I too have not been thrilled with the duct tape idea. I'm crooked & the duct tape looks so imprecise. I was able to sew away any imperfections in mine after I mounted it, which would never happen with duct tape. The 'plaster cast for an expanding foam mannequinn' method looks like it works great. However, I just spent all my pin money on some gorgeous linen ... whoops! Maybe that should be 'whoop-itty-do'instead

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  66. Shellyboggs100@gmail.comAugust 27, 2016 at 11:56 PM

    I have been wanting to do the same type of dress form! Thank you for posting and the ideas.

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  67. Loved the post! Am mulling around with the idea of making my own form. Liked your ideas!

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