Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fleur Deconstructed Part 2

Welcome back to Mannequin Making 101! Go here if you missed the first installment. In Steps 1 and 2, we made the hollow custom-fitted canvas form. We used fabric stiffener to help it keep its circumferential dimensions. In this next part, we'll need to make the supporting structure that helps it keep its lateral and axial dimensions. 

Stage 3 - The Cardboard Skeleton
Now, while the canvas form was very stiff, it wasn't rigid like, say, fiberglass. So it would annoyingly morph into different cross-sectional shapes as it was moved, while still keeping its various girths (bust, waist, hips) constant. If you've ever made a mannequin that you hoped had your dimensions, you might have found that, upon stuffing it, it bulged or skewed in different directions so that it didn't actually resemble your body at all! 

Let's skip over the bits where I did a lot of imprecise and inaccurate guesstimations and fast forward to when I finally had the sense to make the cardboard vernier callipers:

Before I used the callipers, I used rulers and sticks and mirrors to try and estimate these dimensions. Very bad. Parallex errors galore. And they were different each time I measured them. The vernier callipers were essential to accurately measuring the linear widths of the various parts of the body. 

My waist, for instance, was 10.25" wide, and 7.75" deep (from navel to spine). This enabled me to make a cardboard cylinder that was 10.25" wide, 7.75" deep as well as being 29" around. It also enabled me to draw the hip oval that formed the base of the mannequin torso:

And then, the cardboard-making fun began!

This is the shoulder piece- with darts cut out 

to curve the ends down.

While it wasn't meant to mimic the actual body dimensions, the whole cardboard skeleton had to provide support in all the right places - the bust, the shoulders, the upper back, and the hips. Note that the central elliptical cylinder is the exact size of the waist, which is the narrowest part of the torso.

The cylinder itself was left hollow so that hardware could be introduced to stabilize the stand later.

Think Victor Frankenstein, had he dabbled in cardboard:

I didn't follow any set pattern for making this skeleton. I used common sense and simply introduced structures to fill the relevant hollow areas.

Stage 4 - Padding The Form
This stage, with its focus on precision, was time-consuming and patience-trying. The canvas form was put over the cardboard skeleton (masking tape was a better alternative to pins at this stage because of the stiffness of the canvas fabric)

and the center front opening was sewn shut.   

Then the padding began, with measurements continually taken, to check that the girths and linear dimensions of the form still matched mine. Polyfill stuffing was inserted between the cardboard skeleton and the canvas form, like some kind of puffy polyester flesh, to pad the relevant regions.

The armscye oval was measured

and ovals sewn on by hand.

A chest dart was also added (by hand) to refine the shape of the bust

As part of the testing process, real clothes (that fit well), including that old, now slightly-loose sloper muslin, were tried on this canvas torso.

Stage 5 -Sealing The Final Form
Once the form was stuffed, more Stiffy was applied. While the canvas was wet, some of the creases were smoothed out and some parts, like the areas just under the throat and along the spine, were shaped by hand.

Stage 6 - Refining The Pattern
Although it was made from the gaudy fabric muslin pattern, there were differences in the final shape of the canvas form under the effects of the Stiffy and all the cross-checking of measurements.
The muslin was sewn back together, but now with a side opening and put on the now-stuffed canvas form.

Again, the fit was checked and the changes noted with pins and ink.

The side seam was found to now slant towards the front, so it had to be repositioned.

Then this colorful muslin was removed, unpicked and used as the final pattern to cut out the outer, fancy, fabric.

The fancy outer fabric layer was then sewn up and set aside for the final assembly of the mannequin. We'll get to see everything come together in Part 3!

Don't forget: tomorrow is the deadline for the Stiffy giveaway - go here to enter if you haven't already!


  1. I laughed when I saw the shoulder piece. I guess I was a bit off in my guess of what it was. But only a bit. ;)

  2. I love, love, love the cardboard skeleton!!!

  3. Cardboard callipers! Brilliant!!

    The way your mind works just amazes me. Thank you so very much for sharing all of this with us. Although I think I'll need to enlist my sister's help in making one for myself. I just don't have your talent for cardboard. :-)

  4. Lier, you are the best! I've been working with cardboard for quite some time and it never occured to me that I can make a manikin from cardboard. What a great idea! Definitely added to my project list! Thanks :)


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