Ask CRAFT: Buying a Dress Form

Craft & Design Yarncraft

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Farrah writes in:

My boyfriend was trying to buy me a dressmaker’s doll for my birthday. He finally had to confess total confusion after surreptitiously taking my measurements. It seems none of the sizes he found fit me exactly. Is it better to have a doll that’s slightly smaller than myself in one area, but fine in the others? Are there dolls that I could order to fit my measurements? I know I could make one from duct tape and an old t-shirt, but I hear homemade ones tend to collapse.

Since it’s cheap and fun, I’d try to make your own dress form first. True, they may not be as sturdy as the store-bought ones, but they’re certainly not as expensive! If it collapses, it’s because it’s not densely packed enough with support material. You could try stuffing it with a whole pile of plastic grocery bags to provide adequate filling. Instead of duct tape (or on top of the duct tape), you might try using papier-mâché or paper tape to stiffen the form and make it more durable.

The next level up is to get an a plain form that approximates your measurements. Yes, as you suspected, it’s better to get one that is smaller than your body in some places, but fits you in others. You can always add padding to the form, but you can’t make it smaller. I’m no brand expert, but if you order online, you can expect to pay between $150 and $300 on a one-size form. You can customize your form to make it more like your own body.

The third thing to consider is getting an adjustable form. This is the kind I have, and I’m thoroughly satisfied with it. It has dials at the bust, waist, and hips, and even has an adjustable torso length and neck measurement. It’s not as easy to pin to as a standard form, but I’ve had it since I was a teenager, and it has changed size with me over the years. They come in different “body types,” so check the ranges on the measurements before getting one.

Do you have dressmaker form advice for Farrah? Share it in the comments!

16 thoughts on “Ask CRAFT: Buying a Dress Form

  1. Anonymous says:

    Right now at Jo Ann fabrics online, you can purchase a $300 dress form for $100. They are on sale!!

  2. bee says:

    what an thoughtful and attentive boyfriend.

  3. Kristena Derrick says:

    I tried to make one out of duct tape, and it was a waste of time and money! I recently bought one from PGM, and mine is slightly smaller than me. You can build it up by wrapping a narrow strip of batting around it and then covering that in a long strip of cotton. The ones at Joann are called flimsy in every review of them, so I don’t recommend that either! Hope you get what you need! -Kristena Derrick

  4. heidi says:

    I would try to make your own – i’ve never done it – seems the pins would get all gummy from the tape if you tried to pin into it… though the paper mache’ would help with that.. it might be a fun project your boyfriend could help with!
    If that is a bust then i would buy one of the fully foam ones you can make to be your size. They will cost more than the cheap ones on sale at Joanns but in the end you will save money. the ones that are adjustable are terrible! THe older ones made of cardboard are ok, but the new plasic ones are cheap and break if you look at them funny. The foam ones have a muslin ‘dress’ that you can take in the seam allowance and make it truly your size.

  5. Maegan says:

    I work in a professional costume shop, and we use mainly canvas-covered harder forms, although this trick would work with many different types.
    When we have an actor who’s not a standard size (which describes most people), we usually pick a smaller form, then pad out the bits that are larger with quilt batting until the measurements are right. Some people only need more at the hips, others at the chest…
    Finally, we cover the batting with lycra or some other stretch fabric, using small straight pins so they aren’t sticking out anywhere. While the stretch fabric goes over the batting, make sure the measurements still match, re-padding as needed, and voila! A custom and easily-dismantled form!

  6. Mark says:

    Take a couple of cans of urethane foam to fill out the form

  7. cattycritic says:

    I’ve tried the duct tape dress form and it ended up being a mess. Maybe I stuffed it too much, but the duct tape started pulling apart before too long. So as they say, your mileage may vary. But I agree, your bf is teh awesome for such a thoughtful gift idea.
    I really like the idea of padding out an existing form. I think I’ll try that.

  8. Liz says:

    The one in the picture is a Uniquely You dressform. I just purchased one of these and am so far very happy with it! It’s a form made of dense foam, and comes with a cover that you fit to yourself exactly. Then you zip the cover over the foam and it molds to it! It’s pretty awesome. So if you only or mainly sew for yourself, I highly recommend this! I have also read many glowing reviews which is why I bought it (check out for some reviews). It is pretty normally priced around $140 or so, cover included.
    Beware though that you will need someone else, and preferably someone who sews a bit, to help you fit the cover, as it would be very hard to try to do your own backside. Also, you’ll need another person when you go to zip it on. It comes with good instructions (detailed, but a just a bit confusing in parts), and many different cover sizes to choose from. I had to let mine out at the hips and take it in elsewhere, then I padded the form itself around the hip area, and so far it’s working well! I also performed a little breast reduction surgery, since even the foam can’t condense that much :) Just to give you an idea of what’s involved… Also, if I decide to sew for my sisters who are similarly shaped but different sizes, I could “just” get a cover for each one of them ($20 each for extra ones) and use the same form!

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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