Dress Forms and December Decisions

The quintessential trademark of a dressmaker is undoubtably the figure of a dress form (or dummy, as it is called in some parts of the world). I am not sure why it took me so long to purchase one, but in the past year and half since I have had mine, it has daily reminded me what an invaluable tool it is for fashion sewing. Among its obvious aspects of usefulness are, of course, 1) for fitting, 2) for pinning and sewing of certain seams (like a shoulder seam), 3) for marking hems and making sure they are even, 4) for design and draping (for those fortunate enough to be versed in this art), 5) for displaying of one’s current project, allowing scrutiny of any imperfections which need to be addressed, and 6) for steaming/pressing certain curved seams.

I also have found it to be the perfect medium upon which to “audition” fabrics and styles. I can strategically pin fabric onto the form and get an excellent idea if the fabric is going to look good in the style in which I am envisioning it. Sometimes I have to leave the fabric pinned in place for days or even weeks while I make up my mind. And sometimes seeing the fabric pinned on my form will make other possibilities suddenly become obvious. Such has been the case with my plaid Irish blanket, purchased by me to make into a skirt.

 I wrapped the blanket around myself in the store - as a skirt - to test my theory.  Here it is pinned on my dress form

I thought my mind was set on making a pencil skirt out of this “throw” size blanket. When I pinned the fabric on my dress form in the length of a skirt, however, I was struck by the fact that so much of this lovely plaid wool would not be used. So I repinned the blanket in its full length, minus the fringe on one end, to see if I could make a sheath dress instead.

The blanket pinned onto my dress form.

The blanket pinned onto my dress form.

I got out my favorite sheath dress pattern and placed it on the fabric to determine if I could indeed get a knee-length dress out of the yardage I have. It will be a squeeze, but I am fairly certain I can manage it. So I have just about decided to make a dress instead of a skirt. But I have one looming question: is this going to look too much like a 1920s’ flapper dress? I think not, made out of a plaid wool. I actually think a fringed dress will lend itself to be dressed up or dressed down. Hm-m-m-m, what do you think?

Another look...

Another look…

The color combination of this plaid is one I love. After Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2015 was announced, I realized that certain blocks of this plaid pick up the Marsala color (reddish brown) which is supposed to be so popular in 2015.

Dress forms and December decisions



I must admit, I was disappointed with this color decision by Pantone. Like 2014’s Radiant Orchid, I do not think it is a color with wide appeal for the long haul. 2013’s Emerald Green still has “legs”, and I was hoping for a similar clear and flattering hue for 2015.

Getting back to my blanket/soon to be dress (or skirt): in shades of red and subtle green, this plaid should be equally versatile throughout the winter, but wouldn’t it be especially nice in this holiday month of December?  Well, that’s not going to happen! But that’s okay. If I can get to it in January, that means I’ll have at least one thing complete for December . . . of 2015!





Filed under Blankets and doll blankets, Uncategorized, woolens

28 responses to “Dress Forms and December Decisions

  1. I love the plaid as a sheath dress! Three reasons I don’t think it will look like a ’20s flapper:
    1. It has only one row of fringe. (The sterotypical flapper has rows and rows of fringe.)
    2. Large scale plaid. (It has more of a ’60s vibe to me, especially in those colors.)
    3. The wonderful accessories I know you will pair it with won’t look ’20s.

    And because I don’t remember you ever mentioning it, what is your dress form’s name? I know you call her something. =)

  2. That blanket is going to look fabulous as a dress. And I agree with Brooke: not at all Flapperish.

  3. Mary Lynn

    I keep vacillating on getting a dress form because fit is my major problem. I’m not sure I can even get a dress form to replicate my very odd figure. You have such a nice figure, I can’t imagine you having problems, but I am
    curious as to what brand you got and what you had to do to get it to your own shape.
    It definitely won’t look like a flapper dress!

    • Mary Lynn –
      You can pad out a dress form to match whatever shape you need it to be. =)
      In all the costume shops I work in, we have to pad dress forms out to match actor measurements. You just wrap strips of flannel around it in the areas you need more thickness. And if you need a lot of padding, you can use quilt batting and then wrap that in flannel strips, pinning everything into place. Lots of larger busted women also put an old bra on their forms and stuff it.

      • Mary Lynn

        Thank you so much. That will be a lot of flannel 🙂 any suggestions for dress forms that are sturdier, pinnable, etc.?

      • Wolf brand and PGM brand are the brands I most often see in costume shops. They are more expensive than the adjustable kind you find at chain fabric stores, but so worth it because they last forever! You might do well looking on Craig’s List and ebay for a used one close to your size.

    • Ann T.

      I just bought the Fabulous Fit System on Amazon. It consists of a sleeve to put over the dress form, on which to pin the included special shaped padding, where needed, and then a second sleeve to cover the form, and hold it all in place.

    • I vacillated for a long time before buying my form. I kind of had my heart set on a Wolf, but new ones, custom made, are close to a $1000. Then when I took the Classic French Jacket class with Susan Khalje, there was a discussion about dress forms and which ones to buy. Susan suggested Roxy Forms. They are available on Amazon and are a quarter the price of a Wolf. The most important measurement is the base of the neck to the waist, as that obviously cannot be altered on a form. I have padded out the waist on mine with quilting batting, and I really need to add some shaped batting below the bust to lower the apex a bit. But Brooke is correct – you can make all kinds of changes to the basic form, just not the torso length. I was so impressed with how well made my form is. It has collapsable shoulders, is on wheels, and easy to pin into. I would definitely recommend this brand. I hope you succumb and get a dress form for yourself! I love mine!
      And thanks for your vote of confidence on the dress!

  4. I like the dress idea – I liked it as soon as I saw it on the dress form. I agree with Brooke – much more classic ’60s than ’20s.
    I think I’ll be checking back to Pantone’s website quite a bit from now on – I should be paying much more attention to these things than I have been – fascinating!

    • One of the fashion writers for our Wall Street Journal here in the States does an article two or three times (or more!) a year on Pantone’s selections – both for the year and for the season. It’s always a must read for me.

      Glad you like the dress idea, Dustin!

  5. Cissie

    Everything you make is perfection, Karen, so I know that whatever decision you make will be wonderful. My only questions about the dress are these: On your small frame, will the scale of the plaid overwhelm you? And do you have enough fabric for matching that large repeat?

    • Two great questions, Cissie. I checked for matching the large repeat on the plaid, and it looks like I can manage it. I also worried about the scale of the plaid on me, but somehow I think the uneven coloration in the plaid will help diminish the scale of the blocks. Not sure how that makes sense, but I hope that is the case! Guess I’ll find out for sure. Thanks so much for your input.

  6. I have a cheap dressform that’s helpful, but since I’m in limited space, I have to get it out and put it back, which is a pain. Sewing continues to absorb more and more of our closet space! (Insert evil laugh here.) I don’t think the dress looks 20s at all. I’m getting more of an early 60s Bonnie Cashin vibe out of it.

  7. Oh, I like Bonnie Cashin vibes! Good! Wish I could help you with your closet space. I have a large sewing room with lots of storage, but even it is getting filled up, so I definitely feel your pain…

  8. Cissie

    On the dress form issue. I had a Wolf form made to measure several years ago. It is a work of art (costs like one, too). The main issue I have had is this: You can gain all the weight you want with a custom dress form. All you have to do is pad it out to your new dimensions. My issue is that I am about 8 pounds lighter than I was then and for fitting purposes, the form is pretty useless other than shoulder placement, torso length, etc. When I try something on my form, if it is really snug, then it will fit okay. But this is not as precise as I would like. I think the Roxy idea is the way to go — just pad it out to suit your shape.

    • Mary Lynn

      Thanks to all of you for your very helpful suggestions for getting and fitting
      a dress form. Cissie – how awesome to have lost weight. I haven’t had that happen since my last colonoscopy!!!!! And yes, I do get on the scale
      to relish the joy of fleetingly feeling thin again! Happy holidays everyone!
      I’ve already had the best present ever – my 1st beautiful grandchild – a precious little 3 week old girl. The old pleater is coming out! Mary Lynn

  9. Nate

    Personally, I think it would look better as a skirt. Whatever you decided, it is going to be great!

  10. Congratulations on acquiring a dress form. I think you will wonder how you ever sewed without it. The professional style which is heavy and doesn’t tip over easily is the best. Having padded out forms to fit numerous shapes and sizes, I would suggest getting one slightly smaller than your measurements. You can always pad out but it’s impossible to cut the form smaller. I disagree about the most important measurement being the neck to waist. The form’s waist measurement is almost always smaller than a real person and you can raise or lower the waist with padding. I go by the high bust measurement which corresponds closely to the shoulder width. A form with too wide shoulders will be impossible to work with. My body is long waisted and if I had a form using the neck to waist measure the shoulders would be way too large.
    Great way to try out the plaid, either as a skirt or dress, as it’s much easier to visualize when draped on a body. I’m not fond of Pantones choice either. Go with the colors you like and flatter your coloring.

    • Thanks so much for your input on selecting dress form sizes. I guess it is all such an individual process, depending on lots of things. For me the back measurement is the most important, but I totally see why it would not be in your situation. When i finally bought my dress form well over a year ago, I thought it was somewhat of an extravagance. NOW I know it is one of the most important sewing tools one can own!

  11. I love my dress form for all the reasons you stated. I had one a while back but I gave it away as it was not the right size for me. I just never used it. This one I have now is perfect and so helpful! I use it all the time! Looking forward to seeing the finished dress. What a clever idea to turn a throw into a dress!

  12. Marguerite

    I love the dress! I think that the larger plaid will definitely work as a dress, but not as a skirt. The plaid needs somewhere to roam to and the smaller area of a skirt seems to cut it off.
    My dress form is 40 years old! It’s one of those foam jobs that had you sew a tight fitting body suit and squeeze the foam into it.. “Uniquely You” was the name. She’s helped me with a million projects over the years to earn her keep-even to listen to my ranting and raving when things went a little crazy in the sewing room! . I’m lucky that overall I just have to enlarge the waist an inch or two from the original size. Patti Palmer has a photo of herself standing next to her 30+ year old form in one of her books.

    • Well, I couldn’t have said it better! That plaid needs to roam, and so it will, hopefully in January! I expect my dress form to be with me for the long haul – and I do love that she is the cooperative, silent type.

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