Wednesday, November 19, 2008

$10, 2-Hour Dressform

I have long wanted a dressform, but due to the high prices of new ones and the somewhat bad reviews I've heard of the cheaper new ones, I have long thought that a dressform was not in my near future. I put out wanted ads for old ones, looked at thrift shops and garage sales but antique ones were often as much as new ones and thrift stores tended to want to keep the ones they had, to display things on. I made a duct tape dressform once, with the help of my mother. That kind of flopped. Literally. The duct tape figure was really heavy and it was almost impossible to stuff and when at last I got her nearly done, the figure was not at all the same as mine and the measurements were off. She died a quick and painless death.

After brainstorming a bit I recently came up with the thought that I could make my own. Why not? It seemed simple enough. A stuffed figure the shape of a woman, a pole or rod for her to stand on, and a stand of some sort at the bottom to keep the whole thing secure.

So, here are the results of my brainstorming, $10, and 2 hours of work! Meet Miss Mattie, a.k.a "The Naked Lady".

What I used:


Since I didn't care if this dressform was an exact replica of me or not (I plan on using it mainly for display purposes), I used a basic dart fitted bodice pattern (From my 1950 dress pattern) as a base and went off that for my pattern. Below is a quick drawing I did to show how I altered the base pattern pieces. I changed the darted front bodice to princess-seam and added length at the bottom and a high neck at the top. I also made the shoulders a bit wider. I did the same for the back, except it did not have a dart so I did not have to princess seam it. If you don't have a dart fitted bodice pattern to alter I'm sure you could get one at any store that sells patterns. A princess seam sheath type dress pattern could also work very well and that was my plan B, if plan A didn't work. If you want the dressform to be a replica of you, I'd make a muslin first out of the altered pattern and fit it to you smoothly. Use the fitted muslin as your final pattern.


I used about 3 yards of natural muslin for my dressform. You can get this at Jo Anns for under $1/yard with a 40% off coupon. I suppose you could use anything that is sturdy and even weave though. You could even make the form out of two layers of fabric with the even weave fabric as the bottom layer and a decorative fabric for an outer layer. I'm not fancy, so I just went the plain way. :)


I used about 45 oz. of poly fiberfill stuffing for mine. I got 3 bags of 20 oz. stuffing at Jo Anns for 50% off and used all of two bags and just a tiny bit of the third bag.


For my stand, I used a heavy cardboard tube, the kind you can get home dec fabric rolled up on at fabric stores. This worked very well for me, and was free.


My darling husband kindly dug out our Christmas tree stand from the storage unit his mom has. We used this the first year we were married and we haven't used it since. It worked perfectly for supporting the cardboard tube and is very sturdy. It's not the prettiest thing in the world so I will probably make a skirt type thing for the bottom of it to cover the green plastic and metal, eventually.


To make the form, I cut out my pattern from the muslin and sewed the pieces together, leaving the bottom open. I added a short standing collar to the neck at the last minute since I thought it would look better. To finish off the neckline and arm openings I piped around the raw edges and sewed in a slightly oval-shaped circle to keep the figure of the form. The ovals were slightly bigger than the holes they were sewed into so needed to be eased. This created a nice rounded fullness at the neck and arm openings that seem more realistic to me than a flat surface.

The longest, most tedious part of the construction was stuffing the thing. I used very small amounts of stuffing at a time and carefully tried to smoothly stuff the muslin shell. It took me the better part of an hour to get her as I wished her to be. I stuffed from the bottom, inserting the pole once I got the neck area stuffed. When I got near the bottom, I turned under a 1/4" seam allowance all around the bottom opening, pinned up the hip edges to within 2" of the center area where the pole was, and stuffed the hips. Finally, I stuffed the crutch area and slip stitched the opening shut.

After that, it was a simple matter of inserting the pole into the Christmas tree stand. And there you are! My husband seemed rather impressed but solemnly stated that she needed clothing.

Things I Would Do Differently Next Time:

Next time I would cut the pattern pieces slightly smaller, or take up a bigger seam allowance since the finished figure has measurements that are a bit bigger than my own. Although she is definitely squishable enough for me to put my gowns on her, she definitely fills them out well.

To make a more pronounced derrierre, next time I would take out a dart at the waist of the back pattern piece to create more fullness below the waistline. Since this is a display-only dressform it's not critical right now, but its something to keep in mind for future forms that may need to be made to a certain type of figure.

I also cannot figure out how to make the form anything more than an A-cup. I honestly have no idea, so if any of you know how I could do this, I'd LOVE the information! :) In the meantime, she'll be undergarmented and padded out if needed!

It's nice to have a dressform at last, but also a little startling to catch a glimpse of a figure you are not accustomed to at odd times during the day!




  1. Brilliant!!! I have had the same dilemma (I sell vintage clothes I find), but have not had the cash. And when I sit and think about it, the actual construction of a form seems very simple!

    I have found a model, but oh to have a form when I need it! LOL! Good job!
    I find what you have done very helpful and useful.

  2. It's wonderful, thank you for sharing the process!
    As for increasing the cup size, have you considered taking apart an old bra to incorporate into the pattern?

  3. This is amazing!! I can't wait to try it! Here's my thought (as another full cupped nursing Mama lol) What about princess seams? Those are easy to adapt to different cup sizes, and would be fairly easy to make "skin tight". I can not wait to try this out!!!! You are a genius. :)

  4. Thank you for sharing how you made your form! For display at re-enactments I have used a large bag stuffed full of cotton for a size 50 vest which sits on a table. For dresses, I have tied a pillow onto a hanger and tied my hoop skirt onto the pillow. Then it hangs from a “bird feeder” pole. This has worked, however, it has no shape of a woman at all and does not stand on its own. One of these days, I might just try to make a dress form similar to yours!

  5. That is great!!! I don't know if I'm an experienced enough seamstress to pull it off, but I sure would like to try it someday:-)

    Thanks for sharing!

    Lots of love,

  6. Hi Sarah Jane,

    Your blog looks wonderful, and I am eager to read in it. I noticed your lovely sewing. Do you make these dresses for special functions, or for everyday wear? I yearn to wear clothing from the 1800s, but I'm sure that I would stand out if I wore long pioneer dresses everyday. I was able to dress up twice is all, in pioneer clothing. Once was on a three-day trek, and the other time was for a pioneer day celebration.

    Zebu (


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!