Beginner’s Guide: Choosing a Dress Form or Sewing Mannequin

Regardless if you are a beginner or sew for a living, a dress form is a useful piece of equipment to have in your arsenal. Your model probably isn’t going to be around every time you need him/her. A dress form will allow you to take measurements once and adjust the model accordingly. Since we all know that fitting is the most difficult and frustrating part of sewing, let’s make it a little bit easier today.

Dress Form Vs. Mannequin

Beginners often ask which mannequin body for sewing is best. This shows some misunderstanding about the difference between a dress form and a mannequin, and which one you need for sewing. Let’s start off by looking for the definition of both in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Dress form: a paper, cloth, or wire representation of a woman’s figure from shoulder to thighs but minus arms that is mounted on a stand and used for fitting garments.


Mannequin: a form representing the human figure used especially for displaying clothes.

By looking at both definitions you can quickly see that most people looking for a sewing mannequin actually need a dress form instead!

Dress forms normally form a torso with a hard interior and a foam or fabric on the outside. This soft exterior results in a pinnable dress form, perfect for fitting and making adjustments. The mannequin, on the other hand, is made completely of hard material and often displays the entire human body. Simply put: dress forms are for making clothing, mannequins are for displaying clothing.

Although there are many good dress forms out there, keep in mind that any kind of dress form will never be a perfect replacement of the real deal. Although many body forms can be adjusted vertically, most of them are not adjustable lengthwise. This can be a problem if your torso is longer or your waist is higher etc. After all, dress models are made the fit the average person, but none of us is perfectly average. Moreover, your model might also add or gain some weight over time, so it’s always best to frequently test your design on a real human.

What Makes A Good Dress Form For Sewing?

When looking for the best dress form, you might want to consider the following factors:

  • Pinnability: the foam or fabric on the outside of the dress form makes it pinnable. Depending on the thickness of the outer layer, the form is either classified as partially or fully pinnable. Fully pinnable forms allow for the direct insertion of pins; useful when working with heavy fabrics.
  • Adjustability: you probably don’t want to end up with a bunch of different forms. Certain models come with dials or another way with which you can adjust the size of the model. We highly recommend buying an adjustable dress form. You can also manually adjust the model by applying some padding where you need it. Additionally, a model that easily allows you to change its height can be convenient too.
  • Collapsible shoulders: if you work with tight-fitting clothing, collapsible shoulders are definitely a must. Since the shoulders are the widest part, it is difficult to dress a static model with a tight design. Just try to remember putting on a shirt yourself; you probably move your shoulders around and wriggle a lot more than you realize.
  • Wheels: in a busy or small working space you might end up having to move or rotate your dress form a lot. In this situation wheels at the bottom of your dress form can be a real time saver.

Also, keep the reason you are buying a dress form in mind. If all you really want to do is use it to display your results, then a “sewing” mannequin might be the better option after all. These are normally much cheaper to boot. But if you are planning to use your dress form for fitting and draping, try aiming for fully pinnable and maximum adjustable dress forms.

Our Recommended Dress Form

Singer is famous for making excellent sewing machines, but they also make good quality dress forms. The dress form comes in two different variations; the DF250 small/medium dress form (bust: 84-104 cm, waist: 64-84 cm, hips: 91-112cm) and the DF251 medium-large dress form (bust: 99.06-119.38 cm, waist: 78.74-99.06 cm, hips: 104.14-124.46 cm).

Both models are 100% flannel and contain 13 dial and key adjustments. At the top of the dress Singer incorporated a pin cushion for easy storage. Of course, you can pin this model to your heart’s content and the 360 degrees’ hem guide will make sewing even easier.

Maybe a small point of critique is that this model doesn’t have any wheels, so it might not be as easy to move around as some other models. Additionally, this model doesn’t have collapsible shoulders. However, since the shoulders are quite small already, this might not form a major issue. If collapsible shoulders are a must for your projects, try looking at more high-end models such as this model by Only Mannequins.

Our Recommended Mannequin

Since most dress forms are designed with usability in mind rather than aesthetics, professional sewers might opt to buy both a dress form for sewing and a mannequin for display. This mannequin by Ladrem features a white bust with a wooden tripod, giving it an overall elegant appearance.

It can be assembled and dissembled in around 5 minutes without the need for additional tools; convenient if you need to do an impromptu display. The total height is adjustable from 56″ to 77″ and the torso from size 6 to size 8 (this means that jerseys of size 8-10 fit this torso best).

Still Hesitating?

It is true that a dress form is not instantly going to make you a better seamstress. Nor is an expensive mannequin going to make a badly designed piece of clothing look better. However, many people consider their dress form to be almost as important as the sewing machine itself. If you don’t have somebody to model for you on a regular basis and your budget allows it, you will probably not regret buying a dress form.

If you are still in doubt, check out this quick heads up from Heather Klar on the necessity of a good dress form.

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