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 husband, friends or kids probably aren’t going to be around every time you need them to take measurements. 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 by reviewing which dress form or mannequin you need, and where to buy a sewing a mannequin.
Dress Form Vs. Mannequin
Beginners often ask which mannequin body for sewing is the best. This is a little tricky to answer and shows some misunderstanding about the difference between a dress form and a mannequin when it comes to 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! However, in practice the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Dress forms are normally made out of a torso with a hard interior padded by 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.
This is why dress forms are used for making clothing whereas mannequins are normally only used to display the 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. Many body forms can be adjusted vertically but not adjustable lengthwise. This can be a problem if the torso of your model is longer or their waist is higher than average. So if your model deviates too much from the standard, an average sewing dress form won’t be of much use.
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.
Do You Need A Dress Form?
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 won’t regret buying a dress form or sewing mannequin.
If you are still in doubt on whether you need one, check out this quick heads up from Heather Klar on the necessity of a good dress form.
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
Best Adjustable 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 Sewing 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 Ledrem 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 and size is adjustable from size 6 to size 8 (this means that jerseys of size 8-10 fit this torso best).
Looking For A Cheap Alternative?
Not everyone has the money to buy a mannequin or dress form for sewing. Or maybe you are just starting out and don’t want to make the investment just yet.
If that sounds like you, there is a cheap alternative: make your own body form!
It’s not difficult to make one. But you will need duck tape, stuffing, an old T-shirt, a lot of time and someone helping you.
How To Make A Dress Form At Home
- Wear an old T-shirt that you don’t mind cutting apart.
- Take small pieces of duck tape and tightly apply it to the t-shirt to fit your body.
- Do this until your entire torso and shoulders are covered with duck tape. Your friend can help you to apply tape to your back.
- Ask your friend to cut open the duck tape and t-shirt from the back.
- Take off the body form and stuff it as much as possible.
- Then close the body form by using a few more pieces of duck tape.
- Seal the arms and the bottom to prevent filling from falling out.
And there you have it! A custom made body form that you can use for your sewing projects. It might take a lot of time and effort to pull off, but it might be a good alternative to buying a dress form if you are just starting out.