Should I Buy A Dressmaker’s Dummy?

covered dummy

What’s this? It’s, it’s…

reveal

Have you guessed yet?

dressmaker's dummy

It’s my dressmaker’s dummy! Complete with old bra stuffed wonkily with socks. It lives in a corner of my living room, hence the drape. I don’t want visitors’ retinas being scarred by the above vision. I save that for my blog readers. You’re welcome.

So. A reader recently asked me to write a piece on dressmaker’s dummies. My experiences are pretty limited to this model, which I’ve owned for a few years. I have been lucky enough to be around some amazing dressmaker’s dummies whenever I’ve studied sewing, on this occasion at Central Saint Martins.

design student

But back to my adjustoform. What is my honest assessment after several years’ use? It’s alright. It ain’t all that.

It’s light, which makes it very easy to move about. This is a factor worth considering, as I stand it on a table when I use it to hem.

It has a chalk dispenser for marking level hems, when the dummy is wearing a skirt or dress. This is useful. It would be more useful if the dummy didn’t have a derriere as flat as a pancake. My bum is round, I don’t know about yours! I have been known to pad the dummy’s posterior.

chalk dispenser

And that’s why it’s wearing one of my old bras beneath a cream cover. Dummy dimensions tend to be nothing like a real human’s. With my padded bra I can at least make rough checks that a bodice or shirt will close over my chest. I can also use the dummy to quickly check that a waistband will fit me, without tiresome disrobing.

But there’s no way I would use this plastic torso for detailed fitting. Even if I owned one of the uber expensive dummies, I still wouldn’t rely on it for specific fits.

A dummy is great for storing sewing on between makes. It’s useful to drape fabrics over and get a sense of their visual impact. It helps with blog photos. Yeah, it’s useful for the odd bit of fitting. And it’s a talking point for visitors. I’d be a bit lost without mine, but it’s not the best friend I’d call in a crisis. Not with those wonky boobs.

What about you? Do you swear by your dressmaker’s dummy or just swear at it?

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57 Responses to Should I Buy A Dressmaker’s Dummy?

  1. Sarah says:

    I don’t yet make things that are fitted, I lean towards loose and shapeless so with this in mind I would be totally lost without mine. And last year when I made my first coat, well it couldn’t have been done without one.

  2. Kaitlyn says:

    I sometimes leave mine naked by the front window. I would have never bought myself one, but it came as part of my sewing room inheritance. I use it a lot, usually for storing half finished items. I have done some subtle fitting on it, but not a lot as it’s slightly larger than I am in the bust.

  3. Debbie says:

    I don’t use my adjustable commercial dress form much as it’s nothing like my body shape but I do use the one my husband helped me to make to my size and shape exactly by wrapping my torso in wettable paper tape! It was a bit disconcerting to see what I look like from all angles but VERY useful when fitting. I do have to hide her away when we have visitors though. That would be too embarrassing!

  4. yes, I find my invaluable. Great to drape on, correct fit and pin fabrics in place to see how they will look.

  5. Alex says:

    I got mine for christmas from my parents and already I wouldn’t be without her. It gives me somewhere to put my makes inbetween working on them because I have limited time and I can look at them when eating my dinner.

  6. Jan Brown says:

    I have a ‘love – hate’ relationship with mine. I bought it because it stated ‘fully adjustable’ but this is a lie. Yes you can alter the bust, waist, hip and torso length below the bust line BUT and this is the biggest BUT for me, you can’t adjust the shoulder to apex measurement. My measurement is 31cms but the dummy, even with loads of shoulder pads and padding [which has made the neck disappear] I can only get to 25.5 cms. So it’s very difficult to adjust the bust darts correctly and with no neck, collars don’t sit well. I use it to asses overall look of the garment or to hang overnight to see if creases fall out and as you say, to spare visitors any embarrassment but fitting is impossible.

    • PsychicKathleen says:

      I had a similar problem with mine – my apex is much lower (I’m tall too meaning my trunk is just longer and this can’t be adjusted for on the form either) so I just ignored the breasts on the dress form and created new ones where mine are – stuffing one of my old bras. This seems to work just fine because it IS important to be able to see how a garment will fit and look in the bust! That’s crucial 🙂

  7. Jenny Lester says:

    Got rid of mine a while ago – yes useful to hang half completed garments on or drape fabric around, but as a fitting tool pretty useless. As you say it doesn’t have the lumps bumps and general contours of a body, well not my body!! Very useful when I used to make bridal gowns as they Re something which needs to be “stored” carefully during construction, but that’s some years ago now so when we downsized it had to go and I can’t say I have missed her!!

  8. Needleswift says:

    I don’t use mine for fitting because, as you say, they really don’t have the figure of a real woman! I do use it constantly for work in progress, just to step back and admire, or as storage effectively. I read in Claire Shaeffer’s ‘Couture Sewing Techniques’ that in couture they will take up to 30 measurements of a customers body and then pad a dress form to their exact shape. I love this idea and one day might attempt this myself. Though not sure I need a constant visual of my lumps and bumps in my life!

  9. Rachel says:

    Completely agree with your assessment. Mine is great at the things it is designed for, but has no hope of stretching to things that some (including me, pre-dressform) might think it should enable – i.e. perfecting fit.
    The biggest hindrance in that department for me is that my dressform is hard, whereas I am not (not in the least bit!!). I find that this affects the way things fit quite fundamentally.
    I wouldn’t be without mine though, for assessing style/hang etc or hemming; and because my (now) husband proposed with it. Keepers, the pair of them!

  10. Louise says:

    I have a “deluxe” model – thanks to generous hubby but it is still only used to hang skirts pre hemming. Fitting a bodice accurately is almost impossible. My advice – spend your money on more fabric and patterns.

  11. Fabrictragic says:

    My beloved helped me make a paper tape dress form a couple of years ago. It’s not perfect in terms of girth – it’s a little wider than me, but it’s very very useful for tissue fitting, checking bust position, seeing how things will sit with my sway back. I never use it to hem. It wasn’t expensive – just cost mostly time and patience. Well worth it I say. There’s a post on it somewhere in the depth of my blog…..Can’t comment on a commercial stunt double though.

  12. Jess says:

    The point of a dressmakers form is to pad it out to your personal measurements. If you want your garment to fit you when wearing your best undies then you need to replicate the shape on your form so it’s really a waste of time if you don’t.

    When making for another person then if you adjust the form to suit that person you can do fittings when you need to.

    I hope you find this helpful.

  13. fabrickated says:

    My stand is pretty close to my measurements so I use it everyday. I have been learning to drape so I have designed various things on the stand (eg peplum jacket); I use it to get the lining to work; I pin garments parts together on the stand to see what it looks like in terms of being close fitting or whatever; I use it to try trimmings; I use it instead of a coat hanger; I use to determine the hem; I couldn’t really do without it. Apart from the sewing machine and shears I think it is the most important piece of equipment.

  14. Andrea says:

    I’m a total beginner, having so far made two t-shirts, so this is an interesting post for me as I was considering getting one of these. Not sure now.

  15. Same story here. I don’t use mine as much as I thought I would as it is not an adjustable one. There is no replacement for sewing in a dressing gown! I do find it useful for those ‘bad- hair-day’ blog photos! Jo x

  16. Jane says:

    I use mine in exactly the same way as you i.e. to check if garments will fit across the chest and waist. Yes, the dummy’s measurements are the same as mine, but the shape certainly isn’t. I’ve added a padded bra as the original boobs are ridiculous, high, pointy things. The neck is also weirdly thick and the arse on mine is massive! I like it though and can’t see any benefit to getting a more accurate one. x

  17. lisa g says:

    I call my dressform an expensive hangar. It’s helpful-ish for photos, but given the fact that it isn’t even close to my proportions (too small here… too big there…) it’s barely useful at all! It’s certainly not the game changer I’d hoped for!

  18. Caroline says:

    I use my dressform to model the clothes for my blog photos and for pinning. I do not rely on it for fit. I use my own body for that!

  19. Nikki says:

    I love my dress form! Buying one with collapsible shoulders was the best decision I made. And the padding set (http://fabulousfit.com/dress-form-pfs) was invaluable to making it look like an actual person! I still try everything on myself as I’m making it though.

  20. Kelly says:

    My dress form, KG2, is a duct tape replica of me. LOVE her. And my husband and I had a blast making her. Invaluable for fitting.

  21. Bunny says:

    I have had the Dritz my double dress form in a petite size for years. It is not my body but served for draping, trim placement, etc. Then a couple of years ago I decided to follow a Kenneth King Threads article on padding out a dress form to exactly duplicate your shape. Ann of Gorgeous Fabrics did hers and it inspired me. You basically make a skin tight muslin with a zipper up the back. You pad the form out and zip that baby up. It took three weekends of work, was totally worth the effort. This has my slightly lower shoulder and other idiosyncrasies of my bod. It’s not hard to do, just a bit time consuming but once done, I was so pleased. I can actually fit on it now and love that. On my blog I show how I did it over several posts. Let me know if you want those links.

    I did the duct tape route and was not pleased. A couple of months later, in a very humid and hot August, it just drooped and didn’t mimic my shape at all any more. I didn’t like pinning into the duct tape either. Not my first choice.

  22. Anon says:

    Great post idea! I agree with everyone – do not buy a dress form!!! It is a waste of money and space. I fell for the idea it was adjustable, but that is in width only, and not very good even then. It did not occur to me that people can have the same measurement in inches, but a more round or flat shape! And ever worse, the lengths between shoulder, bust, waist, and hips is all wrong for my body and unadjustable. And it does not account for my having very narrow shoulders. I am very tempted to make one with duct tape or wet packing tape!!

  23. JustGail says:

    Unless you are going to take the time to tweak the form to be close to your own measurements, or you are going to design for a standard pattern size, I’d say don’t buy one. Even the adjustable ones don’t really mimic most real-world shapes. I have a form padded out to something close to my measurements and it has saved me quite a bit of time and frustration from repeated tweaking a pattern and trying on, not being able to see the back and shoulders, etc. I’ve had much better results since getting the form. I currently am not sewing clothing that needs to be extremely fitted, mostly knit tops and casual jackets/cardigans.

    I’d love to make one of those paper-tape forms, but I don’t know who I’d have assist in making it.

  24. Jen (NY) says:

    I know that my proportions are no where near a commercial dress form, so I made one of the duct tape forms some years ago. (http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/3630/quick-and-easy-duct-tape-dress-form/page/all). It is nearly a double of me, with a hanger at the top, and so it is quite useful, though definitely something I keep out of view. The key to the duct tape form is to use A LOT of good quality duct tape in at least 3 layers, wrap it tightly on the body, and put inner supports in the bust area and shoulder line. Firm padding is also critical (I used a combination of expandable foam and newspaper). I’m planning to make a new one soon, as I’ve changed a little and the form is getting too beat up. Not as pretty as a commercial form, but I think I’ll make a cover for it this time as well.

  25. I LOVE my Uniquely You dress form! I bought Madeleine off of craigslist about 2.5 years ago. I was super lucky in that her measurements were a really close match to my own. After losing a little weight, I had to shave off some of her foam, LOL. Having a dress form is great for draping, pattern fitting, smoothing out fitting issues…just by putting the garment I’m working on onto her is helpful in assessing what is either working or not.

  26. Leila says:

    A purchased dress form would be useless for me, since I have unusual posture. I have a custom paper tape form that I use occasionally. It’s not perfect, but when I use it, it’s quite helpful.

  27. Bonnie says:

    My dress form helps me visualize and choose design details. Would this checkered fabric pocket look better on the grain or on bias? Where exactly should these skirt pleats go for best effect? Does the scale of this print look good with this style line, or should I change things up a bit?

    Fitting, though, no — basically only to make sure there is no obvious funky stuff going on at my bust, which is my chief problem area for fitting.

    Our house has a mail slot, and usually USPS carriers don’t push mail all the way in, leaving envelopes hanging out and exposed; consequently there is a lot of mail theft in the neighborhood. Right now, my dress form is wearing a shirt and is positioned at the window nearest the mail slot, partly as a joke and partly as a deterrent, ha ha. With the blinds lowered just enough to hide the fact it has no head, it really looks like a creepy person standing silently on guard. I guess I should change the shirt and move it every once in a while for maximum deterrence,

  28. PsychicKathleen says:

    I do use it for certain things – for example if I’m making a knit top or dress I will put it on my dress form to pin before sewing the seams to make sure the fit is right. I find it difficult to do that on my person with any accuracy. I use it too like you to hang my work in progress – it gives me a sense of whether I’m going to prefer the garment remain a dress or get shortened into a tunic (which I wear a lot!). I had one a few years ago and found I wasn’t using it much and gave it away to a woman launching a dressmaking business – then we moved and I started getting more involved in sewing than ever before and went out and bought another one! So there you go. I would recommend them to someone who does plan to do a fair bit of sewing – it’s nice to see your garment becoming on someone (something) else that’s just your size 🙂

  29. sewsincity says:

    I swear AT my dress form lol. I agree. The proportions are nothing like mine even with the adjustable “measurements” and I refuse to spend the money on a custom form when who knows if I will lose or gain 10lbs off and on for the next 20 years while I have the thing haha!

  30. Abigail says:

    I never use my dress form. I wish it worked, but it’s not my exact size and ends up being annoying.

  31. Naomi says:

    I thought getting a dressform would change my (sewing) life but I don’t use it that much. It isn’t exactly my shape despite having the correct bust/waist/hip measurements. For example, adjusting the bust measurement changes the size of the ribcage, not cup size. Increasing the hip measurement makes the hips wider and my hips are narrow but my butt sticks out. Another potential problem (though not for me) is that my form doesn’t really allow you to have bust/waist/hip on a larger setting than the others if you are not proportioned evenly. I use it for rough fitting and I don’t do much detailed fitting anyway. I started sewing regularly 5 years ago and am on my third baby since then so my size has fluctuated a lot. I think the form looks nice in my sewing area and I like to hang projects on it but it has not really made sewing easier.

  32. You’ve perfectly summed up my feelings towards my dressmaker’s dummy! A ‘noce-to-have’, but not essential :o)

  33. esewing says:

    I use my dummy quite a bit , she’s adjustable in body length and vitals , but nobody’s body is the same so I recommend fitting a calico block to your unique curves then fit block over your dummy and stuff , this would pick up vital things like any unevenness in your shoulders which will affect the way your garments fall if not corrected.

  34. drdott says:

    I’m another person who uses a duct-tape dummy. I’m sub-petite so knew I’d never find one which was even close to my measurements (I’d need a childs one for height) so went down this route. It’s now about 8 years old and recently I did some maintenance and gave her a little bit more padding to match my size changing over the years, and added some more tape in the weaker areas. I also replaced the cardboard tube which I used as internal support and also as a place to put a stand (I stole a flash stand from my photographer other half, ha ha). I made a cover for it from a thin jersey top and this is great for pinning into. I still haven’t learned to use patterns, so I use my other-me a lot for fitting while making up how to make things.

  35. dr P says:

    I love dollyP, I don’t know what I did before I got her. Like others have said, you have to take the time to get the padding in the right shape and all that. I find her invaluable for a lot of fitting that I just wouldn’t be able to do on my own….my UFO rate has decreased since I got her

  36. Danielle says:

    Thanks for posting about this! I’ve been debating on whether I should get one for ages and it’s really helpful to read about your experiences as well as what people are posting in the comments.

  37. In my at home, for fun, sewing-or-throwing life, I use my dressform to fit-check the tissue pattern, mark hems, and play with placement of stripes and florals, and anything that needs a long view. Like, dress the mannequin and walk down the hall for a look.
    Sometimes I’ll even take a photo, re-drape, take another photo, and then look at the photos rather than the form to make the decisions for color blocking or print placement. Seeing the potential garment in 2-D rather than right there in front of your face can be really helpful.
    In my professional life as a costume pattern-maker, though, the very first step is selecting the best dressform and padding it to match the actress’s measurements.
    Padding almost always involves putting a bra on the form and padding it (with bust pads, not socks, lols!) to lower the bust point, filling in the waist, adding a lower belly, rounding the hips, and creating a butt. Padding might also include things like squaring off the shoulders or creating a rounded back.
    Multi-layered tailor’s shoulder pads are the best thing in the world for padding, they steam into shape, you can peel off layers if you need less, they’re rounded, they are the bombdotcom.
    The importance of the dressform in pattern making can’t be overemphasized. The dressform is just plain necessary.
    If you’re not making patterns, though, or majorly altering or playing around with your commercial patterns, I’d say they’re not necessary. They are awesome, helpful, and one should totally stalk eBay and get one if so inclined, but they’re not strictly necessary.
    So I’d say if you don’t have one, it’s cool, but if you do, may I strongly and very cheerfully encourage you to pad it to your shape! Mannequins aren’t built like people, they’re meant to be padded. Ain’t no shame in a dressform covered in padding, quite the opposite! And they can be so very helpful if you let them!
    Also please pardon this lengthy comment. Turns out I like talking mannequins? Passion gets me all verbose I guess.

  38. sewbusylizzy says:

    I certainly don’t swear by, or at, my dummy. I tend to store projects on it and mine is slightly too big so I can’t actually do up dresses that I make on it.
    The thing i found it most useful – and essential for – is when I’m making Japanese or draped garments which are quite unusual and complex. Because the pattern pieces and construction can be unusual, having a dummy to drape and pin the fabric into makes an enormous difference. But other than that… I think they are pretty useless.

  39. Karen when I made wedding dresses all the time I couldn’t live without it, and my current one is essential for making my alter ego Constance Craving’s gorgeous frocks. Because of the need to build 3d embellishments. Even if the fit is not perfect, the two biggest uses are ruching and lace.
    Ruching as in close, bias cut ruching onto a fitted bodice. Lace as in covering an entire bodice with alencon or quipure lace, or cutting it up and applying it like a vine of flowers and leaves flowing over the bodice, possibly even over the ruching. I used to sit on the couch with the dummy between my legs, stitching these details on by hand with tiny stitches.
    My most recent use was applying sequinned scallops all over the front of a corset. It took hours and hours to glue them on, then I could take it off and hand stitch them on. I LOVE doing that kind of thing! Here’s a post about it showing it on my dress form. http://sentfrommyiron.blogspot.co.nz/2016/01/peacock-makeover.html
    So yes, i think you’ve nailed it – so many people have the wrong expectations of what a dress form can do for you. Useless for fitting really, as you get no idea about ease, sleeve movement etc. But if you are embellishing then they are indispensable.

  40. Ha! My ‘Gloria’ also wears a stuffed bra and is usually found draped in a scarf too. I found her in a charity shop and bought her as she’s a larger model, but honestly her dimensions are not close to mine. I spent hours at the beginning trying to adjust her to be my double, but now she’s a rough guide and clothes horse. Plus, she makes me feel more professional about my sewing, and I get motivated to finish projects if I can see them being ‘worn’ in a half-finished state

  41. I have two dress forms both of which are nowhere near my size as I used to use them for draping corsets for clients. They are fabulous for that and for allowing me to steam shape my pieces and allow them to dry on a “person”. I also use them to work out pattern placement and embellishments. I would love to have one in my size as I find them really useful but I do agree that the bust apex is nowhere near mine and they are very flat of butt. I do pad mine out when needed and put a bra on them. Xx

  42. I made a dress form modelled from duct tape around my body. I found the finished form really useful for fitting as it was a good replica of my shape. I did this at Morley College over a weekend. I think they run this course once a year.

  43. Martina says:

    I bought a dress form and padded it out to my measurements and body peculiarities. I used the kit from Fabulous Fit, which has good instructions. I use it for rough fitting, and then do final fittings on me. It’s really good for getting an idea of how things look on me, since I always find mirrors a little deceiving.

  44. Robin says:

    I use an adjustable model all of the time, and find it indespensable. It doesn’t replace fine fitting, but it is very motivating, and that counts for a lot. It helps hold the work in progress together through to the end and is especially helpful with draping, shaping after a good press, and shoulder pad placement.

  45. I have a cheap one off of eBay, it’s made of polystyrene and I used a hot knife to sculpt it to represent me more! Quite horrid basically cutting her tits off! I use her during cutting out to visualise how the pieces come together.

  46. Tomasa says:

    My body form is an exact replica of my figure from years ago, prior to menopause. At that time, I used it for fitting. Since then, my body has changed but it is still good enough for fitting certain areas like my shoulders and back so now I use it more like you use yours.

  47. monkeysocks says:

    I love mine! I use it for fitting constantly, particularly FBAs. I did however make it myself to my own measurements as I couldn’t see how I was ever going to make a ready made one remotely the same size and shape as me! More details on the blog (this inspired me to get round to writing a post! http://monkeysockslearnstosew.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/i-love-my-dressform.html )

  48. Sheryl Green says:

    Have you seen the crafty class – customising your dress form by Judy Jackson, uses a system very like the one explained by Kenneth King in Threads magazine. I don’t know how much it costs these days because I’m already enrolled, but you end up with a fantastic dummy cover shaped and padded to match your shape, that zips on and off of your dress form as needed.
    Obviously the more time and trouble you put into measuring and checking your “double” the better the end result will be.

  49. Nancy K says:

    Last summer I made a dress form altered to my measurements with a Uniquely You form. I used the Craftsy class which is good but she makes it seem easier than it really is! This is the only one that you can narrow the shoulders on and I have quite narrow shoulders. It’s good but not perfect. But I do use it a lot. I am making a coat and its been helpful. It was wobbly so my very handy dh took the rolling base from a desk chair and used it for the base and this was brilliant! I can move it anywhere as well as out of the way. A friend went the expensive way and has a custom Wolf form made. She traveled up to New Jersey twice to be measured and is very pleased with the results. She also had an arm made, a useful add on.

  50. I find mine mostly useless except for taking photos of things on it, and hemming. I can give it that– it’s definitely useful for hemming. But for anything else, it’s just not that helpful to me. I understand the appeal of getting one that’s customized to your shape or doing one of the duct tape varieties so it truly matches you body, but haven’t invested the time/effort and/or money. I think that’s the better route to go if you want to use it for fitting.

  51. Elaine says:

    For some reason my “Peggy” scared the heck out of my grandson for almost 2 years! He still gives it lots of room when he walks by. He likes it better when she has clothes on! LOL

  52. About 4 yrs ago I bought a 2nd hand one for $50. I’m glad I got it so cheap because I’ve never used it for dressmaking. It has hung some clothing, at times half completed for what some are calling drape or storage! seriously glad I did not fork our hundreds of dollars.

  53. Hannah says:

    I bought a dress makers dummy a few years back thinking it would be really useful, but honestly I use it mostly to hang a latest sewing project on or a little bit of fitting, but normally I just try it on myself. I also put a bra on mine for fit, but it’s just not the same as trying an item on. If I was thinking about buying one now, would I? Quite possibly not. Though I do quite like it for decoration, so maybe just a fancy one instead of an adjustable.

  54. Lorinda says:

    I wish I could afford a custom dress dummy.

  55. Gillian Stapleton says:

    I was lucky enough to get a free mannequin from a local shop when they were upgrading their window displays. I found her sitting out with the rubbish on the pavement, went inside and asked if I could take her. She’s not adjustable, but she has a beautifully carved neck cap and stand, and her body is plaster. I gave her a new cream cover, painted the neck and base in French Grey, and pad her with wadding to the right measurements when I’m working out a new pattern. She’s lovely. Other adjustable models have come and gone, but she’s the one I keep.

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