Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Frugal - and fun - Dress Form

It's about time I wrote another sewing post.

Actually, for this one, I didn't sew a stitch. Not yet, anyway.

It all started with a white cotton dress. I want one for this coming summer, and so naturally I decided to sew one. I can rarely find what I want in the stores as far as dresses go.

Hmmm...I'm sitting here debating whether to tell you where I got my pattern idea or not. ...Hmm...

I guess I will. But don't laugh. Please.

I got it from a chip bag.

It's a delightful tortilla chip bag, with a smiling girl on the front, wearing a lovely frilly white Mexican-style shirt. Every time we have chips and salsa dip, I look at that pretty young lady, with curl dark hair and frilly white shirt, and admire her seamstress. (Of course, it's only a drawing, but still...)

So I decided to make a dress patterned after the shirt. The only problem is tortilla chip companies don't offer dress patterns for shirts that their drawings wear. Or any kind of pattern, for that matter.

But that didn't bother me - not after all the lunches I've spent critically studying that shirt. I was confident that I could turn out something very similar.

Now, usually when I create a new pattern, I use old pattern pieces - from lots of different patterns - to cut around. This way I know the design will at least fit me. I hope. It also saves much headache and measuring time.

But for this new project I used only one pattern piece. Everything else I eye-balled.

In my sewing dictionary, "eye-balled" means "Cut where it looks good, sew, then try on. Repeat." I was just cutting, trying on, and cutting again. Bad way to sew. Did you hear me? Bad. I finally ended up throwing the dress across the table and saying "I'm not touching you again until I have a dress form!" Enough with the little white lint fuzzies covering me from head to toe! Enough with the pulled muscles from trying to measure the arm that's holding the tape measure.

But I can't afford a dress form. At least not a "regular" one.

That's where duck tape comes in.

Now, I'm very proud - in a nice way - of this method of making a dress form. I thought I had come up with the idea all by my original self...until I goggled it and found out that others have had the same original idea. Oh well. It's still a good idea.

Here are step-by-step instructions, which are easier than trying to sit and explain what a duck tape dress form is:

#1: Start with a large T-shirt; one that you don't need anymore. You will be cutting this one. Use one that is as big as possible. The longer the better. I used one from my Dad, and even longer would have been nicer. You will also need a scrap of cotton cloth to wrap around your neck. I used a scrap from that infamous dress.

#2 - Buy at least 2 rolls of duck tape. You will probably use almost all of it. Start wrapping it around yourself - with help, if you need it. (I did!) Start by wrapping one strip of tape around your waist, then your neck, and then one around yourself right under your arms. I got my youngest sister Lezley to help me. I don't think I could have managed without her help!

You'll want to wrap the tape tightly, but not too tight. The dress form you'll be wearing should be your size - no smaller, no larger.

#3 - After covering every inch of T-shirt, including your neck, go back over and do a light second coat, trying to make everything smooth and neat. You should be starting to look like a dress form!

At this point you will discover that duck tape it very hot, and it does not expand when you breathe. Breathe shallow, and tell your sister to hurry with the tape.

I have a picture I took of me completed in the duck tape, but I just can't stand to post it. You'll have to imagine what it looked like. Mom says I was "from outer space."

#4 - Get someone to make a nice neat cut down the center of you back. Mom did it for me. I had a moment of panic when at first we couldn't find scissors that were sharp enough to cut the layers of duck tape. What a relief to be out of that thing!

(Note: I was not wearing this shirt under the old T-shirt. If you wear a shirt under your dress form, be willing to have it cut by accident. I don't recommend wearing two shirts while doing this. It will probably alter your shape too much.)

And of course Lezley wanted to try it on. :) After all her help, I was glad to let her have fun with the thing.

#5 - Now, all that morning I had been creating the frame for the dress form to sit on:

The bottom part was already made - my brother Justin had been using it for something, but he let me have it. I just had to add the three cross sections on top.

#6 - Tuck the sleeves inside the dress form, and hang it on the frame. Use duck tape to close up the sleeve openings, and the bottom on the shirt, taking care not to misshape it. Then tape up the bottom few inches of the back slit.

#7 - Stuff with whatever you've decided to use as stuffing. After much brain-racking, I was stumped. Dad suggested using plastic grocery bags, and I liked the idea. We have plenty of those hanging around!

However, when they're compressed, they shrink a great deal. I wadded them up and packed them in. They're perfect; they give the dress form shape, yet are light.

I can't finish the dress form until we go shopping again, 'cause I used up all the bags we have in the house, leaving a few for trash bags, and I still need more. For now, here's what it looks like:

If I were doing it over again, I would use a longer shirt (if I could find one!) and make the dress form come down a little farther. Aside from that, I love how this turned out. It's exactly my size! I even made it my height. After stuffing it, I want to spray paint the pole red, to match my red-and-white sewing room, and sew a white cotton cover for the duck tape. Then I'll add a cheery pincushion on top of the neck, and I'll be done! Won't it look nice?

Who says you need to spend a bunch of money on a fancy dress form? This works for me!


Leanne said...

This is fantastic. Those dress forms are sooo expensive.

Mrs. JT said...

That looks great! I tried doing this once with paper tape, and it was much more of a hassle. It turned out very well, but took about 3 hours from start to finish and included carefully dipping the tape in water to activate the glue, etc., etc. :( How long did this take you? Oh, another thing that the paper tape instructions mentioned were to alter the T-shirt to be very fitted so that there was as little bulk as possible. Looks like yours turned out beautifully without this extra step! Hmmm... maybe it's time to make another - after this baby, perhaps. :) Thanks for sharing!

Amber said...

Thanks, Leanne.

Mrs. JT, I can't imagine the hassle of using paper tape! This took me about 1.5 hours...maybe a little more. I spent about 2 hours on the stand to hold it! The wood didn't want to behave for me. :)

I think the extra bulk of the T-shirt is a good idea; I have less space inside to stuff, which is nice because it takes a LOT of stuffing as it is!

Ali said...

Duct tape IS the handyman's (or woman's in this case!) secret weapon, this is great! I have been wanting a dress form for a looong time, now maybe I can have one!

Ruth Ann said...

wow, that's a very clever idea. I don't think I would have thought about it. I don't really use a form, but if I ever wanted/needed mommy has one, from her sewing days before marriage. We don't have the stand for it, but I'm sure one could be made pretty easily. :) But I like this example of using what you have to do what you need. :) Very wise.

Sandra said...

It looks great Amber!!!

I wish I could see the picture of you in that you didn't post...I guess I'll just have to imagine it :)

Lezley looks really good in it, too!!

Kirby3131 said...

I don't sew, but I can certainly appreciate wanting to make something to help you do your craft more efficiently. Your idea is very very clever!

Send me your address and I'll give you my plastic bags LOL

Hope you have a great day!
Kristin (The Goat)

Adelheide said...

Great job, you are so resourceful! Just recently I sold my dressform because I outgrew it. Soon I would like to try making a new one like yours, thanks for the step by step instructions.

Leah said...

Once again, I had to laugh while reading your post Amber! :)

I have been slowly teaching myself to sew after a couple of seamstress friends got me started and though I have not yet felt the need for a dress form, someday I probably will and this will come in very handy. Thanks for sharing.

I like your new comment form message!

the 6 o'clock stitch said...

You should submit this tutorial in the Mr. Linky for "Make & Tell Monday"! Feel free to jump in every week! I love it!

Amber said...

the six o'clock stitch: Thank you! I just jumped over to your blog to take a look; what a wonderful lot of inspiring pictures! I'm looking forward to next Monday.

Chrysler said...

Or you can do like I did and find a dress form meant only for decoration that just happens to be just your size at a boutique store thats closing so they want to get rid of it at coast. Yes I know...I'm pretty lucky aren't I?