Monday, 4 January 2010

Paper-tape dress-form

I FINALLY have a dress-form! Yippiee!

If you had followed my account on Burdastyle you would have seen a long search for a dress form that might work for me, through two different store-bought ones that didn't fit so I returned them both. The smallest "normal" one was still too big around the chest and too long in the back, and the petite one that I could actually adjust to my measurements had the tinyest, most narrow shoulders I have ever seen. Not good enough since I want to use it to pin sleeves (and to drape of course!)... And they both had really rounded hips - mine are almost completely straight, though at an angle - and a convex lower back, mine is concave...  (yup, I'm a classic sway-back!).

I was then about to buy a Diana-doll, since they have the right overall shape for me, but they're over 2000sek here (=about 200euro's, or 300US$) and at second thought I think it's a bit much when I can't make them fit me properly... so I dedided to make one instead. It would end up a bit bigger than me, I figured, but it would still be more like me than the store-bought ones, and at a MUCH lower cost...

Another search began! To cut it short it ended in me finding out about dress-forms made from gummed paper-tape, that looked good enough to be worth the effort (I'm too much of a perfectionist!) and easy enough to make. Apparently they were used a lot before commercial dress-forms became fashionable. I like that!

Since I needed someone to wrap me and couldn't really ask any of my equally busy friends to help me (it takes quite a while...) I had to wait until I went to visit my parents for christmas (that way my mum and I could make one each).

Then search no 3 began. To cut that short, in Sweden you can't buy the gummed paper-tape I needed in office-,  hobby- or hardware-supply-stores like I had though, but you have to search in art-supply-stores. It was such a relief to find it in the last possible shop (I'm visiting a small town)! It was a bit more than expected (Sweden is an expensive country...), I had to pay 185sek a roll (=about 19 euro's or 26 US$), not 5 US$ like I had read on the internet, but still, it's not much.

I also bought us both cheap turtleneck-t-shirts with long sleeves (very tight ones) at the post-christmas sale (yey!), and made a simple tube-skirt to cover my bum (since I wanted a long form, to be able to fit skirts and dresses properly). My mum's shirt was long enough in itself.

In my google-search for instructions, I found a couple of helpful sets, an old one at (my favourite, it's from a 1920's book and was very helpful), a newer one that was a great help too, another new one with some good hints and tips and another one, with good pictures, at Threads Magazine. I also found a quite interesting set of photo's that demonstrate the difference between a store-bought dress-form and a custom made one, as well as how to mount the form on a stand (which I won't do, I intend to use it hanging. I have a serious lack of floor-space).

Here's how to make it:

Materials needed: Gummed paper tape (one big roll was enough for two dress-forms in our case, one for my mum and one for me, but we're quite petite both of us, a size 34 and a size 36, or XS and S), very tight fitting clothes (that will be cut up with the form, so nothing you want to keep!), a good pair of scissors, some masking tape, a clothes-hanger or a suitable stand. A sponge is also handy to dampen the paper-strips. Dark clothes are good, since they show any areas that are wrapped with too little tape better than light coloured clothes.

1. Pre-cut a whole bunch of strips of tape. I cut it in half lengthwise, and then cut it into strips between 5cm's and 35cm's long. Cut the ends at an angle. Cut more strips than you think you will need!

2. Dress in the tight fitting clothes. You may want to wear your favourite bra underneath, to get the right shape (I wanted it to be the shape I am when I wear nicer clothes, so I dressed in my favourite bra, control-top tights, hehe, and I also wore a pair of boots with heels when I was being wrapped, otherwise it would get the wrong shape). Remeber to take off any necklaces, I accidently cut my mum's necklace when I cut her out of the form...

3. Begin wrapping. Crosswise on the chest or the back is a good way to start. Use shorter strips for more shaped areas, and cut little nips into the tape if it's hard to make it lie flat. I also found that it's easier to shape the tape if you dampen it from both sides before using it (both the gummed and the non-gummed side, it makes it much more flexible). I used that a lot at the end, when I was finishing the forms off. Not sure it's the best way to begin though (it's important not to use TOO much water, in order not to loose too much of the glue), and for some areas it's probably better to leave it dry on the non-gummed side (areas that don't have too much shape but are more flat).

4. Wrap, wrap, wrap. If you're being wrapped, try hard to not move too much... It's very hard to not flex the hips, which will create creases around the waist/lower back. Both our dress-forms got quite creased around the back (try not to move for 2-3 hours, I'm not sure it's possible... but do try as hard as you can!). The pictures show how I started off wrapping my mum. For my dressform we wrapped the top part first and then moved on the the bottom half. I'm not sure which method worked better...

5. Once the form seems thick enough (about three layers of tape is enough), dry it as much as possible with a blow-dryer. Then draw a vertical line across the chest and one in the middle of the back, with a few lines crossing it (to make it easier to tape the form back together with both halves in the right posistions). Cut along the vertical lines.

6. Join the halves again temporarily using masking tape. Compare your chest- waist- and hip-measurements to those of the form. If your measurements are smaller than the form's (my chest-measurement was just right but the other two differed by 5 cm's, it must be from breathing...), cut a strip, 1/4 of the amount it differs from each side of both halves (in my case 1.25cm's from the waist and hip-parts of the form). Taper the strips if necessary, to make it easier to join the halves again.

7. Join the halves with a few temporary strips of masking-tape. It's much easier to get it right that way than if you start off with the gummed paper-tape only, since the gummed tape slips a bit when it's still wet. Then tape the two halves using the gummed paper. Remove the masking tape before finishing it. If you want to be able to hang the dress-form you may insert a a clothes-hanger into the shoulders before joining the halves (I did, it's quite handy).

8. Trim all edges and finish them with strips of gummed tape that you fold over the edge and tape to the back of the form too (so that they cover the openings neatly) . Add more paper-tape to any thin areas.

9. If you want, you can now cover any uneven areas of the form with strips of gummed tape to make the surface smoother. I got rid of quite a bit of the creases around the waist by attaching strips that I stretched a bit over the creases, and it looked much nicer when I had covered large areas of it in very short stips that I dampened from both sides first.

It's not perfect, it doesn't look just like me (I actually think it looks a bit better than me, hehe), but I think it will do the job quite well!

Now I've just got to make a cover for it! I plan to spray it with spray-glue before putting the cover on it, to avoid it from slipping around on the very smooth surface. And before doing that I might cover it in a layer or two of varnish to make it more resistant to humidity and water. But first I plan to use it to fit a few ill-fitting toiles that were to complicated to fit on myself!


  1. Just found your blog, and just at the perfect time your form looks great! Ive always wanted a dress form and I think I will give this a go, I hope I can find the $5 in Australia lol.

  2. That would be 'the $5 gummed tape in Australia'

  3. whoa! very cool!
    I have a dress form that is pretty close to my body size/shape. but it would be nice to have one that is exactly the same, too.
    can you pin on this form? I don't think you can really, but thought I'd ask anyway...

  4. Wow! Amazing job!! I don't have a dress form because they are all so expensive. Maybe I will give this a go! Thanks for all the information and links. The form looks great!

  5. Amazing job on your dress form, and wonderful instructions. We'd love to see the tutorial on BurdaStyle!


    The BurdaStyle Team

  6. I've been wanting to try this but was always too afraid of the hassle. Maybe I'll make one this year. But I have a normal dress form which I padded to kind of fit my shape but it's not ideal. Great tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Sherena: Great! I hope you find the bargain-tape... :-). I think it's probably cheaper in office-supplies than hobby- or art-shops... but they're all about plastic tape here...

    lunatepetal: Thanks!You're right, it's not pinnable like this, but I think it will be when I add the cover, I hope it works well enough!

    Debi: Go for it! Even with the time-factor it's worth the effort even if they don't turn out PERFECT (more like perfectly good enough). And it's kind of fun too.

    BurdaStyle: Thank you! I may add a proper tutorial on BurdaStyle, we'll see if I can make some informative sketches first, I was planning to add some here too :-).

  8. Wow you are just so cute! Well done on making it!

    I was given a petite dress from, the Diana style you mentioned, a few Christmas' ago (lucky) and she's been really good and rather spot on sometimes for me. Also when making for friends, I can adjust her to fit their sizes. Things sounds really expensive in Sweden!

    I've loved finding your blog, you're always thinking about sewing in different ways! Yippee!

  9. Fantastic job!! Having a dressform is gonna change your sewing-life, seriously.
    My fella and I made a dressform once, using the duct-tape method. Or rather, we tried. It ended up being a bit too barrell-like in the stomach, and my breasts didn't match. I was like, honey what did you do! They are supposed to be the same size, at the same level! Maybe we should give it another go.

  10. Hi Karin! I love your blog! I really love your twisted shoulder dress and your blue blouse with the bow front. I think I might also have a go at knocking off that Lanvin dress, also!

  11. what a jolly good idea thanks very much. I and my daugher are plus size and its very hard to get a good fit as we are not a standard fit. Thanks very much

  12. Hey Karin!
    I made my dress form the exact same way like you did, but it's not finished yet.
    Please keep us updated on how you make the cover, because I'm not sure on how to go about that!
    Did you plan to reinforce it on the inside too? Or in some other way?

  13. Very clever making your own dress form! Looks fantastic. Having one of these will make your designing life so much easier, for sure. No more trying it on over and over and having to get undressed each time, just slip it on to the form!
    I love your blog and think your creations are beautiful. Well done!

  14. Thanks for your post! I plan to make one of these this spring. Thanks for the tip on wearing shoes. I never would have thought of that!

  15. Wow! That dress form is amazing! I don't think I could stand still for 3 hours though. But I'm contemplating it. I struggle to get body shapes right too, I am short through the torso so dresses in particular are always an issue. Hmmm maybe one day I will get busy and make myself one. Thanks for the inspiration.

  16. This is a geat tutorial! I have always wanted to give this a go but I'm not sure where to find the paper tape either. I'd love to make one for displaying corsets, but the wrapping process won't be a lot of fun I think!

  17. fint resultat! jag har funderat ett tag över att göra en sån här, behöver den verkligen. ska försöka få ihop ett gäng (noggranna människor med tålamod) som kan hjälpa till.

    för övrigt: en kanonblogg!


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