This is probably the most frustrating area for home sewers: finding a fast, reliable, replicable way to get a good fit. Many of us, especially those of us who are larger, come to sewing to begin with because we got tired of shopping for clothes that don’t fit well, if they fit at all. So for us, fitting is the whole point of sewing. Unfortunately, even if we learn how to fit well (a whole other topic), fitting ourselves is nearly impossible, or at least tedious, difficult and frustrating.
Many sewers I know gave up on sewing, or moved to home décor or quilting because there’s no fitting involved. Or, they only sew oversized, loosely fitted clothing, or only sew for other people. That makes me really sad! Sewing should be a revelation, a revolution, a release – and it is for so many! But for so many more it became instead a struggle that caused them to turn away from sewing for themselves.
If you’re at all serious about sewing for yourself, you need to find a way to fit, and a dress form is the simplest way; unfortunately it’s also the most expensive way. Other ways of getting a good fit are to get a sewing buddy – someone you can consult with on sewing projects, fit issues, whose opinion you ask for color guidance, selecting fabric – and someone to meet with on occasion and gush about all things sewing! Because no one else in our lives wants to hear about it….
I am very lucky; I found a wonderful local fashion sewing community in the Houston Sewing Fashionistas, any of whom are always happy to help or offer an opinion – and many of whom are professionals! So lots of help available there. And I have a sewing buddy. She unfortunately lives an hour away (which is not a long distance for the Houston area, trust me) so we don’t get to meet as often as we’d like, but we each have dress forms so we can work on our own mostly and communicate long distance, getting together occasionally for big issues.
Yet another option is to get well-fitted slopers, which you can use to check your adjustments to patterns. This does require a fitting buddy or hiring a seamstress at the beginning, but you won’t have the expense of creating a dress form. If you are fairly standard in shape or size, and only have a few, small adjustments to make to a pattern out of the envelope, this may be all you need.
But if you are very large, very small, or have large variations to make from the pattern, you really need a dress form.
If you are close to the size of a standard dress form, you can probably get away with padding it out; check different brands, they each have a range of sizes and shapes so one brand may work for you while another is too far off. Also, there are padding systems like Fabulous Fit which make the process easier. Some brands even offer personal or community guidance for shaping a dress form to fit you.
My dress form is a Uniquely You, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought it was the best option between a dress form you have to really work to customize, and a made-to-order form.
The UY works like this: you buy a pre-made foam core that’s closest to your size, but larger. Then you fit the cover, very, very tightly, to your body. Then you place the cover on the dress form (sitting on it like trying to close an over-stuffed suit case works well) and check the measurements, adjusting as needed. It worked very well for me, except the bust which I had to pad out more to get my full forward projection, but otherwise it was fine. It took about 2, 2 ½ hours for me and a sewing buddy to fit and sew up the cover.
There are custom dress form makers out there, doing everything from 3-D scanning and foam creation (Ditto or Beatrice), to traditional custom dress forms from PGM and Wolf, and independent craftspeople who can help you make one. And there are make it at home types like Uniquely You and BootStrap, and of course really make it yourself with homemade ways of creating a body double from paper tape or plaster.
The 3-D and custom forms are very pricey as I understand, north of $1000 or $1500 dollars – not to mention the expense of travelling to the manufacturer (or getting an iPhone.) But if it’s in your budget and you don’t have a sewing buddy, or you have a highly irregular body shape (which is probably why you’re sewing your own clothes anyway) then it may be worth saving for.
I think though if you have a sewing buddy, or a local professional seamstress who will work with you to adjust and fit the cover, the Uniquely You or Bootstrap would be your best option. I am not personally familiar with BootStrap, but it seems to be the same principal as UY: adjust the cover to fit you skin tight, so you can replicate your measurements when you stuff the form.
I know a lot of sewers find dress forms frightfully expensive; either you have to pay someone else for the materials and to do all the work, or you have to spend money and your own time to get it right. As with all things, only you can decide which combination works best for you.
My dress form is in need of a small shaping update, but is current to my measurements. I covered it in satin to allow garments to slide on and off (the UY canvas cover makes clothing drag), and I currently have pins marking my guidelines, but that’s an old rig-up that needs to go; loose threads catch easily on the pin heads and can cause pulls. I need to finish my original plan and use ribbon and flat head pins or small U-shaped staples to mark and hold the cover in place. It’ll probably be a couple of months before I do, but once it’s done I’ll share a photo.
Other notes about my dress form; the base is formed from a table top from the craft section of the home store, and has casters on the bottom. I wish I had made one of them a locking caster, but it still works. I also used a piece of all-thread for the stand, and a set of two nuts and a washer to support my form at the right height.