Dress Forms

My Dress form, Duplicate O’Neill – you’d have to watch a particular scifi show to get the reference.

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.

Answers to Your Questions

I got a lot of requests for information after my last post on Roz’s Website, SMF Designs and Friends. I was asked about fitting, my machine, my dress form, and what patterns I use. I believe I answered everyone’s questions personally (and if I didn’t, send me another email!) But I thought since there were so many, I’d answer them here as well for everyone to read.

First question – Do I teach fitting for plus sizes/ where did I learn to fit? No, I don’t actually teach fitting; I do try to offer a larger person’s perspective of fitting to my local sewing club, The Houston Sewing Fashionista’s (contact Roz for more info), and I am always happy to try and help my local fellow sewers with basic fitting. But for professional help I recommend Andrea, our local fit expert.

Andrea has been certified as a Palmer Pletsch Fitter, and has developed her own techniques for fitting over the years. If you’re in the Houston area she offers consultation, and if you’re not in the area, she’s got a YouTube channel, blog, Instagram, her own pattern line, and many other ways of teaching and reaching others. She’s a wonderful person, a terrific seamstress and has lots of information and experience to share.

Second Question – What machine is Sunny that you can digitize embroidery? Sunny is a Baby Lock Solaris, and has IQ Designer Technology. IQD is a built-in embroidery software that, coupled with the on-machine camera, allows you to scan an image and create an embroidery design (it digitizes it for you.) So any Baby Lock machine with IQ Designer (or any Brother machine with My Design Center) and a camera will get you this ability. If you’d like to read more about Sunny you can here. But looking at it, it’s a bit preliminary – I think it’s time to do a follow up on Sunny, so you’ll see that soon.

Third Question – Where’d I get my dress form? My dress form is a Uniquely You, and I bought it from SewVacDirect, but they list it as discontinued on their website. I have seen them listed at AllBrands.com as well, so either of those or someone else may still have some in stock. I thought it was the best option between a dress form you have to really work to customize, and a made-to-order form. Since it’s such a hot topic, I’m going to do another post to go into details.

Fourth Question – What brand of patterns do you use? You know, this is another hot topic, which I may write about later, but the short answer is I use Big 4 patterns – Simplicity, Vogue, McCall’s, Butterick and Kwik Sew – which is five, I know. I find them to be the easiest to alter to fit me, and I tend to favor Vogue and Kwik Sew, followed by Simplicity, then Butterick and McCall’s. I have tried other pattern companies, but that’s another story for another time as they say.

So, I think those are the questions that were most often repeated, and asked by lots of people – thank you! I hope I’ve answered your questions, and if you have any more don’t hesitate to ask!

Tip for Layered Fabrics (Underlinings)

My Finished Skirt

With a skirt, or shorts or slacks, every time you sit you put a bit of stress on the fabric, and the heat of your body helps set in the wrinkles and puckers that form from stretching over knees, hips, etc. You can reduce this of course by pulling up your clothing a bit when you sit (men tend do this naturally; ladies, we need to do it too!) Another way to help is by supporting lighter weight fabrics with an underlining. Even medium and heavier weight fabrics can benefit from an underlining too: it helps retain the garment shape, and reduce wrinkling.

An underlining gives your lighter fabrics structure, as well as a place to hide your blind hems and catch stitches

Since I was making this rayon challis into a skirt, I knew it would be prone to stretching out of shape. I used a cotton/ poly batiste (Imperial Batiste from Mr. Halpern, perfect for many underlinings!) to help support it. When you underline a fabric, you’re actually creating a whole new fabric that gets treated as one. The best way to do this is to thread baste the layers together.

Lots of thread basting for the front panel of my a-line skirt

I really like this Japanese cotton basting thread; it comes in four colors, and is easy to baste in and pull out (while you’re there, get the basting needles – really great!) I get it from Susan Khalje, but any cotton sewing thread will do in a pinch. One word of caution: don’t use polyester thread, use cotton. Poly is really strong, and when you pull it out of your completed project, you can cut your fabric or even yourself with the thread – yes, I’ve cut myself with thread! It sounds lame, but it’s true – and hurts.

I’ve also got a teaser photo for you below – I finished my capsule wardrobe! Keep and eye out on Roz’s blog over the coming weeks for my 5-part series. In it, I share my insights into capsule wardrobes, how I came up with the scalloped shape of my skirt pocket, and how I’m planning my future wardrobe projects.

First look at my finished capsule – more to come on Roz’s blog!
Pockets don’t have to be straight!

P.S. If you like a fun pocket, check out fellow Fashionista Samina’s Blog – she does cool stuff with pockets!

Sewing Tip: Decoy Scissors

One pair of scissors left out all the time

Everyone at home needs scissors at some point. And everybody at home knows where to find them – your sewing room. For those of us who saved up to get some really nice shears, this is unfortunate. Because, even when they’re in the kitchen and know you keep a pair of scissors in the junk drawer, they still go all the way to your sewing room to get scissors. Why? ‘Cause they’re cool, or extra sharp, or pointy, or, just because, I imagine.

But wait, what’s this below?

Many of my sewing associates have told me stories of loss and damage to a highly valued (and valuable) pair of scissors to a family member, despite “all the times I’ve told them not to touch my sewing scissors!…” I decided to take a different tack. I know my husband, and however much I love him he would never remember not to use my sewing room scissors, so I put out a pair just for him to use. They sit there, left out on top of the sewing table, ready for him to grab. And he does, all – the – time. They’re sticky from packing tape, scratched from opening boxes, and may even be a little bent from being dropped many times, but that’s what they’re there for.

Shhh! This is where the good scissors live…

 If you have little ones in the house, you may want to try hanging your decoy scissors higher up on a wall so they can’t reach them, but you definitely want them to be out and obvious as soon as someone goes into the room. Well I’ll just put them away you say; no, then they start looking for them and then they find the good scissors and now they know where the good scissors are and they go right to them every time – ask me how I know! So find a new hiding place for the good shears and scissors, then put out a decoy pair for the household to use.

Why I have a 10-Needle (and a Preliminary Photo)


I’ve finished the Crane Tapestry, and the preliminary photo is above. Why preliminary? This isn’t the final placement for the tapestry, I have to do a bit of rearranging on that wall first. When it’s in place the lighting will be much better and I can post a more detailed photo. The final size is 60×75 inches – definitely big! It took about 70, 75 hours to complete, including the piecing, quilting and binding. For those who are interested, the price for this piece (or rather a similar, as this one is for myself) is just above $3000. It can be made in much smaller sizes as well; this is the largest size. It’s done in silk dupioni with a cotton batting and cotton backing. The design is Crane Tapestry by Anita Goodesign, as well as the supplemental design from Geisha, also by AG. A border can be added to change the framing, as well as different sized bindings (the outer-most edge.)

Did I do it on my 10-needle? Yes I did, as I discussed briefly here. I’ve often been asked why I have a multi-needle machine; I’ve also been asked why I have a domestic multi-needle instead of a commercial one. A lot of different reasons, but mostly because this is the machine that suits me and my sewing best. In my next post, I’ll go into more details about why I chose my machine, but for now, I’ll give a brief overview about why a home sewer might want a multi-needle.

So, you walked into your local sewing machine dealer and saw this fantastic wall hanging and asked how they did it? Or you went to a demo at the store for new machines and you became entranced watching that combo machine whip out lace and buttonholes and greetings cards? And you went home with one: you can sew on it, it’s nice and large for quilting, and most of all, it embroiders!

You’re giddy with ideas swirling ‘round your head, all the possibilities for new projects. Then you buy one of those big wall hanging designs, load them into your machine and – sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color – and repeat for that block. Then repeat for the remaining blocks: repeat; repeat; repeat. Yeah, most home sewers with a combo machine (a regular sewing machine with a single needle that also embroiders – thus, combo) only do one or two big projects in the lifetime of their machine. If they even finish it.

No really, I’ve talked with them. Now, there are those who don’t really mind, and don’t do much actual sewing, they just do the embroidery. And space and budget limit them to a combo machine and they’re happy. But most home sewers only have the one machine, so they can’t do anything else while they’re embroidering. Or they get frustrated that it’s taking so long (sooo looong) to finish one. stinkin’. project. That would be me. I had my trusty combo machine, had an armload of big embroidery projects, and either had to sell all those designs at a loss or find a way to do the projects. So I found a way, by getting a multi-needle machine.

Now I can do big projects, whether they’re single color free-motion designs, or big, long, complex multi-color designs that look more like tapestries than quilts. And I can do them more quickly, and I can do multiple projects at a time. My machine has ten needles, but there are machines that go up to 16, or just six or seven. And yes, once in a great while I wish I had more than ten, but so far it’s worked out fine.

Next post I’ll talk in more detail about why I chose my particular machine – see you there.

Embroidering on Linen Part 2

2020 08 07_0522

Here we are again with my new linen jacket. It’s a familiar pattern, Simplicity 8464, made in a lovely mid-weight linen in Ruby Red from Roz at Sew Much Fabric. The lining is from Roz too, but this color is no longer available. This time I added a stand collar for something a little different.

I pre-washed the linen and charmeuse so I can clean the jacket at home if needed. And yes, you can wash silk; it’s not the fabric that’s un-washable, it’s the finishers on the fabric that spot and stain from water. By pre-washing your silk, you remove the finishers and the problems. I wash mine on gentle in the machine, get it half-dry on low in the dryer, then hang to finish drying. Yes, sometimes darker colors like black or chocolate brown or deep navy can come out looking “sueded”, but you can always test a swatch and see if you care for it. I kind-of like the look myself. There are also fixatives you can get (try Dharma Trading) to keep dark colors from running.

2020 Jun 12_0499

I didn’t want to change the hand of the linen too much, so I underlined the area of embroidery with a fusible tricot knit. First I used the sample embroidery stitch-out for placement. I used a white wax tailor’s chalk to mark the middle.

2020 Jun 12_0500

2020 Jun 12_0501

Then in order to make sure I was placing the tricot in the right area, I marked the center with pins so I could see it from the other side.

2020 Jun 12_05032020 Jun 12_0504

After I fused the tricot – use a pressing cloth! – I extended the chalk marks and hooped the fabric with a mediumweight tear-away. Yes, even with the interfacing/ underlining you still need to hoop stabilizer with the fabric. I also used placement stickers since my machine has a camera; just a little extra insurance.

2020 Jun 12_0507

I used a black pre-wound bobbin, but you can also wind a bobbin from the thread you’re using. In this case, the thread is a DMC cotton machine embroidery thread. (I get mine from Uncommon Thread.) I didn’t want the shine of rayon for my jacket and the cotton was good match, as I was going for texture almost more than a stand-out design here.

2020 Jun 12_0509

And now the completed design. And after the other side is finished, I place them together to make sure I get a mirrored design on each side.

2020 Jun 12_0512

2020 Jun 12_0511

A bit of picking and poking later (you can use a wash-away instead) and I have two nicely, subtly embroidered pieces for my new jacket.

New Tool in the Sewing Room

We’ve all done it, cut our appliqués a little too close to the tack-down stitch. If we’re lucky our design has a nice, thick satin stitch that can cover our boo-boos, but sometimes the fabric still comes up. At middling, it’s a loose edge that you have to tack down; at worst it’s loose enough to let the presser foot catch and then gets itself sewn into the design, and then we have a real mess.

Can you see? I placed a pin under the edge of the tape, it’s just peeking out from the stitches

I learned about this product during an OESD online embroidery event, hosted by Sew Special Quilts in Katy. It’s used for holding down items like zippers that are added to in-the-hoop projects, but it came in handy when I recently clipped my dupioni too close to the tack-down stitch and it started to fray. (Fabrics like dupioni and organza seem like they’re just waiting to unravel, don’t they?) I knew if I could get the loose edge to stay in place I had plenty of satin stitches coming to hold it all down. Luckily I remembered the tape I had just bought, and it worked very well!

The seam is split and pressed flat

It’s not just for embroidery though; I used it recently in a sewing project too. I’m making a skirt out of ponté knit, which is a pretty beefy fabric. The pocket on this skirt is sewn into the seam, which gives me several thick layers to deal with. I like to split the difference part-way down the seam, then press it open and topstitch it in place. (The edges aren’t finished since ponté doesn’t ravel, and it reduces the bulk a bit to leave them nekkid.) (Yes, that is a word in the South. A little further north in the South, I believe it’s pronounced nekkit. Both are acceptable here.)

Tape to cover the split

If I were using my sewing machine to topstitch, I would have sewn with the wrong side up to make sure this clipped area stayed tidy. But I used my serger/ coverstitch to topstitch, which means sewing blind. To make sure each seam allowance stayed where I wanted, I used the wash away tape.

Topstitched without a hitch!

If you’re like me, you’ve been using painter’s-type tape to tack down the parts in your in-the-hoop projects, and while it pulls away from fabric OK, it makes a horrible mess with batting. And, it never quite all comes out from under the stitching so you’re left with little dots of pink. But I really like this wash-away tape; it sews easily and there are no worries about leaving it in your project, so no fighting to get it off batting. The pink tape still has it’s uses and I will keep it in my toolbox (it’s a tool!), but it will be sharing space with this new tape.

A Boo-Boo, A Fix, A Tip

You can see to the right of the seam, the topstitching had pulled out; I’ve fixed one row already

Just a quick post; recently while topstitching a skirt, a bit of the topstitching came out at the bottom of a seam and I didn’t notice until I had finished the project. Instead of going back to my serger to coverstitch all of one inch of seam, I decided to fix it with my sewing machine instead.

I wanted to drop my needle in exactly the same stitch hole for continuity’s sake, but my Baby Lock Solaris has one annoying problem: when you lower the needle bar enough to see exactly where the needle will penetrate the fabric, it lowers the presser foot slightly, thus blocking the view of the needle’s position. Did I say this was annoying? Very Annoying.

The open toe foot lets you see the whole area

I decided to defeat Baby Lock’s illogic altogether and used my open-toe foot. Now I can see the needle drop position no matter how far down the machine moves the presser foot, and I can fix my unfortunate little mistake.

The topstitching is fixed with a few threads left to clip

How Long is Your Wish To-Do List?

Almost the entire of my fabric stash; will I sew it all?

We all have them, a “wish” to-do list, that running list of things (or maybe a paper or digital list) in our head that we’d like to get to, someday, eventually…. If we live long enough…. Aside from the general life list, I have a sewing list. Last December I wrote down everything I could think of, mostly because I had some time to kill while waiting.

It wasn’t as long as I thought, only 37 or so items. Of course some of those items have multiple parts so it may be as long as 50-plus individual pieces. And in fact, I have achieved some of those items, so I got to cross them off when I reviewed my list this morning. But I’ve also added some items, mentally anyway. Not that I can remember them right now to write them down… they may even be the same things I’ve already written down (that’s the problem with mental lists, can’t see whether we’ve gotten it down already or not!)

A small part of me wants to be very alarmed by this list – it’s so long, when will I ever finish! And what I see on websites and forums is that others are just as worried about their lists too: is my list too long, how do I manage it, how do I get all of it done? They seem to think they’re a bad person if they don’t.

But I remind myself of the things I’ve learned from my other lists over the years – my travel list, my cooking list, other similar lists. The first one is, I don’t actually have to do everything on the list, sometimes it’s just fun to have a fantasy or two.

The next thing is, things change. Out lives change, our financial situations, our personalities, and thus, our dreams and desires change too. Sure, when I was twenty and had nothing else to do, I wanted to see the world. Now that I’m older, have a husband and home that I love, I don’t need to see everything. I have done some traveling and lots of cooking, and I will do some more before my time is done. But other things interest me now.

So, I may have dreamed of visiting the entire of Asia (and the entire of Europe, all of the Pacific Islands and most of North Africa…), but maybe one trip to Japan or Thailand will suffice, or a European river cruise. I have over 1900 (!) digital recipes on my computer, not to mention the couple of dozen (after a cull, still a couple of dozen) cookbooks on the shelf. I’ve made many dozens of these recipes over the years, and I will make many more, but I know I will never make them all. Some are for inspiration, some are just to make me happy. And that’s OK, as long as I have the space and mental energy to deal with them.

So don’t feel bad about your lists, your pattern stashes, your fabric collections, your dreams – have fun playing with them instead.

The rest of my stash, waiting to be washed and put away.

Finished Project: Landscape Christmas Table Topper

Landscape Christmas Table Topper-1

Here’s my finished table topper; while it was for last winter, it will just be early for this coming winter!

Several people wrote to ask how long this kind of project takes, but it’s a little tricky to get an accurate estimate. One way of course is to track how much time it takes each time you do a project like this. While probably the most accurate, it does take some planning and perseverance because you have to write down stop and start times, consider the time for things like pre-washing and pressing fabric, cutting down yardage, the placement of appliques, replacing bobbins, and of course keep remembering to write all this down. If you’re very organized (and I am not) it can work.

Another good way to get an estimate is to look at total stitches. The total stitch-count for this project is 262,532 – and that’s just the embroidery remember. You also have to know how many stitches your machine is set to run at. You then divide the total stitches by the stitch-per-minute (spm) speed and you get a fair approximation of how long it might take. Let’s say you set your machine to 500 spm; you then get an estimate of 525 minutes, or 8.75-ish hours.

Let’s not forget, you might set your machine to run at 500 spm, but depending on the type of stitch it’s doing it may not actually be going that fast. If it’s a wide satin stitch, it may be going very slowly. A regular running stitch will go that fast, but a triple run or bean stitch will not.

Let’s also take into account what else needs to be done. If you’re hooping the fabric and stabilizer, hitting start and using a single color on a running stitch design, then you can be confident that the time estimate will be close. If however you have lots of appliques, lots of color changes, and other similar things, that will slow down your progress.

This brings up another question I received from a sewing acquaintance; she was frustrated using her combo machine (single needle sewing and embroidery machine) to do one of these projects, and assumed my having a 10-needle made them much easier. Well yes and no; this particular project was done on my own combo machine, Sunny. Why? Because of the number of appliques per block. If I have to be there to add an applique every one or two steps, then there’s no difference in effort using the single-needle or the 10-needle. Yes, having all the colors set up on the 10-needle saves some seconds per color change, but not enough that it matters to me.

2019 04 04_0101
Sunny, my single needle/ combo machine

So where do you use a 10-needle (or any multi-needle)? My current project is a good example, the Crane Tapestry. It has one base fabric, possibly one or two appliques, and the rest are just stitches in only three colors. I especially save time here because this design has very long run times, so I can let the machine go completely and not have to be too attentive to color changes that might have 30 or 40 minutes between them. I do have to set up the machine to stop at the first few appliques, but then I hit start and walk away.

My Sewing Room-03
My 10-needle, “Enterprise-G”

(There are of course other reasons for multi-needle machines, but I won’t go into that here.)

So how long did this table topper project take? Approximately 7.5 hours of run time, plus two to three minutes per applique at seven to sixteen appliques per block, let’s say another 5 hours; then time to assemble and press the blocks, sashing, backing and binding, another 3-ish hours… I would say 15 to 17 hours, give or take, as I’m sure there are several steps I’m forgetting. And then there’s time to plan the project, select the materials, prep the materials… it wouldn’t be unfair to say maybe 20 altogether.

crane tapestry blocks_2020 05 15_0469
First ten blocks, with number eleven just off the machine

How long will my current project take me? Whew; it’s got 1.6 million stitches, so run-time alone is about 44.7 hours at 600 spm. And the time to set up each block for 64 blocks, call it 10 to 15 minutes, another 16 hours… so just creating blocks will be about 60 hours.