Monday, August 25, 2008

Making A Dress Form: Part 1: Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.

This is Part 1 of a Four-Part Series.

It's important to mention that I made mistakes which required a lot of work later on, probably doubling or tripling the time required to make this. My methods aren't recommended, but are posted here in case you should decide to attempt this yourself, only to find yourself covered in wallpaper paste and soggy newspaper seriously considering taking a hammer to the whole project. Hang On, Little Tomato!

Also I must mention the fabulous resource from Threads Magazine, which is what inspired me to attempt this in the first place.

Step One: Mistake One: Acquiring Plaster Bandages

If you're anything like me, you're trying to do this on the cheap. This is one place you SHOULD NOT SKIMP.

I started with about ten yards of 4" wide bandages and five yards of 8" wide bandage, which I acquired at a local craft store. It was nowhere near enough. Skip the craft store entirely and order an obscene amount of plaster bandages from an online medical supply company.

Fixer: I'd purchase this. That's 60 yards of bandages for about $50. You probably won't use ALL of that, but you'll be glad you had it. Trust me.

Step Two: Mistake Two: Preparing the Model

I thought I'd be clever and avoid ruining a shirt by wrapping Jessica in a garbage bag. I was also concerned about the compression that a tight-fitting shirt would give me. This was a bad idea on so many levels. First off, the garbage bag is slippery, and moved around her body when I was applying the bandages, making it really difficult to get a good impression. Secondly, the heat trapped by the plastic made her even more uncomfortable.

Fixer: Buy a cotton/spandex shirt from a thrift store or something and fit it to your model, making a mock-turtleneck at the top and adding some extra at the bottom to accommodate for the length you want the form to be. You could even buy some fabric and make a simple, form-fitting shift dress. You'll want to be sure it has sleeves, and enough length to cover the body nearly to the knees.

Your model will also want to wear something UNDER this shift, because you'll be cutting it off her. Also have her wear whatever foundation undergarments she's accustomed to wearing. (I was making this dress form so that I could drape her wedding dress, and wish I had made her purchase the breast-enhancing bra BEFORE I made the dress form!)

Jessica is about the most fidgety person I know, and had a heckuva time standing still while I did this. Make your model practice standing in one place. She should figure out what the most comfortable position is and make any adjustments BEFORE you start covering her in plaster bandages. You may also want to come up with a simple arm support system so that she can hold her arms slightly away from her body.

About two hours before the plastering, feed and hydrate your model. Right before starting, put the dress or tee on your model and send her to the bathroom. You'll want at least one assistant and a LARGE area in which to work. You don't want your model to be moving at all during this process. Put a big tarp on the floor, preferably NOT plastic to avoid slipping. You'll want a table nearby to hold your bandages and a big tub for water.

Step Three: Mistake Three: Marking the Form

Before plastering, figure out a good way to mark important points on your models body. Once you have all that plaster on her, it's going to be harder to figure out what her true waist is. You know all those measurements you need when you are flat-patterning? You're going to want to be able to mark those on your body form. The easiest way to do this is going to be to do it BEFORE you plaster.

Since I didn't do this, I'm not sure what the best way to accomplish this would be. I would probably start with pieces of 1/4" elastic on the major measurement points: ribcage, waist, hips, armscye. Of course then you have to worry about slippage as you plaster, so maybe you'd want to marker those places in. (You could also sew them in to place when you are making or fitting the shift dress for her) While you're at it, marker the front nape and back nape. Again, since I didn't do this, I'm not sure what the best way to do it will be.

You'll also want to mark the center front and center back as well as the sides. Use a plumb-bob for accuracy. (You can make one with a piece of string tied to a pattern weight or any heavy, symmetrical object)

Another important place to mark: From the floor to wherever you want the bottom of the form to be. This is going to be REALLY REALLY important later on when you want to mount the form on a stand and all of a sudden you have no idea what the bottom of the form should be, since you were inconsistent with your plastering. (well, you probably weren't, but I was!)

Q: Hey! What's up? You didn't get to the part where you actually put the plaster bandages on her body!

A: I know, I know. It's just so darn long already! So I thought I'd throw this over the wall, since I haven't posted in over a week. Don't worry, there is more to come, and some serious editing to do as well!


Julie said...

I can't believe I missed all the excitement! The dress turned out great!

km said...

sankoo! I really need to post the follow-up to this though. ARGH!

Shay Morgan said...

Hello, I am a desperately broke 21 year old college student :) trying to make a dress form. I tried with the bandages last night and it was aweful so I threw the form away today lol....First of all, it wouldn't dry, and it was very long did you leave yours one the model b4 cutting it off? Also, when you cut if off did you just lay the 2 halves flat on a table to dry? It seems like they would loose their shape that way...Im so confused!!!