A Better Paper Tape Dress Form: Part 1 – Intro and Materials

This is the first post in a five part tutorial for making a paper tape dress form that truly matches your measurements and body shape.

Part 1: Introduction and Materials List
Part 2: Preparation
Part 3: Taping the Outer Form
Part 4: Making the Final Form
Part 5: Marking the Form and Making a Cover

Every few years I make a new custom dress form. I started out with duct tape forms, then upgraded to paper tape forms. Each time I make one I learn a bit more. The last paper tape dress form I made is the best one yet, and since I made a second dress form inside the initial outer paper tape mold, it matches my shape and measurements almost exactly.

Paper tape forms made with water activated kraft paper tape are inexpensive, and if you do it right, are a very accurate way to make a custom dress form.  It costs less to make a paper tape dress form than a plaster and poured foam form, plus you don’t have the mess of plaster and the worry of the foam expanding too much and cracking the form open. And it’s definitely less expensive than having a dress form made from a 3D body scan.

I’ve come to the conclusion that duct tape dress forms and paper tape dress forms made the traditional way are not very useful. The thickness of the tape and the T-shirt under it typically adds at least an inch, but often more, to the body measurements. The shape of the shoulder area changes, too. People say, oh, that’s OK that your dress form measures a little larger than you, because your garments need ease anyway.

The truth is that on a garment the ease at your bustline and hips is added at the side seams, not evenly all around the body as it is on a paper tape or duct tape dress form. So if you shape darts to fit the dress form, they will be too large, and you will get garments that poof out over the bust, bum, and tummy. I really hate how too-large darts look. They make me feel like I’m a little girl playing dress up in my mother’s clothes. If you only wear loose fitting garments, you might be OK with doing your fitting on a duct tape or traditional paper tape form, but it does not work for me. Even my knit T-shirts that fit me won’t fit on a dress form made this way.

I solved this problem by using my initial paper tape form as a mold to make another dress form inside. I put plastic tape on the inside of the outer form, oiled it lightly, put a couple of layers of paper tape on the inside, then used some expanding foam inside to keep it rigid. After I took off the outer form, I added a layer of paper tape on the outside of the final form so I wouldn’t have the sticky side of the paper tape exposed. Then I sewed a cover for the form. The final form is very lightweight, yet perfectly rigid. You have to add several layers of paper tape on the inside of a traditional paper tape form to keep it rigid anyway, so this really wasn’t that much more work than making a regular paper tape form.

I’m detailing how I created my dress form in a series of blog posts. This is going to be a long tutorial, so I’ve broken it into five parts.

Note that I describe the process for an adult female figure with a bust, but the same basic procedure works for men and other figures without a bust – except it’s easier because you have fewer curves to deal with. Just ignore all the steps regarding the bust if your model does not have a bust.

Also, it might seem weird that I’m calling the person the dress form is being made for a “model” but I couldn’t think of a more appropriate word. As far as I know, there is no word in the English language that means “the person being fitted.” It would be awkward to say “the person the dress form is being made for” frequently and I don’t want to use a made up word like fittee or wrapee because I find that annoying.

Materials List

Let’s start with the materials you will need. You may not need all of these things depending on the options you choose, and you will need a few additional things I don’t specifically list (sewing equipment, for example), so I suggest you read through the tutorial before deciding what you need to purchase.

Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).

  • Water activated non-reinforced kraft paper tape*. A 600 foot roll should be more than enough to make a dress form for most people. If the model is large, you might want to get two rolls to be on the safe side. The tape comes in different widths. You might want to use 2 inch wide tape* used full width for a large or not very curvy person, or 2.5 inch* to 3 inch wide tape* cut in half lengthwise for a smaller/curvier person. If you have extra tape you can always use it to make a dress form for a friend or save it to make another dress form in a few years. You can also use it to seal up packages and as a less messy paper mache substitute in crafts. Note: Don’t use the kind of paper tape that is reinforced with fiberglass fibers – it won’t produce a rigid form.
  • Large kitchen sponge*
  • Dinner plate or other flat dish
  • Two bowls of water, if you are not doing your taping near a sink. One is to wet the sponge in, and one is for rinsing glue off of the taper’s hands.
  • Towels
  • Hair dryer
  • Plastic packaging tape* (preferably in a color other than clear)
  • Thin 100% cotton rib knit fabric* You’ll need enough to sew a mid-thigh length T-shirt from, so the amount needed will depend on the size of the model and the width of the fabric. You can use thin cotton/spandex blend knit fabric instead, but make sure the fabric is not pulled tight around the body, or it can cause the dress form to buckle after you remove it. Do not use synthetic or cotton/polyester blend fabric – the paper tape will not stick to it well.
  • Large sharp pair of scissors that you don’t mind using to cut paper. An old pair of dressmaking shears is a good choice. These angled shears* look like they would be good to use for cutting off the dress form (I haven’t tried them myself, though).
  • Fine point permanent marker*
  • Chain necklace to mark the neckline. I suggest using a ball chain necklace*.
  • Manila folder or similar card stock paper
  • Sheet of poster board. You can substitute a manila folder or thin paperboard such as from cereal boxes for the poster board.
  • Corrugated cardboard for closing up the holes in the dress form
  • Plastic wrap (cling film) and/or Glad Press’n Seal*
  • Yard stick or meter stick*
  • It is really helpful to have a self-leveling laser level*. My laser level is one of my favorite sewing tools – it’s great for marking hems, too.
  • Large gap expanding foam* (optional). I am fairly small, and I used an entire 20 ounce can. I would suggest having at least two cans on hand, more if the model is large. If you use foam you will also need disposable gloves, paper or plastic sheeting to protect your work area, and old clothes to wear while you use it. If you don’t want to use expanding foam, you can just add several more layers of paper tape on the inside of the dress form to strengthen it.
  • If you want to pad out a bra to create the bust shape instead of taping the bust with paper tape, you will need a foam cup bra that fits the model.
  • Something to use for a stand. You can make a stand, just set your dress form on a table, or purchase something like an IV pole*.

Up Next: Part 2 – Preparation

* Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing
2 comments on “A Better Paper Tape Dress Form: Part 1 – Intro and Materials
  1. Elena says:

    This is very interesting, Leila, thank you for posting! I tried a gaffer tape dress form before but it was, as you say, disappointingly overweight. However, it kept me off cakes for months out of fear of looking like “her”! 😮


  2. katactivity says:

    I’m so pleased that you decided to do this. I have been thinking of making a form for ages after looking at so many commercial forms, none of which seemed quite right. Your method sounds as though it is going to be interesting. I’m looking forward to the subsequent posts.


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