Half-scale dress form tutorial

I have additional patterns for DIY mini dress forms on Craftsy and Etsy. If you want to sew a dress form, take a look at my Mini Stuffed Dress Form pattern. I have a paper version of the half scale dress form that is a little easier to make than the craft foam dress form below. I also designed a complete set of basic block/sloper patterns to fit the paper dress form.

I have free dress patterns on Craftsy that will fit all versions of the half scale dress forms. I plan to keep adding dresses to the collection as I practice my patternmaking skills, so follow me on Craftsy if you want to be notified when I upload new patterns.


I designed and made a half-scale paper mache dress form to practice patternmaking on. I thought it came out pretty well, so I’m sharing the pattern and instructions for making one.

This is the dress form. I named her Bitsy.
Finished_form_front

Here she is with a knit cover, wearing her arms.
Dressform with arms front

This miniature dress form is about 17″ tall, and her bust, waist, and hip measurements are 18″, 13.25″, and 18.25″.

The Amazon product links on this page are affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I will earn a small commission.

Materials for a torso and two arms:
•  1/16″ (2 mm) thick craft foam (4 sheets of 11″x17″ or 10 sheets of 8.5″x11″)
•  High quality masking tape or box sealing tape. I discovered that thin cheap masking tape will start slipping off after a few hours, so tape up a test piece and let it sit for a day to see if it slips before you get too far into the project.
•  Corrugated cardboard
•  Manila folder or piece of heavy paper
•  Scissors that will cut cardboard
•  Mechanical pencil or very sharp pencil
•  Ruler with millimeter markings
•  Awl or pin
•  X-Acto knife or other small razor knife
•  1″ wide paint brush
•  Elmer’s Glue-All (about 7 ounces), white flour, or cornstarch for paper mache. See recipes.
•  Newspaper
•  Thin hook and loop tape (Velcro) for attaching arms
•  Tissue paper for final layer of paper mache (optional)
•  Support stand with 0.5″ to 1.5″ diameter dowel or tube (optional)
•  Artists’ sealing spray and/or paint (optional)
•  The pattern. Here is the original pattern that is illustrated in the instructions below. I also have a revised pattern with an improved neck. The revised pattern does not have a hole for the neck; the neck just sits on top. I did not re-write the instructions for the revised version, but you can click here to see pictures that show how the revised neck goes together.

Get all of your pieces cut out and supplies assembled ahead of time, then try to tape up the dress form all at once and get at least a couple layers of paper mache on within a couple of days. After a while, even the best tape starts to slip off and you get sharp bends at the seams rather than smooth curves.

Print out the pattern (preferably on thick paper). The border around each sheet is 7.5″x10″. If you print it to a different scale, you will have to adjust the length of the support tube (made out of a 7.5″x11″ rectangle of manila paper – see below). Carefully cut out each piece, making sure to cut off the lines (cut on the inside edges of the lines).

Determine which side is the right side of each sheet of craft foam, and mark X’s on the wrong side. The foam will bend more easily toward the wrong side, so this is very important. I found this out the hard way when I made my first prototype. One piece was cut with the wrong side out, and it rippled and wouldn’t lie smoothly. The right side may have a smoother texture.

Trace and cut out each pattern piece from the material indicated on the pattern piece. Again, cut off your lines when you cut out the pieces so they don’t grow larger than the pattern.
• Mark all notch marks on the right side.
• On the wrong side of the front pieces, draw a line down the center front.
• Mark the center front on each bust piece.
• For the corrugated cardboard chest, waist, hip, and thigh supports, alternate the “grainline” direction for each piece.
• With a pin or awl, carefully punch a small hole to mark the center of the hole on the appropriate cardboard support pieces.
• Mark the center front and center back on each cardboard support piece.

Cut an exactly 7.5″ by about 11″ rectangle from a piece of manila folder.

Here are the pieces:
pieces_cut_out

Hold your support dowel or ruler across the manila paper rectangle the short way and pull up on the paper to curl it (like curling a ribbon):
tube_curled

Roll the manila paper around the dowel you are using for the support, gluing as you go, and being careful to keep the paper straight. Make sure you don’t use so much glue that it oozes out and glues the paper to the dowel. Tape the ends down and leave the paper on the dowel to dry.
tube_taped

Wrap a strip of paper around the paper tube you just made and mark the circumference.
measure_circ

Measure the circumference you just marked to the nearest millimeter. Divide this measurement by 6.28 to get the radius. Cut a strip of manila paper a little longer that the radius. With a pin or awl, make 2 small holes exactly the distance of the radius apart. Enlarge one of the holes until it is just big enough to get the tip of your pencil through. Use the strip of paper as a compass to mark the holes on the hip supports, thigh supports, and 3 of the waist support pieces. Cut out the holes with an X-Acto knife.
draw_circle

Glue the 3 support pieces together for the chest, hip, and thigh supports. For the waist support, layer 2 solid pieces then the 3 with holes and glue together. Set books or something on all of the support pieces so they dry flat. Here are all of the finished support pieces:
cardboard_supports_glued

On the UPPER FRONT AND SIDE BACK piece, reinforce the inside with tape where indicated. Re-mark the center front line over the tape (I didn’t do this in the picture, but later wished I had).
reinforce_upper-front

Some general tips on taping the pieces together:
• Do the taping in a cool room. The tape and foam stretch out of shape if they get too warm.
• Use pieces of masking tape 1/4″ by 1″ or smaller.
• Butt edges together tightly
• For curved seams, place a small piece of tape on the outside at each end. Tape at any notch marks, then fill in the rest of the seam on the outside.
• Tape the inside of the seam after taping the outside.

Tape the darts in the UPPER BUST and LOWER BUST pieces. Start with a small piece of tape at each end. It may help to bend the pieces the wrong way temporarily to make sure the edges butt together tightly.
lower_breast
breasts1

Tape UPPER BUST to LOWER BUST, matching center fronts.
breasts3
breasts4

Tape the breasts to the UPPER FRONT AND SIDE BACK piece. Butt the upper half of the seam flat. The undersides of the breasts should be at right angles to the body. On the underside of the breasts, tape the inside before taping the outside.

Here’s the outside:
upper-front_outside
And inside:
upper-front_inside

Tape the darts in the LOWER FRONT piece.
lower-front_darts

Tape the LOWER SIDE BACK pieces to the LOWER FRONT.
lower-front_and_side-back

Tape the UPPER FRONT AND SIDE BACK piece to the LOWER FRONT and LOWER SIDE BACK pieces at the waistline.
front_taped

Tape the darts in the LOWER BACK pieces.

Tape the BACK pieces to the rest of the body. Tape the inside and outside for most of the seam, but only tape on the outside for the upper 2.5″ of the seam. This helps the foam bend more smoothly over the shoulder. Here is a view of the inside.
front_taped_to_back_inside

I forgot to do this, but I think it would help. Cut a strip of manila paper about 1/2″ wide and the length of the center back seam. Tape it on the inside of one side of the center back, matching the center of the manila paper strip to the center back line. Clip the paper where the center back line curves or bends.

Tape the shoulder seams.

Tape the ARMSCYE cardboard support pieces in place. Tape an inch or so of the center back seam near the neck. Tape the NECK OPENING piece in place.
neck_armscye_supports_taped

Place the chest support just under the breasts, matching center fronts. Tape and glue the chest support piece at the front.
chest_support_taped

Remove the paper support tube from the dowel and assemble the WAIST, HIP, and THIGH supports on the tube, lining up center front and center back marks.
support_pieces_assembled

Test fit the assembled support pieces in place and hold the center back closed. If the foam is wrinkling in areas, reinforce these areas with tape on the inside. I had problems with the foam stretching because I was in a room that was too warm. Tape and glue the support pieces in at center front.

Apply glue to the edges of the support pieces and around the support tube, then tape the remainder of the center back seam. This part can be a bit tricky. You may want to use some stuffing to keep the body from collapsing. I tried using stuffing, then ended up taking it out.
back_taped

Here’s a view of the bottom:
bottom_taped

Tape the center back seam in the NECK piece, then tape in the UPPER NECK CIRCLE and LOWER NECK CIRCLE. Bend the tabs at the bottom of the neck out.
neck_assembled

Place the NECK on the NECK OPENING, lining them up at the center back. Tape over the tabs to hold the neck in place. Tape the center back seam in the COLLAR, then slip it over the neck.
Front:
front_neck
Back:
back_neck

I wasn’t quite happy with the upper bust and chest shaping. I flattened the curve in the upper breasts with large pieces of tape. I added some concavity and shaping to the chest and shoulder area with tape as well.
shaping_upper_chest_2
shaping_upper_chest_1

Now it’s time for the fun part!

Mix up your preferred variety of paper mache paste. Pour some of the mixture in a small bowl or cup, dip a paintbrush in it, and paint some on a small area of the dress form. Tear off a strip of newspaper, place it on the dress form over the paste, then brush some more paste on top. Keep overlapping pieces of paper until you have a layer done.

I applied four layers of newspaper paper mache followed by a decorative layer of tissue paper.

I tried using some plain newsprint paper, but I found that actual newspaper worked better. The newspaper starts to disintegrate when it gets wet, so it molds smoothly around curves.

Tips:
• Use smaller pieces of newspaper around the curvy areas.
• Apply the newspaper strips diagonally around curvy areas.
• Tear the newspaper (don’t cut it).
• Either alternate between text and picture areas of the newspaper to keep track of where you’ve covered with each layer, or scribble all over the previous layer with a permanent marker.
• Where you have sharp bends, tear paper into shapes with “fringe”, then bend the fringe pieces over:
Paper_shapes

I had some help tearing the newspaper.
cat_under_newspaper

Here’s a picture of the final layer of newspaper:
5-20-2013 115

After the tissue paper layer:
Finished_form_front
Finished_form_back
half-size_dressform_sideview
Half-size_dressform_back

Now for the arms.

After all of that it should be pretty self-explanatory.
Cut out the pieces and tape them together matching notch marks.
arm_seam
arm_darts

Tape on cardboard armscye pieces.
armscye_support

taped_arms

The large pieces of tape are to flatten areas that were too round.
shaping_arms

Cover with paper mache.

When the paper mache is completely dry, you can spray it with artists’ sealing spray or paint it.

To attach the arms, glue thin hook and loop tape to the armscyes on the body and arm.

Here are some more views of the finished dress form with a cover and arms.
Dressform with arms right
Dressform with arms left

Here she is with two straight arms.
Dressform 2 straight arms

23 comments on “Half-scale dress form tutorial
  1. deb khimba lee says:

    thank you–these forms are expensive, so i looked for some alternatives; i’m impressed that your method made such a professional looking form. Your directions were very clear, it must have taken a lot of work on your part! thanks!

  2. Krista says:

    WOW! As said above, these are pretty spendy. This looks like a great alternative.

  3. Maria says:

    Yay! A new craft project and one that’s very useful. Thanks for this, I’m hoping my results will be as professional looking as yours

  4. Maria says:

    So, I did it! But because I didn’t have the craft foam I had to adapt the method a little after a wasted week trying to use felt as a substitute FYI: Don’t!
    I also used poplin for the cover so that I could maintain the centre back and front and side seam lines. I suppose you could mark them on the jersey, but I like to feel them when draping.
    You are either an engineer or some kind of craft savant, because you make it look so easy, and it is challenging, but your patterns and directions were great and the results are definitely ” I can’t believe I made that”. Thanks again, and I’m looking forward to more posts.

  5. Marjorie says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for very generously sharing this. I had been looking to buy a half-scale model, but they were just too expensive – this is a great alternative. I’m just in the middle of making one for myself using your pattern and directions. Although not as professional looking as yours, I’m very pleased with my version. Your pattern pieces are so exact – how on earth did you manage it?

  6. dani says:

    Hi, the tutorial is very interesting! I wonder if I double the size (to a full scale) I could make a real dressform?

  7. What was the overall cost, and how long did it take?

    • Leila says:

      I had all of the supplies on hand, so I don’t know what the overall cost would be if you had to buy everything – you’d have to look at the supply list and add up the cost of whatever items you don’t have. I think it took me most of a day to assemble, then probably a couple of hours for each layer of paper mache (with a day of dry time in between each layer).

  8. gigi says:

    is it possible to make this based on actual measurements of a person? if yes, how? thanks.

    • Leila says:

      Altering the pattern to specific measurements would be pretty difficult. If you need it larger, you could make the dress form, then add padding around it. In Don McCunn’s book How to Make Sewing Patterns, he describes how to make a dress form from mat board that is based on a custom fit fitting shell. I think that would be an easier method to make a custom half-scale dress form.

  9. Annalisa Corum says:

    Any possibility of getting an acrylic cut out of each of the 1/4 scale sloper patterns? It would make playing with flat pattern making a bit easier. Also what size are these based upon if blown up to full scale? Or do you know where I can purchase a set similar to your paper copies? Thank you.

    • Leila says:

      The quarter scale patterns were scaled down versions of the half-scale pattern set I sell. They were originally designed for the paper dress form, so if you look at the measurements in the paper dress form pattern description and divide them by two, you will get the quarter scale measurements. The dress form is approximately a US size 8 at full scale.

      If you want clear patterns, you could print them on clear plastic sheets. If you just wanted them sturdier, you could print them on heavy paper and laminate them or cover them with box sealing tape before cutting them out.

  10. Melissa Edwards says:

    This is amazing!!! I teach Techinical Theatre and am interested in making a class set of these for my students to practice costume design. Do you have any ideas on how I could modify this or make a new pattern for male mannequins? Any ideas are appreciated.

    • Leila says:

      You could draft or drape a men’s sloper pattern, which is how I started with this one. I’ve been meaning to make a male version, but I haven’t gotten to it. If you can get a commercial men’s half-scale form, you could make paper tape copies of it to make enough for a class. Here’s a fairly easy way to make copies: Cover the form with plastic wrap, cover it with about 3 layers of non-reinforced gummed kraft paper tape, cut the paper tape off, and re-tape the cut seam. If you don’t want the measurements to increase, you could make a plaster mold of the original form, cover the inside of the mold with something slippery that the tape won’t stick to (I’ve used Glad Press’n Seal with a very thin film of oil wiped over it) and build up the paper tape layers on the inside. Paper tape doesn’t shrink like paper mache does, so it works to use it on the inside of a mold.

  11. Amie says:

    OMG like I needed another hobby! These are absolutely adorable!! Decoupage, old paper, feedsack pieces, favorite fabrics covering these cuties are all flying thru my head at once!! Thank you sew much for your blog, it’s wonderful! Amie :0)

  12. Lusjaan says:

    Hi 🙂 i was wondering, can you still pin on this dress form ? once the papier mache is dry, doesn’t it get too thick ?

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