Favorite Sewing Tip of 2018: Pin Diagonally!

I meant to come up with a favorite tip for each year, but I couldn’t think of one last January. This year, however, I came up with a really good tip. In fact, this may be the best sewing tip ever. And it’s so simple it’s mind blowing.

Here it is:

Pin diagonally. Not perpendicular to the seam. Not parallel to the seam. Diagonally.

Apparently, there is some great debate about whether pinning perpendicular or parallel to the seam is better. I’ve always been a perpendicular pinner, because that’s what my mother did. I never even thought about it. Then I watched Kenneth King’s Craftsy (now Bluprint) classes, where he advocates pinning parallel to the seam, so I decided I’d do a test to see which I liked better.

I’ve always pinned parallel to my seams when matching dart legs, but I hadn’t tried it on a whole seam. After trying pinning parallel along the seam a couple of times, I decided it was not for me. Yes, pinning this way keeps your fabric edges aligned better, but it’s harder to match seams or stripes, it’s harder to remove the pins, you can’t sew as close to the pins, and worst of all, I stabbed myself with pins every time I tried it.

Then one day, I think when I was pinning down a bias binding, which is kind of bulky, I had a pinning epiphany. When you pin at a 45 degree angle to the seam, you get the benefits of both parallel and perpendicular pinning, without the drawbacks of either, plus a couple of additional benefits.

Here are the benefits of pinning diagonally:

  • The pins slide in more easily.
  • The fabric is distorted less.
  • It’s easier to pin through bulky areas.
  • You can sew close to the pins before removing them.
  • The pins are easy to remove.
  • The fabric can’t shift either side to side or along the seam.
  • You can easily match stripes or seam lines.

Here’s how I match a seam or stripe.

First, measure in the width of your seam allowance and stick a pin vertically through both layers of fabric, matching the seam or stripe right on the stitching line.

Now put a diagonal pin right on either side of the vertical pin, making sure the first vertical pin stays straight.

After those pins are in, remove the vertical pin and put it in diagonally right over the match point. Finish pinning your seam.

When you sew the seam, sew right up to the pins near the match point before removing them.

Every time I do this I’m amazed at how well my seams match. I always had problems matching seams before I tried it this way.

While I’m on the subject of pins, I thought I’d share my recently discovered favorite pins with you. I’d been sewing with the same old pins for over twenty years, and then when I kept trying to replace them, I ended up with a whole drawer full of dull pins. I am so frustrated with the poor quality of nearly everything these days.

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). UK* and CA* are links to the UK and Canada Amazon sites.

Finally I bought Clover Marbled Glass Head Pins* (UK*, CA*). These are absolutely perfect for garment sewing. They are 36 mm long, 0.5 mm in diameter, sharp, and you can iron over the glass heads without melting them. They slip right into fabric, but aren’t so thin that I’m constantly bending them. [Edit: After using these pins for a while, I realized that these pins, while sharper than most pins, are not quite as sharp as the Patchwork Pins. This means they won’t slide into tightly woven fabric as easily, but they won’t slide into your fingers as easily, either!]

They are however, a little pricey, and you only get twenty pins in a package, which I found wasn’t enough. I liked them so much I hated having to use my old pins when I ran out of the new Clover pins.

I almost bought a second package of them, but then I realized that Clover Patchwork Pins* (UK*, CA*) are the same diameter and length and also have glass heads, so I bought a package of those instead. The Patchwork Pins come in a package of 100 instead of 20. Don’t be put off by the word “patchwork” — they are perfect for garment sewing, too. The only difference I could see between these and the marbled pins was the color of the pin heads. So unless you really want pretty marbled pin heads, just get the Patchwork Pins or Clover Silk Pins* (UK*, CA*) which are also the same length and diameter.

After checking the thickness of all of the pins that I have and testing how easily they slide into fabric, I decided that 0.5 mm pins are the thickest I ever want to use for garment sewing. For thick fabric that would bend the pins, I switch to using Wonder Clips* (UK*, CA*).

For thin fabric, I use Dritz Ultra Fine Glass Head Pins* (UK*, CA*), which of all of the Dritz pins I’ve tried are the only decent ones. These pins are 0.4 mm thick and very sharp. They bend easily, so I only use them when I really need thin pins. Clover also makes 0.4 mm pins, if you’d like to stick with the Clover brand:  Clover Patchwork Pins-Fine* (UK*, CA*) (don’t confuse these with Clover “Quilting Pins” which are longer and thicker).

Pinning diagonally is so simple and effective, I’m wondering why everyone doesn’t pin this way. Have you tried it?

* 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 Sewing

Half Scale Pattern Changes

Craftsy is in the process of making changes to the patterns available on their site, and as part of the process, they’ve removed most of the patterns I had listed for free and for sale there. They will be making more changes, but it is not yet clear what they are.

All of my paid pdf patterns continue to be available in my Etsy Shop. If you have previously purchased a pattern on Craftsy, it will still be available for you to download.

To maintain access to all of my free half scale patterns pictured below, I’ve created a page here on my blog where you can download them, and I added the page to the main menu.

I have plans for more patterns. I’ve been working on fabric men’s versions of the miniature dress forms. I have the patterns designed, but I still have more samples to make, photos to take, and instructions to write. With everything else I have going on it may take me a while to finish, but I hope to have these patterns out in the next couple of months. Here is a sneak peek of the men’s dress forms.

Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing

Tailor’s Hams and Waffles

Here’s my tutorial and free patterns for making pressing hams of various sizes. And as a bonus, you get my gluten-free waffle recipe.

I’ve been meaning to get an actual pressing ham forever, but instead I’ve just made do with my sleeve roll that has a rounded end. Finally I decided it was time to get a real tailor’s ham.

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).

After reading reviews of commercially made hams, like the Dritz Tailor’s Ham*, I realized the “wool” side is usually some type of synthetic fabric, or a blend containing a small amount of wool, and it can melt if you are not careful to use low heat on that side. They just don’t make them like they used to.

I’d seen tutorials for making your own ham, so I decided that was the way to go.

The trick with making your own pressing ham, though, is finding something to stuff it with. Pressing rolls and hams are traditionally stuffed with sawdust, but safe sawdust is hard to find. As long as no pressure treated wood has been cut in the mix, sawdust is probably not terribly toxic, but these days even plain lumber is all treated to prevent mold, so it’s more than just wood in that dust. I believe in Canada it’s illegal to sell sawdust. So unless you can get sawdust that was made from cutting firewood or other virgin wood, I’d stay away from sawdust.

I’ve read other suggestions of using shredded paper or fabric scraps. I imagine serger and thread trimmings would work well, but I haven’t been saving them up lately.

I already had some pine shavings made for animal bedding, so I decided to use that. However, wood shavings are designed to be fluffy and hard to compress. I’d read another blog post where the author considered blending them up, but decided it would be a bad idea.

However, I have a super-duper blender. I use my Blendtec Total Blender* to grind grains into flour to make gluten-free waffles, and thin wood shavings are probably easier on the blender than grinding up rice, right?

Pine shavings. Will it blend?

Yes, of course it will!

I found it worked best to blend about three cups of non-compressed shavings at a time on speed 9. They blended down to about a cup of sawdust.

The blended shavings were still probably a little fluffier than actual sawdust, but they were much easier to compress than they were before blending. The blended shavings did have an advantage over sawdust from a saw, though — there was much less fine dust in the mix.

I drew up a set of patterns for tailor’s hams in various sizes. Print out both sheets, trim off one of the borders, and tape the sheets together, matching up the lines.

I made the second largest size and the smallest size. See the picture below for size reference. I plan to use the miniature ham for sewing bras and half-scale garments.

I cut one piece of wool fabric, one of cotton, and two of cotton muslin to underline both sides.

Here’s how to sew the ham:

Place a muslin piece against the wrong side of each of the outer fabric pieces. Stitch the muslin to the outer fabric between notches, 1/4″ (6 mm) from the edge.

Place the right sides of the outer fabric pieces together and stitch around the ham with a 1/4″ (6 mm) seam allowance, leaving the seam open between the notches, and backstitching at each end of the seam.

For the two smallest sizes, you can trim the seam allowance, but don’t clip it. Don’t trim or clip the seam allowance on the larger sizes.

Turn the ham right side out.

Then stuff sawdust (or other filling material) into the ham. Pound and squish it to compress the stuffing. Keep stuffing and stuffing, until it is as firm as you can get it and you can’t physically get any more stuffing in there. This will take a while. I made the opening on the largest three sizes large enough to fit a canning funnel* into. That should help you fill it, at least until it is mostly full. If you don’t have a wide mouthed funnel, you can make one by cutting the ends off of a plastic beverage bottle.

If you’ve stuffed your ham with sawdust, you will now have a horrible mess. Get out your vacuum cleaner and vacuum the dust off of the outside of your ham.

Now hand stitch your ham closed, and get pressing!


When I was blending wood shavings, my daughter heard the blender going and came over, hoping the sound meant I was making waffles. So I had to make waffles right after I finished blending the wood shavings.

Here’s my “recipe” (or a summary of my haphazard method, at least) for making gluten-free waffles with a Blendtec* blender.

This makes a big batch. Even with a family of four pigging out on them, we have some left over for the next day. You can freeze any leftovers.

For grains to blend properly in a Blendtec blender, you need to blend 1.5 to 2 cups of grain at a time (no more or less), so keep that in mind if you want to reduce the recipe to make a smaller batch.

I blend grains at speed 9 out of 10. If your blender just has high-medium-low settings, blend at high speed, though I’m not sure if it will work quite as well with that type of blender.

Blend (2 cups at a time)
2 cups hulled buckwheat*
2 cups quinoa
2 cups brown rice

You can substitute other grains like millet (very dry, so don’t use too much) or oats (medium dryness) for some of the grains. A balance of dry and gooey grains works best. I suggest keeping the proportion of 1/3 buckwheat in the recipe, since it is nice and gooey. The waffles come out dry and crumbly without the buckwheat. (A caution about buckwheat – grind your own buckwheat flour from hulled buckwheat – don’t frequently eat commercial buckwheat flour that has the hulls ground up in it. Buckwheat greens and hulls cause sun sensitivity. After eating just a little commercial buckwheat flour regularly for a few months, for an entire summer I got hives every time I got the slightest bit pink from too much sun. It took months for the effect to wear off.)

  • Put all of the flour in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add 1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons baking powder and
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the dry ingredients together in the bowl.

  • Put 1/4 cup of coconut oil or other oil in the blender jar.
  • Add your choice of 2 eggs, 1 tsp sunflower lecithin powder*, or two eggs worth of egg replacer*. (Optional —makes the waffles a little less crumbly.)
  • Add water until it’s up to the 3 cup measuring line. (You can substitute some type of milk for some of the water for a richer flavor.)
  • Add 1/2 tsp vanilla if you like.
  • Blend at maximum speed until the liquid is well mixed.

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour. You will need to add more water or milk until the batter is the right consistency, usually about 3 cups (but start with 2). Mix up the batter. The amount of water needed depends on the mix of grains you use. Err on the side of too thick, since it’s easier to get gluten free waffles out of the waffle iron if they are made from thick batter. Plus it’s easier to add more water than more flour if you need to adjust the batter. You can also use this batter to make pancakes.


* 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 Crafts, Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Sewing

Just Sew It!

This year I resolved to get my sewjo back. I was frustrated that my “to sew” list just kept getting longer and longer. Also, I really needed some new clothes, but now that I know how good custom made clothing feels, I can’t bring myself to buy ready-to-wear clothes. But I was stuck and couldn’t seem to start a sewing project.

Heather Lou, the designer behind Closet Case Patterns, was on Episode 23 of the Love to Sew Podcast last January. Her advice for procrastinators really resonated with me. “Just do the damn thing. Stop thinking about it. Stop making endless lists. Just do it.”

I really need a personal cheerleader telling me that all the time. I tend to think something to death because I’m so afraid of something going wrong, or I’m just not sure of how to get started, or I want it to be perfect. Also, I have way too much sewing stuff in too small of a space. I have things arranged as best as I can on rolling carts and things, but there’s still the mental hurdle of having to move things around before I can get started.

Since I don’t have a personal cheerleader, I thought maybe I could print out a note reminding me not to procrastinate and hang it on the wall. I know from experience, though, that I’ll stop noticing a sign on the wall after a couple of days.

I thought maybe if I spent several hours sewing myself a note instead, I might pay a little more attention to it. So I made this wall hanging, which I put on the wall just above my computer screen:

Did it work? Well, I still ignore this sign sometimes, but when I do really look at it, I have positive feelings about sewing. It is definitely more motivating than words on a piece of paper would have been. I think a paper sign would make me feel guilty for not doing something, while the sewn sign makes me happy because—hey, I sewed that, and look at those nice satin stitches on the applique!

I’ve sewn quite a few things this year. The funny thing is, I just haven’t felt like blogging about most of them. I guess I feel I should have pretty pictures of them. But, you know what, taking pictures sucks. I don’t have good lighting or much room indoors, and taking everything outside is a huge hassle. Then there’s trying to get good pictures when I am a total dunce at posing. But this is my blog, and I can do whatever I want, so you get whatever pictures I feel like taking, even if they are just on my dress form or in bad lighting.

I’m writing this blog post mostly for myself anyway, to remind me, that yes, I’ve sewn quite a few things this year. When I don’t blog about them, I tend to forget how many things I really have sewn.

After I took care of the two main things that had me stuck—I needed to make bras that fit me before I started fitting new clothes, and I really wanted a new custom dress form—I started sewing a lot more. That dress form has been absolutely amazing, by the way. I can’t believe how much faster and easier fitting is now. I wish I could come over to your house and help you make your own dress form, but I can’t, so that’s why I wrote the tutorial on how to make your own dress form. Actually, I think writing that tutorial is what got me burned out on blogging for a while—it was a lot of work.

These are the garments I’ve sewn this year but haven’t mentioned on my blog. They are all made from fabric from my stash purchased in 2017 or earlier. I spent too much on a set of thread and some vintage sewing machines this year, so I’m not buying fabric for the rest of the year. I’m making room in my stash, though, so next year I’ll have room for new fabric!

Here’s an Itch to Stitch Davina Dress. I made this with a heavyweight cotton/spandex double knit fabric that I had previously cut down the middle lengthwise to make it into a baby carrying wrap. My babies are now almost teenagers, so I converted the wrap into a dress. The fabric was narrow, so I had to do some creative piecing, but I made it work. I had some issues with the neckline gaping, so I sewed some clear elastic into the seam, and now it ripples. I need to remember to alter the neckline and do an FBA if I make this dress again. I do wear the dress, though. In fact, I’m wearing it right now.

Here is an SBCC Tonic Tee. I made some fit alterations, so this version fits a little better than the last one I made, although I may have overdone the flat upper back alteration just a tad—the shoulder seams are a little too far back now. But it’s a knit, so it all works.

Another Tonic Tee in mint green.

An Itch to Stitch Lago Tank. This was the first one I made, so I consider it a wearable muslin. I should probably get rid of it, because it’s polyester, and I hate wearing polyester.

Another Lago Tank made from cotton baby rib knit. This one has a very loose fit, because there is no spandex in the fabric. I don’t really care for the cut of this tank, because it shows my bra straps in the back, but it’s a good place to start from if I want to customize the pattern. I’ll wear this tank in the winter as an extra layer for warmth.

Here’s my first Helen’s Closet York Pinafore. The fabric I used was a remnant of cotton twill. I made the bias facings extra narrow, hand basted them in place, and sewed them down from the right side with jeans topstitching thread. I did an FBA and shortened the pattern in the upper chest area so the neckline and the opening on the side aren’t down so low. I also made some fit changes to the back shoulder and made a full bum adjustment. The pattern alterations were so easy with my dress form! It is such a simple pattern that I just pinned the printer paper pattern onto my dress form and adjusted it. Kind of like tissue fitting, but I didn’t even bother tracing the pattern onto tissue paper.

Here’s my second, longer version of the York. I made this in linen. I drafted narrow exposed facings for this one instead of using bias tape. The facing fabric is floral linen left over from making my Bootstrap Fashion dress form.

I had some lavender linen left over, so I made another modified Scout Tee with it.

Helen released a cross-back apron expansion pack for the York Pinafore. I thought that was a fabulous idea, but I had made so many fit changes to the pinafore already that I thought it would be easier just to figure out this pattern hack on my own (plus I spent too much money on sewing stuff already this year, so I’m on a fabric and pattern buying break). I put my first York pinafore onto my dress form and pinned ribbon onto the back to figure out the apron back lines, then traced them onto tissue paper.

I managed to squeeze this apron out of just under a yard of cotton canvas I had in my stash. I had to cut the back pieces slightly off grain, but it looks fine.

The apron is ever so much more comfortable than ones with a tie around the back of my neck. And it fits! The one-size-fits-all store bought aprons I have are much too large for me.

I made a second, reversible York cross-back apron. I thought it would be easier to sew than sewing on over five yards of bias facing, but it really wasn’t, and the edges aren’t as stable. If I make another one of these aprons, I’ll stick to finishing the edges with bias tape.

Is it a floral kind of day?

Or am I in the mood for food and farm animals?

Here is a loose fitting tee I made. My husband got a free T-shirt that ended up being a women’s large, not men’s, so he gave it to me. It is absolutely the perfect size for me, and I realized that my other ready-to-wear tees are all either too big or too small. So I traced off a pattern from the shirt, compared it to my fitting shell, and came up with a method for drafting the perfect loose fitting tee based off of a woven sloper. Once I’ve perfected the method a bit and tried it on other people I’ll share it. This tee is almost perfect. I need to raise the shoulder points just a bit on the next version.

I don’t tend to think of loose fitting T-shirts as needing much fitting, but they really are more comfortable when they fit correctly!

I sewed three more bras using the same self-drafted pattern as last time I made bras. The yellow and white checked fabric is Kaufman Carolina Gingham, which seems like an unlikely choice for bra fabric, but I really like it. It doesn’t stretch out too much over the course of the day, yet it has a good amount of give on the bias. I didn’t have yellow ribbon, so I made the bow out of a narrow tube of bias cut fabric.

I pulled out all of the scraps of knit fabric I had in my stash and sewed a drawer full of underwear. I only own two pairs of ready-to-wear underwear now. The pattern is one I made myself. Originally I traced off patterns from three different pairs of ready-to-wear underwear and combined them. Then I just kept tweaking the pattern. By the last pair I had the fit perfect.

Here are a couple of blurry mirror shots of my Avery Leggings. These are really just a wearable muslin. I actually made the lower rise, cropped version, but I’m so short they nearly come up to my natural waist, and go down to my ankles. I added length to the back waist for a full bum adjustment, but next time I’ll add just a little to the width, too.

The pattern calls for 1/2″ elastic at the waist. I’m sensitive to pressure, so I used some 3/4″ elastic instead. You have to use elastic with gentle stretch, or the elastic will be longer than the fabric and it won’t sew together right. Even with the gentle stretch 3/4″ elastic, the waistband still cuts into me painfully. If I put my finger under the elastic, it doesn’t feel tight, but I just can’t tolerate narrow elastic around my natural waist.

I think I have enough fabric to re-cut the waistband and try to make it more comfortable. I can try a slightly longer piece of elastic. If that doesn’t work, I might try figuring out how to fit two rows of elastic at the top. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find wide elastic with gentle stretch. The wide elastic I’ve purchased is all pretty firm.

It’s too bad I find the waistband uncomfortable, because I really like the higher waisted look of the leggings, and the double layered wide fabric waistband holds in my tummy nicely. It’s only waistbands up at my waist that I find uncomfortable, so I may have to get rid of the fancy waistband and just do a simple stitched and turned lowered waistband with wider elastic on my next version. I’d still get the benefit of the nifty hidden gusset in the pattern.

I sewed four pairs of woven pants for my son. I made the pattern using an experimental draping/drafting method I’m working on. I’ve learned so much about how pants fit during the process. It’s really been quite horrifying to realize how much pants fitting “experts” and pattern drafters misunderstand about the geometry of pants fit. No wonder those fitting and drafting methods haven’t worked for me. I’m not quite ready to share the method, but I think it’s going to work.

I also made him a few pairs of sweatpants using the same experimental patternmaking method for the pattern, and a matching sweatshirt using Jalie 3355. I reinforce the knees on all of his pants with interfaced patches. Otherwise he blows out the knees in a few weeks.

Not pictured are four pairs of elastic waist pants I made for my daughter, a leather holster for my scissors, and some pillowcases I sewed with my kids.



Posted in Sewing

Three Scrapbuster Scout Tees

I’ve been trying to use up some fabric from my stash, and I thought woven T-shirts would be a good way to use small pieces of fabric. I have not had good luck with woven T-shirts in the past, though. Many years ago, I sewed Vogue 8294, view B with short sleeves. It was nearly unwearable. I only wore it a few times, because when I lifted my arms even slightly (like to type on my keyboard) the sleeves pulled tight and cut into my arms and the whole shirt lifted up. That pattern just exemplified everything that is wrong with big four patterns, and is one of the reasons I hardly sewed anything for many years.

Now that there are many more options for patterns other than big four patterns, I have some patternmaking and fitting knowledge that I didn’t have years ago, and I have a custom dress form, I finally feel like I can sew anything I want, and make it fit like I want it to.

I remembered hearing a podcast where Jen Beeman from Grainline Studio said that her Scout Tee is one of her best selling patterns, so I decided to start with that pattern.

I had draped a sloper pattern on my new dress form, so I compared it to the Scout pattern to check the fit. I started with the back, and it looked like one size up from the size selected from my full bust measurement would be a pretty good fit, with only a length adjustment to fit my petite self. Going up a size surprised me, since I’m larger than a B-cup, so usually I would go down a size or two and then do a FBA. Good thing I checked! Indie pattern companies are great, but you have to figure out what changes you need to make for each company, since their sizing and fit vary.

Then I compared my sloper to the front pattern. I was confused at first because the shirt front was really wide above the bust level. The neckline was so wide it looked like it would gape. I looked up pictures of the #scouttee on Instagram, and saw a quite a few gaping necklines, which confirmed my suspicion. It didn’t gape on everyone, though, so either it works on some people, or they made fit changes.

I think the pattern was designed so that the front is the same width as the back, which is how basic loose fitting knit T-shirts are designed. However, loose fitting knit tees usually have high necklines, which minimizes the gaping problem caused by the extra width in front, and knit fabric is more forgiving of fit issues. The Scout does have a wedge of fabric taken out from the neckline/front shoulder seam to reduce gaping, but it apparently isn’t enough of a solution to work on everyone, based on the pictures I looked at.

I know Jen Beeman likes loose fitting boxy garments, but wide gaping necklines and extra folds of fabric at my front armholes aren’t really my thing, so I re-drafted the front pattern.

In case you are familiar with patternmaking and are curious, here’s what I did: I started with my sloper pattern, and added about 1.3 cm of width at the armholes. I eliminated the below the bust dart on my sloper, then I rotated part of the upper bust dart to become ease at the armhole (I think about 2 cm total – I already had 1 cm of the upper bust dart converted to armhole ease on my sloper, but I added more). This is basically an unsewn dart, and it makes the armhole much more comfortable. Then I rotated another portion of the upper bust dart into fullness at the hem, to give me the same width as the original pattern at the hem. The remaining portion of the upper bust dart I left as an actual dart, angling down slightly from the bust to the side seam. I used the original pattern as a guide for the amount of ease to add at the bust. Then I made the neckline narrower to fit the new pattern. I think I raised the neckline a bit, too, which I usually do since I’m petite.

I made sure my armholes were the same length as on the original pattern, and I didn’t make any changes to the sleeve pattern.

I made up a quick muslin, and wore it around the house to test out how comfortable it was. Even though it was made of quilting cotton, the muslin was pretty comfortable, and it gave me an acceptable range of movement. I wore it two days in a row, so I took that as a sign that this pattern was a success!

My first impression was that the pattern came out perfect on the first try, which was incredible, but then I did notice a couple of things that could be improved. The side seams swing forward slightly, which I think is an indication of too much length in the upper back area (I have a flatter than average upper back – the opposite of the more common round upper back fitting issue). The bust dart was also just a little too low.

I decided not to fix these minor issues. The tee already fit better than most of my clothes, and it was good enough as is. No, it was better than good enough. I’m trying to get over my perfectionism – done is better than perfect, right? I have a tendency to think things to death and then never get anything done.

I looked through my fabric stash, and labeled all of the most likely pieces with their width and yardage. I discovered that a lot of my fabric was in larger pieces than I thought – too large to waste fabric by making a Scout Tee from it, which in my size only takes about 1.3 yards. But I was committed to making Scout Tees, so I dug really deep into my stash, into those leftover bits that I’m not sure why I was keeping, and found some fabric to use.

This first Scout is made from some striped cotton gauze that used to be someone’s curtains. My mother had picked up a bin of fabric at an estate sale and had given it to me. It was mostly ugly quilting cotton that I use for making muslins, but these gauze curtains were included. There were some stains on them, so they must have been kitchen curtains, but I mostly cut around the stains, which don’t really show through the stripes anyway.

I wore this shirt out gardening on a hot day, and it was wonderfully breezy. It’s loose enough to give me reasonable freedom of movement, and it keeps me cooler than a knit T-shirt on a hot day, since it stands away from my body and allows lots of air to blow through. Of the three Scouts I made, this one is my favorite, probably because these colors look good on me.

The second is made from some stripy mustard colored cotton fabric I bought years ago. I had just enough to make a Scout from it. I’m glad to finally find a use for that piece of fabric that I’ve been staring at in my stash for years.

The third Scout is made from the cotton voile lining I removed from a thrift store dress I never wore – one of those “What was I thinking?” purchases. It’s underlined with cotton voile saved from one of my old nightgowns. I just barely squeezed the pattern onto the fabric I had. I ended up with a seam at the center back of the underlining. The fabric already has a couple of tiny holes starting – it wasn’t high quality fabric to begin with. It’s really comfortable, though, and I’ll wear it as long as I can.

This last one wins the prize for scrapbusting. It’s made from two small pieces of fabric rescued from former garments that I was hoarding just in case I needed a scrap of voile for something – and now they are transformed into a garment I will wear!



Posted in Sewing

Meet My Mini-Me

After making my Bootstrap Fashion DIY stuffed dress form, I made a half scale version of myself. Pretty cute, isn’t she?

I made some alterations to the bust area to try to correct the fitting issues I had there on the full scale version. It’s better than it started out, but I went a little too far with the bust reduction, so now it’s a little too small. I stuffed the bust as firmly as I could, and it’s close to the right size, though. I didn’t make any other fitting changes to the rest of the dress form.

I draped a fitting shell on my paper tape dress form that fits me perfectly. I scanned the pattern and printed it at half scale to see how it fit on the half scale dress form. The fitting shell goes onto the half scale form OK, but it is not what I consider a good fit. The worst issues are in the shoulder area. Still, it’s close enough that I could design a new garment based on my half scale fitting shell, sew it up, put it on the miniature dress form, get an idea of how the finished garment will look, and tweak the design before making a full scale version.

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). I was provided this pattern at no cost to me.

For the most part, the sewing directions for the full scale version of the Bootstrap Fashion dress form pattern* work for the half scale version. There are some things you can do to make sewing all of those tiny, curvy pieces easier, though.

After you print the pattern at 50%, add 1/4″ (6 mm) seam allowances.

Use thin but stable fabric to make the dress form from. I fused Pellon SF101 interfacing* to quilting cotton, and cut the pattern pieces with both the fabric and interfacing on the cross grain so the most stable direction of the fabric is going around the body. This was a good weight of fabric and interfacing to use, and it was stable enough without being too thick to sew with all of those tiny pieces.

I would suggest pressing the seams open, but not topstitching them. I made a mini pressing ham by stuffing one balled up sock into the toe of another, and I pressed using my Clover Mini Iron*. You could also skip the pressing and just finger press the seams open, but the finished dress form will look a little nicer if you press the seams open as you sew them.

The biggest change I made was to make the center support tube go only up to just above the waist. This is not necessary, but it helps the support tube stay firmly in the center and not end up tilted to one side, and it makes stuffing the dress form easier if you have a small waist. This is similar to the way I designed the center support tube in my Mini Stuffed Dress Form. I also recommend cutting the center support fabric piece from only a single layer of interfaced fabric rather than cutting two, and sewing it to both layers of front and back seam allowance (don’t topstitch the center front and center back seams, or this won’t be possible). The explanation for the pattern adjustments is rather long, so I’ll come back to this at the end of the post.

When sewing two pieces together that have different curvature, you will need to pre-clip the seam allowance of the less curvy (or inward curving) edge before you can pin and sew them together.

For the neck top and armhole cover, I highly recommend hand basting them in place first. I used two rows of hand basting on the armholes – one row on either side of the stitching line. You will need to clip into the seam allowance really close together to be able to get the pieces to fit together. Machine stitch using a zipper foot, with the neck top or armhole cover facing down on the machine bed.

The lining piece that holds the cardboard armhole support in place can just be hand sewed in place with basting stitches. There’s no need to try to wrestle it around on your sewing machine to get a row of machine stitches there.

Instead of stuffing the neck with a piece of sponge or foam cut into a cylinder, I rolled up a strip of fleece to the right size and sewed the end in place.

For the base cover, instead of cutting two of each piece, I cut one of fusible interfacing and one of plain unfused fabric. I sewed the fabric to the interfacing, with the non-fusible side of the interfacing against the right side of the fabric. Then I trimmed and clipped the seam, turned the pieces right side out, and fused the interfacing in place. This finishes the edges without adding extra bulk.

I also skipped adding the zippers on the base cover, since that would be too bulky at half scale. I hand sewed the edges together. Pulling some slack in the base cover and pinning it through the cardboard makes sewing easier.

Here are the details on the changes I made to the center support and tube.

I made a sturdy paper tube from heavy paper by wrapping it around the dowel on my stand and gluing it as I rolled the paper around the dowel. This way I had a tube exactly the right size for my stand. I also glued a circle of paperboard onto one end of the tube to prevent wear and tear on the top of the fabric pipe tube when the dress form is turned on its stand.

To combine the front and back center support pattern pieces into one piece, I placed them with the long straight stitching lines in the center 2 cm apart, aligning the bottom edges. Note that seam allowance is only added to the long curved edges of these pieces. Then I connected the curve up at the neck and connected the lines at the bottom. The original stitching lines down the middle will not be used. You can throw out the pipe sleeve pattern piece, as you will be drawing a new pattern piece for it.

Draw line A midway between the original stitching lines from the bottom to about half way between the bust and waist. Draw line B perpendicular to A.

Measure the length of line A and make a note of it. After gluing a paperboard circle onto one end of the paper tube, use a razor knife to cut the paper tube to be the length of line A plus 5 mm.

Measure the outer diameter of your paper tube. Mark half of the diameter on either side of the red line A. These are the dashed green lines shown below, and will be stitching lines. Mark additional lines 1/4″ (6 mm) out from the dashed green lines. These lines, shown as solid green below, will be the lines that you line the fabric edges on the pipe sleeve to.

Shorten line A and draw in angled lines that end at the intersection of line B (blue) and the stitching lines. The red lines indicate where you will cut the fabric. The other lines should just be marked on your fabric, although marking the stitching lines is optional.

Here is my pattern piece, cut and marked. I do not have the stitching lines marked, just the reference lines 1/4″ (6 mm) out from the stitching lines.

Cut a narrow strip of paper and wrap it around the outside of the paper tube to find the circumference. Check in several places and measure around the largest place. Make a mark on the paper to mark the circumference, then remove the paper and make another mark 2 mm past that mark. Cut the paper at the second mark, then fold it in half.

Here’s how to draw a new pipe sleeve pattern. Draw the following, where A is the original length of line A, and “WIDTH OF FOLDED PAPER” is half the tube circumference + 1 mm.


Add seam allowances of 1/4″ (6 mm) to the long sides, but not on the 4 cm section on the end. Draw in three evenly spaced 3.5 cm long lines on the end of the 4 cm section. These will be where you cut the end into a fringe. Mark notches, etc. as shown below.

Here’s what the final pattern looks like, with stitching lines shown dashed.

Cut the pipe sleeve from interfaced fabric. Sew the sides from the notches near the folded end down to the ends near the fringe, being very careful to use the correct seam allowances. Test to see if your paper tube fits. It should be snug but not super tight. The fringe pieces should align with the end of the paper tube. Take the paper tube back out.

Align one long edge of the pipe tube with a reference line (the ones I showed as solid green above). Align the notches with line B (blue line). Stitch just next to your first line of stitches (stitching closer to the cut edge so your pipe sleeve does not get smaller). Align the other pipe sleeve edge with the other reference line and stitch as you did the other side.

If you’ve done everything correctly, when you insert the paper tube, the width of the center support piece should be the same as it was originally on the pattern at the waist and hips. The top of the paper tube should be at line B, and the other end of the paper tube should extend 5 mm past the bottom edge of the center support.

Here’s the center support piece pinned to the center front and center back seam allowances, matching notches at bust, waist, and hip.

Note that the bottom edges will not line up:

When you are stuffing the dress form, stuff down to the level of the top of the pipe sleeve with the paper tube removed. Then insert the paper tube and finish stuffing the dress form as per the pattern instructions.

Here are the links to the Bootstrap Fashion dress form patterns, if you want to try making your own mini-me (or full size twin!).
Missy Dress Form*
Curvy Dress Form*

* 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).

I was provided this pattern at no cost to me.

Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Patternmaking, Sewing

DIY Dress Form Arm

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). I was provided this pattern at no cost to me.

I made an arm for my DIY dress form using Bootstrap Fashion’s dress form arm pattern*. The cool thing about this dress form arm is that it is made to your measurements, and it actually looks like an arm! In the past, before this pattern came out, I had looked for dress form arm patterns and the only commercial pattern I found was Connie Crawford’s dress form arm pattern, which only comes in three sizes and is obviously drafted from a sleeve pattern. There are also several tutorials online and in Threads magazine that show how to draft a dress form arm pattern from a sleeve pattern, but again, you end up with something that doesn’t look very realistic.

This dress form arm should fit on any dress form that has a flat armhole plate and has shoulders ending at the natural shoulder point. It pins in place, but you could also sew ribbons onto it and tie it in place around the opposite armhole and around the neck if your dress form is not pinnable.

I am happy with my final dress form arm, but it took me a couple of tries to get it the right size. The pattern has some negative ease in it to allow for the fabric stretching as the arm is stuffed. On the first arm I sewed, the bicep measurement was too small, no matter how firmly I stuffed it. The elbow measurement was perfect, though, so I measured and found that at the elbow, the pattern measured 94% of my actual elbow measurement. I adjusted the bicep area of the pattern to be 94% of my actual bicep measurement, and on my second arm the bicep measurement was correct.

The amount of negative ease you need is going to vary a little depending on the fabric you use and how firmly you stuff the arm. The instructions for this pattern say to stuff the arm firmly, but another option is to make a lightly stuffed floppy arm so you can bend it to make dressing your dress form easier. If you want to stuff the arm less firmly, or you just want to make sure it ends up exactly the right size, you will need to adjust the pattern.

To avoid having to sew two arms to figure out if you need to adjust your pattern, you could sew a bicep-sized cylinder from the same fabric you will use for the arm. Sew one end closed, stuff the cylinder, then measure around it. Divide the pre-stuffed circumference measurement of the cylinder by the circumference after stuffing it to get your negative ease factor. Multiply your bicep measurement by the negative ease factor to get the total measurement that the pattern should be at the bicep. Multiply your elbow measurement by the negative ease factor to get the total measurement that the pattern should be at the elbow. Compare these numbers to the pattern measurements. There are two vertical seams on the arm, so divide the total amount you need to change the pattern by four to get the amount you need to add or subtract from each edge. Make pattern adjustments at the seam lines, blending to no change at the armhole area.

This pattern does not give you the option to input your arm length measurements when your pattern is created, so you will have to adjust the shoulder-to-elbow and elbow-to-wrist lengths manually. These are just basic length adjustments like you would make on any sewing pattern, so they are not difficult adjustments, but you do need to be careful to measure your arm correctly.

Here’s how to measure your arm length. To locate your shoulder point, raise and lower your arm slightly and feel for the dent between the bones of your body and those of the arm. Place your finger on your shoulder point and raise and lower your arm again. Your finger should stay stationary if it is in the right spot, not move with the arm. Mark this location.

If you are measuring yourself, tape the end of your tape measure to your shoulder point. Measure from your shoulder point to the point of your elbow and record this measurement. Then, with your arm slightly bent and the tape still going over the elbow point, continue measuring down to the prominent bone on the wrist.

I decided that rather than stuff the arm with fiber fill, I would experiment with stuffing it with polystyrene beads* that are used to stuff bean bag chairs. These beads weigh almost nothing, and they allow you to stuff the arm fairly firmly, but still pat it to adjust its shape a little. Polyester fiber fill will fill out the arm into a cylindrical shape, but with the polystyrene beads the arm can have a more natural somewhat flattened/oval cross section. Also, they weigh less than fiber fill, which makes it easier to pin the arm to the dress form. The beads do show through the fabric a little, though – it looks like my arm has goose bumps.

I added a bag with three tablespoons of sand in it to the wrist. I thought this might help the arm hang better. It does hang down just fine, but I don’t know if the sand was necessary. Then I packed polystyrene beads into most of the arm. I finished stuffing the shoulder area with polyester fiber fill. I like how stuffing the arm with the bean bag beads worked out. I would especially recommend using them as stuffing for larger sized arms, so your arm doesn’t end up too heavy to pin to your dress form.

I’m quite happy with this dress form arm* – it really looks like my arm!

* 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).

I was provided this pattern at no cost to me.

Posted in Sewing

Bootstrap Fashion DIY Dress Form

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). I was provided this pattern at no cost to me.

Bootstrap Fashion sewing patterns has a pattern for a made-to-measure DIY dress form that you sew and stuff. They have a missy version* and a curvy version* of the pattern. If you are not familiar with Bootstrap Fashion patterns, you put in your measurements on their website and they generate patterns made to fit you, which you receive in just a few minutes.

Last year I noticed that someone from Bootstrap Fashion had purchased my Mini Stuffed Dress Form Pattern, and I wondered what they were going to use it for. Then a few months later I saw Dawn’s blog post about her Bootstrap Fashion dress form, and I thought, wow that looks really similar to my mini dress form. I went to Bootstrap’s web site, downloaded the pattern instructions for their DIY dress form, and noticed that there are many similarities to my mini dress form in the inner structure and assembly process. Aha, so that’s what they were doing with my pattern – using it as inspiration and research for their pattern.

I’ve had a few people ask me about altering my Mini Stuffed Dress Form pattern to match their measurements, which really isn’t easy to do, unless you are only making minor alterations. I thought the Bootstrap Fashion dress form might be a good pattern to refer these people to, but I wanted to try it first. I also wanted to make it because I thought it would be handy to have a soft, pinnable custom dress form that wouldn’t be ruined by steam or a little moisture, so I could use it to steam garments on or hang damp garments on to dry. My other custom dress form is a paper tape form, which would be damaged by moisture.

I’ve made a full scale version of the Bootstrap dress form, a half scale version, and the arm for the dress form. For the half scale version I made some changes to the pattern to make it easier to sew on a small scale, so that will get its own blog post. A post on sewing the arm is also coming up.

This post is about the full scale dress form, but here’s a sneak peek of the arm and half scale form:

Before I cut out any fabric, I decided to check the front and back profile against my actual body shape. I traced the shapes onto cardboard, cut them out, and held them up to my body. The front, while it didn’t match my every curve, was overall about right, so I left it alone. When I checked the back, I saw I needed to make some changes. Most of the problem was because I should have marked my waist at a higher location, located by tying a string around my waist. I’d recently taken my measurements for a pattern making system that puts your waist a little lower, so I didn’t think about that when I input my measurements for the dress form. I changed the center profile support pattern piece to match my shape, and it still all sewed together fine. I was actually surprised at how close the profile shapes were to my shape. The “bum protuberance” is about right.

The other change I made was to flatten the tummy. After comparing their pictures to my profile shape when I put in my measurements, I picked the smallest tummy shape that wasn’t flat, but after printing the pattern pieces I noticed that they did not look right. I realized that my tummy would naturally almost be flat, but sticks out into a rounded shape due to my swayback, and their pattern pieces were going to give the dress form a tummy further down below my waist, which I don’t have. I just straightened out the front princess lines between the waist and hip, and this gave me something closer to my actual shape.

After I sewed up the form, I noticed that my hip level was a little too low, so I’d suggest checking the vertical position of your waist and hips against the pattern and altering it if needed.

The scary thing about making this dress form is that you can’t just make a quick muslin and try it on. The dress form has negative ease and it changes shape as you stuff it, so even if you added extra ease to the side seams, I don’t think it would work to try it on your body.

The dress form is sewn from interfaced stable fabric. I wanted to use some linen fabric for the dress form, which is not very stable and stretches out, so I both interfaced the linen and underlined it with some stable home dec fabric. This made for some pretty thick layers, but my Singer 201 treadle sewing machine handled it just fine. This is something to think about, though, if you are sewing the dress form on a typical modern home sewing machine – choose fabric and interfacing that are very stable, but not too thick. You might also consider cutting the pattern on the cross grain so that the more stable direction of the fabric is going around the body.

Fusing interfacing on all that fabric took so long. Thankfully I used Pellon SF101 interfacing*, which fuses relatively quickly and easily compared to other woven interfacing I’ve used in the past. Finally I got smart and downloaded an interval timer app so I could set my phone to ding every ten seconds and I’d know when to move my iron. Every time I fuse interfacing I wish I had a steam press. I’ve had my eye on this small steam press*, but so far it hasn’t made it to the top of my sewing wish list (there are always a lot of things on that wish list!). At least I have an old iron without auto-shutoff to use for fusing interfacing.

Here are the cardboard support pieces and fabric pieces, all fused, cut, and ready to sew.

As I was sewing the dress form, I found Wonder Clips* worked well to hold the pieces together, since they were too thick for pins. I sewed the dress form together with upholstery thread for extra strength, since I did not topstitch over the seams with a zig-zag stitch as is suggested in the instructions.

Here’s the dress form wrong side out, mostly sewn together:

After that the center profile support piece is sewn on.

Then the bottom cover gets sewn on. I think the instructions have you sew on the bottom cover after turning the dress form right side out, but I sewed it on first, which works too. A note about the bottom cover – the pattern pieces are labeled “cut 2” but even on my vintage sewing machine it would have been too many layers of fabric to sew at the ends of the zippers if I did that. I cut the inner lining for the bottom cover from some thin fabric instead of the same fabric I used for the rest of the dress form, and that worked better.

The zippers are a nice touch – no hand sewing needed to close up the dress form!


The neck is stuffed with a sponge/foam piece, and then the dress form gets turned right side out. It kind of looked like it was giving birth to itself.

I actually stuffed this dress form three times. The first time, I stuffed the bust just firmly enough to keep it filled out, but it was still 2 cm (3/4″) to large. I thought it might be OK, but after trying my clothes on the dress form, I decided that it wasn’t going to work. The bust was also up too high, and the back neck to bust point measurement was 1 cm shorter than the number I had put in (I print-screened the page where I put in my measurements, so I’m sure I put it in right).

For the second try, I stuffed the bust just enough to match my measurements, which left the bust wrinkly, but still up too high. It looked awful, and the wrinkles showed through clothes. I also noticed that the shoulders sloped too much, and I wondered if that was because I had stuffed the shoulder area so firmly.

I decided to try to alter the bust. I clipped out the extra fabric to see how much fabric I needed to take out. Then out came all the stuffing. Again.

I unpicked the underbust seams, trimmed off 2 cm (3/4″) from the lower bust seams, and re-stitched them.

The third time, I thought I would try stuffing the form mostly with old T-shirts supplemented with polyester fiber fill around the edges instead of just fiber fill. My thought was that the fabric stuffing would not exert as much pressure on the dress form, and might not stretch out the fabric as much and pull the shoulders down so much. It worked OK, though my dress form is a now a bit lumpy, the shoulders still slope too much, and it’s pretty heavy.

If I was to stuff it again (nope, not gonna do that!), I’d probably just use fiber fill. Adding old clothes or fabric scraps is a good way to save on using so much stuffing, though. Just keep the fabric scraps in the center so lumps won’t show. Inserting chunks of Styrofoam or something similar into the center would also work to reduce the amount of fiber fill needed, and would be especially useful for a larger size form.

The dress form now matches my measurements pretty closely. The altered bust is a bit droopy looking, but I’ll take that over being too large or having awful wrinkles. It’s still a little too high and the bust points are too close together now, which I couldn’t fix.

Here’s how this dress form compares to my actual body shape. The tan custom made dress form matches my size and shape almost exactly. The bust, waist and hip measurements are the same on both forms, but you can see that the shape is different. The tan dress form’s shoulders extend out a little past my actual shoulder points, which is part of the reason they are so much wider.


Since the shoulders are too sloped, I pinned some shoulder pads onto the form to get it to match my shoulder slope. The shoulder pads also allowed me to give the dress form forward shoulders like I have.

The dress form will work for me for the uses I have planned for it (steaming garments, primarily). It’s about my size, but it doesn’t match my body shape exactly. If I didn’t have my other custom dress form, I think I could use this form for initial fittings, but I would still need to make final alterations on my body.

When I started this project, I really wasn’t expecting the bust to come out perfectly, but I sewed it as-is for testing purposes. The bust is a really complicated shape of the body to try to reproduce the shape of, it varies in shape from person to person, and the shape changes as you stuff the dress form. If I was making this as my only dress form, I would have made the bust smaller than mine and then put a stuffed bra on the form to give me more control over the size, location, and shape of the bust.

If you want to use this dress form for fitting and your bust is larger than a B-cup, I suggest substituting your underbust measurement plus 6 inches (15 cm) for your actual bust measurement when you put in your measurements. This way your dress form will have a bust smaller than yours so you can put a bra on the dress form and stuff it, allowing you more control over the location, size, and shape of the bust.

I experimented with inputting an even smaller bust measurement to try to make a completely flat chest, but judging by the pattern preview, this distorted the body shape and did not result in a flat chest. So if you are a B-cup or smaller and want to reduce the size of the bust, I’d suggest putting in your actual measurements, then manually altering the pattern to have a smaller bust. If you are not confident making this alteration, you could sew up the pattern as-is, stuff it, and if the bust is not right, cut it open, pull out some stuffing, hand sew it shut, and put a stuffed bra on the form.

Here are the links to the dress form patterns, if you want to try making one for yourself.
Missy Dress Form*
Curvy Dress Form*

* 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).

I was provided this pattern at no cost to me.


Posted in Sewing

A Better Paper Tape Dress Form: Part 5 – Marking the Form and Making a Cover

This is the last 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

Marking reference lines on your dress form and making a cover are completely optional. Making a woven fabric cover like I did is quite a bit of work, so it won’t appeal to everyone. An easy alternative to sewing a cover is to put a tight T-shirt onto your dress form to give you something to pin to.

Marking the Dress Form

Here are the reference lines I marked on my dress form:

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).

I marked all of the lines in pencil first, then traced over them with a permanent marker. I am not perfectly symmetrical, so I didn’t worry too much about getting the left and right sides exactly the same, since that’s not possible to achieve anyway.

First I marked the horizontal lines at bust and hip using my laser level*. For the waist, I marked around where the bottom edge of my waistband was (which was not level), then I marked two level lines at the waist; one passing through my back waist point, and one passing through my front waist point.

The horizontal lines on the armholes are where the original edge of the dress form was – right up at the top of my underarms. I marked a point 1 inch (2.5 cm) down from this line and blended a smooth curve through that point to draw the armholes. This is where the armhole would be on a closely fitted garment.

For the center front, center back, and side seams, I attached a small weight to a piece of thread to make a plumb line and held it up to the dress form. I did use my laser level to project a vertical line over the plumb line to make tracing the line easier, but you can’t use a laser level alone here because if the dress form is turned even slightly to the side, you will not get a straight line projected onto the dress form due to the body curvature. It worked out for me to draw the side seams straight down from the shoulder point, but I imagine that won’t work for everyone. A better strategy might be to determine a plumb line that cuts the body in half visually from the waist down, then draw a straight line (which may not be plumb) from the underarm to meet the lower side seam at the waist.

I used a ball chain necklace to determine the neckline.

I measured the distance between my bust points on my actual body, then used this measurement to locate the bust points on the dress form.

The princess lines took me a while to figure out. I think the princess lines usually go through the mid-point of the shoulder seam. On women, they go through the bust point on the front. For men, I’m not sure what the width at the front chest should be. I’d just blend a smooth line from the waist to the mid-shoulder seam point, and stand back and see if it looks right.

On the back, the princess lines should go through (or near) the most prominent part of the shoulder blade, but this can be adjusted a little to make a smoothly curved line from mid-shoulder to waist.

But at the waist and hip, I was less sure where I should put the princess lines. I’ve discovered that having your front waist darts in the wrong location can look really terrible. Pattern making books often say to place the waist darts “at the princess lines on the dress form.” Simply forming the darts where they fit my tummy shape best, like Don McCunn suggests in his book How to Make Sewing Patterns*, looks awkward and unflattering on me (I would have short darts close to center front). Good pattern making involves adjusting a standardized shape to fit around an individual body, not just copying the shape of the body.

So that’s why I wanted to get my princess lines as close as possible to where they would be on a commercial dress form. The only reference I found for locating waist darts in a standardized location on a human body was in the book Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Juniors, Misses and Women* by Lori Knowles.

Here are her formulas, if you want to try them. Waist width is measured as a straight line from side to side, not around the body. Measure out the calculated amount from the center line at the waist to find the waist dart location (where the princess line would go through).
If your waist circumference is 25″ or less, add 3/8″ to one fourth of the waist width
If your waist circumference is 26″ to 30″, add 1/2″ to one fourth of the waist width
If your waist circumference is 31″ to 35″, add 5/8″ to one fourth of the waist width
If your waist circumference is 36″ or larger, add 3/4″ to one fourth of the waist width

These formulas did not seem right to me (One fourth plus a varying fixed amount? That just sounds like she’s using the wrong fraction), plus they don’t address where the princess line should be located at the hip line. I think the princess line to center line distance at the waist and hip should just be a fraction of the body width. So instead of using the formulas above I found some pictures of commercial dress forms online and took measurements off of them, and compared this to what using the golden ratio would produce.

Here’s what I came up with [edited 3/24/2018]:

Measure the body width at waist and hip (do yourself a favor and measure this in metric units). At front and back waist, measure out 0.31 × [waist width] from the center line. At front and back hip, measure out 0.31 × [hip width] from the center line. These calculations are what you get using the golden ratio to determine the proportions.

This should at least get you in the ballpark for an hourglass or semi-hourglass figure. For other figure shapes, I’d suggest you just tape narrow ribbons to the dress form along approximate princess lines, stand back and look at them, and adjust them until they look good. You can probably stick to using 0.31 × [hip width] at the hip, then just adjust the waist location by eye. Make sure the princess lines are not too close to the center lines – that just looks funny, like having really closely set eyes.

At this point you probably think I’m crazy for putting so much effort into locating my princess lines, but trust me, it really makes a huge visual difference in your garments when you locate princess lines and waist darts well. It’s the sort of thing that takes your garment from “Oh, you must have made that,” to “Wow, that looks amazing on you.”

Making the Cover

With reference lines marked on my dress form, I was ready to make a cover for it. I made a woven fabric cover, placing seams at the marked reference lines.

Making the cover was a lot of work. I had a couple of “What the heck have I gotten myself into” moments, but I kept working at it and got it done, and now I’m really glad I finished it.

The first thing I did was number each section of the body that would be a pattern piece. I wrote the numbers right on the dress form to make it easy to remember how to sew the pieces together. I needed to make separate pattern pieces for my left and right side, since they are not the same.

Then I draped pattern pieces for each section. I started off using Press’n Seal* to make the patterns for the neck and the curvy pieces on the underside of the bust. I was running out of Press’n Seal, though, and it’s hard to work with on the larger pattern pieces anyway, so I switched to using exam table paper* for the rest of the pattern pieces.

I stuck the tracing paper onto the dress form with little dots of poster putty*, which didn’t damage the dress form like tape did. Then I traced the lines from the dress form onto the paper. This worked really well.

I added quarter inch seam allowances to my pattern pieces and marked where I wanted the zipper.

I placed the zipper between the center back line and princess line, since I wanted to be able to put pins into the cover exactly at center back. I suggest using a zipper long enough to go up a little higher than mine did – I had a hard time getting the cover on.

I made the cover using some sturdy cotton twill fabric. I interfaced the neck, armhole cover pieces, and under the zipper area. I just sewed the zipper right onto the outside of the fabric. After the zipper was sewn on, I cut a slit in the fabric underneath it to allow the zipper to open. This was a lot less bulky than inserting the zipper into a seam.

I stitched along all of the reference lines that were not seam lines to mark them on the fabric. Then I sewed the horizontal seams on the front and back pieces, and basted the shoulder seams, princess lines, and side seams together with wrong sides together and tried it on the dress form. I took it in a little in a couple of places, but for the most part, the fit was pretty good.

I stitched the final seams, pressed them open, and topstitched over the seams with a decorative stitch.

Then I sewed a casing along the lower edge, inserted a draw string, and put it on the dress form. To get the cover on, I put a slippery piece of plastic cut from a clear trash bag over the dress form, pulled the cover on and straightened it, then pulled out the plastic and closed the zipper.

And here we are – me and my new dress form. With the cover on, the bust, waist, and hip measurements on the dress form match mine exactly!

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Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

A Better Paper Tape Dress Form: Part 4 – Making the Final Form

This is the fourth 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

Now you have your outer paper tape dress form done:

But as is, it is larger than your actual body measurements. I tried on some of my clothes on my outer paper tape dress form, and clothes that fit me fine were super tight on the dress form. The area where my neck meets my shoulders was also bulky and did not match my actual shape well.

Here’s a look at the inside of the form. I was short on rib knit fabric for the T-shirt, so that’s why you see two colors of fabric.

Here’s how to make a dress form that does match your measurements.

Completely cover the inside of the outer paper dress form with plastic packaging tape. You might want to use the thinner, cheaper kind rather than thick mailing tape.

Wrap plastic tape over the edges of the dress form.

I started out using clear tape, then switched to orange. It was much easier to keep from missing spots with the colored tape. I also found wearing a head lamp helped me see inside the dress form.

Now you want to rub a very thin layer of oil on the inside of the dress form. Put a little oil on a rag or paper towel and rub it all around inside on the plastic tape. I used coconut oil, which I think was too slippery and went on too thick. I’d suggest trying a liquid cooking oil instead. Mineral oil might be OK, but I wouldn’t use petroleum jelly – like coconut oil, I think it would leave too much residue and be too slippery.

With a clean rag or paper towel, rub all around inside the dress form to wipe off as much oil as you can. You want a really tiny amount of oil on the plastic tape. If you use no oil, it will be hard to get the outer form off and you might damage your dress form, but if you use too much oil, the paper tape will not stick on the inside of the dress form.

Now cover the inside of the dress form with a layer of paper tape. The paper tape shrinks a little, so you might want to leave a gap at the waist, let the tape dry, and then fill in the waist area. This might help it not end up too short. Also, don’t get your tape very wet – wetter tape shrinks more.

My final inner dress form is 1 cm (3/8″) shorter than the outer form from the top of the neck to the base. I think the reason my paper tape shrank so much was that I was having trouble getting the tape to stick to the plastic tape, so I got it wetter than usual, which causes it to shrink more as it dries. If you are having trouble getting your tape to stick, try rubbing off some more oil from the plastic tape, maybe with a cloth slightly dampened in soapy water. Don’t get your tape too wet like I did.

I don’t think that having my dress form a little too short is going to cause problems, though. Realistically, 1 cm is within the margin of error when taking measurements on the body. The only time I can see it might be a issue is when I drape a sloper on my dress form, and in that case I can just add a little length to my patterns, which is an easy alteration.

Leave taping the bust for last, so you have tape around it to anchor to.

You can either add at least one more layer of paper tape to the inside, then strengthen the inside with expanding spray foam, or add several more layers of paper tape to the inside and skip the foam.

In my previous experiment making a skirt form, I decided that it took six layers of paper tape for the form to feel strong enough on its own. You can add a couple of layers of tape to the outside of your final form after you remove the outer form, which is easier than trying to tape inside the form (at least for me), so you would need at least four layers of tape on the inside plus two on the outside after you remove the outer form. You can also stuff the dress form to help it hold its shape. This is a good use for that bag of fabric scraps you’ve been saving.

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).

I was tired of trying to reach inside my dress form to get paper tape in there, so I decided to add only two layers of paper tape to the inside, and then strengthen the form with expanding foam*. This stuff is really messy and every time I use it I end up ruining something with it. Usually it’s my clothes, but this time I got some on some nearby furniture. Once its gotten onto something, it will never come off, so protect a large area around where you are working, and wear old clothes and disposable gloves.

The important thing is to add a layer of foam on the inside of the form, but don’t fill the form completely anywhere, or the foam will have nowhere to expand to and it will distort the shape of your dress form, or even burst it. I had to hold the dress form at an angle and drip foam down into the chest area, since the can has to be held upside down to dispense the foam, and I couldn’t reach in there. There are a few spots in the chest area where I couldn’t get any foam, but that doesn’t matter; it’s still plenty strong. I tried to apply the foam in rows. After you put some foam in an area, wait for a bit until the foam expands a little and sticks to the paper tape, then rotate the dress form and add some more rows of foam to another area.

After the foam has cured (or your paper tape is completely dry if you just used tape inside), cut the outer form and remove it just like you did when you took the paper tape form off your body. You might need to carefully cut the outer form with a razor knife instead of scissors. If your outer form is stuck to the inner form, cut the outer form in more places to make removal easier.

If you used foam, use a knife to trim it even with the openings.

Now add one or two layers of paper tape to the outside of the final dress form.

If you want to you can cut pieces of cardboard to fit the openings in the dress form, and glue and tape them in place. Glad Press’n Seal* works really well to make patterns for the cardboard pieces to fit the neck and armholes. Just stick it over the opening and trace around the edges onto the Press’n Seal, then stick the pattern right onto your cardboard and cut it out. If you are sealing up the bottom, you can set the dress form on a piece of cardboard and trace around it.

There are different options for putting the dress form on a stand. You can place your dress form over a vertical pole, such as an IV pole*  or something you made from plumbing parts with a T at the top to support the shoulders, then stuff the inside of the dress form to keep it aligned properly. If you have a commercial dress form that is a lot smaller than you and you did not use foam inside your paper tape form, you might be able to slip your paper tape form over the top of the smaller form.

Due to my sway back it would be difficult to put a pole all the way up through my dress form, so I put it on a platform instead. I glued together three layers of cardboard and cut them to fit the base of the dress form. I cut a hole in the middle of the cardboard base to fit a foot long cardboard tube (I think it was from a roll of plastic wrap) and glued the tube in place. Then I taped the base onto the bottom of the dress form with the tube inside.

I have a dress form stand that I made from scraps of wood many years ago for my first duct tape form. I modified it a little to work with this dress form. I added a platform to the top, then drilled a hole and put in a dowel in the center of it. The dowel is quite a bit smaller than the hole in the bottom of the dress form. I did this because I knew the stand and dress form were both a bit wonky and I wanted to have enough play to shim the dress form to get it level. The main purpose of the dowel is to keep the dress form from falling off the stand. I wrapped some fabric around the base of the dowel to keep it snugly in place in the cardboard tube.

I checked the measurements on my dress form and they were just a little smaller than me, which for the most part was good because I planned to add a cover on it, which increases the size a little. I did add some extra layers of paper tape to the waist to increase the size – I had had my paper waistband on a little too tight when I was being taped up. I tried one of my bras on the dress form to check the cup size, and found that the dress form’s bust was a bit too small, so I put a thin foam cup bra onto the form to pad it out a little. The foam cup bra also has the benefit of smoothing out some of the lumps and bumps on the bust.

If you are happy with your dress form like it is, you can be done at this point. You probably want to measure up from the lower edge to locate the markings you made on the outer form for the waist, navel, and hips, and mark these on your final form.

Paper tape forms are hard and slippery, so I wanted to make a woven fabric cover for mine to give me something to pin to. I plan to do some pattern making, so I also wanted to mark reference lines on my dress form similar to those on a commercial dress form. I’ll show you how I did that in my next post, Part 5: Marking the Form and Making a Cover.

* 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
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