W4W: Will You Be My Dress Form Buddy? [Updated]

I find that my interest in crafts cycles with the seasons. In winter, I’m all about knitting — almost nothing is better of an evening than pouring a whiskey, popping in a movie, and clicking away the hours. When the days get longer and I’m tired of scarves, all I want to do is unpack my Husqvarna, queue up some Radiolab podcasts, and sew a few new dresses.

My sewing machine — a Viking, bought used in 2003 for $399, an indulgent sum for a recent immigrant to the U.S. whose only jobs were working 15 hours a week at the local Hy-Vee and selling Cutco cutlery door-to-door — is one of the few things I managed to hold onto through the escalating peregrinations of university and graduation and modelling. (Well, I still use my Cutco sales kit. They’re fine enough knives, and I keep them sharp.) Over the course of several careless years, I lost nearly all the “good” things I had, in more hopeful frames of mind, acquired. Two beautiful Moroccan kilim rugs. An enormous oak-framed mirror I hung over the mantel and worried about during earthquakes. All of my useful kitchen things. The easy chair I reupholstered during a manic finals week in Iowa (those 4″ and 5″ long, semicircular sailmaking needles have subsequently proven to be of limited use, but I love the way they look, how their form expresses a purpose as specific as it is rare). For a long time, life was about dispersal. I took a certain wry pleasure in distributing myself over wide areas. I think I believed that moving was better than standing still, and that as long as I was moving, I was moving forwards. And what was I supposed to do, take a bunch of rugs and a potato-masher and a copy of Tess to Paris? I already had enough excess baggage.

I never let that machine fall from my grasp, however. Fall from use, yes. After I’d maintained a lease in San Francisco for nine months, a lease in an apartment, my then companion never ceased to remind me, that was large enough to count an extra room, a walk-in-closet-sized room that he’d allowed me to colonise as the “sewing” room, and where my Husqy had during those months done little more than sit patiently, awaiting my touch, my then companion rebuked me by saying, “You never even use your sewing machine anymore.” (This was true. I have to be relatively happy to sew.) But never was my machine at risk of being dumped on some street corner after an argument or sold on Craigslist for too little money or given to a charity shop. I wanted that machine. I was coming back for it. I just needed some time.

One December, in another hopeful frame of mind, I got on a plane with the Husqy tucked under my arm. And every spring since, I uncover it and it feels brand new. Still sews like a beast, too.

* * *

I currently have need of an activity partner in the New York City area who shares my interest in home sewing. UPDATE: Starlee Kine has stepped up to the plate! Watch this space in the month of May.I’m settled enough now that I think I can risk a renewed commitment to the sewing life: I want to make a dress form identical in shape to my own body.

To a home-sewer who basically only makes clothes for herself, the advantages of a custom form are many: not only your own measurements, but the specific distribution of your bodily heft, your own particular posture, the oddities and asymmetries of your whole musculoskeletal apparatus will be therein duplicated as never imagined by anyone toiling on the line at the Wolf plant. I cannot do this alone. Will you help me?

My rough plan is this:

1. Wrap body in plaster bandages.

2. Make sharpie slash marks horizontal to the floor at CF and CB.

3. Cut off the dried mold with bandage scissors.

4. Repeat 1-3 on the other person.

5. Spray the inside of the four plaster mold halves with mold release.

6. Place the mold halves together. Place a wooden hanger in the shoulder cavity (and, if I have time to make one, a sturdy, adjustable-height dowel base on castors). Tie together the two mold halves with twine, lining up the sharpie marks.

7. Spray insulation foam all up inside the fucker.

8. Use wooden shims in the twine to keep things tight.

9. Let cure. (Make pot of tea, drink.)

10. Remove molds to reveal foam forms; file off any excess foam.

11. Sew a canvas cover and slip it onto the form. Use my sailcloth needle to stitch nice and tight up the back.

12. Finally drape and make that summer dress I bought the three yards of remnant silk for last fucking year, etc.

Obviously, we will perform steps 1-10 on some smaller part of the body to test for effectiveness and safety before we go for the whole enchilada.

Does this sound like your cup of tea? Be forewarned, I am a sewing perfectionist — in fact, I am kind of a total pain in the arse. I take no pleasure in admitting I am the kind of person who talks back angrily to crafting magazines and all the “How To Drive Your Sewing Machine!” articles they publish for the benefit of that segment of their readership that is apparently comprised of total fucking morons, but I still subscribe to Threads because just occasionally I’ll learn a new way of thinking about the sleeve cap and, if it’s spring, that’ll like make my week. In my world, the perfect is not the enemy of the good. (That, like, doesn’t even make sense to me on a conceptual level.) I’m a judgmental, nit-picking, rather-not-do-it-at-all-than-do-it-wrong freak in the sewing room, and I intend this dress form I have envisioned for so long to be just right and, believe me, I speak in full confidence of my ability to make it so. (Or to make it sew, ha ha. A tolerance for corny puns is preferred but not necessary.)

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is going to be a tonne of fun — I expect to have a rollicking great time doing this (and downing many well-earned drinks after). I’m right now as skinny as I’ll likely ever be, so the time for me is propitious. If you suspect yourself to be less obsessive and/or less generally annoying than I am, then all power to you, but we would probably not make a good team, and it’s better that we figure that out now rather than after one of us is covered thigh-to-nape in rapidly drying plaster strips.

If you have identified any redundancies or, worse, omitted steps in my rough plan, if you have experience as, I dunno, a professional body-caster or something, if as you’re reading this you’re already mentally (or even out loud!) voicing strong opinions about mold release agents or insulation foam formulae, then — I like how you think! We might have the beginnings of a beautiful partnership.

I propose we split costs and do this in a weekend sometime before the end of April. Your place or mine (mine’s big enough, and there’s tea, but maybe yours is bigger). Obviously, well before any dress form-making occurs, we will first meet in a well-lit public place with plenty of witnesses to plot our potential course of action/gain mutual assurances that neither of us is psychotic, except maybe a little bit, about sewing. I may blog about this. I bought bandage scissors and 16 rolls of 4″ wide plaster bandage tape already.

Email me. Put “Dress Form” somewhere in the subject line.

9 responses to “W4W: Will You Be My Dress Form Buddy? [Updated]

  1. You may be a psychotic sewing perfectionist, but you are also just what a girl needs when she blows out the seat of her favorite jeans, pops the ankle strap off her best 1930s pumps, or just needs some reptile lotion for her alligator purse. What would I ever have done without you?

  2. Apparently you can make a dress form with an old tshirt and duct tape. Google it. I have a sewing friend in NY. Tweet her: MissTHoops. She doesn’t really tweet or blog about the sewing any more but I’m sure she still does it.

    I finish year 1 of my part-time MSc next week. I’ll be dragging my sewing machine out then. But I live in London. I’m more of a knitting perfectionist, any season, but the warmer weather definitely brings out the sewer in me. I was lucky enough to inherit my vintage 70s Singer, and after £10 in spare parts and a Skype consultation with my dad, actually got it working again.

    • Never make a dress form out of duct tape (or the even lazier person’s temptation, paper tape) and an old t-shirt: those dress forms are crap. Good luck in your future endeavours. Tell your friend to drop me a line!

  3. Are they lining up yet?

    All to the good that I’m here in SF – I could never be your dress form buddy. Perfect is the enemy of completion, for me (which is what I suspect that oft-repeated phrase might mean).

    I did enjoy picturing you all wrapped up in plaster, though. Take pictures, please?

  4. I’m Brooklyn-based, and this project sounds totally fun! I’m not an idea candidate–I already have a dressform–but I’m a local craft blogger with a touch of the OCD, so I suspect that we’d get along nicely. Though I haven’t thought of it in years, I did chest casts for breast cancer awareness at a music festival in college, so I’ve even kind of done this before.

    • I’m incredibly curious about your body-casting experience! Were you using plaster strips? Any tips? Would lotion or Vaseline be sufficient to keep the plaster from adhering to the skin, or do I need something more heavy-duty?

  5. I have just asked a busy friend to help me make a duct tape form.I wanted one so badly.I am a home sewer,make everything for my self all my life.Have no clue about dress forms until lately and have fallen in love with it.I am an immigrant alone in this country,the sewing is my therapy.I laugh out loud reading your instructions.thank you.God Bless.

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