If you are sewing regularly, whether for yourself or for profit, then a dressmakers dummy or dress form can make your sewing easier and more enjoyable as you get a great fit and manage to stand back and admire your work. Here I give you a breakdown of the different types of dress forms for sewing and which will best suit your needs.
Dress Form and Dressmaker Dummy Tutorial
What is a Dress Form?
A dress form is a fabric-covered torso in real-life proportions that is designed to help you sew and fit clothing. They come in different sizing options and shapes and are usually padded, so you can pin fabric if necessary.
Ideally, you want your dressmaker dummy to reflect your shape and size proportions. Most come with just the torso only, but more expensive professional dressmaker dummy's come with detachable arms and even legs. Dress forms typically have either metal or wooden bases.
OTHER NAMES FOR DRESS FORMS: Dress forms can be called dressmaker dummy's, dressmaker form, tailors mannequins, sewing mannequin or sewing forms.
What are Dress Forms Made of?
While individual models can vary, there are some similarities in what all dress forms are made of. What does vary between types and price ranges is the quality of construction and materials
- Cover - This is the outer layer of the dress form, and it is usually a durable fabric like cotton, linen, or canvas. A good quality cover should be easy to pin through and not go into holes.
- Body - The body can vary drastically in its construction. Some are made with hard foam or paper mache, while higher-end models may have fiberglass or plastic inside. Your body should have thick padding underneath the cover.
- Base or Stand - The base and stand of a dress form need to be durable so it doesn't fall over. More expensive models will have wheels or a pedal to adjust the height.
How to Choose the Size of a Dress Form
Most of the time, a dressmaker form will come in different sizes. This may be in the form of small, medium, large, or a numbered size similar to clothing.
Always refer to the measurement chart from the dress form manufacturer rather than worrying about the size label on the dummy. Different manufacturers will use different sizing standards.
Take your measurements (Read Sewing Measurements - Body Measurements for Sewing) over your everyday underwear.
Make sure you also take your body length measurements as you may have a shorter or longer torso than is standard. I have a very long torso with shorter legs, so I need a dress form with an adjustable length when making clothing for myself.
What is the Best Dress Form for Sewing?
There is no one solution to this question. It just depends on your needs and what you will be using the dress form for. And, as always, your budget. Here are the different types of dress forms and their features.
Types of Dress Forms
There are 3 main types of dress forms for sewing:
- Fixed - Cheap as they have no adjustment wheels
- Adjustable - These can adjust between a range of sizes. Great if you are sewing professionally for a variety of sizes.
- Professional - Most expensive as they are high quality. These come in fixed sizes and often have metal stands and wheels.
Dress Form Comparison Chart
Here is a chart showing you the main differences between the 3 types of dress forms. I will go into more detail in the section below.
|Mid price, between other 2 types
|Most expensive option
|Depends on model
|Varies, but typically moderate
|Less durable due to the mechanical parts
|Highly durable, designed for repeated use
|May not represent body shape accurately
|Can adjust to mimic different body shapes, but may lack accuracy
|Designed to mimic human body accurately, details like collapsible shoulders
|Ease of Use
|Easy to use; no adjustments needed
|Learning curve to make accurate adjustments
|Easy to use for professionals
|Hobbyists or beginners
|Home sewers dealing with different sizes
|Fashion students, professionals, or serious home sewers
|Basic draping and pinning
|Adjustability can impact how fabric drapes on the form
|Excellent for draping; it mimics how a fabric will hang
The specific differences of any given dress form can vary by brand and model, so it's a good idea to research your products before making a decision.
1. Fixed Dress Form (Display Dress Form)
A fixed dress form or dressmakers mannequin is great if you are looking for a cheap solution, have fairly standard body measurements or for those with a small sewing business looking to photograph your products.
Check the measurements carefully before you buy as many have unrealistic proportions such as really small waist measurements. There is also limited shaping in the bust area and these do not come with arm options.
If you plan on buying display forms for taking photographs of clothing, choose one with the pole and stand in the center. I always think they look strange when on the side, although if you are photographing pants, this may be an advantage.
If you are looking for a feel-good option for your sewing room then consider one of the dress forms covered in patterned or colored fabric. These look amazing in your sewing studio.
2. Adjustable Dress Form for Sewing
Adjustable dress forms have adjustable dials at key adjustment points like the bust, hips, and waist.
These are a little more expensive than the fixed dress forms but are great if your body measurements fall in a range of sizes.
For example, if you are a pear shape or triangular shape you can adjust the bust separately to the hips. These also come in small, medium and curvy ranges so you can find a dummy that can model your shape.
Different brands of adjustable dressmakers dummy will have a different number of dials and adjustment points, all of which affect the price. Good brands for home sewers include Singer and Dritz.
If you will be sewing for clients regularly and adjusting the knobs constantly, then invest in a sturdier dress form model, as some of the cheaper ones are a little flimsy. For those of you that plan on setting the knobs and adjusting it once or twice a year, then a cheap model will do the trick.
3. Professional Dress Forms
These are the most expensive of all the dress forms and are designed for those of you in the fashion industry who want to design couture garments or sew clothing collections for profit. Unlike the adjustable models, professional dummies have no knobs or adjustments.
If you are a home sewer, it wouldn't be worth the extra expense. The great thing about these professional dummies is that they often come with detachable arms to give you even better fit options.
Great brands include PGM, Alvanon, Wolf, and Fabulous Fit.
The professional dress form is generally well made, strong, and has a pinnable surface, great for draping and dress design. Most brands will carry women, kids, and men's dummies in a range of sizes.
Professional dress forms will have a heavy-duty metal base with wheels and a brake to lock it into place.
You can choose from a half model to the thigh or a full body model with legs and arms. Some have a metal skirt or cage underneath.
Personally, I think arms are a must when designing, but only spend the extra on legs if you plan on doing pants designs.
4. Fiberglass Mannequins
These aren't really for sewing, but I thought I would mention them here in case you are deciding if these suit sewing purposes.
The reason is that fiberglass or plastic mannequins are rarely standing up straight. They often have their weight to one side, so they will distort the dress or clothing you will be making.
In addition, they can't be pinned, which can be a disadvantage when you are designing. These mannequins are best for shops displaying finished clothing.
Customizing Dress Forms
If you can't get the perfect fit with one of the 3 types of dress forms, then the simple solution is to customize one or create one from scratch.
Padding and Adjusting a Dress Form
Choose the dress form with the most similar measurements to your body. You can then use padding to more accurately mimic your own.
Materials like foam, quilting batting, or layers of fabric can be used at add volume where you need it. This will likely be at the bust, waist, or hips. In order to keep these materials in place, sew a fitted cover in stretch fabric or use duct tape around your mannequin.
Be aware that if you use duct tape, you will reduce the ability to insert pins in your dress form.
DIY Dress Form
There are several DIY dress form tutorials online and on youtube where you make one from scratch. While this will take more time and effort, it may be the only way you can get what you need.
Here is how to get a DIY dress form with duct tape:
- Wear a fine, old T-shirt that you mind if it gets ruined. You will be cutting it off later. Wear a bra similar to what you would usually wear underneath your clothing.
- Get a friend to wrap duct tape around your body, from underneath your armpits down towards your hips. Don't warp too tight, as you want to be able to breathe.
- Overlap each layer so it becomes one large piece. Try to make sure everything is symmetrical, and there are no gaps.
- Once you have finished wrapping, get your friend to cut the duct tape carefully up the center back. You should then be free!
- Reseal the cut line with more tape.
- You can now stuff the form with stuffing or batting until it is hard and the correct shape. Mount the form on a sturdy stand.
Remember, this custom dress form will not be as sturdy long term as a bought one, but it will be more accurate and is very affordable.
Future of Dress Forms
One day in the future, you will be able to scan your body and create a dress form exactly to your measurements. One problem I see with this (besides the cost) is that you will never be able to gain or lose weight. For now, I think it is better to adjust one of the main 3 types.
How to Use a Dress Form for Sewing
Using a dress form for sewing clothing can make the process easier and the results more professional. Here are some tips and tricks to using your dress form for sewing.
- Choose a dress form that matches your body size as closely as possible. You can use padding where needed to make it more accurate. Double-check the waist, hip, and bust measurements to ensure it is similar to yours.
- Mark the center front, center back, and side seams as well as the bust points, waist, and hips. You can do this either with draping tape or pins. This will help you get your seams straight when your garment is on the dress form.
- Use a muslin or other cheap fabric to make a testing garment. That way you can make alterations before your final garment in your expensive fabric. Read more about sewing muslins.
- Try the muslin on the dress form.
- Using pins or tailor's chalk, mark any alterations while it is on the dress form. Make sure you don't get any marks on the dress form itself. Don't forget to check the hem length.
- Remove the muslin garment and make any changes necessary to your pattern.
- Make your final garment complete with accurate alterations and get the perfect fit!
Dress Form Care and Storage Tips
Dress forms can be expensive, so it is important that you take care of them.
When not in use, drape a piece of material or a towel over it to stop the accumulation of dust. Gently wipe any stains or marks immediately with a damp clean cloth.
If you have an adjustable dress form, see if the knobs and mechanisms need cleaning or a spot of oil. Wipe over wooden and metal stands regularly. Metal stands, in particular, can be prone to rusting.
Avoid sticking pins directly into the dress form's body, as it can cause damage over time. Instead, try to use them at an angle so it penetrates only the outer layer of fabric.
Lastly, for adjustable forms, it's a good practice to set them back to their smallest settings before storage, as leaving them extended for prolonged periods can wear out the mechanisms for adjustment.
Selecting a Dress Form
Selecting the right dress form should now be a little easier now you have more information on all the types.
Think about your purpose of using the dress form - are you a home sewer, student, or professional.
Another important factor is, can you get a dress form similar to the size and shape you require. You will always have to make some compromises, but it is close enough to your ideal. Higher-end models are usually a more accurate shape.
And lastly, consider your budget. Balance your budget with your best choice.
Dress Forms FAQs
Are dress forms worth it?
This will depend on your sewing goals and how complex the garments you plan to make will be. For professional designers, fashion students, and serious home sewers, the dress form is a valuable investment. It will enable you to get better-fitting clothing and save time in the long run. If you will be sewing clothing regularly, then yes, you should definitely get a dress form in your budget.
What is the difference between a dress form and a mannequin?
While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. A dress form is a tool used in sewing and designing. It may just be a torso, but it will be close to accurate body measurements. A mannequin, on the other hand, is used for displaying clothing and can be unrealistic in its measurements. It will probably be posed and not standing straight up.
Dress Forms - In Conclusion
The right dress form for you is a personal choice and will be influenced by your needs and, of course, your budget. If you have any comments or buying tips to share, please comment below.