Monday, July 22, 2013

Dress Form Dilemma

If you have ever made an 18th century gown in a period manner, i.e., using period construction techniques, you know that eventually you will need to put it on a body to fit the top of the sleeves and to tweak the overall fit. This is not a big deal if you are making the gown for someone else and they are available whenever you need a fitting, but if you are making it yourself... that's where the real challenge lies.

So unless you have a friend who is experienced in fitting gowns and has the time to work with you, you will need a dress form.  The problem is that modern dress forms bear no resemblance whatsoever to an 18th century stayed body. The former is an hourglass the latter a cone.  And yoo-hoo, Dress Form Manufacturers: Real women don't have boobs like Barbie Dolls!!!!  So what's a girl to do?

Singer Dress Form
First, if you own a dress form like the ones made by Singer or Dritz, you can make them work (sort of).  Dial down the shape so it is a couple inches smaller than your body in stays.  Then wrap the form with quilting batting taking care to fill in the space under the boobs.  Add shoulder pads from an old jacket to the breasts to simulate your breasts at the top of your stays.  Put your stays on the form, making sure to recreate your measurements (bust, half way between the bust and waist, your waist, and the distance over your shoulders.  You will have a reasonable facsimile of your stayed body - but by no means perfect.  And if you need to wear your stays - there goes your dress form.

Another alternative, (believe me, I've tried them all) is to find a vintage wire form. They were a clever idea in their day.  The concept is that you put the wire form on you, then have a friend adjust the shape to fit.

I've had pretty good success with these, especially if you cover it with your stays.  The catch is, that if you find one, they rarely have all their parts, especially the little rods that hold the shape in place, and if you stumble upon one in mint condition, you'll pay over $100 for it.  Most of the time you have to buy two in order to get all the parts you need. So unless you get score a real deal, this can get pricey.

You'll also have to put your stays on it to really get a good fit. Then you have to make sure the measurements match your own. The good news is, that you always know where your stays are.  The bad news is that you end up always putting them on the dress form and taking them off, which over time starts changing the shape of the wire form. Plus the wire form, even with the original knit cover (if you can find one) is not pinnable.

Then there's the "Uniquely You" dress form that retails for around $200.  The concept is that you start with a shape that looks eerily like a fembot, that gets covered with fabric sleeve that you've altered to fit you. This cover goes over the mushy foam form, and in theory, it's your body.  It takes a lot of effort to make this one work.  And for the price tag, you still aren't getting a body clone.

Next: Duct Tape for Dummies

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