This is my dress form. As you can see, I use it everyday! Perhaps not in the way it was meant to be used but it’s still being used right?…
I got emailed this question and thought I’d share my thoughts in case anyone else was pondering the same thing:
“My question is if I was to invest in a dress form to help me would I need an adjustable one or can I do just as well with a fixed size which is of course cheaper but I thought best to get some advice first as the adjustable are quite expensive.”
I hear you, and currently having the same dilemma and wondering whether to upgrade my one. Sewing can be an expensive hobby: machines, accessories, fabric. So where do you draw the line?
I bought my dress form just over 3 years ago, when I decided to take sewing more seriously. It’s a fixed size mid-range dress form (10-12) made out of fibreglass and padding with a cast iron stand. At the time I was wearing UK size 10 clothes so that seemed to make sense. In my naive amateur beginners sewing style, I found my first dresses fitted the form perfectly but when I put it on it was a whole different picture. I quickly realised that my forms bust and waist was far too large and once I had made adjustments for the dress to fit me, they no longer fit the form. So the form got demoted to a necklace stand/ occasional prop for photos. So 3 years later, do I regret buying one and why am I weighing up getting a new one? Here’s the questions I’ve been asking myself and the ones I’d suggest you ask yourself before you choose to/choose not to invest in a dress form:
What kind of sewing do you do?
In theory, dress forms have lots of benefits: draping for designing and creating, fitting (we’ll come back to that point) and if you’re a blogger, displaying makes (which is no small thing-try getting a flattering picture of a dress on a hanger!) But these uses come down to what kind of sewer you are. If you only use patterns, then you probably only need it for fitting- in which case why fit it to a form when you can fit it to yourself? No form could ever replicate your body better than…your body. So if it’s just for fitting: it’s nice to have one if it fits (…again, we’ll get back to that), but definitely not essential.
So why, after going back to fitting clothes to myself rather than my busty form am I thinking of getting a new one? The Great British Sewing Bee taught me a lot and also gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone when it came to designing. I started trying draping and really enjoyed the process of working with the properties of fabric rather than patterns: pinning things here and there, add a dart, remove a pleat. I really enjoyed the fluid process of designing through draping and it’s one of the things you do need dress form for!
Dress forms are also helpful for hanging items, helping with hemming, visualising designs, and photography (which is actually quite a big deal for blogging).
So think about the type of sewing you want to do now and what you may want to do in the future- do you think you’ll start draping one day?
Get to know your body
I’m assuming you want a dress form for making clothes for yourself and not for other people/commercial sewing- because that’s a whole other conversation! So let’s talk about your body: think about your size and shape. Take me, I’ve got a small bust, wide shoulders, small waist but wide hips and my torso is extremely small with a tiny back length. So in hindsight a fixed size form was not a good idea for me! Very few of us are have the same proportions or measurements as dress forms so you’ll always find some part of is off kilter with your body. Having said that- you may come close (if you’re in-between sizes, go for the smaller size because you can always pad it up but you can’t take it away!) so a fixed size form could work for you. Plus they’re cheaper! So really compare your measurements with the dress form you’re choosing when weighing up which one to buy (not just bust/waist/hip measurements).
Which takes me to the second part of knowing your body. As my metabolism slowed down and the chocolate and cakes started hanging around for longer than they used to, I thought I had reached a plateau for my size and went for a fixed size form. Oh boy was I wrong! Even though my weight has been rock steady for a couple of years, my waist and hips have varied by inches, sometimes even from month-to-month (which really shows that ‘weight’ is just a number!) So think about your body- have you been a steady size for a long while now? Or are you about to embark on a new fitness regime? Or perhaps you plan to incubate a lil’un in your belly, after which I’m told all sorts change, not just your shape…
If you are a steady size and don’t see that changing and the proportions of the form you’re looking at is similar to you, then maybe a fixed size form will do the trick. If not, then perhaps an adjustable form is a safer bet.
What’s in the piggy bank?
One of the big deciding factors will be cost. As I’ve mentioned, fixed size forms are cheaper (I wouldn’t go for the polystyrene ones, they won’t last long with pinning and are really made for displaying items, not tailoring/sewing). You could always go for a smaller size and pad it up to be more bespoke (there’s lots of tutorials on this).
Adjustable forms are more expensive: the more you can change, the higher the price. Again, think about your body shape- even if I got one to match my bust and waist widthwise- I’d still need one where I could adjust the back length (the joys of being 5’2″) so a 4-part adjustable one probably wouldn’t do the trick.
So for me, I’m edging towards an adjustable dress form (8 part with back length adjustment option)- partly because of my changing body shape and partly because of my changing sewing style.
But remember forms are not essential for sewing- nothing will replace the old fashioned ‘just try it on and look in a mirror’ method. I’ve managed perfectly well for the last few years and most people who sew don’t have one. It’s one of those luxuries which is nice if you have one, but not essential. If you’re on the fence, why not trial whether you’d actually use one in the long term by making a cheap and cheerful ‘duct tape dress form’ (Google it for plenty of tutorials)?
Anyway, that’s enough of me blabbing on. Hopefully that’s been helpful! Do let me know your thoughts and experiences and whether or not I should go for an 8-part adjustable/ which are your trusted brands!