Learn how to make a DIY dress form out of average household items. Just follow the simple step by step instructions in this article and you’ll have a custom mannequin in no time.
Are you in love with vintage dress forms as much as I am?
I have wanted a real antique dress form like forever. I have scoured and searched the flea markets for so long for one.
The really beautiful ones, the old antiques, are way out of my price range and I think the new (really fake) ones are still too expensive for the amount of work they would require to make them beautiful and more vintage looking.
So I decided to make a mannequin myself.
Yes, you read it right, I made a dress form from scratch.
And since that might be a lot of work (spoiler alert, it wasn’t!), I wanted her to come out looking really good.
Well, that meant I couldn’t form it after my somewhat Rubenesque figure, but I am so lucky to have a beautiful 18-year-old niece who agreed to model for me.
Making your own dress form turned out to be much easier than I thought. I’ll show you how I did it with the materials and resources I could find (for free). I’ll also tell you about alternatives that you could use and some tips and tricks I found out by doing this project myself.
How to Make a Dress Form in 5 Easy Steps
I did some research and there a few ways how you can make your own dress form and how to make a dress form stand. I suggest using what you have or can find easily so that this project doesn’t become too complicated nor expensive.
Making your own custom dress form is very useful when you like to sew your own clothes and you don’t have a standard body size. I am a curvy petite and finding clothes that don’t need altering can be challenging. A dress form fit to size would be a great help.
My DIY dress form turned out to be really cheap and inexpensive. I used saran wrap from the kitchen, duct tape from the DIY store, a lamp stand from the thrift store, and old book pages from a flea market dictionary.
It took us about two hours to make the basic dress form dummy. And then it took me another couple of hours to assemble the whole thing together.
I decided to decoupage my dress form with old book pages, and that was the most time intensive part of this project. Although most of that time was waiting for the glue to dry so I could put on another layer.
So let’s get to it and see what steps are involved in making your own dress form.
Step 1. Prepare Your Dress Form Body Model
Making a custom dress form with duct tape involves someone standing still for a couple of hours while being wrapped in sticky tape. So prepare the wrapping process in advance.
- have your model wear comfortable shoes
- let her put on a t-shirt you don’t mind cutting up (a garbage bag is an alternative but I recommend a somewhat tailored t-shirt)
- cover any exposed skin that will be taped in cling film or plastic wrap
- have a full roll of duct tape ready (better yet have two). You can also use sticky paper tape (for packaging)
- get your sharp scissors
- make sure your model goes to the toilet first
* check it out!
On Songbird we share lots of DIY projects that are always totally doable, easy, and cheap. My vintage-inspired craft projects are no exception to that rule. For starters, check out some of our top vintage makeover project posts: vintage cutlery wind chime, vintage crochet pillows (the easy way), vintage suitcase makeover.
Step 2. How to Make a Mannequin With Duct Tape
Now the fun part begins. To make a duct tape dress form you will wrap a model in duct tape. Apply the duct tape criss cross and in every direction. Use at least five layers. The goal is to make a sturdy model that can hold its shape on its own
- start with the outline: define the neck area, the arms, and the bottom (apply extra saran wrap if the t-shirt isn’t long enough). And your mold at the hips.
- define the waist by applying a few strong rowns of tape
- shape the bust area, stick the tape in various directions to make a sturdy round shape. To define the breast area make sure you add smaller pieces of tape as ‘underwire’.
- cover your model with layers and layers of duct tape.
- apply your strips of duct tape in all directions
- When you are done taping cut the form from bottom to top in the middle of the back
- Close the cut with extra duct tape
Step 3. How to make a Dress Form Stand
I was lucky to find a wooden lamp stand at the thrift store perfect for a dress form stand. Alternatively, you can use a microphone stand or a camera tripod. Most importantly, it has enough counterweight to balance your dress form.
To turn my lamp stand into a dress form stand I screwed a threaded rod into the top and attached a horizontal piece of wood at shoulder height. This piece of wood is what my dress form body rests on.
You can also make a dress form stand from scratch that would look like my wooden lamp stand.
If you love repurposing old lamps, then you will find many more creative lamp base ideas in this linked post.
To make a wooden dress form stand from scratch you would need
- A heavy enough wood base. You can build a stand base with something like a plant roller or plant caddy and add some smaller round wood plaques to that
- Attach a large enough table leg to your base. You can find wooden table legs with beautiful shapes at the hardware store or online. Or use PVC pipe for the leg.
- If your DIY stand is not high enough for the full length of your dummy then attach a threaded rod with some horizontal wood like I did. Alternatively, you could attach a wooden cloth hanger to the top.
Step 4. Assemble Your Dressmakers Dummy
When I made my dress form, I came up with the next steps on the way. This meant I had to do some things twice because I did them in the wrong order.
You are lucky because you get to benefit from my experience. So to assemble your DIY mannequin do this:
- Place the openings (neck, arm, and bottom) of your duct tape model over some cardboard (or very thin plywood) and draw the shapes, and cut them out.
- Give your cutouts a trial run to see if they fit comfortably into the openings without distorting your duct tape form (do not attach them yet!)
- Finish assembling your dress form stand and hang the body in its place. Check that the shoulders are (pretty much) level and that the form balances in the middle.
- To adjust the position of your body on the stand you can add ‘bumps’ of duct tape to the horizontal piece of wood to help the form hang perfectly.
- Measure where the position of the stand is in the bottom
- Cut the bottom piece of cardboard in two and cut out the shape of the stand in the right place (basically cut two half circles in each half that form a full circle when you attach the two pieces together again)
- When you are happy with how the torso hangs, attach the cutouts for the bottom. Close the edges with more duct tape.
- Fill out your dress form using the arm openings. I used leftover shipping peanuts. You can also use wood chips, saw dust, fabric scraps, poly-fil stuffing or even expanding foam (but that makes a mess).
- Close the arm openings with the cutouts when you have reached that level. Fill your duct tape model to the brim. The filler will help it keep its shape.
- Close the neck opening with the cutout
- You will now have made your own custom-fit dress form. But it isn’t pretty yet. That’s the next step.
Step 5. Finish and Decorate Your Dress Form
There are several ways to finish your dress form and make her (him) beautiful. I wanted a vintage look. So I used vintage papers that I found at the flea market. I used a French dictionary, book pages and music paper.
You can get a more modern look, by using colored papers, newspaper or even decorative tissue paper.
If instead of duct tape you have used paper tape from the office supply store you might decide that you like this look, and simply finish the dress form with a few layers of laquer.
If you want to be able to push pins and needles into your dress form (as you would, if you were actually going to use her in your sewing) then cover her in quilt batting first. A knit fabric will work best for the final fabric layer.
I applied my vintage papers with wallpaper glue. I started with layers of newspaper that I let dry and harden before I added my layers of pretty vintage papers.
If you finish your dress form with paper decoupage, remember to add several layers and let them dry in between. This will result in a rock hard finish that will last for years and years.
The final finishing touch for my dress form was a simple ‘head’ made from an upside-down wooden furniture foot that I painted black. The little vintage velvet choker is just that bit extra that I love.
Look at that figure people! My dress form was framed after a real-life model! (What do you think, will my niece be grateful when she is 50 to have this reminder of the way she looked when she was 18? LOL).
I am so proud that I made my own DIY dress form from scratch. She’s pretty!
Marianne Songbird is the founder of Songbird, where she hopes to inspire everyone to create a home they love, one DIY project at a time. She shares anything from craft ideas to home decor inspiration and from DIY projects to decorating hacks. Originally from the Netherlands Marianne and her husband Lex are currently renovating a 250-year-old farmhouse in Germany.