My Search for the Perfect Dressmakers Dummy

So you want to use an adjustable dress form, but you don’t know what to look for. Okay, it’s easy enough to research online. A quick click and a Wikipedia scan, and you’ve got the basic idea. Then, you go in for some more in depth looking. This is where you discover the problem. Look all over and you’ll see mixed reviews on which dress form is really the best. Well, I’m here to tell there is no such thing as the best dressmakers dummy (or sewing mannequin.) They all have pluses and minuses.

There are four main types of dress forms, as you may have found through your research:

1) A plastic model with dials to adjust the measurements

2) A foam model with a fabric cover used to adjust the measurements

3) A professional model with no adjustability at all

4) A duct tape do-it-yourself version

Since there is no easy choice, let’s take a look at each of the four types individually, so you can choose the one that is best for you.

The Plastic Model with Dials

A plastic core with a thin covering of foam and fabric most often characterizes these plastic models. Examples are the Singer 150 and the Dritz My Double Deluxe. The pros of this form include the cheap cost and the maneuverability. They are fully adjustable using their dial system. Some brands have more dials than others. You can also pin on them by just sliding the pin horizontally under the fabric. The cons that are frequently heard about this dress form are the flimsiness, the unstableness and a few small things related to the pins. There is no getting around the fact that plastic is flimsy. That's why these models are cheap, because they're lightweight. Another complaint about the weight is that they can tip over. That is an easy fix with weights such as sandbags or heavy pillows. Lastly, the use of pins can be annoying on this model. The pins cannot be pushed straight in; they must be used horizontally. You will also run into trouble attempting to pin in the places where there is only space, after you have adjusted the measurements to fit you exactly. The costs of the plastic models usually range from $100 – 200.

In general, the cheaper you go, the flimsier it will be. If you like this style, my personal recommendation is the Dritz My Double Deluxe dress form. Yes it is a little bit more expensive, but it is the sturdiest brand of the plastic models. It also comes with added features such as an offset center pole and it is easiest to use when you need to change the form size frequently.

The Foam Model with Fabric Cover

This model is made of solid dense foam, and you adjust measurements through sewing the fabric cover to the right dimensions. When you put the cover on, the foam squeezes in place to fit the fabric. This model also allows for adjustment of the center pole height. One of the most popular foam model is the Uniquely You brand. The pros of this form are the sturdiness, the ability to pin straight through, and the lack of gaps. The form is heavier, so it does not easily fall over. The pins can go straight through the foam, and there are no gaps. The cons are the extra work to sew the cover, the lack of torso adjustability, and the center pole. The fact that you need to get the fabric cover to match your exact dimensions can be daunting, and somewhat challenging to do correctly. The torso cannot be adjusted for shorter or taller midriffs, or for shoulder length, and the center pole is not offset, so you can't fit pants or shorts on the form once the inseam is sewn. The usual costs of this form run around $190. It's best to get free shipping because the form is rather heavy.

I would recommend this form if you are going to stick to one set of measurements the majority of the time. It is very useful for drafting your own patterns. I own one of these, the Uniquely You brand, and I'm pleased with it.

The Professional Model As you might guess from the name, the professional model is used in the garment manufacturing industry. Brands for these include PGM, Yamata, and Family. The pros of these are that they are sturdy, all foam, able to be pinned in from every angle, and they are great for pants and costumes. They are adjustable for height using a pedal system on the base. The base also tends to be on wheels, so they are easy to move around. You can also get different types, such as the pants only, men’s form, and children’s models. The biggest con of this form is the non-adjustable nature. They are manufactured for standard sizing and that’s it. It works if you are a perfect size 10 or 8 or 22, but for those of us somewhere in between, then it’s not the best. The cost runs depending on whether you’re purchasing the torso-only or full-body model. This brings you anywhere from $350 – $600.

I personally don’t see this form as useful for home sewers unless you are a designer working on new patterns or if you plan on sewing a lot of the same sizes. The shipping can be especially pricey on these, but if you wanted to purchase one, I would recommend the PGM brand.

The Duct Tape Model

The homemade, do-it-yourself, dress forms have been around a long time. The basic idea is to get a friend or family member to tape your torso over an expendable t-shirt. Cut it off your body, stuff it with something you have available, and mount it on a stand, and voila. You have a dress form. The pros of this form are the advantage of having it exactly shaped to you and the cheapness of it. You must, however, be careful to do the taping correctly, or you will mess up the dimensions. The cons are the pinning, the impossibility of changing the dimensions, and the stand. The pinning is rather disgusting through tape and sometimes renders pins unusable if they are not cleaned properly. In order to do new dimensions, you need to tape a whole new model, and the stand can be hard to make sturdy. The costs come in the form of a couple rolls of duct tape, a t-shirt, and whatever else you needed. Oh, and the bribing of your friend to tape for you (this is usually easy to pay in the form of a margarita or two.)

I personally used this form for a while, and I did not enjoy it. I never could get it to stand up properly and getting the measurements right after stuffing it was tricky. There are times it works best, such with special measurement considerations.

A Few Last Remarks

So, now that you have a general idea of what dress form may be best for you, the next step is to research more on the one you think is your choice. Two things to remember: try to get free shipping (especially for the heavier dress forms) and order closest to the size you will be using most often.

Comments 3 comments

Meg 5 years ago

What a lot of very helpful information. Thank you for making me feel like the task of finding my model is NOT overwhelming!:)


TigerPumpkin 4 years ago

Thanks! So helpful!


Kathryn 14 months ago

This was so helpful. Thank you

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