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How to Make Your Own Mannequin
A Resource for People Who Want to Make their Own Mannequin
These are just some of my ideas and haven't been fully tested - you may find that you can think of a better way to do things.
Even if you already have your own mannequin you might want to make something that's exactly your size - I remember talking to a dressmaker a few years ago who wanted to make clothes for herself, but she kept having to adjust her mannequin to different sizes because of jobs she took on from other people. She decided she'd make her own duct tape mannequin so that she didn't keep having to lose the right settings on her adjustable mannequin.
Maybe your mannequin doesn't adjust up to your size (I have that problem too!) - don't worry about having to spend hours padding your mannequin up to the right size - make a mannequin that is exactly your size - with all your bumps in the right place!
You Will Need...
Mannequin Kit List
An over-sized t-shirt
or a trash bag
or gummed paper tape
Some form of stuffing
An Over-sized T-shirt
You need to use an over-sized t-shirt as the base of your mannequin, unless you love the feel of your skin getting ripped off!
Choose any t-shirt you like, whatever colour you want. It doesn't matter.
You'll want the t-shirt to be a large one that covers over your hips.
Note: This process will ruin your t-shirt so use one that you're not worried about saying goodbye to!
I picked this t-shirt because it was the first one I came across but you can really use any old t-shirt that you have.
It's probably best not to pick anything too lightweight - although the duct tape (or gummed tape) will make a good shell for your mannequin - you don't want it to be too flimsy as the shape might be lost during the "stuffing" process.
Also, don't pick anything too thick as you'll be adding to your measurements.
If you don't want to ruin a perfectly good t-shirt then raid the kitchen!
Find a trash bag, cut a hole for your head and two holes for your arms and you're ready to get taped!
Some Duct Tape Or...
The duct tape is going to form the outside of your mannequin - we're going to use it to pull the t-shirt into the shape of your body.
Warning! Don't tape it directly onto your body! Don't tape it so tight that you can't breathe properly!
Duct tape is pretty cool stuff - you can use it to make wallets and apparently it even gets rid of verucas!
This tape will make a great outside shell to your mannequin.
Gummed Paper Tape
You can use gummed paper tape instead of duct tape but it may not be as sturdy as the duct tape.
You need stuffing to fill the outer shell of your mannequin.
You don't need to use this stuff - you could use old clothes or an old pillow or duvet!
The advantage of using stuffing over fabric or old pillows etc is that it's lightweight and you're also not going to get any weird bits that are forcing your mannequin into the wrong shape.
You might need more than one pack to fill a whole mannequin!
The other reason for using a t-shirt as a base for your mannequin is that you're going to need to be cut out of all that tape at the end - you can't cut a decent line in tape when it's stuck to a body! Not to mention the fact that you'd lose the shape of the mannequin in the ripping-it-off process.
Making Your Mannequin
1. Cut off the sleeves of your t-shirt.
2. Put on your over-sized t-shirt.
3. Get your friend to start taping you up with the duct tape - make sure that there aren't any unsightly creases in the fabric. You want the extra length to the t-shirt, not the extra width so feel free to cut away some of the excess t-shirt at the sides - or carefully fold it against your skin so it's trapped under the tape in an even and neat way.
4. Get your friend to start taping you up - draw the tape horizontally around your body - making sure it clings to your body shape. Be careful not to tape too tight as you want to be able to breathe still! You want to tape from below the hips and right up to the neckline.
5. Once your body shape is all taped up get your friend to cut the t-shirt carefully off you - do this up the back and always be very carefully not to cut someone's skin!
6. Get your friend to hold the shell of your mannequin in place whilst you tape that back seam up - make sure you do it thoroughly because this edge will be a weak point.
7. You can make a neck for your mannequin by taking a piece of fabric and stuffing it with stuffing or old fabric to make a ball. Shove this ball up from the bottom of your mannequin into the neck hole and hold it there in place whilst your friend duct tapes over the top of it to attach it to the main body of your mannequin.
8. Next turn your mannequin shell upside down and begin stuffing it. You can use toy stuffing, kapok, old pillows, fabric scraps, old clothes. The choice is yours.
Be careful not to stretch the shape of your mannequin by over-stuffing and don't under-stuff! Try to get a good solid shape.
9. Once you're done with the stuffing then duct tape over the bottom of your mannequin to complete it.
10. Now you need to think about making a stand.
How To Make A Paper Tape Mannequin
Put Your Fashion Skills to Use!
If you already know how to draft patterns then why not make a mannequin using your own pattern drafting skills.
You will need a heavy weight or sturdy fabric, your sewing gear and some stuffing.
Just draw up a pattern for your body, cut the pattern out in fabric, sew it together, make a "neck ball" as described in the previous section, sew a base in place at the bottom of your mannequin and stuff it!
Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear
One of the things I still cherish from my costume degree is a selection of instructions I was given for drafting patterns.
If you know how to draft a basic block of anything then you have the map for making your own clothes. You don't need to continuously keep buying different patterns for different styles - all you'll need is your imagination and an overview of how pattern pieces fit together.
If you don't know how to draft patterns from scratch then find a book that will teach you.
Pattern drafting can often be quite difficult - some people find it much easier to use a mannequin and drape fabric over it - but a basic female or male block isn't so hard to produce and the process will give you a good idea of the shape of the human body.
Ideas for Making a Stand For Your Mannequin
Mannequin Stand Kit List
or a suitable branch
Please bear in mind that I haven't tried any of these processes myself so if you can think of something better then go for it!
You need a long pole for your mannequin stand so that you can use your mannequin for making dresses as well as making tops!
You need to find something that will give your mannequin the right height that makes it comfortable for you to use.
Think about how far into your mannequin you want the pole to go - if it goes right in up to the neckline then it's going to make your mannequin much sturdier.
A broom handle would be perfect for a mannequin stand. It's easy to find these in hardware stores, or on Amazon, for example!
You might find that you've got something else you could use - maybe there's some sort of metal pole hanging around - or even a nice smooth branch.
Rotating Tree Stand
This is an idea that came from the Threadbanger Paper Tape Mannequin video shown above.
A tree stand is a simple way to clamp the pole of your mannequin in place and let it stand up.
As Christmas trees can be pretty hefty I imagine that this stand should do a good job.
The cool thing about this tree stand is apparently it rotates - a feature which might come in useful when you're working on your mannequin.
I'd never heard of tree stands before, but apparently these are for keeping Christmas trees upright (we always use a bucket and some rocks in my house!).
If you've already got one of these in your home then even better - it should be easy to take your mannequin on and off the stand for when Christmas comes round again and you need to display your Christmas tree.
Plaster of Paris
Plaster of Paris could be used to make a stand for your mannequin.
Warning! Plaster of Paris gets very hot when water is added to it. So, if you're going to use it to make a stand for your mannequin then please be very careful - do not stick anything other than the broom handle into it! I've heard horror stories about people losing their fingers.
I've added a link to a metal bucket below as I thought a plastic bucket wouldn't be able to hold Plaster of Paris without melting or splitting but please be aware that metal conducts heat!
If you're going to try making a stand this way then please take all the precautions you need to and make sure you're doing it outside and away from anything that can be damaged by heat.
Bear in mind that once you've stuck your broom handle in plaster it's not going to come out again - so you'll need to think about how you're going to use your mannequin.
Do you need your mannequin to rotate?
If you do then think about making it so that the body part of it will turn on the stand.
If you're using the Plaster of Paris method to make a stand then think about what to use as a sturdy container for your mannequin.
Bear in mind that the plaster will probably be quite heavy and that it will heat up a lot as it's setting.
Also think about how much plaster you might use - you don't necessarily need to fill the whole container up! You just need enough plaster to set the broom handle in place.
Don't Want to Make One?
Thinking of splashing out on buying an adjustable dress form?
Or just think that it would be cheaper to buy one than buy all the individual components and spend your time making one?
How about these?
Adjustable Dress Form (Medium)
Adjustable dressforms are great if you're going to be making clothes for lots of different sized people - remember of course that these forms will only adjust through a certain set of measurements - the dressform below is a "medium".
This is an adjustable dressform which means you can make it just your size by turning a few dials.
This dressfrom is a medium - other size ranges are available.
I have a similar dressform to this one, except mine is a "small" - not much good to me without extra padding!
Female Jersey Dress Form with Base & Necktop
I like the look of this mannequin - it looks nice at sturdy.
When I was at university we used dressforms similar to these and padded them up to the size that we needed - this is a good technique if you're only going to be working with one size for a long period of time - for example, if you're just dealing with making clothes for yourself.
This mannequin isn't adjustable but is probably a lot more sturdy than the adjustable ones and less can go wrong with it (broken dials for example).
You can build it up to your size by padding the body out with batting or wadding (use your measurements as a guide).