Customizing a Tailors Dummy (Padding Out)

Approx 1m 8oz wadding
1m 4oz wadding (optional)
4 large dishcloths or roll of stockinette
1 bag of toy stuffing
Curved needle
3 reels of upholstery thread
Approx 1.5m heavy calico or ticking
Approx 10m narrow, black cotton tape

My dressform has always been a source of deep dissatisfaction to me because it just isn’t possible to get it to represent my shape.  I have a narrow back and chest, next to no bum and a full bust.  Oh, and the nasty, loopy, plushy nylon fabric gives me hangnails.

Another big annoyance was that all the places I wanted to place a pin were represented by gaps.  Centre front, back and side seams all gaps, not tapes.  There was no point in buying a Stockman or K&L as I would be paying for something which represented the average form, which I was not.

So I decided to modify my existing dummy.  The first step was to cover the existing dummy in stockinette so I had something easy into which to anchor some stitches.

Dummy covered in stockinette

Next I placed one of my bras onto the dummy, secured it firmly and stuffed it out with toy stuffing.  A full cup bra is best for this.  I then covered the bra area with another layer of stockinette and padded out any gaps.  I used some tape to hold down the stockinette close to the body.

The next step is to encase the whole dummy with layers of 8oz wadding, cut in a sort of princess line to mould around the bust.  I drew up the pieces tightly and stitched them together to form a tight casing.  Using a curved needle I sewed small stitches across the whole surface of the wadding, drawing it in flatter, compressing the fibres and giving a springier, firmer base into which I could pin.

Sewing down the first layer of wadding.

Extra contours were built up with patches sewn on, added to and drawn down with stitching until the correct shape and dimension was reached. It is essential to keep measuring so that you’re sure that the inches are going on the right places. An extra inch may not need to be put on all around. I made a mistake with mine in that it just looked, at one stage, much, much too barrel shaped. I am quite slender from the side and this wasn’t.  Realising I had overestimated my ‘mummy tummy’ I took some off there and added the extra to the sides of my waist instead.

I created the mummy tummy by sewing on a circular patch, leaving the top edge open and stuffing with toy stuffing before sewing the pouch shut at the top. This was then stitched down and formed just the right bump.

Once I had the wadding all in place I added a second layer in 4oz wadding, lightly secured in place at the seams.  Unlike the first layer it does not need to be compressed by stitching across it.  This is because the first layer was intended to give a springy but substantial layer into which I could drive pins but this second layer was to smooth out any unevenness and create a looser, more spongy layer that could easily be compressed by my ‘tight lacing’ the outer shell.

This second layer should leave the dummy an inch or two bigger than the finished size.  This is necessary because the cover will be drawn in and stitched very tightly, pulling the form in a little further so if it is not to end up too small, it must reach this stage slightly too large.

This in place, progress ground to a halt while I made some decisions about how best to approach the outer shell.  Traditionally the method for this style of dummy is to wrap loads and loads of wadding (kapok,or cotton wool) around the dummy, make the shell as a tight toile fitted to the body and then padded out with more kapok to make it solid.

I have instructions for this method in an old needlework book but the finished item features a flattened mono-bosom rather than the cross-your-heart, lifted and separated silhouette I needed for mine.  I make a lot of v-neck and cross-over garments so it is vital for me to be able to see where my sternum lies if I am not to end up with garments gaping at the neck.

I had to find an alternative method and this caused me a lot of headaches.  Firstly, I wanted to cover the bust as two independent hemispheres with the sternum drawn down tight.  I decided to base the cover on a princess line as I could then shape the panels to cope with the bust issue.  I started by drafting a basic bodice block according to my measurements.  My bust is large so requires much wider darts going into the waist seam than those which go from waist to hip so I always draft my bodice block to the waist only and do from waist to hip separately, as a skirt block.

Using my own measurements gave me a very odd armhole which I had to override and redraw according to common sense and after the first toile I also moved the bust point and shoulder dart.

Sometimes you just have to use some common sense.

Next, I created a second block based on this but with the armhole dart closed and pivoted into join the waist dart.  I chose to swing it here rather than split it between shoulder and waist as because of my bust size my waist is comparatively close to my bust line so an exaggerated dart would be very helpful for gaining the close fitting silhouette I desired.

I then created a princess block from this draft and married the skirt block into it so I ended with eight hip-length panels plus a little extra to turn under and take a drawstring for closing it under the bottom edge of the dummy.  Then I cut out the pieces and stitched them together, leaving one of the side seams open which would be hand stitched once the cover was in place on the dummy.  I would then hand-stitch the other seams again with a curved upholstery needle and strong, upholstery thread, pulling the cover tighter by so doing.

I wasn’t happy with the central, waist section – I had adjusted the shoulder and neck quite a bit so whilst the length was fine at the front it now needed a little extra length at the back.  So rather than go out and buy more calico and start again I cut the cover in half at the waist, moved the bottom half down a little and then added a new section around the middle and stitched and shaped it into place.  I had to do quite a lot of yanking and dragging and strong stitching and my panel seams were far from the perfectly even ones you see on the professional dummies but I kept the stitches small and closely spaced and eventually my little Frankenstein’s Monster came together.

I have added narrow black cotton tape to the construction lines so that I can pin and drape with confidence.  My dummy resembles me in proportions, in dimensions and most important of all, in balance front-to-back.  At last I can model garments on the stand which I can personally wear.

The finished dummy.

Front close up.

Back of the dummy.

Side view of dummy.

Copyright of the blog owner 2011

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nancy Brewer
    Oct 12, 2019 @ 17:34:04

    I bought an adjustable Dritz model, but I am shaped somewhat like you. i put a bra on the form and padded it out, as well as batting. I have made a preliminary cover out of unbleached muslin. It is not perfect, by any means, but It is not permanently sewed in place yet. I am going to make a buttonup long sleeved tailored shirt using it and will see if I need to make any other changes. I will then make a stretchy cover and finish it out. Thank you for the example!


  2. LaK (@sunnyclime)
    Jul 30, 2019 @ 13:53:55

    Thank you for posting this! how did you attach the black tape?


  3. Trackback: Draping Works! – The Trans Sewing Project
  4. Carol Eades
    Apr 23, 2017 @ 08:27:48

    OMG – your model looks just like me! Can I nip round and borrow it? LOL. Well done, I adore the lovely stitching holding down the first round of batting.


    • Offspring
      Apr 23, 2017 @ 11:17:08

      Thanks, Carol! The stitching holding down the batting is essential for helping her keep her shape. I wish I could do the same. I fear she needs a bit more padding around the waist now… ;-D


  5. Sue Mason
    Jul 21, 2014 @ 01:16:12

    Where can you get the stockinette from? I am in Australia and can only find it about 6-8 inches wide? It looks like yours is mainly one piece so ideally would like to find it by the metre, any suggestions would be great!


    • Offspring
      Jul 21, 2014 @ 13:14:48

      Hi, from memory I think I just used big dishcloths about 12″ square which proved surprisingly stretchy but many years ago when I worked with a friend who did panel beating, resprays and airbrush artwork I seem to recall that he used to have rolls of stockinette we used for polishing and wiping off overspray. I’d suggest looking on DIY sites and Auto Repairs Suppliers online. 🙂 xxx


  6. jellymassee
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 22:44:34



  7. greenaprons
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 19:45:06

    you are an amazing seamstress! Thank you for sharing your technique.


    • Offspring
      Feb 09, 2012 @ 20:27:59

      Thank you so much, Greenaprons. I’m much more confident hand stitching than machine stitching. Ideally I need to stick a bit more padding over the bust area – I pulled it in too hard when ‘tight-lacing’ those seams! 😀


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