Padding a Dress Form as Your Body Double: A Condensed Guide
Hi there! I’m Brooks Ann Camper and I’m a couture wedding dressmaker who teaches custom garment creation to those who sew for themselves. I’m the type who loves delving deep to untangle puzzles - so when my custom padded dress forms inspired Elisalex to invite me to guest post, I accepted the challenge.
One of the most helpful tools I use to create custom-fit clothes is the custom body double! I learned custom padding techniques back when I worked in professional costume workshops, but since working for myself, I’ll admit my solo methods have been loosey-goosey.
To replicate my brides, I’d take a bazillion measurements (approximately) and a few crucial body photos. After the client left, I’d fiddle and ponder for hours until I could “make it work”. I hadn’t yet taught how to pad a custom dress form mostly because my methods and measurement sheet were so messy…
Don’t get me wrong: I like messy! And since I sew solo, I can work however I want. That said, I’ve discovered that breaking down my topsy-turvy thoughts into teachable tasks, allows me to learn a lot - which often evolves my style into something even more magical!
Elisalex’s inquiry was the kick I needed to manifest a few new revelations about how to make your own body double. I’m excited to share my discoveries and journey while making my first custom dress form for myself!
And my favorite part: No measurement sheet!!!
Sewing for yourself has advantages
Sewing for yourself has lots of advantages. For example: you only need to learn one body! And bonus: you have 24/7 access to this body!
And you only have to make this tool once! My methods (for this, and most steps in sewing) involve reversible adjustable processes. You can revise and reassess as your skills improve and/or your body changes. Pushing through the padding experience this one time, could pay off for a continually customizable form to replicate your changing shape for years…
There are challenges for sure, but whether you are crafting your own custom-fit patterns or learning to alter someone else’s patternwork for a custom-fit, a life-size replica of yourself can be a game-changer tool!
Like commercial sewing patterns, dress forms are designed to fit fashion sizing. This means they intend to fit every body in general, but no body specifically. When sewing for an individual, commercial patterns and standard dress forms are simply a starting point.
I think the path to understanding, fitting, and loving your body’s unique shape includes breaking free of traditional “sizes” as soon as possible.
Since I sew for others, I’ve amassed a small collection of forms. I have two Size 2, two Size 8, and two Size 12. And, as luck would have it, currently one of each pair is padded to match a person.
And these are just three random examples I had at the ready!
Re-sizing your pre-sized dress form into a “Size-You” sculpture means you’ll be able to store all your body’s beautiful uniqueness in the tool - offering a custom starting point for your future design and fitting adventures!
Your body + Full length mirror: If you want something to fit your body, then… your body is the most essential tool for reaching your goals! And to be able to map it, you’ll need to be able to see it. Get dressed (or undressed) in something comfortable that shows your shape and work in front of a full length mirror.
The Dress Form: There are lots of types of forms, each with pros and cons. But above all other considerations, when creating a body double, the shape will be the most customizable if the form is smaller than you everywhere. Sure you may need more padding, but padding is how you’ll make it you! As you sculpt your shape, you can add and add and add… but you can rarely take away even the tiniest sliver.
The smaller your dress form is compared to your circumferences, the more customizable it becomes.
So let’s look closer at one of my examples:
The person’s bustline is fuller and lower than the bustline on the form. This means, to make a match, the form’s full bust circumference measurement must be much smaller than the person’s full bust circumference - as its placement corresponds to a smaller upper chest area. This person’s bust shaping can be built up with the correct placement (below the form’s bust), if the form is small enough. The curvature of a back and/or the placement of a waistline etc. can also be reshaped elsewhere for a better match, if the form is small enough.
Padding: My preference for padding is a mixture of quilted muslin cut into strips and thrift shop shoulder pads.
Pins: Using pins with inconspicuous heads can keep your form from ending up with “pinples”.
A Measuring Tape: Though I used this much less than I expected.
A Caliper Tool: I made myself a caliper tool with an L-square, a ruler, and some “wonder clips”.
A Camera + a Printer: Photos have always been an extremely useful tool for me. Custom dressmaking is like sculpture, and I’ve found that creating a sculpture doesn’t happen with number data alone. Photos are my main source of information. The number data just keeps me on track.
With all tools, think about your goals and start where you are with what you’ve got. Progress doesn’t require perfection. Don’t wait around for something better/different… Let this post be your kick to get started now! Embrace this amazing opportunity for your fabrics and fashions to fit your figure!
Let’s do this!
Step 1: Set the Height: Get started by setting up your form to more or less match your height. Adjust the level of the inner neck point and/or the outer shoulder point to be in line with yours. If you can only make one match, choose the option that offers the greatest distance between the two. Remember: you can pad up but you can’t take away.
Step 2: Create a Photo Tool: Line yourself up next to your form. Take straight-on front and side photos and print them out.
Cut out the dress form’s silhouette…
…and secure it on top of your body’s silhouette - lining up the lowest part of your shoulders. This will very literally reveal where your form’s shape fits inside your body’s shape and where extra padding is needed to make a match! Pretty neat guide, huh?!
Step 3: Start sculpting at the top - then work your way down.
Use your printout to help you determine your shoulder slope. I like to hold a pencil up to match the slope on the photo, then keep holding that same angle up to the form, to confirm a match or pad accordingly.
Then keep moving down…
Though my photos and my own body ended up being my most referenced tools, number data can also be helpful. And surprisingly, I ended up using my homemade caliper tool much more than my measuring tape.
To employ my caliper tool, I would slide and square my clear ruler along the L-square to match an area of front/back or side/side space on my body and secure it in place.
Then I’d move the squared tool to hover over the same area(s) of the form to see how much more volume was needed to fill out the same space. A circumference would offer a single data point measuring the total of an oval, but a caliper tells you more about how each circumference is distributed.
Note: Though the two tools I used to make my caliper were both rulers, I didn’t really reference the numbers much. I used the squared space created quite literally. Feel free to get creative when making your caliper tool!
Use the photo tool to help you figure out which areas need a little or a lot of padding and try to replicate the angles and shapes that they create. Use your body next to the form and in the mirror to check your levels and your work.
My self-sculpting process involved a lot of chest bumps…
backing it up…
hip checks and booty bumps…
but it was mostly serious business…
Give your own top-down first draft a go as you cut, fold, layer, pin, sculpt…
Step 4: Measure, Assess, Revise
As I sculpted my way down my body and my body double, I used all my tools to reassess and revise. Dance around from tool to tool, move, shift, add, take away…
Use padding and pins generously anywhere and everywhere! And my advice (even if adding a cover) is: No sewing. Make nothing permanent. Leave everything easily adjustable forever.
I found myself reaching for the photo tool for angles and padding strategies…
The caliper helped me distribute volume…
My body and mirror allowed me to check my levels and shapes….
…and my measuring tape helped with double checking and fine tuning. I’d drape the tape along the body, then mimic the placement as I draped the tape along the form in the same spot. Anywhere and everywhere is game for a quick measure. Jot down some numbers, or don’t! (I noted no numbers during my solo sculpting session.)
I also found a lot of helpful clues for a better match when referencing all these process photos I took! Evaluating photos is such a helpful tool…
Like every project, there’s probably going to be a moment (or several) where you think “This is terrible. I’m not getting this right.” But also like every project, if you keep revising without giving up, you will get through it.
Take your time, take breaks, and plan on working hard through several serious sessions. Nerdy body mapping is my jam, but even for me, padding a custom dress form is not quick and easy. Instead, it’s slow and worth it.
And remember: Attaining a perfectly exact replica is not the goal. Bodies are moving changing flexible complicated sculptures. “A perfect match” is unattainable - so pressure is off! You can’t get it right. So you can’t get it wrong…
Evolving and Changing
One of the leading reasons why I choose padding over other methods (duct tape, 3D scan, stuff a custom cover, etc.) is that it’s so adjustable, changeable, and reversible. Just like with my custom sewing methods, it’s never important that you get things perfect on the first (or fifth) try. You can constantly evolve and make improvements.
I’m so thankful that Elisalex and the Sewing Community inspired me to evolve and upgrade my previously precarious process!
While you won’t pull me too far away from my natural loosey-goosey style, I hope some of these tools and techniques will eliminate some of the guesswork from your experience and offer a little framework and confidence to get you started making your own custom dress form. I think you are going to learn a lot while earning a fancy new foundation for your fitting future! I’m super-excited to use my new tool… Thanks for the kick, ya’ll!
The End. For now…
Have a bazillion questions? Curious for lots MORE? Composing a single blog post on such a whopping topic was a challenge for me and my thorough teaching style. So… I’ve begun putting together an eBook that will delve deliciously deeper into this substantial subject. Use this link to find out more! Or take the condensed ideas I’ve shared here and run with them!
Go ahead… make your shape!
Wow.... my mind is 100% BLOWN AWAY! I've always felt really overwhelmed by the idea of padding out a dress form, but your tutorial has me feeling like I'd have you there holding my hand as I go! Your method seems so approachable, and something that would make such a profound difference to anyone's sewing practice. I can't even begin to thank you enough, and I hope everyone goes and buys your eBook!