Posted in sewing

From moulage to custom dress form: I finally finished the project!

img_3860There’s nothing like a customized dress form that reflects your body precisely back to you to make you feel a bit like a real designer. I’d like to think that now that I have finally finished my customization project that everything I sew for myself from here on in will fit better. We’ll see. Anyway, I finally have Gloria Junior finished and what a work of art she is! When I wrote about my doppelgänger before as I began this project, I came to terms with looking objectively at my own figure and accepting that this is who I am. Now that she’s finished, I’m even happier with what I see.

I’m by no means the first sewer to do a project like this. And indeed there are more way to get to this point than I could have imagined when I began. On their web site, Threads magazine has a slide show of “9 ways to customize your dress form”[1] which was one of the first pieces of research I hit on when I started this. There’s the duct-tape approach where you wrap yourself with duct tape and then cut yourself out (presumably with a helper), ditto for the paper tape method; the paper maché approach which seems excessively messy. The rest all seem to be variations on these ones. None of them appealed to me, but they are certainly faster and probably cheaper than the method I chose.

As I wrote about previously when I started this project, I decided to use the moulage I created on the road to a custom bodice block (sloper) for designing my own patterns, as the basis for my custom dress form.

I started with Gloria Junior, my adjustable dress form whose adjustments never really did capture the nuances of the hollows and bumps of my body. If I dialed her out to fit one part, she was then too big in another, but I soldiered on. Then came the moulage.

I started by dialing her back down so that she reflected the smallest part of me (the under-bust area as it turns out), then proceeded to pad up the other places.

After installing a separating zipper down the back of the moulage (as I discussed in the first pot on this subject), with the help of my doctor-husband who has a stash of ace bandages, gauze tape and bandage tape, we secured three sets of shoulder pads in the bust area and filled in the hollows with quilt batting. I had originally placed one set of shoulder pads where shoulder pads are meant to be: on the shoulders. However, that raised the shoulders so much that the neck ws off – so I had to improvise. Once we had her stuffed, it was time to think about how she would be covered.

Several wonderful bloggers[2] have gone before me and created little patterns for what has been described as the “easy-peasy” way to cover your mannequin. Well, I am the queen of making the simplest sewing task difficult, and this was no exception.

First, I wanted to ensure that the pin cushion at the top of the dress form was still available to me, so there had to be a hole at the top. Then I didn’t like how the neck wasn’t properly contoured which was the same problem at the waist. So I had to manipulate the lovely little pattern, tweaking the final product by hand.

Some people choose light colours for their forms, reflecting a belief that flesh-toned forms will better show the eventual garments. For me, however, black is just so slimming, n’est ce pas? And besides, I had a length of black jersey just the right size kicking around.

So there she sits in all her glory, waiting for me to begin another project – which I fully intend to do as soon as we return from our upcoming fall road trip to the east coast. See you on the other side.

[1] http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/37187/9-ways-to-make-a-custom-dress-form

[2] http://www.crafterhoursblog.com/2014/05/slipcover-your-dress-form.html; http://www.dominicancooking.com/9331-making-a-cover-for-a-dressform.html

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Posted in sewing, Style

Facing my doppelgänger: The dress form customization continues

wire mannequinsA few years ago I read an article reporting on a study whose results suggested that we are now experiencing a veritable epidemic of body image and consequent eating disorders among older women. The seriousness of it seemed a bit worrying, but the underlying message that it was shocking was a bit beyond the pale.

Imagine the shock! Women in their 70’s and 80’s concerned about their bodies! Concerned about how they look! OMG of course they care! I’m not quite to that age yet, but age does creep up even faster the older we get – or so it seems anyway. The truth is that, of course, excessive concern about body image and self-esteem that combine to result in disordered anything, is a problem. The fact that women continue to want to look good is to be expected. Then we (I) face reality: my body staring back at me in the form of that mannequin I’m hell bent on customizing.

So Gloria junior now has a shape to be filled out – my shape to be exact – yet there is much to be done. Here’s where I am to date.

I’ve actually gotten the go ahead from my Craftsy instructor, the incredibly knowledgeable Suzy Furrer, on my moulage on the second go round. She is just still slightly concerned that the high figure point might be a smidge too high, but I can go ahead and draft the sloper – my bodice block (I’ve done this and lowered the HFP 1/8 inch so I’ll see how that goes when I sew it up in royal blue cotton sateen with vents in the off chance I can actually wear it – more on that at another time, though). Before I get to the block, though, I’m using my moulage as the blueprint for my customized dress form (inspired by Mary Funt’s wonderful blog post on custom pattern drafting : https://cloningcouture.com/2016/07/11/custom-pattern-drafting-and-my-version-of-the-six-napoleon-dress/ ).

IMG_0714So, the first thing I did when approval finally came was insert a separating zipper in the back. My husband, my measurement partner, wished I had done it earlier. This way as I move forward with the stuffing, I can open it more easily. Then I had to make Gloria junior smaller to match the smallest part of my own torso – my under-bust. That’s why she now needs to be stuffed up again with the bits in the right place.

Next, I went to good old Fabricland in the basement of Honest Ed’s on Bloor Street West here in Toronto (If you don’t know about Honest Ed’s you’ve really missed out – what a crazy place!). I bought some batting and a number of shoulder pads, as well as the aforementioned cotton sateen that was BTW on sale: marked down from $20.00+ a metre to $7.00 a metre!

The fattest shoulder pads are now ensconced on the shoulders that had to be raised up. I now have a neck problem, though, which I’ll fix with a small round of batting and probably some duct tape. I need to re-establish the high neck point.

The other shoulder pads are now under Junior’s boobs that need more batting and support. The back, however, is nice and tight and exactly as it should look. It’s the front that I’m now working on.

When I have her as stuffed as possible within the confines of the moulage, I’ll need to figure out how to make a nice cover that hides everything underneath and gives me a great surface to contemplate my design and sewing projects. But back to that thing about body image.

If I never wanted to consider what my over-50 body is up to these days, I now have no choice in the matter. It’s a really humbling experience to see your own figure staring back at you, and it isn’t even quite finished i.e. completely stuffed. There is no hiding from what has shifted – what doesn’t exactly look like it did in that bikini on my honeymoon when I was 33.

It’s good to know, however, that I can laugh and accept myself for who I am. Fortunately, I’m of normal weight. That I’d be able to do something about. All that shifting downward? Not so much.

Let’s all remember what Betty Friedan told us at the beginning of the feminist movement: “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”wine.jpg

Or maybe I’ll use a line a saw on a cocktail napkin as my mantra: “Age gets better with wine.”

Posted in sewing, Style

The search for perfectly fitted clothing begins here: My dressmaker’s mannequin

 

 

wire mannequinsWhy, oh why does my dressmaker’s mannequin not resemble me? The short answer is that I’m too cheap to buy a custom dummy. So I’m left with Gloria Junior (her name) whose under-bust will never be as small as mine unless her waist becomes waspish, and her shoulders will never resemble mine unless they are raised at least an inch. And that’s just the beginning. So, why do I need her, anyway? I sewed my own clothes – and clothes for my sisters and my mother – for years without the aid of a mannequin. So, why now?

I was thinking about this when I was walking down the main drag in Stratford, Ontario about a month and a half ago with my husband, like you do when you’re there for the weekend to see two of their phenomenal plays or musicals that are part of the annual Stratford Festival every year (and, yes, it does sit on the banks of the Avon River with everything named after Stratford-upon-Avon in England, a Shakespeare park and all).

We stopped in front of a window display in one of the numerous boutiques that dot the street front. The mannequins made us laugh, and I started to think about how we rely on mannequins for a sense of the esthetics, and size, of the clothes that we think we’d like to have.

IMG_0601
One of the Stratford mannequins

Of course, that also got me thinking about how mannequin use came to be – so I’ll share my history lesson! 

Referred to by many as “glorified coat hangers”  mannequins seem to me to have been, and continue to be, so much more than that. According to an article published by The Smithsonian, when archaeologist Howard Carter opened King Tut’s ancient Egyptian tomb in 1923 he discovered “an armless, legless, wooden torso, made exactly to the pharaoh’s measurements, standing next to the chest that held the ruler’s clothing…” Since King Tut’s demise dates from around 1350 B.C., it seems clear that mannequins have been around for a very long time – this might well have been the very first, or at least the earliest on that we know about.

Fast forward to eighteenth-century France and the court of Marie Antoinette who, it seems, sent fully-clothed mannequins regularly to her sisters in the way we might send a copy of vogue magazine to someone who didn’t have access to current fashion news. These mannequins had arms, legs, heads – the whole body, but it wasn’t long after that when they mannequins began to appear headless, armless, legless, fashioned wire, wicker and leather. As one writer put it, “with as much personality as a doorknob.”

mannequin by pierre imans 1911
French mannequin, 1911

It was in the late 1800’s during the Industrial Revolution when expanses of glass fronts on stores became a kind of runway for the mannequin – shop owners needed a way to display their wares. The mannequin had now regained her head, arms and legs.

 

In a fascinating history of mannequins, writer Leighann Morris sees the evolution of the mannequin in the twentieth century as a kind of history of fashion itself – the shapes have resembled Barbie dolls, Twiggy, androgyny, fetishism – whatever has been in fashion at a point in history. And then there is the whole visible nipple debate which isn’t over yet! (As a sewer, visible nipples at least provide a sense of where one should measure the figure breadth!).

But these have been the mannequins designed for displaying clothing – store fixtures for the retail trade. What about mannequins that we know and love as the dressmaker’s dummy? Well, they have evolved alongside.

What’s interesting is that in spite of the fact that women’s heights, weights and body types vary more today than ever before, commercial dress-maker’s dress forms all seem to be very similar. It is true, though, that you can have a custom-designed dress form made just for you – a clone of your body – as it is at this moment in time, it has to be said.

LBJ finished on gloria
Gloria junior wearing my Little French Jacket. Although making a not-too-fitted jacket doesn’t seem to need a precise form, it would be nice if the boobs were in the right place!

I did a lot of online research before I bought Gloria junior. In fact, I set a maximum budget of around $300.00 so I knew I was looking for an adjustable. She has those dials that get her bust, waist, hip and back length to my size, but there is just so much more that goes on in between.

 

First, there is the issue of that relatively small underbust that I have. Then there is the neck – hers is fixed in position. Then there is that fact that most women are concave under the collar bone, but sadly she is not.

Why do I need her anyway?

First, I do think that being able to fit and pin without having to be a contortionist makes life easier – and probably results in fewer unnecessary puckers. Second, I think being able to stand back and really look at how everything fits and drapes without just having the mirror to help improves fit.

Then, I really just like the idea of pinning my projects on a form as I go. It makes me feel just a bit more professional – a bit of a fashion fantasy, I’m afraid.

Anyway, my Craftsy course on drafting a moulage and bodice sloper is my first step to that custom-fitted mannequin.

I’ve drafted, cut and sewn my first one. Of course, as expected, there are a few issues that were not unexpected. I’m about to cut my second one this afternoon. I hope I have the stamina to do as many drafts as needed to get it right!

 Sources:

The madness of mannequins. https://mannequinmadness.wordpress.com/the-history-of-mannequin/

Leighann Morris. The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/city/fashion/213389-history-of-mannequins

How to Buy a Dress Form. http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2013/08/how-to-buy-a-dress-form/

Photo credits:

http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/city/fashion/213389-history-of-mannequins