Learn how to make a DIY dress form out of average household items. Just follow the simple step by step instructions in this article and you’ll have a custom mannequin in no time.
Are you in love with vintage dress forms as much as I am?
I have wanted a real antique dress form like forever. I have scoured and searched the flea markets for so long for one.
The really beautiful ones, the old antiques, are way out of my price range and I think the new (really fake) ones are still too expensive for the amount of work they would require to make them beautiful and more vintage looking.
So I decided to make a mannequin myself.
Yes, you read it right, I made a dress form from scratch.
And since that might be a lot of work (spoiler alert, it wasn’t!), I wanted her to come out looking really good.
Well, that meant I couldn’t form it after my somewhat Rubenesque figure, but I am so lucky to have a beautiful 18-year-old niece who agreed to model for me.
Making your own dress form turned out to be much easier than I thought. I’ll show you how I did it with the materials and resources I could find (for free). I’ll also tell you about alternatives that you could use and some tips and tricks I found out by doing this project myself.
How to Make a Dress Form in 5 Easy Steps
I did some research and there a few ways how you can make your own dress form and how to make a dress form stand. I suggest using what you have or can find easily so that this project doesn’t become too complicated nor expensive.
My DIY dress form turned out to be really cheap and inexpensive. I used saran wrap from the kitchen, duct tape from the DIY store, a lamp stand from the thrift store, and old book pages from a flea market dictionary.
It took us about two hours to make the basic dress form dummy. And then it took me another couple of hours to assemble the whole thing together.
I decided to decoupage my dress form with old book pages, and that was the most time intensive part of this project. Although most of that time was waiting for the glue to dry so I could put on another layer.
So let’s get to it and see what steps are involved in making your own dress form.
Step 1. Prepare Your Dress Form Body Model
Making a custom dress form with duct tape involves someone standing still for a couple of hours while being wrapped in sticky tape. So prepare the wrapping process in advance.
- have your model wear comfortable shoes
- let her put on a t-shirt you don’t mind cutting up (a garbage bag is an alternative but I recommend a somewhat tailored t-shirt)
- cover any exposed skin that will be taped in cling film or plastic wrap
- have a full roll of duct tape ready (better yet have two). You can also use sticky paper tape (for packaging)
- get your sharp scissors
- make sure your model goes to the toilet first
* check it out!
On Songbird we share lots of DIY projects that are always totally doable, easy, and cheap. My vintage-inspired craft projects are no exception to that rule. For starters, check out some of our top vintage makeover project posts: vintage cutlery wind chime, vintage crochet pillows (the easy way), vintage suitcase makeover.
Step 2. How to Make a Mannequin With Duct Tape
Now the fun part begins. To make a duct tape dress form you will wrap a model in duct tape. Apply the duct tape criss cross and in every direction. Use at least five layers. The goal is to make a sturdy model that can hold its shape on its own
- start with the outline: define the neck area, the arms, and the bottom (apply extra saran wrap if the t-shirt isn’t long enough). And your mold at the hips.
- define the waist by applying a few strong rowns of tape
- shape the bust area, stick the tape in various directions to make a sturdy round shape. To define the breast area make sure you add smaller pieces of tape as ‘underwire’.
- cover your model with layers and layers of duct tape.
- apply your strips of duct tape in all directions
- When you are done taping cut the form from bottom to top in the middle of the back
- Close the cut with extra duct tape
Step 3. How to make a Dress Form Stand
I was lucky to find a wooden lamp stand at the thrift store that was perfect for a dress form stand. Alternatively you can use a microphone stand or a camera tripod. The most important thing is that it has enough counterweight to balance your dress form.
To turn my lamp stand into a dress form stand I screwed a threaded rod into the top and attached a horizontal piece of wood at shoulder height. This piece of wood is what my dress form body rests on.
You can also make a dress form stand from scratch that would look like my wooden lamp stand.
To make a wooden dress form stand from scratch you would need
- A heavy enough wood base. You can build a stand base with something like a plant roller or plant caddy and add some smaller round wood plaques to that
- Attach a large enough table leg to your base. You can find wooden table legs with beautiful shapes at the hardware store or online. Or use PVC pipe for the leg.
- If your DIY stand is not high enough for the full length of your dummy then attach a threaded rod with some horizontal wood like I did. Alternatively, you could attach a wooden cloth hanger to the top.
Step 4. Assemble Your Dressmakers Dummy
When I made my dress form, I came up with the next steps on the way. This meant I had to do some things twice because I did them in the wrong order.
You are lucky because you get to benefit from my experience. So to assemble your DIY mannequin do this:
- Place the openings (neck, arm, and bottom) of your duct tape model over some cardboard (or very thin plywood) and draw the shapes, and cut them out.
- Give your cutouts a trial run to see if they fit comfortably into the openings without distorting your duct tape form (do not attach them yet!)
- Finish assembling your dress form stand and hang the body in its place. Check that the shoulders are (pretty much) level and that the form balances in the middle.
- To adjust the position of your body on the stand you can add ‘bumps’ of duct tape to the horizontal piece of wood to help the form hang perfectly.
- Measure where the position of the stand is in the bottom
- Cut the bottom piece of cardboard in two and cut out the shape of the stand in the right place (basically cut two half circles in each half that form a full circle when you attach the two pieces together again)
- When you are happy with how the torso hangs, attach the cutouts for the bottom. Close the edges with more duct tape.
- Fill out your dress form using the arm openings. I used leftover shipping peanuts. You can also use wood chips, saw dust, fabric scraps, poly-fil stuffing or even expanding foam (but that makes a mess).
- Close the arm openings with the cutouts when you have reached that level. Fill your duct tape model to the brim. The filler will help it keep its shape.
- Close the neck opening with the cutout
- You will now have made your own custom-fit dress form. But it isn’t pretty yet. That’s the next step.
Step 5. Finish and Decorate Your Dress Form
There are several ways to finish your dress form and make her (him) beautiful. I wanted a vintage look. So I used vintage papers that I found at the flea market. I used a French dictionary, book pages and music paper.
You can get a more modern look, by using colored papers, newspaper or even decorative tissue paper.
If instead of duct tape you have used paper tape from the office supply store you might decide that you like this look, and simply finish the dress form with a few layers of laquer.
If you want to be able to push pins and needles into your dress form (as you would, if you were actually going to use her in your sewing) then cover her in quilt batting first. A knit fabric will work best for the final fabric layer.
I applied my vintage papers with wallpaper glue. I started with layers of newspaper that I let dry and harden before I added my layers of pretty vintage papers.
If you finish your dress form with paper decoupage, remember to add several layers and let them dry in between. This will result in a rock hard finish that will last for years and years.
The final finishing touch for my dress form was a simple ‘head’ made from an upside-down wooden furniture foot that I painted black. The little vintage velvet choker is just that bit extra that I love.
Look at that figure people! My dress form was framed after a real-life model! (What do you think, will my niece be grateful when she is 50 to have this reminder of the way she looked when she was 18? LOL).
I am so proud that I made my own DIY dress form from scratch. She’s pretty!
LiLi M. says
Oooh wat is ze goed gelukt!! Complimenten hoor! Ik zie dat je Larousse de poche toch niet alleen gebruikt hebt om brieven te vertalen! Maar op Marie Louise heb je er wel zo veel plezier van!
You should be so proud, that is absolutely amazing! I think this is one of the best things I have seen on the blogs lately… you outdid yourself! *hearty applause*
OMG so Amazing….never seen anyone make their own dressform but yours is totally superb nice! Have you ever think of make and sell? Why not? I guess everyone looking for these so much especially in blogland 🙂
A Spoonful Of Sugar says
Your dressform is so beautiful! You are most creative to make one yourself – love he duct tape method! The vintage book pages are a wonderful finishing touch.
Marianne, you are amazing!!! what a truly wonderful idea for making your own dress form…you are SO right the real deal ones are very expensive…i am very lucky to own one…my hubby got her at a thrift store for me last valentine’s day…he had to sweet talk a LOT of people to get her for me…because she WAS NOT for sale…she is one of my greatest treasures…and now you have made a treasure of your very own!!!
Miss Marple says
Wat is dat gaaf!!! Ik was nooit op het idee gekomen dat je zoiets zelf kan maken! Ik vind Marie Louise prachtig!!!
Hm…wat jammer nou dat ik geen nichtje heb…;-) Neenee ik heb nog genoeg projekten liggen, maar het idee is wel opgeslagen.
Hier kun je echt trots op zijn!
LG – Irma
Wat heb je dit prachtig gemaakt zeg….wat een idee is dit.
Echt ware kunst daar zullen wel wat uurtjes inzitten….maar dat was het allemaal waard.
We zullen haar vast nog vaak tegenkomen.
Ik vind ‘m ontzettend mooi! En het is geweldig dat je hem zelf gemaakt hebt.
Dat is echt “one of a kind”.
Hee Marianne, stel je toch eens voor dat nichtjelief moest plassen tijdens het “dichttapen”;)))) ! Meid wat een idee, maar wát leuk geworden!! EN inderdaad…..bewaren voor als ze 50 wordt….sarah ziet en met weemoed zucht!!;)
That is an amazing thing to do! How cool that you went through all these steps and made your own dress form!!!
Ann Marie says
I came over from Le Temps Jadis blog.
I have wanted a Dress form for a long time as well, and if I can’t find one in the near future, you have inspired me to make one!!
I love it!! ~ And love your toile background on your blog!!
Ali ~ Betty & Violet says
I found your through Le Temps Jadis too! I also have wanted a dress form forever, am still saving for a Stockmann Paris if I can ever find one in my budget (fine chance!)
Your mannequin is truly beautiful and I think more so because of the family connection ~ your neice will love you in years to come for capturing her gorgeous figure!
Geweldig je paspop, one of a kind zou ik zo zeggen. Je hebt trouwens het aantal knopen heel goed ingeschat het waren er 1287 dus zat jij er met je 1234 het dichtst bij. Mail je me even om je adres door te geven.
Vintagebella ~ Andrea says
wow! What a great job! I didn’t even know you could do that!!!! I got your tags and they are so very pretty!!! xoxo
Jacoline (Lien) says
het is geweldig!!!
The Nester says
It’s unbelievable! Adding this to the Nest Files!
Eén woord: WAUW!!!!!!! Dit is toch echt knap gedaan! Ha, en grappig voor je nichtje, wie heeft er nou zo’n herinnering aan z’n 18e????
Marie-Louise ziet er echt heel mooi uit! Echt goed gelukt al zeg ik het zelf.;) Ook hele leuke reacties! Ik kom haar snel een keer in het echt bekijken!
xx je nichtje
Ashley @ Domestic Fashionista says
Oh my goodness! I would love to make one of these! Thank you for sharing!
That is awesome – I’m wondering if I could preserve my kids that way since they won’t stop growing! Stopping by from SITS, have a great Friday!
AMAZING!!! And she is so GORGEOUS!!! How long did she take you to make?
The Lucky Mrs. T says
Over from SITS. I am sure it was a labor of love, and it turned out beautifully!
Olive Rue says
OMG! OMG! OMG!!!!!
Okay…picking my jaw up off the floor now.
I LOVE IT! You should sell the pattern or instructions on Etsy. Heck I would be your 1st customer. I, too hate to pay that much money for a vintage one. That’s a great idea. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!!!!!
ohhh…wat heb je dit ontzettend mooi gedaan, echt heel erg knap, ik heb hier grote bewondering voor!
I’ve heard about doing this, my friend and I are thinking about trying it too. Yours turned out great!
Wow! You made this?! Really awesome.
Visiting from SITS, stopping by to say hi!
That is fantastic!! I am really impressed!
Stopping by from SITS and I’m glad I did.
Alexis AKA MOM says
First off I read your profile and we’re so the same with books. I love a good mystery with a woman as the lead/PI. Since the kids I can’t read a lot but thank heaven for the library and downloadable books!!! Yeah
Second off you rock! That is just amazing! I wish I could have one, but I think the boys might destroy it since it would just be for looks!
And third oh how I miss being 18 … LOL
Stopping by from SITS 🙂
I’m having a giveaway if you would like to come by, Palmolive! Got to love free … LOL
Alexis @ Running Away? I’ll help you pack!
Stopping by via sits.
Have a great weekend!
Wauw, dit is echt super!!! Mooi gemaakt, hoor.
vosges paris says
wow wat een geweldig geslaagd object en als je erop uitgekekeb bent vindt je nichtje haar vast wel leuk om te bewaren 😉
She is fab!
I am also a huge fan of them…i have a few wasp waisted ones which i love dearly
Be proud…a job well done!
Beautiful…great transformation from duck tape to this. Just Beauutiful!
I would love to read this post, but the photos and words are all on top of each other. Is there something wrong on my end? Thank you for your time.Your blog is quite lovely and I've just today become a follower. I will check back again soon.Gretchen<br
This is absolutely fabulous! I have been on the hunt for a dress form – antique one – and it's hard to find exactly what I picture in my mind. You (and Notes From a Cottage Industry) have inspired me now to make my own. I think it's something I can tackle :)!
Excellent, excellent job!
Thanks for posting!
Red Lipstick Style says
So creative! What a great model your lovely niece was. This is a family heirloom if there ever was one. I adore your creative style!
Ben ik weer!-)*Lieve Marianne,
Deze pop is ZO beauty!
Ik wou deze maken een tijd geleden samen met mijn vrindien en daarna zijn wij toch niet tot eind gekomen…
Now zie ik hoe mooi het can zijn,echt goed!!!
I do believe, this is going to be my next project. I would love to make one of these for children clothing! I have the perfect models to choose from, 😉
Thank you so very much for this post!
Agnes Keri says
Excellent idea! Years ago I saw it was made with old brown paper tapes criss-crossed over a T-shirt. I prefer my own shape as I love to sew for myself, and I have not many friends who are interested to help or bother with fittings.