Dress Forms

Should I buy a dress form?

By on March 31, 2017

Want to try an experiment? Grab a cup of tea, pull up your laptop, and spend an hour perusing all the sewing groups on Facebook. Doesn’t matter where you go – I guarantee someone will ask about dress forms. It comes up time and time again because a dress form represents that perfect storm of “seems like it would be super useful” and “whoah, that is not cheap.”

Without fail, someone pops up every week in our own (completely awesome, btw) facebook group to ask “Where can I find the best adjustable dress form?” or “Do you have to pad up a dress form?” or “How do I make my own dress form?” so in spirit of being able to say “here, this is everything we know about dress forms”, here, this is everything we know about dress forms:

Where can I find a dress form?

You’ve probably seen dress forms at Joann but with the exception of 99c pattern sale days, Joann is not exactly bargain central. If you have Amazon Prime (and therefore don’t have to pay shipping), you’re probably going to find a find a better deal on amazon and without worrying about how to wrestle your new doppelgänger home in a Mini Cooper or on the subway.

That said, I’m a big fan of buying large niche sewing objects secondhand. Don’t write off garage sales, flea markets and everyone’s favorite way to date a serial killer: craigslist. For example, I  pulled up my local craigslist, typed in “dress form” and there’s eleven dress forms within reasonable distance. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s ten more dress forms than I actually need.

Those prices look a little high to me and I expect you could offer significantly less with reasonable success because people who have a dress form for sale on craigslist are either

  1. not sewing people but they stumbled into a dress form, don’t know much about it and will shoot for the moon on price until someone who knows about sewing comes along to explain what it’s worth, or…
  2. sewing people who have already got a better one or need to downsize and now this huge thing is taking up space in their garage. They know how much they paid for it new and therefore don’t want to let it go for peanuts but still there it sits, taking up space, taunting them…

It’s like sewing pattern cabinets – priceless to the pattern hoarders but a nuisance to 90% of humanity.

The secret to shopping second hand for something like a dress form is to set up an email alert for yourself. To do this on craigslist, just perform your search and then hit ‘save search’ on the results page:

The main reason to do this is because they’re not going to be posted frequently enough to make it worth your sweet time to keep checking manually and if you don’t respond quickly when one does come up you might find yourself fighting another local sewing enthusiast for it. Imagine the rumble from West Side Story but with seam rippers…

If you find a secondhand dress form for an absolute steal, don’t automatically reject it if it’s not the right size for you. In this case, too small is easier to work with than too big – you can and should pad it to more closely resemble your own shape.

How do I find a dress form that matches my body?

If you have an existing dress form and just need to make it look a bit more like you, you can pad it. Is it lacking in the boob department? Put one of your bras on it and stuff it to fit. If you’ve been inexplicably hoarding lentils (stay with me here), Threads magazine explains in detail  how to turn your stash of legumes into bellies and butts in their article here. If you’re feeling a little giggly today, brace yourself before glancing at the below photo:

It’s like MacGyver made an adult diaper while high on Percocet. Don’t let non-sewing people see this in your basement because it is just a tiny bit crazy, but hey your clothes will fit great so those people can shut up.

[Edited to add: I’m sat here watching a Craftsy class (Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper) and Suzy Furrer just mentioned that an industry dress form is generally about 1/2″ to 1″ wider in the shoulder than most women and also 1″ to 2″ smaller in the waist than most women. She recommends padding a dress form with cotton batting or elastic bandages from 3″ above the waist to 3″ below the waist in order to compensate for this. I also notice there is a Craftsy class specifically geared to customizing a dress form here – I haven’t taken it but there are customer reviews on the class page. ]

If you’d rather see the process in action (with not a lentil in sight), here’s sewing legend Connie Crawford giving a demonstration:

Another method you can use is to make a cover for your dress form (like a fitting shell – a muslin bodice that fits you tightly) and then pop it on your form and pad out the spaces between the form and the cover. Laura of Sew Chic Patterns gives a well documented step-by-step of this method in three parts here: Part 1: Preparing the cover | Part 2: Fitting the pattern | Part 3: Padding the mannequin

Similar to this approach, you can purchase a Uniquely You dress form which is a squishy foam torso (with Madonna-esque boobs that you get to shave down…) and a cover that you fit to your exact shape following the instructions provided. Once you’ve got your cover customized, you jam the foam torso up in there and the squishy foam conforms to it. One advantage of this style of dress form is that because they’re not hard like layer-upon-layer of duct tape, you can jab pins directly into it. Here’s Shona with a demonstration of the Uniquely You dress form system (plus you get to see her cut off an arm with a breadknife)…

Is an adjustable dress form worth the money?

First, who are you sewing for? If you’re regularly called upon to act as the neighborhood fashion designer for Aunt Maud, your coworker’s wife and your best friend’s sister’s cousin’s fiancee, then you probably do need something that can handle a range of sizes. But if you are the only wondrous creature wearing your creations and your weight stays fairly stable, how much adjustment do you really need?

That said, if you deviate from an average size/shape (and don’t we all, somehow…) then adjustable dress forms allow you to lengthen the torso or squinch in the hips to better match your own proportions. non-adjustable forms are going to be more standardized in shape, unless you make your own.

How do you make a dress form?

If you want to build your own dress form from scratch, you’re going to need a free afternoon and an understanding friend. Also wine, but that goes without saying.

The essential concept is this: put on a thin, form fitting t-shirt/dress that you hate and then place strips of duct tape over it as though you were doing papier mache on a balloon. A sexy balloon, if you don’t like the comparison. Don’t start this process if you’re feeling unwell as it’s liable to get hot and annoying, at least until your understanding friend can cut up the back to release you from the duct tape version of yourself. To give some structure to what is basically a duct tape skin, you can use a can of expanding foam but as Deby explains in her demonstration here: go easy on the foam lest you overfill yourself.


 

Phew! Intense, right? Whichever method or product you choose, you’re going to have to put a bit of work in to get a personalized fit. Here’s a soothing edition of How It’s Made so you can prop your feet up and watch the professionals make one…

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Vintage Sewing

Tips for Facebook Sewing Groups

By on March 30, 2017

We have a facebook group called the WeSewRetro Sew & Tell for sharing our vintage makes and want to offer a few tips for getting the most out of the sewing communities on facebook.

Tip 1: Search the group before asking a question

If I had a penny for every time someone had joined the Sew & Tell and waded straight in with “Has anyone made any patterns by Gertie?” then I would have enough to get Starbucks to serve me a literal bathtub of cappuccino.

Any group that has been around for a while is going to have a ton of information in it, so you’re really shortchanging yourself by not digging around to see what already exists before hoping the person who can answer your question is online and looking at the same moment you are.

It’s not always obvious how to search in facebook group, so read on to see some examples.

On a desktop, you can scroll up to the top of the group and look for a box marked ‘Search this group’, like so:

 

 

If you’re on facebook on mobile, it might look more like this:

 

 

And, super confusingly, if you use the Facebook Groups app on mobile, you’ve got to hunt for the search magnifying glass symbol up at the top of the group banner. Thanks, Facebook… 😐

How to search is as important as where to search. It usually makes sense to start off using a fairly vague search term and then get more specific if there are too many results. For example, I might search the Sew & Tell for “gertie” rather than the more specific “patterns by gertie”. If you’re looking for a particular modern pattern, say Butterick 5813, consider the different ways people might refer to it. For example, they might say “5813” or “B5813” so try both if you’re not finding what you’re looking for.

 

Tip 2: Know how to follow a discussion without “Following!!”

If you spend any time at all on a reasonably sized facebook group, you’ll see someone comment on a post with “Following!” or something similar. What’s the point of this? Well, when you comment on a post, facebook notifies you of any subsequent comments on that post, so the person typing “Following!” is trying to keep an eye on the discussion despite not having anything they want to add to it at the moment.

You might not realize there’s actually a better way to achieve the same end. On whatever post you want to keep an eye on, look at the top right hand corner of the post for a little arrow pointing down. Click/tap it and select ‘turn on notifications for this post’

Voila! Now anytime someone comments on it, you’ll get a notification. When you’re done following or if the notifications are becoming intensely annoying, go back to the same place but this time select ‘Turn off notifications for this post’.

Another occasion when this is useful: maybe you commented on a post but the ensuing discussion is now massive and very active and so you’re constantly getting pinged with ‘So and so commented on a post you’re following’ notifications. Just go to the post, hit the little arrow and ‘turn off notifications for this post’

Tip 3: Save stuff you want to find again

Don’t want to get pinged every time someone comments but want to be able to find the post again? Save it! You can find saved posts in the sidebar and facebook will periodically remind you about them in your feed.

To save a post, click/tap the arrow at the top right of the post and select ‘Save post’

 

So there it is. Three tips for getting the most out of facebook sewing groups. Do you have any tips to add to the list?

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Vintage Sewing

PDF Patterns Flash Sale

By on January 28, 2017

We’ve been getting requests for PDF patterns for a while and I’ve just been too busy to get it all set up, but thanks to several pots of coffee and a babysitter we now proudly host digital sewing patterns from a selection of indy pattern companies in the WeSewRetro shop. YAY!

Scroll down to see our favorites – clicking the pics should take you to more details.

To celebrate (and frankly because I am on the verge of caffeine overdose) we’re running a 15% flash sale on PDF products for the next 48 hours only with coupon code DIGITAL

That means you only have this weekend and a teeny tiny bit of Monday to pick out your favorites. Go to it 😀

How To Do Fashion (from Denmark)

Jennifer Lauren (from New Zealand)

Hey June (from the USA)

Cecilia Theresa Design (from Germany)

Maven Patterns (from England)

In non-PDF news….

We’ve restocked Sew Over It paper patterns and now carry the Ultimate Pencil Skirt.

Another new arrival is our selection of Maxant ‘Cover your own belt’ kits. It has been belt-a-palooza since these arrived and we’re now dangerously close to having more belts than outfits, but they are just so much fun. It’s slightly embarrassing how satisfying it is to show off a dress and then casually add “….and here is the matching belt I made…”

If you fancy having a go yourself, take 15% off any Maxant product for the next 48hours with the coupon code BELTAPALOOZA

Stuck? Need help? Got a question? Email katherine@WeSewRetro.com

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Vintage Sewing

Unprinted Precut Vintage Sewing Patterns

By on January 15, 2017

My least favorite thing about sewing is cutting out pattern pieces.

Whether it means wrangling enormous sheets of tissue to find the pieces I need or taping and cutting printer paper from PDFs, it’s just a slog for me. (Pssst, speaking of PDFs, we’re putting PDFs up in shop this month if you want to sneak a peek – official announcement to follow once we’re finished.) 

Actually as I was typing this I had a flashback to the last time I tried to turn a spaghetti strap right side out- considering there were bellows of rage and several unladylike gestures thrown to the heavens, cutting out pattern pieces might have to be second least favorite. But anyway, cutting out pieces = zero fun in this house.

So I’m all about unprinted vintage patterns, like this Simplicity pattern from the 1930s. 

I love that they can come straight out of the envelope and onto the fabric, but the marking system of various punched holes can take some adjusting to.

If you haven’t had a chance to sew with many genuine vintage patterns yet, staring down at a big blank piece of tissue can be unnerving, so here’s something you may not know: there was a brief period of time in the early 1940s when Simplicity (and just Simplicity I think…I’ve never seen another brand do this) released patterns that were both precut and printed, like this:

Best of both worlds, right? Well, maybe, maybe not.

The argument for printing patterns instead of precutting them was that printing is more accurate than punching pieces from a giant stack of tissue paper which might shift around as the cut was made. If you’ve ever accidentally sewn something using the wrong seam allowance, you’ve already seen how a tiny deviation can have big results on a finished garment.

If you want to try one of these pre-cut printed patterns, you need to be looking for Simplicity patterns from the early 1940s like these:

Not confident in your pattern envelope dating skills? Here’s a tip – look at the hair styles. If you spend a little time with a cup of coffee scrolling through pinterest (torture, right?) you’ll start to get a feel for the haircuts associated with each period.

You’ll also see on the logo in teeny tiny text it says ‘cut to exact size’ above ‘printed pattern’, like this:

[insert record scratch noise here]

About a week after I confidently asserted that only Simplicity did this, I found another one…this time a 1956 Vogue Pattern. Here it is:

You can see at the bottom of the front of the envelope and on the back flap ‘Vogue’s new printed and perforated patterns’.

Here’s a pattern piece, showing the seam line printed on and notches and perforations precut.

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