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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. ]

Shoulders are wider about 1/2″ to 1″ and the waist is generally 1″-2″ smaller. Measuring for moulage. Cotton padding or elastic

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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1940s | 1950s | Accessories | Burlesque / Pinup | Hats | Vintage Sewing

Vintage Headscarf + Free Pattern

By on March 26, 2017
Vintage Headscarf, free sewing pattern | Vintage on Tap

Its been a beat since I originally completed this project over on my blog, but it occurred to me that I never posted this project here, which is a shame since I know there are plenty of readers here who would be super interested!

Inspired by some old-school vintage traveling hoods and vintage headscarfs, I had to make my own from a vintage 1940s pattern, ASAP!

Vintage Headscarf, free sewing pattern | Vintage on Tap

My leopard print headscarf has already seen a bunch of wear since I made it- and all in all, it stitched up about an hour, start to finish. Perfect for protecting your pincurl sets and generally protecting you from the wind and humidity.

Vintage Headscarf, free sewing pattern | Vintage on Tap

I actually am super surprised at how much I love this headscarf- it was such a simple project but it feels super Old Hollywood Glam haha!

Vintage Headscarf, free sewing pattern | Vintage on Tap

I made the drafting instructions available over on my blog if you were interested in making this yourself. Since the pattern is from the 1940s, I figured it would be a good idea to just draw the pieces out (total of 4 pieces, if you’re making a lined version)- and put them online. I also went ahead and did a short video, showing you step by step how to make the hood as well, over on my YouTube channel.

Click to Get the Instructions!

Click to Watch the YouTube video!

I’m actually already planning on sewing this up in a white lawn for the summer time. Its also a good reminder to pick up some fabulous glam sunglasses to rock with it 🙂

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Whiter shade of pale

By on March 24, 2017

Hello!  Some time ago I bought 2 remnant pieces of beautiful grosgrains: an apple green rayon and a creamy-white cotton one. I never worked with grosgrain except for the ribbons and I was surprised to find how delicate, soft and drapey it is. The rayon grosgrain has more body and is a bit firmer; the cotton is light and smooth; both have a wonderful, subtle sheen to them, which catches the light beautifully. The only problem is that they fray like crazy: be sure to leave a considerable seam allowances and to properly secure them if sewing with grosgrain fabrics (I used a dense zig-zag stitch).


I used the Simplicity 8049 1960s reproduction pattern. I was attracted to the three-armhole dress idea and I liked the purity of its lines. The construction was pretty straightforward; surprisingly enough, the front is cut on straight grain so the “cowl” is created by using pleats. I decided to line the whole dress; this cleaned up the mess inside and helped to give the dress a little bit more body and less transparency. The lining pieces were created using main pattern pieces, I hand-stitched them in place all around the facings, the side seam and the hem.

The cat always thinks he’s so creative with his hiding spots

I made some personal touches to the project like adding a lining cover to the snaps or making a separate belt, which fastens with 3 hooks-and eyes and a snap. For more details and photos, I invite you to visit my blog, rvdzik.blogspot.com. Have a great weekend!

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1960s | Children | Kids | Vintage Sewing

Simplicity 4836 – A Sentimental Make

By on March 22, 2017

Hey lovelies,

I’ve been reading We Sew Retro for some time now, and I’m excited to join the ranks of you who contribute! I want to share a recent-ish project with you. It isn’t by any means my first retro project, but it is special, and you’ll soon see why 🙂

A few months ago, I was thrifting at a secondhand store out of town. I love scouring thrift stores for their sewing patterns – they’re a goldmine! Anyway, I stumbled on this cute pattern Simplicity 4836. It’s a little boys’ pants, vest and jacket suit pattern from the early 1960s. I originally bought it to put it in my shop, but on closer inspection I noticed something amazing.

Simplicity 4836 – you’ll make one little boy so stylish!
Can you see that? This pattern was used for a little Michael too more than 50 years ago 🙂

The original owner had scribbled some notes on the front (as sewists often do!) and made it for a little Michael in 1965. What were the chances – I have a little Michael in my life! At two and a half years old, my nephew is a big strong boy, so I figured child size 4 might be on the big side, but it would make sure there’s growing room. I just couldn’t resist. I set out to make the vest as it’s the most versatile.

I had some leftover navy blue wool/poly twill from a skirt, and enough lining for the project. It was such a quick sew and great use of those awkward leftovers that are “too big to give away but too small to make something”. Based on this logic, I think I’ll be making many, many more things for my nephews!

Kid – you look good!

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