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How to make a Duct Tape sewing dummy... and more
Supplies and Equipment Needed
If you want to give the form an interior skeleton and/or a stand see the section below on making a skeleton/stand and what you’ll need.
Pick a cool day or an air-conditioned place to do this - it can get rather warm.
Whoever is going to be the model should be wearing whatever undergarments they'll be wearing under the costume or that they wear normally. Put the T-shirt on over your undergarments. (You can wash and dry it if you choose.) We suggest a new T-shirt because it has to hold up under what you're going to be doing.
The T-shirt must come down lower than the junction of your legs and torso. Mark on the T-shirt the midpoint of your body front and back. Also on the back, run a couple of lines horizontally across at your shoulders, upper back, and waist. These are to help line things up later. Make sure that the marks go through the T-shirt to the backside of the fabric but try not to get it on the model or their under garments.
Once that is done - you and/or your assistant start taking pieces of duct tape and covering your body. Run a couple of pieces of tape down the back, side by side, with the back mid-point line as the center. Then start around the chest. Don't use real long pieces of duct tape - it's just too hard to control. Keep marking out the back mid-point line with the sharpie as you cover it over with tape.
Run the pieces from your shoulders diagonally across your chest to your waist - alternating sides and front and back. Run the tape around your waist and your hips and the very top of your arms. Be snug but don't cut off the circulation. Also, it would probably be best if you did this in the afternoon - so that your body and spine have settled.
Once you have some of the main lines - shoulders, hips, waist, front and back, and chest laid out then start using small pieces of tape to fill in. Follow the contours of your body as much as possible. This form won't be perfect but it will definitely be better than trying to guess or do it flat.
Cover the whole torso, the very tops of the arms and a couple of inches down below the junction of legs and torso. Make sure, however, that at the bottom you've got quite a lot of T-shirt left. You may, if you wish, give the dummy arms by running the tape further down the arms. Just remember that the T-shirt has to extend beyond the tape. You Do Not want to be putting duct tape on your skin. Getting it off will Not be pleasant. (Pause for sound of hair being ripped off skin and very loud screams!)
Try to get at least two good layers of tape everywhere. For some things - like the shoulder area and the chest you might get at least one more layer.
Once you've got the entire body covered, you'll look like you're wearing a really funky body suit. Take the heavy-duty scissors and cut up the middle of the T-shirt back from top to bottom. That's why you want to keep marking out the mid-back line. If you've tried to give the dummy arms, then you'll need to cut up under the arms. Be careful here - the tape will be stiff and you'll be cutting close to the body. Close is okay - into is Not okay.
Once you get the form off, using more tape close it up in the back. This is where the horizontal lines come in handy as you can line them up then tape the form closed. Make sure you tape the inside of the form closed very thoroughly, if not when you try and stuff it it’ll pop open. You can also run a line or two of tape on the outside to reinforce that back seam. If you've done the arms - it would help if you run a couple of horizontal lines around them also as guides for when you close the form up.
You can, if you wish, either sew the back closed using a heavy upholstery needle and thread or even grommet and lace the back closed. If you want to try either of those methods, I advise using a real cloth tape right at the back seam. Trying to sew or put grommets through duct tape would be extremely difficult.
Once the back is closed up, at the neck, take a piece of material (T-shirt, muslin, old sheet) and tape it down on the inside all the way around - so that you've basically sealed the neck. Do the arms the same way, if you've done the arms. Then once the form is back together and the neck and arms are sealed then start stuffing it with the cotton batting. Try to stuff it evenly and as firmly as possible without making it burst like a piece of popcorn. The amount of batting you’ll need will depend on the size of the person you’re making the dress dummy for, but if you get several friends together - maybe you can get a break on the cost of supplies.
If you got the T-shirt big enough - there should be enough of it left over on the bottom to pull across and roughly sew together to seal the bottom up. If not - use some tape and some of the extra fabric to create a seal like you did at the neck. Once you’ve sealed up the bottom – voila you have your sewing dummy. It’s silly looking but very useful.
Building a Skeleton Stand
You can, if you wish, make an interior support (skeleton) for the dummy. This would be useful if you’re going to use the dummy for really heavy fabrics. You can use heavy duty cardboard, foamcore (the white card covered foam that kids use for science projects) or even very thin wood (no thicker than one quarter inch.) I’d advise doing some drawings and maybe making up some miniature skeletons to see what works, but a piece that runs vertically down the center (like a spine) with “rib” pieces attached horizontally to it should work. The skeleton should go in after you’ve stuffed the top a bit and then you’ll stuff around it. You might have to attach the “ribs” one at a time, stuffing in between as you go.
A very simplistic interior support that could also double as a stand would be to make a T shape out of 1X3 lumber. That is, get some pieces of 1X3 lumber. One piece should be a couple of inches shorter than the width of the model’s shoulders. (Shoulder point to shoulder point) The next piece should be as tall as you want the dummy to stand. Depending on how thick you are (front to back) attach the shoulder piece either on top the long piece (like a T) so that the wide part of the board is going from front to back, or flat against one side so that the wide part of the board is going from top to bottom. Tape soft foam or cotton batting to this T shape before you put it inside the dummy to keep the wood from poking through. This will also help with getting the right shape. If you use soft foam (like seat cushion foam) you can give the wood form shoulders that you’ll be able to stick pins into. Stuff the rest of the cotton batting around the form and then seal up.
Using a couple of pieces of 1X3 either make or get someone to make for you one of those simple X shaped bases like they use on Christmas trees – attach this to the bottom of the long piece of wood and voila you have your dummy on a stand. You’ll probably have to put weights on the bottom of the stand to keep it from falling over. Sand bags or bags of cheap kitty litter work very well. Just put the kitty litter bags in plastic bags to keep them from breaking open.
One problem of duct tape dummies is that after awhile the tape slips and you end up with the sticky surface “stuck” to things like you and the fabric. What others advise, even if you’re only going to be using the dummy for a short time, is to get an old sheet, some really cheap fabric or even another T-shirt and cover the form – so that the duct tape does not come into contact with your good fabric. Another advantage is that you’ll be able to pin into this cover easier that the duct tape. Even so you may have to use quilting pins. (Quilting pins are strong, extra long pins.)
You don’t have to give the dummy an interior skeleton or even a stand if you don’t want to or can’t afford to. Once the dummy is sealed you can tape it on a cheap stool or to a stack of document boxes that bring it up to the right height for what you’re working on.
Remember that this form isn’t perfect and if you haven’t put an interior skeleton into it you won’t be able to push on it real hard without it deforming. It will be of immense help though when you’re trying to fit an outfit, particularly if you’re doing it for someone else and they can’t be around much for fittings.
Now take your new form and start modifying your patterns!
Other stand suggestions
Mine is on a stand for a fake tree: the PVC pipe
techniques may very slightly... but they all work.
Converting a small dummy to your size
At garage sales you sometimes stumble upon a manufactured dummy. However, they are almost always a very small size but cheep. They provide a good base on which to start a dummy.
Tape up the Duct Tape dummy just as above.
The smaller dummy can be wrapped in sheets of quilt batting, or it can all be stuffed. Sheets of batting can be wrapped around the dummy with a lot less mess than just the stuffing.
Work with a tape measure since you will want to wrap the compressible batting to be larger than your measurements. You may need to cut the sheet batting in in wide strips because your waist and bust may not be the same difference between the dummy and tape form.
Once you've got a lot of the stuffing around the dummy, put on the duct tape "coat".
Seal at the waist, check the measurement. Use loose stuffing if it's still wrong.
Do the hips next... get the measurement right and then seal the bottom.
The bust takes a bit more care because you want to get the shape of the bust right. Keep stuffing... and sealing up the dummy all the way to the neck.
Once the dummy is seal, touch up any marking... just as listed in the above article...
Adjust the dummy stand to you exact height.
Some folks keep a 2nd dummy for corsets, others will switch back and forth and don't want to make entirely separate bodies... but want to use their stand.
If you switch projects back and forth occasionally, it may be worth the extra work... until you get a separate dummy.
Make a muslin cover for the dummy's basic shape.
The center should be taped closed.
Wrap the dummy. and put on the outer coat based on corset measurements.
When done, carefully cut up the front. Seal the edges with tape. Remove it very carefully and do the same for your standard measurements.
These stuffed shells can be taken off and on the dummy to switch projects... but be careful... the stuffing will shift. Always re-check the measurements. after you take the center closed. You may have to stuff a bit in the center each time.
When you're working with a dummy and a corset, fit it over the corset as well because the dummy will be lumpier.
Other Home made dummies
Experience with Paper Tape Dummy
My mom helped me make a paper tape dummy of myself last year. The "paper
tape" is a brown paper tape sometimes used to wrap packages for shipping.
It is about 2 and 1/2" wide, and is gummed on one side -- to activate the
gum you have to wet it. (Sorry, I don't have a brand name.) As noted in
the dummy-making description, after drying, this tape does harden, pretty
much to the form to which it's applied. We wound up wrapping the whole
dummy in clear mailing tape besides to smooth it out. It's still pretty
rough, and now is too big besides, as I've lost some weight! I did stuff
the dummy, but am having trouble keeping the cardboard base on to hold the
stuffing in. (Duct tape doesn't want to stick to the mailing tape.) Even
without stuffing, the form is rigid enough to drape garments on. The form
is hung on a wooden hanger, which is hung on a piece of PVC pipe, which is
mounted in my big plastic Christmas tree stand! Not pretty, but it works
Bubble Pack Dummy
For those who are considering doing the home made dummies, I have to
recommend a packing material that I used when I made one last year. I used
large sheets of bubble wrap - my neighbor had just bought a new dishwasher,
and she let me have all the stuff it came in. I cut it into long strips -
about 10 to 15 cm wide and the length of the sheet. The strips are easier
to manage than squares (which I started with, and kept falling out all over
the floor), but are also easily maneuverable to get the shape right. Makes
for a very light dummy.
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This page was last updated 04/22/08