How to make a dress form out of Duct Tape

November 11 | Guest post by etoiledunord
Soon, you will be looking this attractive!
Soon, you will be looking this attractive!
During a recent discussion on the Offbeat Bride Tribe, one of the girls suggested that I post a DIY tutorial for the Duct Tape dress form that I am using to sew my wedding gown. Fortunately, I had many goofy pictures of me looking completely unattractive during that process, so I am able to do it!

What you will need:

  • 2-5 rolls of duct tape, depending on your size
  • an old t-shirt (short or long sleeves) that isn't too tight or too loose on you
  • a pair of old shorts or pants, again, not too tight or loose
  • scissors
  • a sturdy hanger (I prefer ones like this) – make sure it is able to hold a fair amount of weight without breaking (metal or metal/wood ones seem to work best)
  • old phone books, junk mail, fabric scraps, newspaper, etc.
  • a friend or family member whom you trust!

Assemble these supplies in one conveniently accessible area. I recommend having at least a 6×6 ft working space where you can stand in the middle, as well as a small table and something to hold onto (couch, wall, etc.) nearby.

STEP ONE

You need to prepare yourself and your clothing for taping.

  • Put on an old shirt and shorts/pants, and check the waistband of the bottoms.
  • If the bottoms squeeze your side from the elastic, cut the elastic through until the they stay on your waist but you don't have any constriction from the elastic itself. I often cut three slits through the elastic (sides and back), or if the bottoms will stay on without the elastic, cut it off entirely.
  • It is up to you if you want to wear a bra and underwear — I recommend it, but I wouldn't wear a favorite just in case.
  • If you have longer hair, make sure it is completely off your shoulders/neck so it does not get stuck in the tape.

STEP TWO

Okay, now your trusted friend or family member comes in, as they will be doing the taping (and I will explain the "trusted" part later!). Give them the tape, and have them start to wrap you. Your job is to stand straight and still as this process is happening, and guide them for any areas that don't feel tight enough or are preventing your from breathing.

Soon, you will be looking this attractive!
I usually have them start by making an "X" that goes from one shoulder, below the opposite breast to the hip. It is easiest to have them work from the center of a really long piece of tape, putting the center on your shoulder and then wrapping the rest to the hip on each side.

STEP THREE

You then do the exciting/awkward part… Once the X is formed, use it as a foundation to create the crotch of your dress form. I have my helper start from the center of the X (doesn't matter if they go from front or back to start), stick the tape down to the X, and then unroll the tape as they go between my legs to the center of the X on the opposite side. You will need to repeat this part a few times, fanning the tape out from your starting point on the X to each side, until the crotch area is basically covered. Don't worry about small gaps in the strips of tape.

STEP FOUR

Once that part is done, you have enough stability to start creating a waist. Start with the natural waist, and have your helper wrap around it, always starting at a point where you can stick tape to tape. Slowly build layers, making sure to have it be tight enough that it reflects your actual size, but not so tight that you can't breathe or are feeling really constricted. Do the same thing for the hips, again, starting by sticking tape to tape each time. It is often easiest to work in sections of tape that are about two to three feet long, instead of trying to spiral the tape around.

STEP FIVE

My sexiest moment ever, no?
From this point, you begin to have your helper fill in gaps around your body. Have them try to focus on following the curves of your body in shorter pieces of tape, making sure that the ends are always sticking to a previously taped area. Have them fill in any missed spots and aim for overall smoothness.

Figure out how far down your legs you want the form to go, and get those taped as well. Do not tape the breast area or shoulders yet.

Note: If you are making a sheath, mermaid, or other form-fitting dress, you may not want to add legs. If you do not want to use them, just stand at this point with your legs together and have your helper tape them together.

STEP SIX

Determine now how you want your arms positioned, because the next step is wrapping the shoulders. I do mine just a little out from the sides, so that I can fit sleeves around them easily.

You want to start wrapping the arms by getting tape from the armpit to the neck on each side — try not to move your arms during this part. Then, figure out how long you want the arms to be, and wrap a piece of tape around that point.

Next, your helper needs to connect that "end point" of the arm to the shoulder/neck area – have them wrap on diagonal lines from the shoulder/neck down to the end of the arm, as otherwise the sleeve you are taping over may slip as they work. Wrap several horizontal pieces of tape around this to cover any open patches and add stability. Have them use small pieces of tape following the contour of your shoulder, always attaching to other tape.

STEP SEVEN

AWKWARD, and you can't move, haha!
The same process for the shoulders (working with small pieces of tape stuck to other tape following the contours) is how you sculpt the breasts on the form. This is one area where you do not want your helper to pull the tape too tight as they add it, since it will squish and give very oddly-shaped breasts to your dress form!

Have them work from the outside of the breast to the nipple area, going around in a circle and overlapping the tape (think "spokes on a bicycle"). Once each breast is covered, they can then add smaller pieces of tape around it and over the top to smooth things out and perfect the shape as needed.

You are now fully encased in your dress form!

You remember how I said "trusted friend or family member?" Here is where you understand the importance of this:

  1. You are immobilized pretty much completely, minus your now waving-around-feel-like-a-T-Rex arms. If you happen to be pushed over (say, by your charming maid-of-honor who is your sister), you cannot save yourself. AT ALL.
  2. They now are going to be cutting this thing off of you.

STEP EIGHT

Have your trusted helper start at the neck of the form with the scissors to cut it off. I have my helper do this on the back of the form, but it doesn't matter one way or another. Have them carefully cut through both the shirt and duct tape, lifting the point of the scissors away from your body as they do this. Continue until the base of the back or below your belly button on the front. Once at this point, I have found it is easiest to curve the line down one leg or the other until you have completely cut through to the bottom of the form on one side. If you are wearing a bra or underwear, have them feel for them as they get to those areas to avoid cutting through them if you care.

STEP NINE

TA-DA!

You will have more mobility now to remove the dress form. If you curve your back (think like you are trying to squeeze your shoulders together in front of you), you can wiggle out of the arms pretty easily (though if you do one with full arms, you will need to have your trusted helper cut down each arm as well). Carefully step out of the dress form, trying not to change its shape as much as possible (don't fold it or crumple it).

STEP TEN

Now comes the fun part: stuffing! I like to start at the bottom and work my way up. Tape the leg that was cut back together, using short pieces of tape laid perpendicular to the line where it was cut — being very careful to line up the edges precisely. Add some stuffing of choice (phone book pages, newspaper, junk mail, etc.) and wad them up before putting them in. Once you have a little mass in the legs and the shape is stable, use duct tape to finish off the ends of the legs.

You want to put plenty of stuffing in the form, or it will get out of shape as you use it later. Try to get it as firm as possible. (Note: if you feel like a part of your form is collapsing later after you have been using your dress form for a while, you can open it back up with a sharp knife, add more stuffing, and tape over it again.)

Continue doing this through the body of the form: tape up the area that was cut carefully, and then stuff it.

If you are going to add a hanger to the form, you will want to stop when you get to approximately the area of your shoulder blades/bra strap on the form.

STEP ELEVEN

To add the hanger: Put your hanger inside the dress form, and situate it so that the top is coming out of the center of the neck. If you are using a wire hanger, I suggest padding it first along the edges that will sit in the neck/shoulder area of your dress, before putting it in. You can then add stuffing around the hanger through the back, getting it as tight as you can as you work your way up, closing the areas on the dress form that you cut as you work. Leave the neck open for now and proceed with the rest of the directions.

Finish stuffing as much of the torso as you can on the dress form until you have closed the cut line entirely and the form feels firm.

STEP TWELVE

To close the neck (with or without a hanger), lay strips of duct tape from the edges of the neck hole across the form (if you are using a hanger, meet them in the center so that the top of the hanger makes a hook in your dress form).

The arms are doing much the same as the legs: stuff from the bottom of the arm hole up into the form, and once it is filled out and stuffed firmly, use duct tape to close off the ends. If the neck area feels insufficiently stuffed, continue using the arm hole as a method for getting more stuffing to the neck area of the form — I often use a chopstick, wooden spoon handle or similar to poke the stuffing through to that area.

You can now use your dress form to make many exciting outfits for yourself! Hope you enjoy, and if anyone has questions, leave 'em in the comments…

  1. I am not in the need for a dress form, however this was quite a hilarious tutorial! Thanks for the imagery of a T-Rex in hot pink duct tape. :)

    21 agree
  2. Thought I might just add a little extra advice, to make it safer/easier.

    1. You could just use a really long t-shirt instead of pants, if you're mostly using this form to make dresses. You'd probably want to add cardboard on the bottom to seal that edge, but it's still another option.

    2. You might consider paying a few dollars for a pair of Bandage Scissors. These have a much smaller risk of accidentally cutting your skin, which is nice when you're cutting off a skintight dress form. They're also a good idea if you're into bondage, at all, but that's another story altogether.

    3. When cutting the line up the back, it's probably a good idea to cut in a zig-zag, or other non-straight line. This'll make matching it up again afterwards a lot easier.

    Happy forming!

    48 agree
  3. Yes! I'm so glad this was featured. It was one of my favorite things EVER on the Tribe :) I have several dress forms (for doing projects for others), but have such an odd shape myself (huge knockers, lol) that I had to give it a try. It wasn't my most glamorous moment, but the mister and I had fun making it. However, take the advice of "trusted helper." My fiance couldn't resist the urge to torment me. I guess that's what I get for jumping on him & tickling him to wake him up every morning. Maybe I'll be nicer… maybe not. Haha. Anyway, try it! If nothing else, it totally creeps out your neighbors when you accidentally leave it hanging in the window. (PS mine is leopard print)

    4 agree
    • I'm so glad you tried it and it worked out well for you! Leopard print sounds fabulous, and yeah…I made one once where my sister shoved me over when I was fully encased, haha – fortunately I fell onto a soft surface! Enjoy scaring your neighbors and making awesome clothes! :)

      1 agrees
  4. not only can i make a dress form, but now i know how to create my halloween and burning man masterpieces! hooray for weird!

    6 agree
  5. This is great! I love how she's giving a thumbs up in every shot. This will be great when I venture into the whole dress making world! Thanks for sharing!

    1 agrees
  6. I had no idea what she was making until the end! What a great idea!

    3 agree
  7. This is my upstairs neighbor! She totally stole all my junk mail to use as stuffing…

    (It's okay, Sarah, I wasn't ever going to use those Shopper's Value coupons anyway!)

    • Haha, YAY! And I did raid the trash can by the mailbox/stuff left on the porch for days to stuff it! :P

      • Are you still a skating coach? I'm a skate mom and want to start sewing my daughters dresses. I was wondering about the legs, so I can fit rate bloomers better. Have you tried a skate dress before?

  8. I have also seen tutorials for doing this that suggest you wear TWO thin t-shirts, so you only tape up and cut one and aren't left standing shivering in your nickers once you're cut out. This is also helpful if you're bashful about the other person seeing you naked.

    5 agree
  9. Excellent. I wonder if expanding foam could be used as filler?

    13 agree
    • I've used expanding foam to do this. You need quite a bit, but it also works if you loosely fill it with other things then use the expanding foam to fill in the smaller areas.

      5 agree
  10. This looks like it could be drunken fun awesomness!!
    (Then do it again sober to get it right! LoL)

  11. You can not believe how much trouble I've gone through with expensive dress forms that just don't work with a petite figure, full breasts — I love you for this!

    2 agree
  12. I've made one before, and I must say that your technique is great. It is very important to give that vertical tension to make the rest hold together well.

    I personally really suggest that you wear the undergarments you will wear with your dress. It can really change your body.

    Here is where I learned to do it. http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/3659/clone-yourself-a-fitting-assistant

    I've also used a similar technique to create corset top patterns. Just tape yourself into the shape that you want to be.

    4 agree
  13. This is an amazing tutorial! I love it. I'll never forget my now mother-in-law walking around wrapped up in tape when making one of these. HI-LARIOUS.

  14. So I know I'm really really late to the party on this post, but I figured I'd offer this little tip for anyone who has yet to make one of these excellent dress forms.

    PEE FIRST. PEE FIRST and drink NO MORE during the making of the form.

    It takes longer than you might think, and the tape can compress your bladder a little bit.

    20 agree
  15. Has anyone ever tried to use great stuff? The foaming insulation to fill it?!

  16. Any one knows whether saw dust is a good medium for stuffing the dress form?

    1 agrees
  17. My ten year old daughter just started a fashion class. They well be making a garment that can only be twenty percent fabric. She's been begging for a dress form. I found your tutorial and made one tonight !

    It came out awesome and she loves it! I love the fact that it was very inexpensive and we had a ton if laughs doing it!

    Thank you :)

  18. It cracked me up that you kept saying you "often" use this or do that. How many of these have you made?

  19. i totally just had my friend help[ me with one and im about ot stuff it thank you i love this cheap idea for a manikin so i can stop pinning myself :)

  20. I duct taped my mom, it was a blast. Mom has fibromyalgia and it started to hurt her to stand so still towards the end of the process. Took about two hours to wrap her and we did legs on hers too.
    I took a drapping class in college, I bought myself a Uniquely You dress form. They are foam with a fabric dress slip cover you fit to you then zip onto the foam form. (It's like trying to put panty hose on an aligator . . . But if you fit the dress on you well, you should only have to do it once.). Here's the place I got mine from:
    http://www.allbrands.com/products/3900-uniquely-you-professional-dress-form-free-ebook-al

    I have not used mine in a few years, but I'll be making my dress on it eventually.

    • Forgot to mention. . . Some of the measurements on mom's did not quite match up after stuffing her. In particular the under bust measurement got enlarged by the stuffing, so I used some heavy twine to tie it down into the right size. Then I just taped over the twine to smooth it out. This may have something to do with my mom being plus size and the way she carries her weight.
      But just make sure after you stuff to check the measurements to make sure you did not over or under stuff an area.

      5 agree
  21. I'd echo checking how accurately you've stuffed, especially around the shoulders but the form is sooo useful. I made mine a while ago and balanced it on a broom handle while stuffing it with old towels and sheets. I then used a Christmas Tree stand to hold it up at my height so that I can check hemlines too. It has had a few strange comments from neighbours though and can be a little weird hovvering over the dining table – which way do you choose to face it?? Chest in to the table or out towards the window?

    Just one practicality, it's very tempting to just stick pins through your fabric into the form but they do quickly get gunked up and your fabric will be sticky.

    Nina x

    4 agree
  22. I'm looking to make a dress form myself, but I'm looking into using a light weight quick cure insulation spray foam like FOMO Handi-Foam P10600 II-12 Quick Cure Polyuerthane Spray Foam as the filler instead. Has anyone else tried something like this? This stuff is supposed to be light weight, sandable & paintable…could be nice instead of the duct tape. I thought I'd wear a body suit (think Blue Men show in Vegas), then do the taping as suggested. After cutting it all off, filling it with the foam & cutting the duct tape off the foam, once set. Then I can sew a nice linen cover for the dress form.

    5 agree
  23. Just finished mine and I'm really happy with the outcome!! I used filler from an old beanbag, grocery bags and an old pillow to keep the frame for stuffing. The grocery bags were the perfect consistency. I used an old coat rack up one of the legs to keep it steady instead of a hanger and I'm happy with it!! Thanks so much for the tutorial my roommate and I had a ton of fun!! Can't wait to start modifying thriftier clothes!!

    1 agrees
  24. I have been sewing for 40 years and always wanted a foam dress form that was affordable but couldn't find one bigger than a size 8…love love this idea…thanks for sharing…I'm making a few, one for me and some for clients I sew for regularly…:)**

  25. Just made one! It was fun! If you need a neck on your dress form (I recommend it), put cling flim around your next, and tuck it in to the collar of the t-shirt.

    1 agrees
  26. I was wondering, how long does it normally take you to make the dress form?

  27. Thank you so much for posting this!!!! I'm making my first cosplay costume for Belle from Beauty and the Beast…. Except she will be dressed up in Gaston's clothes and I've never made clothing before so I needed a way to make a form for me and I cannot wait to try this out!!!!! :)

  28. I would add one more step to preparation: Use the restroom before you are trapped in duct tape!

  29. I've read several tutorials, and the biggest problem seems to be the stuffing. If you stuff it hard it distorts your shape (ending up round instead of angular or bigger than you), and if you don't, the form collapses and doesn't hold it's shape. I've even read that the expanding foam distorts. Has anyone got solutions for this, and advice on the best stuffing? Also, how do you pin on this form if the glue from the duct tape gets on your fabric? I want to drape, so I need to pin.

  30. Thank you for posting this tutorial, I have gathered my supplies and simply waiting for my trusted person and me to have free time at the same time. Looking forward to trying this.

  31. I love your tutorial, thank you for posting it.

    I have a question: Cost to side, what are your thoughts about using expandable foam inside the duct tape cavity?

  32. SO cool! I have been having all my sewing students ask me about dress forms….. and mens dress forms. We are all odd shaped nerds and cave trolls so standard dress forms just don't cut it. This is perfect! Thank you ! Thank you! Let the capes and jerkins begin!

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