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Duct tape: yes. Double? No. (Hand model credit: Jack)

Duct tape: yes. Double? No.
(Hand model credit: Jack)

Recently Threads magazine’s website asked readers whether they used dress forms and what they liked and disliked about them.  The last time I looked there were a dozen enthusiastic responses from sewers who’d adapted commercial forms or made forms from scratch to duplicate the curves of their bodies.

These sewers really use their custom dress forms and get much better fitting clothes from this tool. I’m  convinced.


Because I was going to write about how dress forms haven’t helped me much at all in the past and how they wouldn’t in the future.

The first part of my statement remains true: they haven’t.

But now I see that a dress form can work well for others and could for me, too.

What doesn’t work is assuming that owning a dress form automatically means knowing how to use it.

Miss Duct Tape coming unglued.

Miss Duct Tape coming unglued.

Readers, I’ll let you in on a secret.  You still have to learn how to use it.

And then use it.

Otherwise, you’ll have a figure shaped like you haunting a corner of your sewing space. And that’s spooky.

A little over a year ago I took a duct tape double dress form class from The Material Girls at Treadle Yard Goods. I wore a close-fitting knit turtleneck top I’d bought at a thrift store, over which Debbie snugly wound yards of duct tape to duplicate my figure and posture. Then she carefully cut the tape up the back to let me out.

Then I resealed the back seam and stuffed my dress form with lots of polyester filling. There’s more to the process, but those are the basics.

While still in class I could see that my double’s waist was bigger than mine, and we discussed how I could cinch it in with more tape pulled tighter. No point in fitting a skirt on my new friend if her waistline was an inch or two bigger.

Later, I began to wonder whether other parts of my new dress form were also inaccurate. Duct tape is pliable, but perhaps not enough to capture the subtleties of forward shoulders and other posture characteristics that can spell the difference between good and poor fit.  Edith has adjusted the fit of a muslin on me as little as one-fourth inch.  Patterns I sew from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s depend on an exacting fit.

Miss Duct Tape's fate is sealed as she becomes unsealed.

Miss Duct Tape’s fate is sealed as she becomes unsealed.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I now see that my duct tape double was doomed. I didn’t trust her.

And so she languished in a corner, unused and unloved.

I feebly attempted to utilize her when I had a dress that was too short and a little too big that I thought I could alter into a top. I put it on Miss Duct Tape, where it remained for months untouched.

When I got around to evaluating all of my unfinished projects I removed the dress, and Miss Duct Tape returned to her natural state on a shelf. I refused to face the truth that we were not made for each other after all.

I think Miss Duct Tape decided that if I wasn’t going to take action, she would do something to attract my attention: she started coming apart at that back seam. The polyester filling ever so slowly began to expand and spill out of her in an oddly fascinating way.

Miss Duct Tape’s strategy worked, but not how she expected. I recognized we were not, alas, made for each other.

When I broke the news to her, she really fell apart.  It was not pretty.

Do I believe in reincarnation? Perhaps.

All I know is, that polyester filling would be perfect for a cushion for my sewing chair.


I have an idea for a piñata to celebrate the grand reopening of my sewing space in a couple of months…