Too much information: choosing a mannequin

Back in March, possibly inspired by a shaft of sunlight that may have fleetingly appeared, I made a summer skirt. I drafted it using my beloved Design-It-Yourself Clothes Cal Patch book and based the design on a skirt that I already have. Using the 'slash-and-spread' method (where you draw out your pattern and make cuts up toward the top and then spread these pieces to give a fuller, wider sweep, which can be traced around to make a new pattern this case creating more of a circle skirt) the pattern came together easily and I was really pleased with the shape.

It is a perfect everything should be wonderful? But no. It made me realise how completely inappropriate quilting weight fabric is for dressmaking. I loathe the way that it lacks subtlety, lies in great unfloaty clumps, and suddenly looks to have such a coarse weave. Yes, that may seem a rather passionate attack on an unsuspecting piece of beautifully patterned material, but really, I had so many plans in my mind for different prints and they came crashing down so horribly when I realised that every single one of them would be unsuitable if my garments were to have the kind of drape that I hoped for. This shouldn't be so devastating, but how many of the big name designers produce a range of dress-weight fabrics, aside from the lovely Anna Maria Horner, with her dreamy voiles (which still haven't arrived here in the colourways that I want them in. Cheeringly though, some of the other Westminster designers will be printing on Anna's voile-weight fabric later in the year - hurrah!)? My local shops, whose quilting range has now reached quite magnificent heights (last week I walked in to see much of Tilda's latest range, as well even more Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner and other lovelies)...however, they don't seem to buy in quite such wonderful dress fabrics that are reasonably priced. Which is why last week I bought a couple of metres from their scrumptious selection of Liberty lawn (luckily I had gift vouchers, so my wallet only suffered a little). I'll let you know how that went in my next post.

But anyway...let's talk explain all the ins and outs of choosing a good one it may be necessary to give more information than you'd want (or than I'd choose to give) about my own figure...which is is where the 'Too much information' title of this post comes from. But I feel that with one wrongly-sized mannequin in the garage and another that has been extensively fine-tuned to get it to resemble myself, I've now learnt a few things about how to pick a good one or how to adjust it to better resemble oneself.

Anyway, can you see a difference between the first photo and the third? Hopefully not too much, as in the first photo the skirt is being modelled by me and in the second it is being worn by my new (well, it was a birthday present in early March) mannequin. I'm really happy with her...she isn't the vintage mannequin that I had dreamt of but was chosen with the realisation that one fitting my strange dimensions may not actually exist in such a form and so this is the next best thing (there is over 10" difference between my waist and hip despite the fact that neither measurement is does give an imbalanced figure...and again, I have very small ribcage, but then a fairly normal size bust...which gives an odd measurement that no bra manufacturer caters for and certainly no vintage dressform maker seemed to think existed). The mannequin that I chose in the end is a
Petite Adjustoform and its range of sizes covers my measurements perfectly...but not without a bit of trial and error.

The form can be adjusted at both sides, back and front, so on the first day I had it, I simply twisted the adjustment wheels to match my measurements and expected it to look just like me...which it didn't. It was only when my mother intervened, when she saw me and my new not-so-twin-like headless sister together that she was able to tell me that I needed to divide these measurements up. So for example...where I had simply adjusted the waist to be 24" all round, she was able to point out that this figure is made up less uniformly on my actual body...namely that I carried more of this measurement across my front and back and less of it across my by changing the front and back measurements to be 25" and my side measurements to be 23" I was able to achieve the same overall measurement, but with a shape that looked more like me. The  non-negotiable difference that I have found with her is that her bust is almost an inch higher than mine (oh the horror!), but luckily her chest is rather flat, so in practical dressmaking terms that can be easily worked around...even if my feelings are slightly wounded and I am thinking of putting in a compensation claim for emotional damage to Adjustoform. Before I started dressmaking with the mannequin, my final check to make sure that I'd got my measurements correct was to try on a couple of my own pieces of existing clothing to see how they fitted on her...they all looked fine, but I remained uncertain that I'd recreated myself perfectly, until I realised that dressing her in my most fitted, non-stretch dress might be the best way to tell.

I altered this dress when I bought it a couple of years ago and it fits perfectly on me, although is in danger of being on the small side after a few more chocolates than necessary and so to find that it fitted my mannequin in the same way, was all the confirmation I needed to launch into dressmaking proper (or not). So, despite the fact that this mannequin doesn't have the extra lumpy, bumpy, squashy bits that pad out my figure, for dressmaking purposes it works.I think I've blogged about this before, but while I'm running through all things mannequin that I've learnt, it's worth saying that the problem with my old mannequin was her bust...I think her size ranged from 32" upwards, but despite the fact that I'm not by any means flat-chested, my smaller ribcage meant that this extra couple of inches made a huge difference when it came to that I couldn't get most of my existing clothes on her without risking damaging the seams (because how big the bust is also seems to affect how big the shoulders and arm caps are on a mannequin too). So, if you're in-between sizes, I'd always go for the smaller mannequin and then recreate the bust area by using a padded bra.

I'd initially spent a lot of time researching making my own mannequin from parcel tape...however, for several reasons (as well as it being ugly) after talking it through with the wise owl that is my mother, I thought better of it. A parcel tape body double is non-adjustable and so any weight gain or loss renders that mannequin  useless...additionally it can only be used to make clothes for myself. The mannequin that I've chosen covers  a wide range of sizes and so can be used for both me and my sister and in a year or two for Zebra-girl as well. Finally, I knew that the extra inch or so create by the layers of tape would bother my option was to make a papertape dressform
, fill it and use the inner form that this created....the thought of the Plaster of Paris and everything possibly going wrong put me off this idea.

So when she's not wearing mid-construction summer tops (as she has been this week), she finds herself wearing my kimono, which used to hang from the picture rail above (because oddly, I don't wear it very much, I just like looking at).

Please do tell me all about how your own dressmaking adventures are progressing - last time I posted about making clothes (which seems a while ago now) so many of you chipped in with your own comments and recommendations and links to what you were up to in this area, and I'd love to hear more. If, like me, you have an insatiable desire for all things dressmakery these are the blogs that I'm loving:

Aux Petits Oiseaux
The Philosophy of Lists
Night Knitter

Enjoy...and please do leave your own links to more dressmaking loveliness.

Florence x


  1. I completely agree with you the quilting fabric, I recently made my perfectly drafted (from Cal's book) a-line skirt in Amy Butler quilting fabric ( and although it fits perfectly and I love the fabric pattern I'm not so overjoyed with with feel or swing of it. Especially if you wear tights with it, it seemed to work its way up my legs rubbing against the tights to a shockingly immodest level! I've made another one also in quilting fabric and I find wearing them with bare legs is much more satisfactory. I bought loads of poly cotton for the kids from which have some great fabrics but still not as good as the quilting designers. I regularly checkout out Fabric Rehab for a fix of the most beautiful fabrics in the world but can't seem to find many to make clothes with. Finding jersey knit is even worse I'm finding. As for a mannequin I'd love one, they seem very expensive and I'm sure I'll need a stiff drink to see a visual representation of myself, bulges and all! I've kind of held off making the skirts/tops in Cals book yet as I'm not confident about getting OH to take my measurements and I don't really have anyone I get to help! Maybe a mannequin would solve that problem! Might have to start saving!

  2. I got a mannequin for my birthday years and years ago, but unfortunately it didn't make the last move and is currently gathering dust at my mum's house. What you said about changing your waist adjustment on your mannequin was very interesting and I'll have a look at at that myself when I finally manage to get mine back.

    I agree with you and Louise about quilting weight fabric too. A greater availability of heavier stuff would be very useful. Quilting weight works well for tops (I'm currently having a top frenzy, see and light summer dresses which are not too full in the skirt (and so don't ride up), but for anything swishy, they just don't work. And yes, decent cotton jersey is a rare find too, especially where I am in Ireland.

    Love your skirt too, by the way.

  3. Thank you for the link! I don't have a mannequin, but since my clothes making frenzy begun I've been thinking about getting one. Being able to use it to make things for other people is a plus I had not considered. Have you used it to make any trousers or pyjama bottoms? Or is it principally useful for dresses and tops?

    I too agree about the quilting fabrics - and you know how long I've been dreaming of the AMH voiles! My latest creation - in a Liberty fabric (not called lawn, but feels like lawn to me) - was very successful. Although, I do think it depends a little bit on the pattern, as the Heather Ross summer blouse worked better for me in the thicker quilting cotton than it did in the lighter dressmaking gingham I used second time around.

    You can try Dots n Stripes for dressmaking fabrics. They have a good selection of jerseys and jersey ribbing as well as dressmaking weight cottons. I've not bought anything yet, as I'm still prowling around their site, but Ottobre magazine have links to them, so I think they'd be worth investigating.

    N. xx

  4. Thanks for such an interesting post. Buying fabric in sleepy Suffolk is REALLY dufficult. I have a friendly local haberdashery but the range is less than inspiring. I made clothes whilst at school (got an A in my O level)tee-hee, but haven't made things for me since. You've got me thinking, I'm feeling quite inspired...xx

  5. I have bought a few dressmaking books, but have not yet made anything. I did make the summer top from Weeked Sewing, with modifications, and it looks OK. I think I'm afraid to cut into nice fabric, in case it doesn't come out right. I have had a few knitting disasters recently. I think I just need to give it a go!


  6. Louise, I took all my measurements myself for Cal's book, and they seem fairly accurate as everything has come out fine...I wouldn't let the measuring side of things put you's so worth leaping in. I love the peony skirt by the way.

    List Writer - no, I've only used it for tops and skirts so far...I think it could be useful only up to a point for trousers as the pole that holds it up would prevent you from putting the trousers on...however, I think the same company do a dressform made for just such a thing with the pole coming out of one of the legs instead...this looks a little odd, but could be really useful.

    Thanks so much for all the linky goodness and lovely comments! x

  7. Please keep us posted. I am planning on a few skirt making missions before the summer (if I actually get round to it) so will be keeping my eye open to see what people find. Unfortunately I have to buy most of my fabric online, and it is difficult to get a feel for it. I love your skirt, I know your not happy with it, but it looks great.
    p.s good idea getting an adjustable mannequin with all the fudge that has been eaten in your house! I made some over the weekend with my daughter... couldn't get it out of my head after reading your blog!!

  8. Wow you are so talented, all your clothes are amazing. Wish I could make my own clothes.

  9. I bought the Cal Patch book after reading your recommendation and have been really pleased with what it has explained, the slash and spread notion has been a revelation. I am sad though that bodice darts got only passing attention as that is where I have been having difficulties lately as I've tried to adjust some Japanese dress patterns. I've just finished one dress which would be better if I understood darts better, so if you know of anything helpful...? I am also intrigued by your petite mannequin. I shall have to find out if they are available here.

  10. I too have just posted about dressmaking. My post covers adjusting a commercial pattern for larger bra cup size. I agree with your comments about quilting fabric. I use it for my granddaughters dresses as it is pretty robust both in wearing and washing, and comes in great kids colours and ranges. But it doesn't float or hang. Sometimes you can get Laura Ashley dress fabric in their sales, also I buy silks, voiles and other fabric when I am abroad.

  11. Did you know that having a difference of 10" or more between waist and hip means that you have an official hour glass figure?

    I have the same problem with the ribcage/bust thing, my Madge (material girl) has to wear a heavily padded bra, but I never thought of the measuring adjustments you describe (25 at the back and 23 at the sides) .. must have a look at that ...


  12. I agree with you completely about the dress making fabric. Quilting cotton only works for kids clothes. I've found Anna Maria Horner's voiles for sale here in the UK, but only in the yellow colour way, sigh. Even going into London, finding dress making fabric is hit and miss. Knit fabrics are even harder to find than wovens.

    There are some great mail order sites in the USA, but the pound is weak at the moment, and it only takes £18 including postage to tip you into paying a customs charge.

  13. I'm planning on just doing one of those duct-tape mannequins, as I can't imagine getting a store-bought one to resemble me. I have the daft plan of losing a few more pounds before immortalising my form, mind...

  14. I have been pondering the exact same issue, that is, where to find apparel-weight fabric that is as pretty, interesting, and inspirational as my favorite quilting fabric designers.

    I am grateful AMH came out with her voiles and someday soon I plan to make a dress for my daughter with some of her fabric I've bought, but I still wish there was more to be had!


Post a Comment

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x