2 November 2016

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form - Tilly and the Buttons

Do you own a dress form? Also known as a dressmaker’s dummy or mannequin. One of the questions I’m asked a lot is whether to buy a dress form and which one I’d recommend. So today I thought I’d show you mine and talk you through some reasons you might want to get one.

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form - Tilly and the Buttons

While a dress form isn’t an essential, it’s definitely nice to have – one of those tools like an overlocker that you can certainly live without when you’re just starting out, but will put to good use when you get one. I’ve had my Lady Valet Adjustoform for six years now, and it’s still going strong. The soft cover looks nice and is easy to pin, and the solid wooden top and base look smart – in fact, it looks as good as new six years down the line! As an Adjustoform fan, I'm excited to partner with them for this post to show you five ways you can use your dress form...

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form - Tilly and the Buttons

1) See how your handmade clothes look on a 3D body shape

When you sew your own clothes, it's so important to check how your handmade creation is looking at different stages of the process - rather than waiting to try it on at the end, when it'll be too late to change it! Putting your make on a dress for is useful for getting an idea of how the garments is looking on a 3D body shape - particularly if you can't be bothered to keep taking your clothes off to try it on, or if you're sewing for someone else who isn't there, or if you want to see it from different angles, such as the back without having to twist the garment in front of the mirror.

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form - Tilly and the Buttons

My Adjustoform dress forms have 12 dials which let me customise the measurements on the bust, waist and hips at the front, back and sides to my own measurements or those of whoever I'm making the garment for. You can also lengthen and shorten the bodice on many of them, which is great if you have a short torso like I do, or a long one for that matter.

Of course a dress form isn't automatically going to be exactly the same shape as your own body, since we all curve out in different places and different directions! Top tip – try putting a bra that fits you well onto the dress form, and padding it out with some wadding. You could also add padding to other areas of the dress form if you want it to reflect your own body shape more accurately.

It's still important to try whatever you're making on yourself (or its intended owner) to get an accurate fit, and to check comfort with movement. But a dress form is useful for seeing how your sewing project is coming together in between fitting sessions.

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form - Tilly and the Buttons

2) Mark an even hem

Pinning a hem on your own body can be a pain – not to mention difficult while you’re wearing the dress! Hanging the garment on a dress form will give you a better view from all sides so you can pin the hem more accurately.

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form - Tilly and the Buttons

Even better, some dress forms come with a hem marker! This is super helpful for ensuring the hem is level to the floor. They vary from model to model - some come with a chalk marker that puffs out a marking onto your fabric. On this Olivia dress form, what you do is move the hem marker to the level you want it, then clip it onto the fabric. You then insert a pin into the slot and through the fabric, then unclip, swivel the marker around to the next spot you want to pin, and repeat until you've pinned the whole hem.

Just as you’d do without a dress form, make sure you try the garment on once you’ve pinned the hem so you can check it looks balanced on you, just in case your shape or posture makes the hem look longer at the front, back or side :)

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form - Tilly and the Buttons

3) Design your own patterns

If you’re a budding pattern cutter, having a dress form is essential for examining toiles on a 3D form from all angles, and working out where you want style lines to go. When I studied pattern cutting at London College of Fashion, we spent many hours pinning tape to mannequins to plot the seams, darts, necklines and collars on our designs. This was one of my favourite parts of the process - it really helps you visualise your creations and start bringing them to life.

Another system of pattern cutting involves draping fabric directly onto a mannequin, and then creating the paper pattern based on how the fabric hangs. This is a more free-flowing alternative to pattern drafting directly onto paper, and is sometimes used in couture – it’s a bit like sculpture but with fabric!

Martha sewing pattern - Tilly and the Buttons

4) Test out embellishments

You don’t need to draft your own patterns to take advantage of your dress form for designing clothes. If you’re thinking of adding your own design tweak to a garment, putting it on a dress form first and pinning on the embellishments will allow you to step back and see if they look right.

Does the trimming it look nice against the fabric? Are those pockets in the right place and in proportion with the rest of the garment? Does the collar you want to add look like the shape you had in mind? A dress form is super helpful for getting creative and experimenting with your sewing!

Five Ways to Use a Dress Form - Tilly and the Buttons

5) Display your finished creations!

I love having dress forms around me when I’m sewing – and just in life! – to display my recent makes and samples of patterns that we're working on. We also use our dress forms to showcase pattern samples at our workshops and when we’re at shows. It’s much more inspiring to see clothes that you’ve spent ages making displayed on a 3D form, rather than on a hanger, and gives you a better sense of how they will look on a person.

So those are five ways you can use a dress form. Have I missed anything out? Do share your own ideas in the comments!

This post was sponsored in kind - thanks to Adjustoform for supplying some of our dress forms.


  1. Recently I used Madame (named in honor of the dress form in "The Moffats" books) to keep track of the pieces of a complicated sew with a fabric that is identical on both sides; pinning the pieces face out on to the body section where they would end up. I worked my way around Madame to finish the individual sections and keep them in order and face out.

    Some major duds could have been prevented with this technique in the past. Certainly much unpicking. I do wish I'd thought of this years ago.

  2. Thank you for these tips. My daughter has left her form here and is too small for me, but I can see how I can still use it. I have saved this to my Sewing Spaces Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/thelostapron/sewing-spaces/

  3. I've been considering getting a dress form for a while but wasn't sure how often i would use it, i think i'll definitely be getting one now i know how useful it would be!

  4. My dressform was given to me by a friend of mine. It's a basic store dressform that somehow has my measurements, so until such time as I like upgrading, it stays with me.

  5. Thanks for the blogpost. Not using a dressform yet, but will be looking into that soon, as I have just started sewing.
    I was just wondering: do you have a pattern for that dungaree dress? Thanks!

    1. Hi Sophie! You may want to have a little look at our shop...;) #sewingCleo

  6. Love that pink overall dress! I have wanted a dress form for many many years it is on my list of things to purchase as money gets freed up and I have the space. I do make a lot of clothes along with my quilts and it would have come in very handy when I just helped to made my daughters Jedi robe!

  7. Thank you for the informative post! I've often wondered if a dress form would be useful and you gave me plenty to think about. Question: does anyone know of a good dressform manufacturer in the US? Adjustoform doesn't ship that far.

  8. Ruby - Hi I'm David - MD of Adjustoform. We sell to Prym in the USA who then distribute to retailers. They use their own trade name 'Dritz' quite often but they are in fact made by us. Try JoAnn stores who I know stock our products - I visit some of their stores when I'm over in the US. Also, you will find our products on Amazon in the US.


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