a trip down a road less trodden


(a reluctant display of the bits of me I don’t normally show off))
Bits of me I am not too happy showing off

Some years ago my mum bought me an adjustable mannequin. I fiddled endlessly with the wheels to get them to match my measurements – sadly the waist measurement wouldn’t go quite as large as mine, and the small size of my hips in comparison to my other measurements made the wheels strain at their screws.

I knew I had to do something to it to move it higher up the usability scale from mere coat-hanger. I had two items squirrelled away that were going to help me in my task, a lot of odd pieces of quilt batting, and a muslin made at a drafting course at English Couture last autumn (which I can thoroughly recommend)

Padding applied the stitched to the original mannequin

Starting with the muslin, which I knew fitted me very well, I put it on the mannequin, which had been twiddled to match my measurements as closely as possible, then I assessed the bits that needed packing out. Pinning the small(ish) pieces of batting on the mannequin until the muslin was well stuffed took a bit of time and trial and error, but when was satisfied I stitched it all together, with fairly random, large stitches.

There was a significant gap down the centre front, back and the sides, where the parts of the mannequin were spread apart. In order to use the mannequin for draping techniques the centre front and back need some solidity to pin into, so I stitched strips of felt to be covered by the wadding. I look forward to designing patterns by draping as an addition to my growing pattern drafting skills.

It was then simply a case of deciding when enough was enough, putting the muslin in place and stitching it closed up the centre front. I had already turned in the neck edge and stitched it down, and overcast the bottom edge and Voila!

The questions that now remain:

I like the defined neck edge of the muslin, it gives me a clear indication of where a collar needs to sit. The muslin seams show where I need to position my shoulder seams to cater for my high round neck and forward shoulder, and I can clearly see where to put various necklines in relation to my own physiognomy.

I also like the shoulder seams that indicate my armhole position. I left the sleeves in situ on the toile, but the arms do get in the way of garments that I put on the mannequin so I need to address that, without loosing the armhole seam line indication.

I find the gingham pattern of the fabric of my original muslin, whilst it is very useful as an indication of straight grain and horizontals, is very distracting when assessing the attributes – or otherwise – of items in construction. I will make a plain jersey pullover as an alternative cover, then apply tape to indicate those important lines.

gingham muslin mounted on padded mannequin
the original individually fitted muslin stitched onto the padded mannequin


One of the real benefits of my mannequin, even when it didn’t match me, was as an aid to fitting knit neckbands. Prior to this revelation it was a hit and miss affair based on a rough estimate of ±80% of the neck edge. Now it’s a case of putting the neckless knit garment on the mannequin so that the shoulders and armholes sit nicely in the right position. Cut a neckband to the desired width, then folded double, and the length of the measured cut edge of the neck edge, then starting at the shoulder seam, pin the neckband so that it sits naturally at the folded edge, and stretched to fit the cut edge. mark the length with a pin, stitch a small seam to join the circle, then sew to the cut edge in your preferred fashion.

My preferred method of joining neckbands to knit tops after fitting the neckband onto the top on the mannequin, is to stitch it with a small zigzag on my sewing machine, then overlock the cut edge (to approximately 6mm – or 1/4″). I can then use my coverstitch machine to finish the the accurately finished serged edge and give really neat finish.

Conclusion: The end result is quite an apparition, it certainly looks much better covered up, but it is a really useful sewing and fitting aid. It is infinitely better than the original because it reflects the individual quirks and contours of my own body, and has an eerie similarity in its tactile quality and squishiness to my real body. Its very best quality has to be that it is really easy to snip away bits to reflect weight losses, or to to add extra bits should I eat too much.

Until the next time I have something useful to say –

2 thoughts on “a trip down a road less trodden

  1. Thanks for the detailed thoughts on this Janet. Although my dress form is adjustable, I find that I just don’t use it other than for putting finished objects on! It’s not great for garments that don’t have fastenings that don’t open significantly, otherwise I struggle to get things over the shoulders.

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