Saturday, November 9, 2013

Meet Violetta, my new twin

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know I'm a Project Runway fan.  And you probably also know that I sew.  While I have sewn all sorts of things, my favorite (and most frequent) sewing projects are clothes.  But when I sew a clothing item, I'm forever having to get undressed, try the item on for fit, get dressed, repeat.  It's time consuming and a pain in the neck, and I'm not particularly patient.  I currently  have a sewing project in the beginning stages that I am struggling to figure out because I am not working with a pattern, and just can't figure out how to fit it to my body.
Violetta, dressed in pearls
So, after watching Project Runway last week, I decided that I needed a dressmaker's dummy.  I went online and started shopping and immediately recognized a bigt problem: my size.  I discovered that I could find adjustable-size mannequins in small, medium, large, extra-large, and petite.  As I am under 5' tall, with a short torso and short legs, I consider myself petite.  But, there were no options for sizing in petite dummies; they were just 'petite', and their adjustable measurements were decidedly small.  Mine are not.  So my choice was: get a petite dummy that did not expand to my dimensions, or get a medium dummy whose torso would not be short like mine.  Neither choice was acceptable, since clothing I built on them would not fit me accurately.  Darn.

That's when I started discovering all the online tutorials for Duct Tape dressmaker's mannequins!!  Eureka!!   I enlisted my husband (I'm doing a sewing project for him, making seat covers for his vintage car, so I figured he owed me a couple of hours of time) and I went to the store for supplies.  I reviewed dozens of tutorials, and explained to hubby what he was about to do.  And being a man, he listened to... some of it.  And of course, he was sure he had a better way.  We took lots of process photos but they all kept inserting sideways, so I'll only share those that are aiming the right way.

Right here, I'd better say, this is NOT a tutorial.  As a matter of fact, I don't even recommend you try to follow the tutorials you might find.  Because, you see, they might indicate that it is EASY to build a duct tape mannequin, and I'm here to tell you, they are LYING.  It is a serious challenge and you might not be too thrilled with the results.

Instructions say to start with a tight firm wrap around the waist (over a slim fit garment; I was wearing a thin knit), which my husband did, but then he began to deviate from my direction.  As a result, it was not as snug as it should be, as you  can see below.
 And honestly, while I greatly appreciate my husband's willingness to do this silly project with me, and while he was a great sport about it, I'd strongly recommend, if you do try to make a duct tape dummy, to enlist another female to do the taping rather than your spouse.  My husband just didn't understand the bra shape construction, and was more concerned about getting the tape smooth, so, well, let's just say my dummy's boobage is not exactly shaped properly.  (Lift and separate, please, honey?)
 Anyhow, here I am, all taped up with a layer of silver Duck tape.  The red collar was cut off of an old turtleneck to protect my neck from the tape.  By they way, if you have long hair and a low hairline like mine, think about how to keep it out of the tape.  I had mine tied up, but I wish I had put on a shower cap or had it tucked in to a hat.  My husband repeatedly caught my hair in the tape, and then pulled it off, breaking much of  the hair at my hairline on the back of my neck.  It was painful, and now I have a bunch of hair in the back that won't stay in my pony tail. 
 Isis was very curious abou the crazy ongoings in our living room.  
 I had some red tape that we were using to mark the center and the shoulders.  If it looks off-center to you, you'd be correct.  I have some spine curvature, which results in me having a slightly crooked body - one hip and shoulder a little highter than the other, and a sloped back. 
 In the photo below you can see that my left shoulder is lower than the right .
 When it was all done, my husband cut it up through the back so I could remove it.  It came off very easily.  You can see that he didn't exactly complete the arms.  By that point, he had had enough of my trying to tell him what do do, I think!
Then, the next job was to tape it back together.  This might have been the most challenging part of the whole project, but not one of the tutorials mentioned that!  At that point, I sat the dummy in a chair and found something else to do.  I was tired of Duck tape.
 But it started to get squished in the rocking chair, so I inserted a hanger inside the shoulders and hung it from a light fixture until I'd have time to finish it.  My bum looks a little squished, no?
My husband, wonderful man that he is (no kidding) cut a 2x2 piece of wood that I had bought, and build a support for the body that you will see in the photos below.  I cut cardboard for the ends of the arms and neck, inserted them and sealed them with Duck tape.  I also cut a piece for inside the waist, and for the bottom of the body. 
The tutorials mostly said to stuff the dummy with pillow stuffing (though a few used wads of newspaper and a couple actually used spray foam).  I bought a big 10 pound box so that I could stuff it tightly.  Big mistake.  Stuffing it tightly makes it stretch, and stretching in places caused wrinkling in others.  It was bad.  I know I'm not skinny, but it started to bulge uncomfortably.  In the end, I took most of the stuffing out, leaving in the barest minimum to hold the shape.  And honestly, I think it turned out somewhat OK, though not quite what I anticipated.  I'd still like a real dressmaker's mannequin, if I can ever find one that  has my proportions.  Anyhow, Violetta (my mannequin) now is in my art studio room, where I also sew, and she has been trying on some of  my clothes, such as this former sewing project:
She's been trying on scarves, jewelry, and sweaters, and seems to fit in my clothes fairly well, all things considered.
Sideways, I know, but here I am with my new twin! 


  1. Amazing what a little (or a LOT of) duct tape will do!!! Your husband must be a prince to agree to do all of that with you. LOVE the purple!!I I must admit that every time I watch Project Runway I think how handy it would be to have one of those mannequins. Happy sewing.

    1. Thanks Christie! Like I said, hubby was a good sport, but also - he seriously owes me. The last thing I feel like doing on my sewing machine was figuring out how to sew seat covers for a 1947 Ford (definitely a first for me!) but I'm doing it!

      As for the purple - I actually have a within white turtleneck shell that she'll probably wear a lot. It will not be as distracting color-wise, plus I'll be able to pin to it. You definitely don't want to pin thru the duct tape!

  2. Very cool idea Phyl!! Well executed!!

  3. GENIUS! I love this, you are just the coolest thing ever. Seriously, this rocks!

    1. Thanks Cassie! Do you have a mannequin? Or perhaps you don't need one because your body actually matches the dimensions of normal patterns, which mine does not?

      Since completing this, I've discovered another tutorial, this time using paper packing tape (the kind you dampen with a sponge, that I remember using when I assembled a silk screen in college 100 years or so ago). Anyhow, it says it dries like papier-mache into a hard shell, is lightweight, doesn't need to be stuffed, and can be pinned into! A project for another time...

  4. Hi Phyl, I just wanted to let you know that I have linked to this from my blog. It's here: I love how it's purple!

  5. Thank you thank you thank you i too want no need a mannequin and I too have physical differences to those of a real mannequin. This Duct Tape Mannequin will suit me quite awesomely for my sewing purposes :-) Thank you <3 <3 <3

    1. Good luck! It was challenging, and less than successful. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't do it again!