While not essential, tailor’s dummies are a great tool for working on and fitting a garment – particularly for checking the back view or if you’re making an item of clothing for someone else. I had my first tailor’s dummy 40 years ago. A friend of my mum’s gave her to me and I called her Gladys. She travelled with us from house to house until eventually she rusted and fell apart. A couple of years ago, I decided to replace her; I assembled the new mannequin in my studio and started to customise her to my shape. As I worked, I chatted to her. My husband could hear me talking and asked if I had a visitor! You also need to consider a good sewing machine for your work.
Tailor’s dummies come in different sizes and are adjustable. When choosing one to buy, it’s best to go for a model that is either exactly your size or slightly smaller as you can add layers, as I’ll explain here. My weight fluctuates and it is marvellous to be able to peel off a layer from my dummy when I lose a few pounds!
Customising a Tailor’s Dummy
Tailor’s dummies are made up of expandable sections with adjustment wheels that can be operated to increase or decrease the gaps between the sections and hence the overall size. Dummies come classically proportioned, too, so may need some adjustment – mine certainly did! For the best results, it’s a good idea to customise the dummy to fit you exactly. As well as adjusting the individual sections of the dummy, I use padding to create a more lifelike outline.
1. First take your measurements – chest, waist and hips – then adjust the wheels on the expandable sections until they are as near as possible to your size.
2. Find a bra that fits you really well and pad the cups. Put the bra on the dummy and check that the bust is in the right place. Measure from your shoulder to the bust point, then loosen or tighten the straps on the bra to match.
3. Gradually bind the body of the dummy with 70g (2oz) wadding, adding those extra layers of flesh that determine the shape of our bodies. Measure at every stage as you do this, stopping when the dummy matches your measurements. This is a really flexible way of changing the shape of your dummy and you can add more in one area if required.
4. Now take some stockinette – the stretchy tubular cotton fabric you use to cover foam for upholstery projects – and cut a 1.5m (1⅝yd) length. Unscrew the neck of your dummy, put the stockinette tube over the top of the dummy and pull it down over the body. Tuck the stockinette into the neck and tighten the neck screw. Pull the fabric right down and tie under the body of the dummy.
Stockinette is quite flimsy, however, so I bought a close-fitting cheap T-shirt and put this on as the top layer. I then tried one of my dresses on the dummy to check for fit. Perfect! (And no, she hasn’t got a name yet!)
Top Tip – Measure twice, cut once!