The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

A good mannequin

Tilly and the Buttons is a blog from one of the finalists from the Great British Sewing Bee (which we don’t get in the US – Grrrrrrr – cause it’s a really great show on sewing). She’s a really cute gal, and today she talks about mannequins on her blog.
As a side note, the mannequin I recommend is the Uniquely You because it is completely adjustable for all girths, lengths, sizes, and shapes. I’ve had mine for 40 years and it is still useful for me.
But what’s interesting here are the comments……
“I’ve been considering getting a dress form for a while but wasn’t sure how often I would use it.”
– Here’s the thing, dress forms (particularly the Uniquely You) is very intuitive. That means they are very easy to use, and you instinctively know how to use it. The biggest problem you might have is that the dress form is a replica of your body, and does not incorporate ease.
“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 space.”
– The thing is that after your machine and iron, a dress form is that important as you most useful tool in making your clothes. There is no way you can fit your own sway back (if you have one), or your broad shoulders (if you have ’em), or anything in your back, if you don’t have a dress form, you need a friend who is good about fitting or your spouse, who may not be that good at fitting!!!! So you’re left doing the guessing game – off and on, off and on, etc., which is way more time-consuming.  It’s hard to see this at first, but over time, the dress form becomes such a useful tool, you hardly can think of not using it.
Tilly suggests 6 ways to use a dress form:
  1. See how your handmade clothes look on a 3D body shape.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my clients see their garments on the hanger or on the table, and thought – ick!  Then they put the garment on, and think – wow!  I had no idea!!!!  The 3D does make a huge difference.  Part of the reason RTW doesn’t fit as well because it is designed to look good on the hanger so you’ll buy it.  After designing for clients for almost 40 years, I know this so it doesn’t upset me when they are upset about their clothes on a hanger!
  2. Mark an even hem.  If you’re really swayback or one hip is higher than the other (and about every does have one hip higher than the other), this is really useful and can make for a beautifully fitted garment and there is NO WAY you can do this by yourself.  Personally, I’m so particular about my fit that no one can fit as well as I do for myself.
  3. Design your own patterns.  Oh yeah, right, like we can do that.  OK here’s a big heads up.  YES, YOU CAN!!!  This doesn’t take a doctorate from MIT, it does take some techniques and then effort, but talk about fun – I can’t describe the first time I figured out I could design for myself exactly what I wanted.  This is so empowering, so try it!
  4. Test out Embellishments.  Embellishments are great, but alterations, variations, fitting design mechanisms…..all of these can be done with a mannequin, so don’t limit yourself to embellishments!
  5. Display your finished creations.  This is nice…..but I have a couple of more!!!
  6. Do a Tissue Fit.  I’m great for pinning my pattern together and doing a quick look see to determine if I need to make more alterations, some alterations, or the pattern is good as is.
  7. Do a Knit Fit.  Knit is hard to do a pattern fit on, you do have to make it up in a comparable percentage stretch and once you do, you can get an excellent read on fitting for your knit garment.
  8. Fool Proof a Pattern.  Sometimes, no matter how well we measure, the shoulders are off, the bust is off or some other part is off.  And as I like to say, if the shoulders are off, it doesn’t get better the lower you go.  The shoulders determine how the garment starts the sit or hang of the garment and if it’s off, the hang will never be right.  This is one part of fitting (the hang) that can only be had by putting on yourself or the mannequin, and if you can stretch your hands around the back, while not moving any part of the pattern, then you really don’t need a mannequin (and I know some orthopedics who would like to talk with you)!!!!
  9. Drape on the Mannequin.  This sounds like something right out of some design school in Paris, but the fact is that laying the fabric on the mannequin (I use muslin in case I need to redo and I always need to redo), and pin and cut and pleat and gather and ruche and do anything to your little heart’s desire.  Even though flat-pattern and draping are two disciplines taught in school, what school actually does most of all is provide the time to learn the discipline.  If you schedule the time, you can learn the discipline.

The bottom line  is that a mannequin is a very necessary item for your studio.  I couldn’t live without mine and in the couture fashion houses, they always make up a mannequin of the client so basically when the client comes in for a fitting, the garment is pretty much done.  There’s a reason they are using these mannequins!  And that’s the same reason you need one in your studio.


  1. Uniquely You is a wonderful fitting mannequin! I’ve used one for 20+ yrs. I first bought one when I was planning to make my DIL to be wedding dress. She lived 2 hours away and was in graduate school. Her measurements were 32 (DD bust) 24- 32. I was making a silk crepe column dress with an attached scarf, scoop neckline that came to a lovely square knot in back with fanny length tails.

    There was no way I could make that dress without several fittings. The mannequin was wonderful and the dress fit beautifully! Yes, I did make a muslin, mostly for the bust area!

    • Marlette – I have had so much luck with my Uniquely You mannequins and particular the ones made in class. Mannequins are so intuitive for even the most novice of students. I have a philosophy about this. When we try on a garment in the mirror, we’re looking at the whole picture – our hair, our makeup, our shoes, and we see way too often, only the parts we don’t like, or unkempt parts or our hair is not done or other things. When we put the garment on the mannequin, it’s simply the mannequin and the fit – nothing else to see. Of course, there’s the obvious that we can taper and fit in areas that we can not see, much less reach when the garment is on our bodies, but
      there’s also the whole look that we can see. That doesn’t even count draping and creating new styles, designs, and patterns on this mannequin. It really does compare beautifully with the Wolf Forms which cost 4 times or more as much.

      Now in the end we must put the garment on our bodies to gauge our fit and mostly to gauge the ease.  There is a tendency to fit too closely on a mannequin, but most students, once they do this, don’t do it again, they get it! They are, to me, the 3rd most important piece of equipment to have in the sewing studio only behind the  machine and iron. Good equipment makes the garment that much better. From my first really professional-type machine (a Bernina 930), my sewing changed overnight to very professional looks, to my 1st professional iron, when I could steam and press anything with success (use of the press cloth made that process almost perfect) to the mannequin, when I could fit, tweak RTW and drape on the pinnable, fittable mannequin.

      It’s like, why didn’t I know this or do this before type feeling with these mannequins cause they do result in a remarkable fit. What amazes me continually is how intuitive they are. In my classes, I reserve the last couple of hours to learn how to use it, either with tissue fits with the pattern tissue or an old project or garment that needs tweaking, and all the students have to do is put it on, and bang they are off and running! It’s so easy to use, it even astonishes them! The bad news is that I hardly see them after that, cause they can figure out the fit and do their garments wonderfully after that!!!

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