(More) Dress Form Hacking – Literally

Marking how much of the shoulder needed to come off to match my shoulder width from base of neck to shoulder bone.

Blogs may be dead, but I’m still holding out (like an old fart) that people are looking for googleable-*readable*-referenceable info on the internet, so here goes.

As we go along as historical sewists, the saga of the dress form develops. We’ve sliced off chests, whittled away waists, padded, adjusted, drawn on, and generally hacked our dummies into workable forms that can be corseted and altered to get *close enough* to the historical silhouette needed to build a period gown.

One of my challenges I’ve realized in only the last few years is shoulder width. I have ridiculously narrow shoulders, and most modern dress patterns are too wide. Puff sleeves draw particular attention to this, as the puffs fall off my shoulders rather than sit up all cute-like.

My dress form also had shoulders a bit too wide, about 3/4 inch on each side. I regularly set my historical gown shoulder straps very narrow, but I always struggled to fit the sleeves on my form without creating an annoying puff bit at the shoulder cap.

So yes, it’s taken me years to do this, but I finally hacked the shoulders of Old Reliable.

I removed the metal plates, peeled back the jersey cover, and marked the surgery line. Then I went at it with a serrated steak knife.

It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

I didn’t realize it at first, but the armholes, where the metal plates for inserting the arms were, had plywood reinforcement. Good thing those steak knives were cheap! I sawed through one of them, but the second I accidentally pulled out. It only needed gluing back in, but because we somehow don’t have any wood glue I used several sticks of hot glue (the glue of the gods) and rammed that sucker in there.

Jersey cover sutured up, metal plates back on, and voila – shoulder width fixed!

Sewing up the jersey cover, then screwing the metal plate back on
Shoulder fixed! And it works!

I tested the fix by setting the sleeves on my 1790s Vigee Lebrun round gown and they came out perfectly. Finally! Now I can fit sleeves without a buddy (or my poor husband).

Nothing is as intolerable as poorly-fitting, constricting shoulders. I’m so glad I made this dress form fix and re-set the shoulders on this gown.

I do realize that dress forms have moved on in technology, and companies like Bootstrap Fashion are making body-double patterns so you can sewn your own. I think these are *amazing* and I intend on getting one (I already have the soft arms pattern, waiting to be made). There is also a company called Beatrice Forms doing body scan dress forms, and you can get your scan done in stays or a corset. I learned about both of these from Sewstine, and the resulting gowns she’s made on both forms have been amazing.


    • Lauren Stowell

      November 22, 2020 at 7:27 PM

      thank you! I'm very active on IG but I find it very difficult to hunt down people's projects once they've been posted, or there's just too little info

    • Dos Galgos

      November 23, 2020 at 1:22 PM

      Not quite sure if I want to hack apart a dress form, I have yet to purchase one; any suggestions? Perhaps another blog on the pros and cons of dials vs. soft static forms?

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 23, 2020 at 6:13 PM

      This dress form is a hard foam, so it's really easy to carve. It was a store display with removable arms – you can read more about how she became what she is today in this post – https://blog.americanduchess.com/2011/05/making-workable-dress-form-or-violent.html

      The only reason to alter a dress form THIS much, though, is if she doesn't match your measurements closely enough. Most commercial dress forms do not. Instead, I would recommend the Bootstrap Fashion pattern because they are much more specific to your actual body shape, and you can corset them because they're filled with polyfill.

  • Black Tulip

    December 6, 2020 at 11:57 PM

    As you can tell from the length of time it's taken me to reply, I don't always keep on top of my blog reading, but I do get round to it eventually. Instagram is all well and good for a overview, but to my mind you can't beat a blog for in-depth coverage of how something was created. I've learned so much from blogs over the years, and I'm so glad that there are still some people producing blog content

  • Kay

    May 4, 2023 at 8:56 PM

    Blogs are not dead! Just ask any of the millions and millions of people over the age of 40.

    It’s those young-uns who were never taught to write who like to yell about reading-based activities being extinct. 😉


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