DIY Dress Form Tutorial Part 2: Building the stand, hanging the mold, and filling the mold with foam

This is Part 2 of the DIY Dress Form Tutorial where we'll look at building the stand from PVC pipe, assembling the mold, and filling the mold with foam to create our actual form.

The first step is to build yourself a PVC pipe stand.  I'm sure there are better ways to do this that might involve wheels on the bottom, but this works pretty well for me.  Here is a picture of the stand I built:

Depending on your body's dimensions, your measurements will vary a bit from mine.  Since I decided to make a form with legs, I had to create a frame that would fit inside my mold without touching the edges to make sure there was a thick layer of foam all around the  pipes.  The top bars should fit inside the shoulders, and the hip bar should be above the crotch level to make sure the frame is well within the foam form.  If you are doing only a torso form with no legs, your stand can be simpler.

You'll need to figure out your own personal measurements for this. I drew out a sketch of this with the measurements figured out and then went shopping for the PVC pipe at The Home Depot (any other hardware store would definitely have the same thing, too).  Know exactly how much pipe length you need, and also how many connectors.  You can look at my frame here to copy what I did, or else try your own variation.  Also be sure to get the GLUE (you'll need a primer and a solvent) to permanently attach your PVC pipe lengths and connectors.  This will be located in the same area as the PVC pipes.  Ask for help if you're not sure what you're looking for.

Measure and cut the lengths of PVC pipe using a good hand saw.  I really recommend getting someone to help with this part, because it's very difficult to hold the pipe and saw at the same time.  Also, duh, this can be dangerous, so be careful and do it as safely as you can.  My husband helped me and it ended up going a lot faster with both of us.

When attaching your pipes together YOU SHOULD BE OUTSIDE because the fumes from the glue are really bad for you.  I'm serious.  This is a nice little article that shows you what this gluing process looks like:  http://www.familyhandyman.com/plumbing/how-to-glue-and-join-pvc-plastic-pipe/step-by-step

Once the frame is assembled you need to let it dry (look on the solvent bottle to tell you exactly how long) and then you are ready to hang your mold!

I used yarn (but you can use any kind of decently strong string) to hang my form on the T bar of my stand so that the shoulders of the mold were not actually resting on the bar.  That way there will be foam all the way around the frame which makes the form stronger and also allows you to stick pins into the shoulder area when you need to.

Here is the torso mold on the frame:

At this point I made my leg molds using the same process I used for the torso.  Disclaimer: I look a bit rough in these pics.  Not only was it late at night, but I was a little bit light headed from standing with my knees locked for too long.  (Take warning!)  My husband did the wrapping, and I have to warn you- it was difficult getting out of them.  We used an exacto blade and scissors.  I do not suggest this.  I DO suggest that you use bandage scissors like you are supposed to.  I did get cut just a little bit (not badly at all, thankfully, but it could have been much worse and I do not want you to accidentally slice yourself).  I also traumatized my husband by forcing him to cut me out with said exacto blade as quickly as possible before I passed out.  (Really, be careful- I did feel like I was on the verge of fainting by the time these things dried enough to cut them.)

Now the next part was joining the legs to the torso.  This I did not think through very well when I made the torso part of the mold.  I recommend wrapping the torso to your underwear line and under the crotch so the leg molds connect cleanly to the torso.  However, I did the best I could and stitched my leg molds into the torso mold with waxed linen and a curved needle.  

The one really obvious mistake I made is that when I connected the legs to the torso, I did not pay careful enough attention to the angle of the hip joint connection, and thus my mold ended up looking like it was leaning forward a little at the hips, which you will be able to see in pictures of the side view of the form.

Now we come to filling the form with foam.  This is what my mold looked like after it was totally filled up:

I used this Window and Door Insulating Foam Sealant to fill my mold.  It's flexible after it dries, which results in the form having just a tiny bit of cushiness.  It feels and behaves a bit more like a real body that way, though I don't think it's technically that important, as long as you use a foam that you can stick your pins in.

This stuff expands like crazy.  You must fill your mold INCREMENTALLY.  Start by spraying a little bit down into the bottom of your mold and letting it expand and solidify for at least 20 minutes before adding more.  If too much foam is sprayed at the same time, the weight of it will prevent all the foam from expanding correctly and completely drying.  It was tricky getting the foam all the way down into the legs.  I ended up poking holes at various points up the legs to insert the little spray straw, and that worked.  You want to avoid bubbles as much as possible.

Once the foam starts to set, you can pretty much feel if you have bubbles or not by pressing around the surface of the mold.  Take your time with this process and let each addition of foam really set before you add more.  You may find little holes and gaps as you remove the mold.   When that happens, just stop and squirt a little more foam into the bubble and let it fill up before you completely pull off the mold.

So the obvious question is how many cans of foam did it take?  And this is bad, but I can't remember.  I think it might have been about 6 cans.  If you are only doing a torso and no legs, it definitely won't take as many.  Luckily these cans are not very expensive- 6 bucks a piece.  It's probably better to buy more than not enough at once. You can return any unused cans as long as you leave the seal on.

Once the whole mold is completely filled, let it really dry for a good long time before you attempt to remove your mold.  Removing the mold is a huge process in itself.  There may be a way to coat the inside of your mold so that it slips off, but I have not found that way.  What I had to do in the end was to pry off sheets of the plaster bandage and use a small jab saw to trim off the pieces I couldn't pull off.  That sounds really hard and nasty to do.  It wasn't really that bad, except that it was very, very messy and tedious.  Be prepared to spend more than one sitting doing this mold removal.  Also make sure you put a big sheet or tarp under the form before you do the foam filling and mold removal. 

I had to use the saw to do a lot of shaping and trimming where the leg molds joined to the torso mold, and trimmed a bit in other places where needed.  You can always refer to your body measurements to see if you need to do extra trimming anywhere.  Finally, in the end, this is what I got:

It's just beautiful, is it not??  My cat Albert thought so.

You can see that the surface of the foam is really rough.  This definitely shows when you put fabric over it. Sanding will not solve this problem.  A fabric cover is essential for this mold, and I first sewed a cover of quilt batting that did a great job of smoothing the whole surface.  I'll show you how to do that in the next installment.  For now, I'm going to bed!  And I suggest that YOU take a little peek into Katastrophic world to get some inspiration and see some of the little pretties I've made with the help of this dress form!


mary margaret said...

Melissa....take it outside and using sand paper or a wood rasp/file you can take off the parts that are poking out. Also it will make the whole thing smoother. You could also use an electric sander with very light sandpaper.

Katastrophic said...

The problem is that the foam is so porous that even when you sand it, the surface is not smooth. At least, that was the case with this type of foam.

Liz C. said...

Ok, so two recommendations for your 3.0 dress form: 1) when you make your plaster mold, make it in two halves. Coat your body in vaseline to allow the plaster to release, and then after wrapping the front of your body, coat about 1.5" of the front half edges in vaseline before wrapping the back half. This avoids the entire risk of cutting the pieces away from your body, but make sure you're thorough so that you don't get stuck into the pieces. Once the two halves come off the body and have dried a bit, you can use more plaster strips to reconnect the two halves into one whole.

2) regarding getting a smooth surface for your foam, you make a gloopy mix of plaster to coat the inside of the mold and make a skim coat to ensure a smooth surface for the foam. There's a great video on You Tube from Brick In The Yard mold supply that covers both these suggestions here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JybFk2TfJ5k

(I'm not affiliated in any way, just a fellow sewist wanting a foam dress form for my own stitchery)

Katastrophic said...

Thanks for the great tips, Liz!

Anonymous said...

To make the foam release from the mold easier, coat it with Johnson's wax, by the time you have put the mold together for foaming will be plenty of time for the wax to set.

Anonymous said...

When I make molds e.g. for making puppets. I spray silicone spray on the inside of the mold. That way things come out easily since hardly anything sticks to silicone.
Very inspiring project! I might have to convince my boyfriend to help me with it :-)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting tutorial. I'm a plus-size body, so a good quality dress form costs even more for me. I like the suggestion that you coat the inside of the form with a slurry of plaster while BEFORE you join it together. I also like the idea of using more plaster strips to join it instead of sewing. Bravo. You've inspired me to try making my own.

Cathleen Bell said...

Hey I have been wanting to follow your Dress Form DIY for a while, but the one thing I am having a hard time understanding is how the yarn was used to keep the plaster mold from touching the PVC pipe?

Katastrophic said...

The yarn is strung through the top T of the stand and attached to the lower edge of the mold's armhole so that the shoulders of the mold are not touching the top of the T. I wanted to avoid the plastic of the stand being right at the surface of the shoulders so I could pin into the shoulders when needed. I hope that helps! It was the most confusing part to try to show and explain!

ANITA said...




Cathleen Bell said...

Okay, cool. Thank you! I am actually just now working on gathering materials to make my own dress form. :) I am so happy I found your tutorial!