Duct Tape Mannequin, Check!

It’s been a while — thanks for sticking around…

(BTW, if you’re only interested in the mannequin tutorial, scroll down to where the photos begin!)

The skating world is so weird sometimes; I know people who protect their costume ideas for each season more carefully than they protect their passwords, bank PIN’s, and in some cases, their true ages. I’m always very secretive about costumes I’m working on whenever it’s requested by a client — this is why you won’t see photos of most costumes in progress, or photos of finished costumes until after they’ve been worn.  If I’m secretive about the dress I make my own daughter, it’s usually just because I’m not sure if I can actually do what I set out to do in the first place, so sharing details about her dress really doesn’t matter because what she ends up with is generally pretty far from what I originally planned anyway.

This year I’m going to try something totally different: I’ll document the entire process, beginning to end, because honestly this idea is so ridiculous that if someone else is crazy enough to want to copy it, more power to him or her.

The basic dress is black, because she’s “earned” the right to wear it (many skating folks have some odd theories about certain things, and wearing black is one of them). I’ll use mesh dyed to match her exact skin tone so that it completely fades away on the floor.  But between the black bodice and the nude neckline, there will be loads and loads and loads of ribbon embroidery. Embroidery done 100% by hand. By my hand. With non-stretchy silk ribbon. 261 yards of silk ribbon. 261 yards of hand-dyed silk ribbon. 261 yards of hand-dyed silk ribbon in 42 colors.

Yep. This is why I’m not worried about this insane idea being copied.

The first step in the process was to figure out how to embroider non-stretchy ribbon onto a stretchy base fabric. Usually embroidery is done with a hoop that holds the fabric taught, so that the ribbons and thread don’t create bunching, pulling, and puffing. The problem with doing this on stretchy fabric is that the hoop would over-stretch the fabric in some parts, under-stretch it in others; this would leave bumps and gathers everywhere  when it’s worn, rendering the whole mess totally unwearable. I needed to figure out how to replicate the exact stretch of each part of the dress while it’s being embroidered, so that everything lays flat and nice when it’s being worn.

Since I couldn’t really ask Emma to wear the dress for what I’m estimating will be 200 hours while I embroider it on her actual body, I opted to recreate her so that I’d have a perfect form, a makeshift “hoop” if you will, on which to embroider these hundreds of flowers.

I’ve seen so many different methods of doing this, so after much research I decided my best bet was to use paper tape — the kind used for packaging, with a pre-gummed backing that is activated by water. Supposedly this method dried harder and stronger than using duct tape, so that’s how we began. Over the course of the next several hours, we learned many ways how not to create a personal mannequin, which I’ll go over below.



Emma, my model, with Ditty (this stands for DTE, or Duct Tape Emma)


You’ll need the following:

*Tape (more on this below)

*Sponge/water if you use water-activated packaging tape

*Tight fitting clothing that covers everywhere you want the tape to go;  clothing you don’t mind sacrificing, since it will be forever attached to the inside of your mannequin (as you can see in the photos below, I made her little spandex arm sleeves because the sleeves of her t-shirt weren’t long enough to cover her to the elbow)


*Hair dryer (if you’re using paper tape, you’ll need this to speed up the drying of each layer before adding a new one)

*Lots of stuffing materials (we used last year’s AP World History papers; you can use newspaper, scraps of fabric, really anything you have laying around)

Tape is easy to cut when your model holds the roll.

Tape is easy to cut when your model holds the roll.

Sponge with water, for activating the paper tape glue.

Sponge with water, for activating the paper tape glue.

A word about tape: in my photos, you’ll notice that I started with paper tape, but ended with duct tape. The edges and ends of the paper tape just didn’t seem to be laying flat enough for me. I wanted a smooth finish, but it looked like feathers on a bird, with all the ends sticking up a little bit. Maybe it was the quality of the tape I used, maybe it’s just the characteristic of paper tape, maybe it was just me…but in the end, I preferred duct tape. Nashua brand seemed to be just perfect for this; it didn’t fray, and it was easy to pull off the roll in one piece rather than having it split (which was the case when I moved onto my second half-roll of tape, which was a different brand).

FYI: Emma is a fairly small person, and we used 1/2 roll of paper tape (with a full roll being 114 meters) and a full roll of duct tape (well, two half-rolls). Had we done the entire thing in duct tape, I would have used 2 full rolls, so plan accordingly.


Have your model use the restroom. Be sure he or she is wearing underwear that you don’t mind ruining, just in case you accidentally cut through it. I was able to pretty easily slide the scissors between the clothing and the undies, but this might not be possible with every model, so it’s better to assume the underwear will be ruined and then be happy when it isn’t. Also, soft shoes (or flip flops) would have been nice. My model was barefoot, which grew sort of annoying after standing on the hard wood floor for a couple hours.

Cut pieces of tape ahead of time! I found that I liked shorter pieces of paper tape, if you choose to go that route.  I also found that cutting slits in the edges of a lot of pieces made them lay flatter (cut slits like you would on a curved sewing edge).

Shorter pieces work best, with slits cut in the edges to form to your model's curves.

Shorter pieces work best, with slits cut in the edges to form to your model’s curves.

Step 3: THE WRAP

X marks the spot...

X marks the spot…


Base starting to form.

With your model in his/her tight-fitting clothing, start by wrapping a large X across the chest. If your mannequin will have a crotch and thighs (great for leotards and pinning on skating skirts, since most dressforms don’t have a crotch and instead stop just above the hip!), one long piece between the legs is a great way to start as well. I found that my model’s t-shirt was just way too big (but it was the only one she was willing to destroy), so it took quite a few foundation pieces of tape to get it to fit snugly. You want those clothes tight against the body, so be sure to wrap the tape so that there is no gap between the tape and the model.

Start adding pieces horizontally at first, and then vertically. Use those shorter pieces with the slits on the edges to fit curves (like bustline and shoulders, especially). If you´re using paper tape, be sure to let each layer dry before adding another (this is where the hair dryer comes in handy).
















BIG MISTAKE. Don't use clear tape. Ever.

BIG MISTAKE. Don’t use clear tape. Ever.

So I was having a hard time getting the paper tape to lay snug against her body — there seemed to be a bit of a gap, so I really wanted to cinch it in. Sitting on the table happened to be a roll of clear packing tape I’d just used to mail some things, so I figured it would work well to really gather in that excess tape and make the base of the mannequin really fit. Well, it DID do that…as you can see from the photos, it really drew the excess tape together and created a very nice silhouette that matched my model to a T. Great, right?

Wrong. DO NOT USE CLEAR PACKING TAPE. EVER. Paper tape won’t stick to clear packing tape, so everything started sliding around after that. What a mess! Skip the clear tape and go straight to…





Duct tape for the win!

Duct tape for the win!

20170221_163408I was about to just give up on the whole damn thing when I decided to try to raid my husband´s work bench to see if he had any duct tape laying around. Of course he did, so I tried to salvage the mess of wet paper tape and packing tape by just wrapping her up in a few pieces of duct tape. It worked perfectly! So we finished by covering the entire paper tape base in duct tape.


I hate mannequins without legs and a crotch, since most of what I do involves a leotard of some kind. This is where things get dicey, and it’s really important that you’re *ahem* close to the person you’re wrapping. I’ve seen a lot of duct tape mannequin tutorials, but only one bothered to go below the hip. If you’re going to go through the trouble of making this thing, go ahead and do it right — give yourself some legs!


When you’re convinced that your model is sufficiently wrapped (no clothing showing through, at least two layers of tape absolutely everywhere (three or four is better), it’s time to cut. You want to cut through BOTH the clothing and the duct tape — the clothing becomes part of the mannequin.  Take care around the underwear/bra areas, as it’s tricky to differentiate clothing you want to leave in the mannequin and clothing you want to leave on the model! I started at the back of one leg and sliced all the way up through the center of the back to the neckline. We also cut slits in each arm, about half-way up to the shoulder.

Have your model carefully wriggle his/her way out of the form, moving slowly so that the form doesn’t become misshapen.


Taking care to line up your seam precisely, tape the escape slices shut again.


Tape closed the leg and arm holes.

Crumple up your paper and slowly start stuffing your mannequin, being sure to really fill it…if you leave large air holes or gaps, your mannequin will eventually cave in. We stuffed it pretty tightly so that when pressed, it barely gives beneath your hand.



In the end, I think we accidentally did this the perfect way: start with paper tape to give a strong, sturdy base, and then end with duct tape, to really make sure the fit is exact. Our mannequin’s measurements are EXACTLY my model’s measurements, except for a 1/8″ difference in the bustline (because my mannequin’s boobs turned out a little uneven…I don’t know why, but with only 1/8″ difference, I really don’t care. That’s close enough for me…I mean, 1/8″ can be the difference between Bra A padding and Bra B padding, so it’ll be fine). So I now have a mannequin I can stick pins into, leave around the house to spook the dog, or hey — use as a ribbon embroidery form.

To Be Continued…

What are They Wearing Wednesday: Latin Ballroom Dress

Here it is — our Latin ballroom dress, the “Rose.”

This isn’t quite finished — with only 14 gross stones on it so far (yes, I did write “only”), it still has a few gross to go…but this thing included two techniques I’ve never used before:

1. Scraping.  What I call “scraping” probably has a more elegant term, but it involved carefully cutting open the braform, scraping the excess pushup padding away, and then hand sewing it back together. I could have used a standard braform, but amazingly enough I stumbled upon this particular one, which happened to be made out of the exact — and I mean exact — bolt end fabric that I also stumbled upon 11 months prior on a trip to the garment district in Los Angeles. It’s no secret that many of the fabric sellers there are really just unloading bolt ends that they picked up from various garment manufacturers nearby, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I somehow managed to find both the bolt end and the braform, already covered in this exact fabric, twisted and boned and underwires  and EVERYTHING, already done. So of course I was willing to spend the few hours it took to carefully scrape away the excess padding.  Totally worth it.

2. One fitting only. Not my ideal situation, but it worked. Fortunately this dress belongs to someone who could easily have been the model for one of my mannequins, because their measurements were practically identical. So Marie the headless mannequin, as she is affectionately called around here, accompanied me to Los Angeles to make finishing and stoning the dress easier.  Such a nice traveling companion she was, didn’t ask for potty breaks or beg for food, though it would have been nice in LA traffic to have been able to use her for the carpool lanes.

So here she is, almost finished:

1503362_1041824639177646_8172474094805353618_n 1782175_1041824722510971_997969831923661712_n 10527645_1041824702510973_1098394206690064000_n

What Are They Wearing Wednesday: February 12, 2014

So I missed a Wednesday, because I was exploring the textile district of Los Angeles, the largest in the world.  And to make matters worse, my sewing machine is in the shop for three weeks for a tune-up and lube job.

However, there is a little something on Peg today:

O. M. G.

O. M. G.

This is an extraordinary piece I discovered at a recent textile convention in San Francisco.  They’re designed and imported by DeBeers, the diamond folks, and handmade in India.  The photo doesn’t do it justice — it’s exquisite, it’s huge, and I managed to get my hands on two of them.  The retail price is completely unaffordable, but thankfully I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do with them (thus their position on Peg at the moment, attempting to inspire the decision making process), but I know I’m using them for kid #4 and I’m not selling them.  They’ll go on white, but I haven’t yet figured out all the design details.  In the meantime, I’m just enjoying gazing at them as often as possible.

What Are They Wearing Wednesday: January 29, 2014

I’m starting a new tradition here today — every Wednesday I’ll post a photo of what happens to be on one of the mannequins in the shop. Sometimes it will be a finished project, sometimes a work in progress. The goal is twofold: first, it will give you a look at various stages of garment construction, but mostly it’s a personal motivator to keep things moving because I’d be so embarrassed if the mannequins in the shop don’t show any progress for an entire week.

What Are They Wearing -- January 29, 2014

What Are They Wearing — January 29, 2014

This week I have a nearly-finished custom practice dress on Peg (the adjustable female dressform in the shop). The bodice is made of a lightweight and amazingly soft black jersey, a fabric we don’t usually use, but it’s perfect for a practice dress where comfort and ability to breathe is more valuable and necessary than sparkle, shine and show. The top has a glittered sheer fabric overlay, which can be tricky because the glittered fabric is extremely itchy so it cannot be turned under or placed anywhere it may touch bare skin. The belt is a scrap of the best green stretch velvet I’ve ever found, with a took-way-too-long-to-arrive special order crystal belt buckle. The belt hits just below the bustline of a great young lady who has recently lost quite a bit of weight, so the goal was to emphasize the tiniest part of her still-changing body. There are four straps in back which come together with a dress ring (more on these miracle little pieces in a future post), and the low scoop back hits about an inch below the waistline. The whole dang thing can be thrown in the washing machine, a necessity when deciding on practice outfit fabric and construction. All that’s left to do is attach the inset bra, and trim the skirt.

Guilty Pleasure to CEO

Four months ago, at the constant urging of my husband, I quit a job that was making me angry and resentful and began working instead on trying to dismiss the guilt I’ve always felt for wanting to do something that a) doesn’t require the multiple college degrees I hold, and b) doesn’t feel like a job because of its sheer awesomeness.

For years I’ve designed and sewn skating and dance outfits as a…wait for the dirty word…hobby.  But in September 2013, I realized that working in a place where mediocrity is rewarded and you get paid the same whether you are fabulous or absolutely disgustingly lazy and incompetent, was making me nuts; so I knew something had to change.  My husband was sick of my complaining, my not sleeping because my sewing was relegated to the wee hours of the morning, and stepping on all the straight pins I inevitably dropped on the dining room floor; so he knew something had to change, too.

So we did it.  In one whirlwind month, we turned half of our very large garage into a bona fide shop.  A little creativity and reuse of excess furniture,  a marathon day of filing business and licensing paperwork all over the county, a slightly creepy but nonetheless amusing exploration of a nearby warehouse where old store mannequins and retail accoutrements go to die, and several trips to IKEA later, and this is what I have:


The back corner of my little shop, complete with crystal chandelier and a place for my daughter to nap…uh…do her homework…

On the left you can see Marie, as in Marie Antoinette, our headless mannequin with magnetic arms that is a perfect Firefly Fabrics stock size Adult Small, and our yet-to-be-named adjustable child size dressform. You can’t see Buttsy, our waist-to-thigh child butt mannequin for skirt adjustments, and Peg, our oldest but dearest ladies’ dressform, so named because of the peg stand that sticks out of her nether regions (yes, I did let the kids name them, obviously).

Behind the camera is the sewing area, with my two machines and my daughter’s Christmas gift (her first sewing machine), my huge cutting table, the shelves that will eventually hold about eighty full bolts of fabric but now just house thirty or so two-yard sample pieces and three circular racks full of dozens of bags of rhinestones, and a seriously sick amount of color coded, separated and organized scraps of spandex and other stretch fabric, for when I only need 1/4 yard or so of “something green but not too green” or “six shades of sparkly blue — you can do that, can’t you?” Someday I’ll post those photos too, but hey, right now it’s all about the crystal chandelier.