Why You Simply Must Have a Proper Adjustable Vintage Dress Form

After wearing my totally period incorrect Brain Tan Corset for a few days to break it in, I found the top and bottom edges folding out and downward in inconvenient places that would add strange ridges under any garment I wore it under.

So, back on the dress form it went and I added cotton twill bias tape with copious amounts of Hide Glue to hold it in place smoothly.

This could not be done with the corset laying flat as it would have rumpled and bulged in the unexpected places, it simply had to be corrected on the form and following my form adjusted to my shape.

It also allowed me to apply tension to the tape while applying so that it pulled in the top and bottom of the garment as I wrapped.

Here you see the top edge tightly wrapped glued down in place.

(Remember, this is a "Fun Garment" and has no basis in historical correctness. I need to wear a corset for my bad back and I had the leather, so I made it. I will eventually cover the edges of twill tape with another band of thin leather, restoring its "rustic" appearance. Think of it this way, most of us wouldn't wear a period correct hide dress without a bra, this is my version of a bra).
On the bottom edge I loosely pinned the tape to the form under the corset, but then glued the outer edge first applying tension as I went.
Here you can see me pulling and wrapping the tape to the applied glue. I actually abandoned the "start from the center and work out" idea as soon as this picture was taken, I went back to the tried and true "start at the outer edge and work your way around". This gave me the smooth finish I needed.
It had a few wrinkles at first but applying tension and pressure smoothed it out nicely as the glue began to tack. the wrinkles arrived because of my "start in the middle" attempt obviously failed and had to be corrected by pulling the glued tape edge loose and reapplying as I came to it from the proper "start at the edge" method.

The same was done for the back, the tape is pinned in place to the form but the front is glued first, then the tape is wrapped around and glued to the inside of the corset.
I had help from my cat in this endeavor, she insisted I take a break and attend to her for a bit, but she didn't understand that glue must be dealt with when applied and not after her needs are met.

You can see the protective paper towel barrier in place between the form and the inside of the corset, I had just finished gluing the bottom edge to the inside. One must not glue ones garment to the form!
Here is the tape pinned in place on the top edge between the corset and form.

You will note the edges I left a bit of extra tape on, after finishing all the gluing, I went back and glued under the edges, clipping the extra off as I did a neat fold under.
Here is the glue applied and allowed to tack for five minutes on the front of the corset, I then applied tension as I turned the edge down from right edge to left edge to tighten and stiffen the flopping top.

Below are the most convincing reasons I can ever show to illustrate the need for a good dress form that reflects your actual shape and measurements.

I can work confidently knowing that what I do on the form will look the same on me!

Perhaps my "bum" is a bit fluffier, but the corset shows that it is holding the shape I created on the form. If I was to continue shaping over the "Rear" I would simply pad out the form in the needed areas. Thankfully, most of the garments I create are immediately "Fulled Out" when they hit this region, so I am safe for now!

I should have called this article, "How to fix the mistakes you made on your corset by adding twill tape to the edge" but I instead chose to highlight how important it is to have a properly adjustable, sturdy dress form.

I had to move heaven and earth to find these vintage wonders, they have no contemporary peers in modern guise. You have the choice of either buying a cheap form that will collapse under the extra padding needed to mimic your shape, (not to mention the weight of the garment itself), as they are not truly adjustable in any meaningful way, or buying an expensive, non adjustable dress form that gives you just a small margin of correction in size and shape before you have to buy another dress form of a larger or smaller size.

I am justifiably angry with the dress form industry for not continuing to make a decent adjustable dress form at a reasonable price that will do the job a seamstress needs to do, which is to create wonderful, fitted garments for a variety of shapes and sizes reliably and with as little frustration as possible.

Shame on them for thinking they are filling a need in the sewing world when what they are really doing is causing seamstresses untold frustration and loss of confidence when they prepare a garment upon their cheap, flimsy forms and find the fit is not what they were told it would be by the simple manipulation of cheap dials on a plastic form.

It makes me sad to think of how many promising seamstresses have given up because they felt their talents were lacking, when in reality it was the fault of a badly made crappy dress form that failed to deliver the results intended.

If you feel the way I do about this situation, take a moment to contact these sham dress form makers and let them know you wouldn't buy their product if they were giving them away. It might make a difference, it might not, but I sleep better knowing they have had my opinion on the matter.

Pre Contact Native American Woven Textiles, (Cloth), Sewing and Hide Tools

Deer bone awl
(Courtesy Peabody Museum)
Traditionally, awls made of bone with a sharpened point were used to puncture holes in leather.

Buffalo Hides and Elk-horn Scrapers

Plains Indian women used elk-horn scrapers to clean the hides of buffalo and other large mammals before they made them into clothes, tipis, robes, bags, and other items.

Scrapers made of elk antlers or bone were important and valued personal tools for Plains Indian women, who used them to scrape the hair and fatty tissue from animal hides before tanning. This elk-horn scraper probably belonged to a Cheyenne woman. The attached metal blade would have made her work easier and faster than a bone edge would have.

Plains women earned prestige in their communities by the quality of their work. The dots and lines carved into the handle of this scraper are tally marks, which record the owner’s major accomplishments, such as the making of a fancy robe. Hide scrapers often became family heirlooms, passed down from one generation of women to the next.

Most dresses required two dressed hides from deer, elk or mountain sheep, while 10 bison hides were needed for a tipi that was 14 feet in diameter.

Knitted Leggings, (precontact) and the needles used to make them, from a mound dig

This is just a small sampling of surprising finds in burial mounds. More will be added as I do more research. Most of these images are from "The Stone Age in North America" By Warren K Moorhead A.M. a free book available for download at Google Books in PDF Form.

Mission Accomplished! I Found Another Vintage Hearthside Dress Form!

Sisters side by side
I have been looking for a second adjustable vintage dress model for some time now, I need to have a dress form for in the Kitchen, (Our Kitchen under canvas that we have at Events).

I plan on doing some sewing while we cook as well as showing and selling a few handmade dresses and other garments I no longer have a use for. We are generally set up far from our living quarters during an Event, so it will save me hauling the form back and forth everyday.

I had been watching ebay and wasn't very pleased with what I saw, most forms were in pretty ugly shape and going for prices and shipping that far exceeded my budget.

We had to make a trip to Minnesota to get our Home on Wheels looked at for warranty purposes, so this put me in striking distance of some of the best Vintage and Antique stores in the Twin Cities.
Making adjustments

We finally ended up in Hopkins MN, a sleepy little berg just outside Minneapolis proper that has some of the best antique and vintage offerings around all within a few blocks of each other.

Every inquiry we made was met with the same answer, nobody had any or they had just sold the last one they had. A couple places had cheap mannequin display props they offered us that were cheap and flimsy, (and all size 4 or so).

We also saw many of those wire hinged types that were sold out of the back of women's magazines that you just slipped into and reshaped the cage around you, (then somehow got out of without warping it out of shape again).

Maybe this would work for someone with a lot of patience, but I never was impressed with something that looked like a torture device that even when properly fitted would be a booger Bear to work with.

What I needed was durability and the ability to adjust the size accuratley. Like the Hearthside size C I already use and love dearly.

Little here and there...
We had already been to several stores and called many others, we were just about to give up when we walked into a little Mom & Pop place called "Auntie Em's" in Hopkins. 

We were met at the door by "Auntie Em" herself and yes, she did have an adjustable  dress form, there it was right next to where she was standing, and it seemed like it was almost jumping up and down like an eager pup at the Pound, saying "Take Me! Take Me!"

I couldn't believe my eyes! it was a Hearthside!

We quickly undressed her and found out to my delight that she was a size B! This was just what I was looking for! And it was in amazing shape!

This was just too good to be true, since I have lost weight and plan on losing a bit more, my size C is actually an inch too large for me in the hips lately...but I know it well enough to make mental adjustments when I stitch something up something on her.

Finally just right!
We were also surprised at the price, lets just say that I didn't have a chance in heck of finding one at this reasonable a price in good condition on ebay and then I would have had to pay shipping too.
We gladly threw down the cash and brought her home, I spent about half an hour adjusting her to my size and was surpized how easily it went, the adjusters were like new!

I then considered making a custom sewn cover for her to cover the gaps, (especially at the waist where the gap is the most troublesome for pinning), but in the end, I just folded paper towels into a long sash which I wrapped neatly around her and then used masking tape to stiffen and secure the toweling to the gap in the dropped waist. I then "borrowed" one of my Husbands T-shirts and slipped it over the form as a covering I can pin to.

I intend on making a custom garment or two for a few of my Lady Friends this Winter in Florida, so it doesn't make sense to make a fancy permanent cover to have to take it all off in just a few months.

Paper towel and masking tape sizing..
All ready to get dressed up and go to work!
Eventually I plan on custom covering both forms with a special quilt I have that has seen better days but I am loath to part with. The quilt is a nice thin summer weight with even padding through out and means a lot to me, so I'll have my girls all dressed up even when they aren't and I'll make it capable of being slipped off if I have a job to do that requires resizing one of them.

I feel very blessed to find the exact dress model I was looking for and in great condition to boot! My husband says it was meant to be and he even named her "Beth"!

He sure has come a long way from grumbling about there not being enough room in the RV for even one dress model, he now knows how happy it makes me to have a project mounted up and ready to work on! He has even done some repairs for me to keep my girls looking and working well. I have a jewel for a husband who supports me in my passion to design and recreate historic clothing and I love him dearly, for it.

Google Library ebooks Available to Kindle Readers through RetroRead Site

There is a new and easy way to download copy write free books from the new Google Library for all of us History types. The site is called Retro Read and It automatically searches google books and presents titles for you to convert and download free of charge.

It's a fantastic site since most of these titles have disapeared into the black hole of the antiquated library system and have now resurfaced to be read, learned from and enjoyed once again.

Expect some problems from the OCR technology that will create odd characters, but to the researcher you just can't get these title any other way, so imperfections can be overlooked. Most titles download with pictures intact and even clickable indexes in some cases.

You have to sign up and you can choose to have the titles sent directly to your kindle or emailed to you so you can just hook up your kindle and drag the titles over to your document folder. The email option is free, kindle charges per megabyte if they send the book for you. (Just take the email route! It's free and easy!)

Here are just a sampling of the few title I have downloaded in just a few days. Feel free to click on the links and check out these great titles for yourself!

Also, if you need a title that is over 8 megabytes, you will have to download a program called "Calibre" and make the conversion yourself. I found I had to do this with a number of books, as well as go back to the google book site and download some books as PDF, as they aren't available in kindle or epub format.

Either way, there is more information available out there that has been sitting undiscovered in dusty libraries for a century, get out there and read these great titles for yourself and learn a little about your passion.

Warren King Moorehead
William Corless Mills
Harlan Ingersoll Smith
Chrysostom Verwyst
Traditions of De-Coo-Dah, and antiquarian researches  *

William Pidgeon
James Macaulay
John Tanner
Clark Wissler
Warren King Moorehead
John Denison Baldwin
Ephraim George Squier
Herbert Welsh
Marie L. McLaughlin
Clark Wissler
William Wentworth Fitzwilliam of Milton
William Henry Giles Kingston
Robert Harry Lowie
Mary Henderson Eastman
Stephen Return Riggs
Edward Duffield Neill
James Peery Schell
Edward Morley Barrows
Edward Duffield Neill
Julius Taylor Clark
George Copway
William Whipple Warren
Alexander Henry
Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology
Alexander Henry
George Bryce
Jonathan Carver
Joseph Alexander Gilfillan
Adolph Oscar Eliason
Minnesota Historical Society
André Pénicaut
Lucius Frederick Hubbard
John Nelson Davidson
Minnesota Historical Society
William Whipple Warren
Charles Augustus Shook
Florida State Historical Society

Ode to "Size C" my Vintage Dress Form

Only a seamstress could understand this...

I found you at a junk shop, dirty and misshapen, all akimbo and leaning precariously to the left.

You were wearing a sad and depressing kerchief dress and looking miserable, you who had bean draped with the best earthen fabrics of yesteryear with graceful and stylish care, humiliated to now stand resignedly as a cheap store dress model with a horrible made in tie dye shift of unknown automated sweat shop origin.

I approached you carefully, darting glances around me to be sure no one was watching, I snatched off your clothes, pulled out my tape measure and found to my pleasure that we were a match.

I hastily redressed you and walked to the front of the store casually past the usual tired, uninterested employee,sitting low behind the counter and reading some garbage book that was more important than any sale or customer service could be and made as if I was about to leave.

As if suddenly struck, I turned and pounced on the unsuspecting clerk with a quick inquiry about the sad looking dress model in the back. The sales person, (and I use that term loosely), didn't even know what I was talking about, after a bit of stern cajoling, I got her to get up and towed her to the item in question.
"Oh yes", she said, "That Dress Model has been here for years and is in pretty bad shape." I hastily agreed and told her that I needed something to put a dress or two on during my upcoming garage sale, (how easily the lies come to me when it really matters....).

I asked her if I could borrow it, which she recoiled in horror at on the suggestion, telling me that my intuition about her being a cash cow was more to my advantage.

Perhaps I could give her something for it....not much, I really don't need it , but I could throw it out after the sale, it being in such bad shape and all...or maybe bring it back if she really liked it so much and she could return my money, with a small rental fee withdrawn, (my mind is racing now, must not give away too much..).

Again she looks at me like I am from another planet and says if she sells it, what would she do with the dress? (An obvious counter play for more money...). I sigh and finger the garment, feigning disgust at it's design (actually, it wasn't pretend at all, millions of polyesters gave their lives for this monstrosity and it showed...).

Finally, after a long pause that said I had changed my mind, she too touched the dress and said, "You know, it's an ugly dress any way it's been on this model for years and no one has even thought of buying it...I'll take $50 bucks for the model, if you take the dress too."

I nearly knocked her down as I tucked it under my arm and made a dash for the door, two twenties and a ten flew across the counter as I slammed out the door.

You don't blink twice on a deal like that, you just run and hope they don't call the cops when they realize they have been taken. I had just made the deal of the century and in honor of that occasion, the dress form rode home leaned back in the passenger seat beside me while I chattered away about how she would never have synthetics brush against her skin again and that I would try to do her honor as her new Seamstress.

She seemed happier already.

You see, this dress model is a rare, fully adjustable size "C", which I happen to know is EXACTLY my size. Many dress forms are made with the bust and waist too high or low for me, "Miss C" as I call her now, is my doppleganger with out further adjustment. She's a pre 60's model, as I am. Her measurements and stature reflect those times, as I do.

We were built for each other in an era when women had size and style and sewed their own fashions while watching Jackie Kennedy play with her kids on the White House lawn and while men walked on the moon in black and white on our roundish snowy screened TV.

She shows a bit of wear here and there, (as I do), but has tirelessly helped me create many dozens of outfits in the past six years I have possessed her.

Then sadly, she spent a winter in storage last year after we downsized and bought our RV to live in full time, my husband had convinced me there was not enough room for her in our new home and I agreed at the time.

You cannot convince me she is not showing off here....
I fretted about her all the time we were in Florida for the season, and I realized that without her, I just couldn't bring myself to sew. Why should I? It would never fit quite right without my stalwart friend to help me so there was just no sense it trying.

What a happy reunion it was when we first open our Aladdin's cave in the Spring, and there was my friend, wrapped in a sheet, sulking in the corner. I didn't even consult with the Hubby, into the truck she went, as he sadly shook his head, (but wisely kept his council), and was installed in a place of honor in our living area, where she resides to this day.

As I am sewing today and she looks on approvingly as I work. Sometime she seems to incline towards me bend a bit as I struggle to slip something on her to help me. Patiently she bears the pricks of thousands of pins as I pinch, pull and tug each garment into shape. I can move boldly and confidently forward in my designs because I know beyond a doubt that if it looks good on her, it will look good on me.

She is my companion at midnight when I am plugging away at a project and my coffee clutch friend when I sit back to admire or criticize and my current work. She seems to know when something just isn't quite right and I swear she leans and turns so I notice it.

I have friends and I have relatives, but I only have one body double who travels everywhere I do and is always ready to try something on at a moments notice. What more can a Seamstress ask for in a Twin Sister? (My real Sister is a jewel and my very best friend, but face it, she is just not my size!).

PS I am currently looking for another twin to use in he tent when we are set up, message me or email me if you have one for sale, we will be in Southern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois over the next month.


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