M'Lady: How to Make a Custom Dress Form

My friend Anastasia is really into sewing. We wanted to be able to create our own dress forms, custom to our unique bodies. Or... just have a cool body bust to freak our friends out at parties.

We followed these amazing, very detailed instructions, but learned a lot on the way. The main difference was using Smooth-On expanding foam instead of the spray insulation foam. This made our end results much nicer. I've recreated our process here.

This takes a couple of really intense weekends, if you get it right the first time. We had to go back and redo the foaming part, since the initial spray foam method failed. Fortunately, our casts weren't totally destroyed after the first time and we could re-use them. The cast was completely destroyed after the second time around.

This is impossible to do without the help of a friend. It helps to have someone that you are really comfortable with, since the plaster part of this can get pretty intimate, and will take a good hour or two. Be very careful about where you do this. While the plaster is drying to your body, breathing becomes difficult, it's entirely possible to get dizzy and pass out. Do not do this step standing up.

Materials & Tools:

A basic coat rack
- Latex or rubber gloves
- Safety goggles
- Dust mask
- Dremel
- Hacksaw
- 1 gallon Smooth-On Foam It! 5 (recommended) or expanding closed-cell insulation foam (not recommended)
- X-acto knife
- Batting
- Panty hose
- 1 meter of plain canvas or muslin

- 6-8 rolls of plaster bandages
- A wide brim bowl with warm water
- A small pillow you don't mind getting dirty
- A small stool, or something short to hold on to
- Vaseline, a lot of it
- Cellophane
- Scissors (craft & fabric)
- Strong thread or twine
- An old paint brush
- Large binder clips
- Thin cardboard or thick cardstock paper
- A bra and panties that you don't mind cutting off
- Newspaper or a large drop cloth
- A friend you are very comfortable with


Step 1: Prep & Plaster

Cut your plaster bandages into multiple strips ranging in size (3", 6", 9", and 12"). Lay down your newspaper or drop cloth, arrange your strips within reach, and fill your bowl with lukewarm water.

Cover your skin with lotion or vaseline where you'll be applying the plaster. Tie your hair up. Get down to your skivvies (old undies & bra if necessary). Kneel down on a pillow and hold onto something (a small step stool, the wall, anything that won't easily move or crack your head open if you fall). 

Stay as still as possible and remember to breathe. It's best to exhale fully while covering the belly, and inhale while covering the chest. Don't suck your belly in, your body is beautiful. Keep a glass of water with a straw nearby, and a window open or a fan on with a nice breeze.

Have your friend begin wetting the plaster strips in the bowl of water, and run their fingers down the strip to shake off excess water. They will then apply the strips to your body, one by one, smoothing them out to avoid any wrinkles. 

Start with the big strips at the hips. We worked from just below the bum (where a mini skirt might fall) all the way up to the top of the neck. Include the tops of your shoulders, but not necessarily underneath the armpits. Make sure the strips are overlapping each other slightly, and make two layers of strips while the first layer is still wet.

Wait until the plaster is completely dry all around (1/2 - 1 hour) before cutting the mold off. Before cutting, make straight pencil or pen marks at various points along the side of the cast, to make it easy to line up and stick back together.

Use fabric or bandage scissors to cut along the right and left sides of the cast, separating your cast into a front & back half. You'll have to cut off all of your undergarments, since they're likely stuck to the plaster. Lay the halves down on your covered floor, and prop up the sides with various tools or bottles.

Take a shower, buy your friend a drink.

Step 2: Seal Your Cast

Let the cast dry overnight. Cover the inside of your front & back halves with polyurethane varnish, shellac, vaseline & cellophane, or other sealant. This will prevent the foam from sticking to your cast too much, making it easier to pop off.

Once the sealant has dried, line up the pieces with the pencil marks you made earlier. Clip the sides of the cast together with binder clips, tie the mold together with twine or string, or sew the halves together.

Using more wet plaster strips, cover the gaps where the two form halves meet to seal it up. Seal any other gaps or thin layers with the plaster strips. 

Stand your coat rack up next to you, remove the top hangers so that it's just a pole, and position the cast so that your shoulders line up. You ideally want your form to be the same height as you. Mark where your cast falls at the bottom and top of the coat rack. If it's too tall, you may need to saw down the top of the coat rack. Be sure that your cut matches the angle of or is smaller than your neck hole.

Trim the edges where your arms and neck go, and cap them off with at least two layers of flat plaster strips. Remove the binder clips and twine as you go. Leave the bottom part (where your legs go) of the cast open.

Step 3: Create the Mold

#fail This is what the spray foam looks like. I recommend not doing this.

#fail No good, lumpy spray foam.

#success Ahh the Smooth-On. So much nicer.

Turn your form upside down, and place the appropriately re-sized coat rack down the middle of your cast. The coat rack we got was able to unscrew from the base, making it easier to maneuver. Safety up with goggles and gloves.

Grab your Smooth-On foam and follow the instructions for creating the proper mixture and begin filling the cast. Go slowly, making small layers and allowing the foam to take a few minutes to rise. Swish the foam around all the way to the edges of the cast. Keep the coatrack still and centered. Watch for any disastrous holes or spillages. Slowly let the foam rise to the top of your form, without going over.

Smooth-On works way better than spray foam, since it covers all of the gaps and doesn't leave brainy looking edges. Again, it's slightly more expensive, but it's way faster and you'll get a much smoother result. 

Let the foam cure for a day or so.

Step 4: Cut Off Your Cast

Begin cutting away at the edges that you diligently sealed up before foaming. Depending on how much sealant you used, the cast may be difficult to get off. Use a dremel, hack saw, scissors, a paint chisel, or anything to get the cast off. You'll most likely destroy your plaster cast in the process. Just be sure not to damage the foam underneath.

Sand down or cut off any extraneous bits of foam that aren't smooth. Build back up any areas which may need extra foam using the bits that you may have cut off. Don't go too crazy, you just want it to not be lumpy or misshapen.

Step 5: Cover with Canvas

I actually skipped these last couple steps and left my form with the plaster on it. Gives it a more sculpted feel. Anastasia finished hers and it looks amazing. These steps are listed from the tutorial mentioned earlier. You'll definitely need some sewing skills for this part.

Optional: Pin a layer of batting to your form. You can secure the batting by wrapping your form with pantyhose if you'd like, or you can cut and sew the batting into the canvas as you go. This removes any lumpiness and makes your form softer.

Cut your canvas into 8 pieces: 2 center front pieces, 2 center back pieces, and princess-seamed front and back side pieces. Drape the canvas directly on the mounted form to cut your pattern. Allow for a wide overlapping seam. Sew each piece together, cross-checking and adjusting it with the form as you go. Leave the center back seam open for now.

Once all of the seams (except for the center back) have been sewed, iron the seams and smooth out any wrinkles. Pin the cover to the form and use scrap fabric to cut the sleeves and neck. Sew the sleeves and neck piece.

Once everything looks good, pin the two center back panels. Sew together with small whip-stitches. Cover, pin, and sew the underside of the arms. Turn your form upside down and pin the bottom of the cover to the form. Cover, pin, and sew. Do the same for the neck hole. 

Grab a drink and celebrate your new custom-made dress form.