I’ve been wanting a dressmaker’s mannequin for a while now. I kept putting it off, instead having my boyfriend model things for me so I could make alterations, but he finally got tired of being stuck with pins and when it came time to do very body specific garments, like dresses, I had to resort to trying to tailor things while wearing them. (It’s even more difficult than it sounds). So I started shopping and soon realized that a mannequin was out of this broke girl’s budget. The best deal I could find on one was on Amazon for about $89 (because what can’t you find on Amazon) but most models seemed to run between $230-$300. Ouch! I told myself I’d save up for one, but that money always went to materials and fabric and with my birthday and Christmas after convention season there was no way I would be able to afford one in time. I had exhausted all my ideas.
That was until I heard of a brilliant solution. I was attending an advanced props and costume making panel at MomoCon this past year just trying to keep up with all the different kinds of resins and mold making materials when they mentioned a way to make your own sewing mannequin. And it’s cheap!
A Chick on a Stick, or Duct Tape Dummy, is a great way to have a model to make alterations without busting your budget and it’s so easy.
You will need:
- An old shirt
- a roll or two of heavy duty duct tape
- a friend
- (Optional) PVC Pipe for a stand
Making a stand was something I really needed and I had to be particular so I could hem the length of my dress correctly. Originally I had planned to make the stand out of wood, but luckily I had the good sense to call my boyfriend’s dad in to help me on the project. He immediately suggested using PVC Pipe instead and I have to say it made the process so much easier. We used ¼ inch pipe so that it would be rigid enough to support the torso and costume pieces yet still very lightweight. Here’s the best part though. All you need to do to connect the pipes is buy the proper connector pieces and slide them together like tinker toys. That’s it!
Now of course there is more to properly putting the stand together, but really not much more. First we decided on the configuration we wanted for the base and cut four equal pieces of pipe and slid them into the connectors for the legs, we then cut two small pieces to connect the legs to the main base that will hold the vertical pipe. After all that and sliding in the vertical pole we measured the height so that it came up to my shoulders. we capped it with another connector and attached two horizontal pieces to serve as shoulders for the torso to rest on. An optional step is while you are assembling it to prime the pipes and use PVC cement to glue the pieces together. This makes the whole thing more stable and the pipes won’t slip around under the weight while your working, but if you’re concerned about space you can skip this step and assemble the stand when you need it and it makes the storing it much easier. Even if you decide to cement your stand together it takes about 10 seconds to dry and the entire project of cutting and assembling the stand took about 30 minutes and everything cost just under $20. Good deal if you ask me.
The purple stuff is the primer we used to cement the pipe together. It dries instantly so it won’t get on the costume and we’re planning on spray painting it black to make it look a little nicer, but right now it works and that’s all that matters to me.
So, now that we’ve assemble the stand for our dummy we get to do the fun part. Slip on an old T-shirt that you don’t want anymore (cause you’re not getting it back) and have a friend start encasing you in duct tape. Pretty simple but it does take a while. You want to be sure that the entire shirt and torso is shaped correctly, (and is snug) and you want several layers so that it stays stiff and keeps it shape. Also be sure to use the good stiff tape that comes in the huge rolls (you’ll use it). I started off trying the cheaper stuff and it just didn’t work as well.
I was in my duct tape suit for about 3 hours (however I did have to send someone out for more duct tape halfway through because we ran out) but you could easily finish this up in an hour and half. It’s also a good idea to keep a water bottle handy. While it’s not uncomfortable to be wrapped in tape, it doesn’t breath so you will sweat.
Once you feel you have enough layers, have your friend cut it up the back so you can slide it on and off like a backwards vest. Then you can slip the torso on to your stand and duct tape it back together. If you take it off and feel that it’s not stiff enough or has lost its shape, just put it back on and apply a few more layers.
So for under $30 and a total of an afternoon’s worth of work, I am finally able to start altering my dress to size, but right now that’s an adventure for another day.
35 days to go!