Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fabulous Fit Dress Form Review, Part One: Great System, But I Ordered the Wrong Size

I have made up my mind, rather recently, that I am going to learn to sew clothing that fits me properly. After years of frustrating shopping trips, trying on stacks of clothing in fitting rooms and coming home with only very stretchy knits or very formless, oversized styles and then hating everything in my closet, I have finally decided to put in the time to learn the techniques of garment sewing -- and, crucially, learning how to adjust commercial patterns for a custom fit.  I believe we can all look better and feel better in our clothing when it fits us properly, regardless of our various sizes and shapes. 

So last Spring, just before my bicycle accident, I signed up for a slew of fitting classes at the Atlanta Sewing & Quilting Expo.  One of the seminars I attended was Joe Vecchiarelli's Dress Form Fitting class, where he demonstrated how to pad a standard dress form to match the unique size AND shape of the person for whom you are sewing. 

Joe Vecchiarelli Customizing a Dress Form

Joe asked for a volunteer who didn't mind having her measurements called out for everyone to hear, so I raised my hand to be the guinea pig.  He used a polyester batting (shown in the photo above) in areas where he wanted to add width all the way around the dress form, along with contoured pads from Fabulous Fit where he needed to add curves to specific areas such as shoulders, bust, an upper back Dowager's hump, tummy, thighs, etc. 

With this system, you order a non-adjustable dress form according to your SMALLEST horizontal body measurement, and then pad up the areas where you need to make it larger.  You can use the Fabulous Fit pads with any company's dress form to achieve a more custom fit, and you can easily add or remove pads or shift their positioning on the dress form as your figure changes over time, or if you are sewing for people of various sizes and shapes.

Dritz Adjustable Dress Form
This system has several advantages over the more common adjustable dress forms that are widely available.  First, the custom padded dress form is completely pinnable for draping, whereas the adjustable dress forms have gaps the size of the Grand Canyon once the measurements are dialed out.  Second, when you adjust the bust dial on an adjustable dress form for a larger bust, it doesn't just increase the bust -- it increases the upper chest and back as well.  Third, although you can increase and decrease the width of an adjustable dress form at key points such as the bust, waist and hips, you cannot raise or lower those positions to reflect a petite or tall torso, or a lower bust line.  So even though you may be able to set the dials on an adjustable dress form to match your measurements at the bust, waist, and hips, the dress form won't help you much if her bust line is too high or if she has a wide, FLAT tummy and you have a narrow, ROUNDED tummy.  The whole point of a dress form is to approximate your body (or your customer or fit model's body, if you sew professionally) as closely as possible, so it makes sense to look for a dress form that can mimic the body's contours as closely as possible.

The area where I personally have the most fitting issues is the upper chest and shoulders.  I have a narrow frame with broad, square shoulders, coupled with a larger bust that is hell-bent on going to visit my belly button thanks to gravity, the passage of time, and Childbirth Wreckage.  So any time I try on a readymade fitted dress or blouse in a store, I get horrible horizontal wrinkles across the bust line and buttons straining, threatening to pop off and take someone's eye out, but if I go up enough sizes to fit the bust, I find that I am swimming in an ocean of excess fabric through the upper chest and back and I look like I am wearing a sack.  The side seams generally pull towards the front as well, because size large and extra-large assumes that one is bigger all the way around, not just in the front.  What's more, now that I have been dragged (reluctantly, kicking and screaming) into my forties, I find that I have NEW curves to contend with below the waistline: a tummy bulge that refuses to go away no matter how much I exercise and a bit more padding on my thighs and caboose. 

So I ordered my Fabulous Fit Studio Dress Form back in November, when I was working on my Victorian Christmas caroling costume.  I ordered a size 10, which was the size dress form that Joe recommended for me in his seminar based on my bust, waist, and hip measurements, which are between 1-2" larger than the dimensions of the size 10 form.  I was so frantic about getting that caroling costume done and then got caught up in the holiday rush, so I didn't get around to trying to customize the form to match my body until last week.

With the Fabulous Fit dress form system, you begin by stretching a tight-fitting knit fabric cover over your dress form from top to bottom, inserting padding between the dress form and the cover at key points as you go.  I started by adding shoulder pads to my dress form and then used the bust pads along with contour pads to increase the bust dimension and lower the bust line.  As I positioned these pads, I checked to be sure that the bust span matched mine (wider than the dress form's) as well as the bust height (lower than the dress form's). 

In unflattering photo above (deliberately NOT holding in my tummy) it looks like I lowered the bust line too much, but in reality it's pretty much spot-on.  Note that you can ONLY successfully lower the bust line if your dress form's bust is SMALLER than yours initially, because you lower the bust by placing the bust pads just beneath the fullest part of the dress form's bust, and this automatically adds to the bust dimension.  You can raise or lower the waist line in the same way to create a petite or tall torso, as long as the dress form's waist line is smaller than yours, by erasing her waistline with pads and creating a new waistline in the correct position to match your body.  So far, so good, or so I thought. 

At this point in the process, I took the mannequin's upper chest measurement (above the bust, under the armpits) and discovered that she measured close to 36" there, whereas I am only 33 1/2" in the upper chest.  Ugh!  I hadn't added any padding to the dress form in this area, so there was no way for me to make it any smaller.  Worse than the upper chest discrepancy was the dress form's shape below the waist line, however.  Yes, the waist and hip measurements of the dress form are between 1-2" smaller than my measurements, but as you can see, she has a totally FLAT tummy and no derriere, whereas my body has definite rounded protrusions in these areas.  When I put the contoured Fabulous Fit foam pads on the dress form in the correct areas to mimic those curves, her overall hip measurement grew to several inches LARGER than mine.  That was when I realized that the size 10 dress form was just not going to work for me at all.

Rear View, Me and the Size 10 Dress Form
I know you can't really see my behind very well in the black pants (this is by design!), but you can definitely see that the dress form isn't narrow enough in the under bust area and although her butt is too flat, her hips are too wide and the small of her back is not as concave as mine.  This is why the waistline of my jeans always gaps at the back.  Looking at this picture now, I see that I made the dress form's shoulders too square with those shoulder pads, so I will need to correct that to match the true angle of my shoulders.  (And yes, I AM standing straight in that photo; I have a crooked body and one of my shoulders is higher than the other). 

I spoke with Customer Service at Fabulous Fit and they agreed to exchange my dress form for a smaller size.  I sent them my measurements along with photos from all angles so they could get a better idea of why the size 10 form wasn't working for me, and they recommended that I go with a size 6 dress form and with additional padding for the bust area.  Their size 6 dress form measures 33 5/8" in the upper chest, where I measure 33 1/2", which is pretty darned close.  That way she'll be small enough in the upper chest, back, and waist, and I should be able to give her a rounded, mommy-loves-chocolate-tummy and a rounded caboose without her waist and hip dimensions ending up too large. 

Meanwhile, the moral of this story is that you can only make a dress form LARGER with pads, not smaller.  If you're in doubt about which size dress form to order, go with the SMALLER size.  Take ALL of your measurements, not just the bust, waist, and hips, and choose the SMALLEST dress form size that corresponds to at least one of your measurements.  If you are bigger than a B or C bra cup, your upper chest measurement is probably the one to go with.  If you need to lower the bust line for a more mature, gravity-affected silhouette as so many of us do, then it's even more important that the dress form's bust measures several inches smaller than yours.  Another way to think of this is that the dress form needs to match your skeletal frame because we all carry our weight differently.  If you are slender with a narrow rib cage and you gain 20 or 30 pounds, your horizontal dimensions increase but your underlying bone structure remains the same.  As long as your dress form matches your skeletal frame you can always add padding wherever it's needed to match your changing silhouette and the unique distribution of your body weight, but if the dress form isn't small enough to begin with you have no room to add your personal bumps and bulges.

I do like this dress form system so far.  Even though it turned out that the size 10 dress form won't match my body, I can see that the Fabulous Fit pads on a smaller form are going to enable me to mimic my shape much more accurately than any adjustable dress form could ever do.  And yes, I know that I could have a custom dress form made to match my measurements for a small fortune, but what if I finally lose a few pounds, or gain a few more?  I am aware of the low-cost DIY duct tape dress forms that were featured in Threads magazine a few years ago, but I wanted something with a sturdy base that wouldn't knock over, something that would look nice in my studio when it's not in use.  I also didn't want to be sticking pins through duct tape, looking at duct tape, or trying to drape fabric on a slippery duct tape surface.  I'm looking forward to trying this process again with the Fabulous Fit pads once I receive the smaller dress form, and I'll be sure to do a follow-up post to let you know how that works out.

Do you use a dress form?  If so, which kind?  Have you used Fabulous Fit pads or any other system to customize your dress form to your own size and shape?  Let me know what did and didn't work for you in the comments. Happy Stitching!