Paper Mache Dress Form?

I have received two requests recently for information on how to make a dress form using paper mache. Dress forms are very expensive, but they make life much easier for someone who sews her own clothes. I came up with sort of an answer – but it’s just a guess. Is there anyone out there who has actually tried to make their own dress form? Did you use paper mache, or did you come up with another solution? If you think you have a better solution, your comments will be much appreciated.

OK, here’s the email I sent to the first person who asked about paper mache dress forms:

The only thing I can think of would be to use a swimsuit that fits really well, but isn’t stretchy. You could stuff it with something soft (newspaper is fairly stiff so it would make little bumps all over it). I use a lot of cellulose insulation in my paper mache projects, and it’s soft enough to completely fill the swimsuit. If you stuffed it in tight enough it should maintain it’s shape, as well.

Cellulose insulation is used in attics and walls during remodeling, and is made out of recycled paper ground up into really small bits. It also has an antifungal agent, perhaps borax, to keep it from getting moldy. The ground up paper is a little dusty, which isn’t good for the lungs, but I use it in small quantities in my DIY instant paper mache and other projects around the house.

For a project the size of yours, where you might need most of a package, a face mask would be absolutely essential to keep the dust out of your lungs. A package is kind of big, perhaps 18″ x 24″, and fluffs up to 40 square feet when it’s used as insulation. Home Depot charges $12.65 for the bag. You would probably want to squash it in pretty tight, but one bag would still be plenty.

However, old rags would work just as well, or anything that doesn’t cause your dress form to have weird bumps where they don’t belong. You can paper mache over fabric. Just two or three layers would make a nice smooth, hard surface that would be easy to pin into.

You’d also need to sew something across the neck and arms to keep the stuffing from getting out.

I honestly don’t know if this would work or not. If you have an old swimsuit that you don’t use any more could give it a try, I suppose.

Thanks for giving my brain a little puzzle to work on! And good luck.

32 thoughts on “Paper Mache Dress Form?”

  1. how do u make the body because i am totally confused i am in year 6 and for my homework i need to make a paper mache model of a body and put an Indonesian dress on it i am already behind and i am letting my group down do you have any pointers for me please this is urgent today is the queens birthday so i am not sure there is going to be much shops open but anyway i could really do with some professional advice plz

  2. how do u make the body because i am totally confused i am in year 6 and for my homework i need to make a paper mache model of a body and put and Indonesian dress on it i am already behind and i am letting my group down to you have any pointers for me please this is urgent today is the queens birthday so i am not sure there is going to be much shops open but anyway i could really do with some professional advice please

  3. I’m new to this site, and I know this is an old post, but I ran across something similar to this question. http://www.ehow.com/how_7852623_paper-mache-human-figure.html Long story short, they made the mold out of duct tape, using aluminum foil to keep it from sticking to anything, and then did paper mache in that mold. I haven’t tried it myself, and they don’t include any pictures, but it seems like, aside from wrinkles in the foil, it would work quite well.

  4. I tried to make a dress form out of duct tape, but it was two sizes too large. My husband wrapped me too loosely, and the US Open was on TV; double whammy. That form was filled with insulating foam. Next I will have him wrap me with the old-stlye brown paper mailing tape; the kind that needs to be moistened prior to application. Two advantages: you can pre-cut the pieces to save time, and once dry it will hold its shape and not require stuffing. Of course, I will wear a long, tight t-shirt so the tape sticks to it and not to me. The downside is that the tape needs to dry before you cut it. I have heard of using a hair dryer to speed the drying.

  5. Hello all,
    I don’t know if anyone is still wondering about making dress forms. I am a high school theater teacher and I had a very inventive mom help me with making costumes for “The Importance of Being Earnest” from old patterns from 19th century fashion plates. She came up with an extremely inventive way to make a dress form that could possibly be covered by paper mache as a final step.
    What she did was she had all of my students put on plain white t-shirts ($5 max at walmart) then we systematically wrapped their torsos’ in duct tape. We made sure that we taped well across the shoulders nearly down to mid-arm and across the chest , as well as making sure to get the girls busts as close (without cutting off breathing) and smooth as we could. Then we drew three horizontal lines across the back, top middle and bottom, then cut the whole thing straight up the back. She then took them home, lined up the lines we had cut, taped the back together and stuffed them with newspaper I believe (though I am sure you could use anything you wanted.
    The dress forms worked great and the dresses she made needed very little altering. I am sure you could cover this form with paper mache to make a longer lasting and more durable dress form.

  6. As I started reading all of these posts, I was so happy to find that I actually have some wonderfully helpful answers to quite a few of the mannequin questions since I’m working on one myself right now.
    First, if u want a mannequin to use as a dress form to make clothing for yourself, there is an easy way to make one the EXACT size of your own shape, but u will need someone to help you with this. Here is a link for instructions: http://www.littlepinkmonster.com/2009/08/30/duct-tape-dress-form-tutorial/
    Here are also two YouTube links for instructional videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs8B4mRVeXU -and- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKZ0PGx3WQ
    Good luck, and I hope they help out!
    AS FOR DECORATIVE PURPOSES… I make & sell corseted mannequins for decorative purposes, but with the economy so bad, I needed to find a way to bring costs down to appeal to more consumers, so I decided to try making the mannequin body from paper mache. I invested in some low cost inflatable mannequins, and I used paper towel & masking tape to enhance their shape the way I wanted it to look. I am now getting ready to cover it with the paper mache clay recipie I found here. Once it dries, I’ll cover it with the gesso recipe and sand accordingly. Then when it’s all done, I’ll design the corset using speciality papers, ribbons, rhinestones, etc, and VOILA! I’ve just saved myself – and consumers – a minimum of $100.
    The inflatable mannequins will be ideal because the come in different sizes & sexes, and they can be put on a stand, or they can be hung from the ceiling. They would also be great to use for holloween characters. I was able to buy the inflatable mannequins for a great price on eBay from torsforms. It was definitely a huge money saver.
    I hope this was helpful, and I wish you well on all of your projects!

    • What a great idea for the people who would like to make figure sculptures in paper mache. Would you have any interest in doing a guest post for us, showing how you make your mannequins? Unless you’d rather not give away all your secrets, of course. And do you have a website where you sell them?

  7. Hi all,

    I, too, have been thinking about making a full-sized dress form – but purely for decorative purposes. I saw an article in the magazine, Mary Janes Farm, on page 16 (Feb./Mar edition) just today! They have a couple of beautiful forms that were made from everyday items. They suggest thinking outside the box and looking for things like appropriately shaped – bottles, lamp bases, etc. You could duct tape it all together and then paper mache’. You can look at the above mentioned forms at http://www.etsy.com/people/missmollycottage/feedback
    She’s sold a bunch of them!!! Good luck!

  8. hi! my name is Lisha and i am currently a high school student, im not really an artist but for a major project i am doing i would like to know if it is possiable to replicate a simple womens body out of chicken wire and maybe an old bra? those are my basic ideas but some inspiration and advice would be very much appreciated!

    thank you!


  9. hey!

    i think my sculpture just developed mold out of nowhere… it seems to be only in the little rock-solid balls of white glue… i had mixed flour, glue and water as a paste. really, a dash of glue. i’ve spent 2 months working on this. and so much money. i don’t know what to do. it was supposed to be given away next week. someone is waiting for it. is there ANYTHING i can do other than throwing it away??? i am so confused, why is it molding on the outside??? when i cut those little lumps off, there is no mold underneath. i thought when sculptures mold it happens from the inside. please help! any advise is so greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Barbie. This sounds very strange. Is your sculpture dry all the way through? If so, and if the mold is only on the outside (what brand of glue did you use, by the way?) then you should be able to kill it by mixing up a weak solution of chlorine bleach and water, and lightly dampening a sponge with the solution. Dab the sponge on the moldy areas to kill it (or just shave off the mold, if that would be easier), dry thoroughly and fast (put it outside in the sun or in front of a fan) and then, when completely, absolutely dry you can seal it with acrylic varnish or polyurethane. If the mold can’t get in, there should be no further problems.

      I don’t know where you live, but here in our area we’ve had way more rain and humidity than I’ve ever remembered. I’m being especially careful to dry my sculptures quickly, and then seal them up so they won’t get damp again just sitting in the air. If that happened, the mold would sit on the outside of the sculpture, like it does on bathroom walls when the ventilation system isn’t working correctly.

      Good luck – please let us know how it turns out.

  10. I have a quick question…off the dressform topic….I want to make a curved sculpture to hang on the wall. I’ve built a form already and am ready to put on the paper mache, but my end result isn’t the end. I want to then cover this with some hand dyed and quilted fabric. I’m wondering if the flour paste recipe will eventually rot? I know I have to let it dry thoroughly, and I was thinking of then covering it in just watered down white glue to seal it, but is that enough?
    Oh, and I adore your little bluebirds. Really cute!

    • Hi Mandi. There should be no problem with rot if the sculpture does not get wet. I have paper mache items that I made years ago. Fungi cannot live without water, and it’s fungi of one sort or another that causes paper and paste to rot.

      Good luck with your project. It sounds interesting!

  11. There is an article in Threads, I think, on how to do this. But it’s basically wrapping the person who the dressform is for (you need someone to do this for yourself) in a brown paper tape. I think the paper tape is somehow dampened as this is being done so it will mold to the body shape. I’m pretty sure this is repeated a couple of times and then carefully cut apart on each side, removed, and then taped back together.

  12. My mother, who passed away 10 years ago, had a dressform made from papier mache in the 1930s-1940s. If memory serves, there was some kind of fine armature – perhaps a hardware cloth? – embedded in the pulp, which made it very strong (lasted 50+ years!) – and was covered with a stretchy knit fabric, that seemed well tacked to the form.The fabric allowed her to pin pieces of pattern, fabric, etc to the form. I remember her saying that she wore something like a long undershirt, and the form was molded to her standing body, from neckline to mid-hip. She said that it took hours to do, and was very hot and uncomfortable. My mother was a master seamstress, and used this form all her life, but I wonder if anyone these days would have the patience to put up with this long process!

    • Now that you mention it, I seem to recall seeing an article many years ago about this subject. I believe the wire used was of a type that you could easily form over a body. The wire was probably done in two sections, a front and a back, so the form could be removed. I’m getting kind of old, so my memory of this may be faulty. I even seem to remember little hinges on the sides, so maybe what I’m thinking of was a temporary form, or a wire material that was sold to folks who wanted to make their own forms.

      As my dad and other visitors have mentioned, the paper mache would have to be applied to the inside of the form to keep it from getting too big, with perhaps one layer on the outside over the wire. I did an online search over at Blick Art Supply, and found “Amaco Wireform Mesh”. The Gallery Mesh would probably work really well for dress forms, as long as you have someone to help you form it. It’s expandable, like the wire mesh I think I remember from that article. It looks like you get three 16′ x 20′ sheets of the mesh for less than $8, so the completed dress form would be very inexpensive, compared to the custom-made type. It might be an interesting theme for a small craft party – get together with other people who sew and you could all help each other form the mesh.

  13. Interesting idea, but how bout some smaller (just for decorative purposes) size dress forms. Like slightly larger than a Barbie or Bratz doll size?
    I love love love your work and would like to see some of your brilliant ideas for a small dress form. 🙂

    • Hi Rain. Your tiny paper mache dress forms would be a basic female torso – a very popular subject for sculptors. I think one reason they’re so popular is that you leave out the difficult bits – the head, hands and legs – but you still have a very recognizable human form.

      I will keep this idea in mind – you may soon see a tutorial on modeling a female figure with paper mache on this site!

    • You’re right – my initial idea would probably make a form that was too big. My dad actually called me this afternoon to point that out, and as usual, he was right.

      I followed your link and found that they also give instructions for making a paper mache dress form, using the paper pulp method. It looked like a very workable idea, although I would probably use paper strips instead, simply because they dry faster and you have less opportunity for mold to set in. But the thickness of the pulp would be a big advantage in making the form stiff. If you try the paper pulp idea, you might want to use the cellulose insulation that I mentioned in my original post, because it contains anti-fungal stuff – then you could use flour and water paste, which is much less expensive than wallpaper paste.

      All in all, I think the threadsmagazine.com folks appear to know what they’re doing, and I obviously don’t…


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