Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How To: Make a Duct Tape Mannequin

There are always rumors flying about concerning the feasibility of making duct tape mannequins for dress forms. The reports are usually mixed and sketchy because no one actually knows anyone who’s done it. More often it’s someone in your friend’s aunt’s neighbor’s third cousin’s sewing circle who knows someone who’s done it.
No more! Inspired by one of those anecdotal pieces on the last page of Threads magazine, my husband and I made two, because the first one didn’t work. The first time around we used the wrong kind of filler (spray foam insulation… hey, it could’ve worked!) and the wrong taping technique. In the article, which was by no means a how-to, they put their new selves over their outgrown forms, plus padding. But I didn’t have one to start with, so this is how to make the whole thing, stand and all.

I am really happy to have her, and it’s amazing how much like me she is, just a little bigger. I have to drape things a bit tighter on her than I was used to with industrial forms.

it’s cheaper than buying one,
it captures your fitting irregularities in a way none other can for the cost, and
for a little girl like me, it’s actually small enough, yet has hips unlike children’s forms.

it’s hard to pin into, so I drape with tape now, which is another set of challenges,
the process is not for the exceedingly claustrophobic,
it’s labor-intensive, and
height is not adjustable with how I’ve done it.


  • 1 patient friend or spouse you trust to cut next to your skin along your spine!

  • 1 long, tight, disposable crew neck T-shirt or leotard,

  • 2-3 rolls duct tape,

  • 1 permanent marker,

  • French curve and ruler,

  • A piece of drafting paper or scrap paper,

  • A length of wood dowel shower curtain rod 3 times the desired height of your mannequin,

  • 1 2x4 board,

  • 1 wide pine board to cut the base, arm, and neck plates from,

  • 1 bag cedar chip hamster bedding,

  • staple gun,

  • appropriate saws,

  • level,

  • screws,

  • drill,

  • wood glue, and

  • rubber bands.
Wrap technique:
After trying several methods, my husband discovered that it was easiest and smoothest for him to cut approx. 6” strips and plaster me up by layering them. All of my fancy design-school draping methods take too long, and time is of essence! Wrapping the tape mummy-style makes odd bumps.


  1. Cut the dowel rod into 3 lengths that will make your mannequin the desired height. Mine are 35” apiece. Glue them together along their length and rubber-band them to hold until the glue dries. Triple-check to make sure they will be level on the ground and base plate. Set aside.

  2. Wearing your T-shirt, mark the lines you want for your neck and armholes, or use the T’s seams if you find them to be in appropriate places. Your neckline should come to the hollow of your throat in the front and the knob at the base of your neck in the back. The armholes should be tight underneath, and come to the outermost point of the shoulder on top.

  3. Begin wrapping smoothly using the wrap technique listed above. Start below the breasts and work your way down the torso to just below the buttocks, the widest-girthed point. The person being wrapped needs to stand with weight evenly distributed and knees unlocked. She should breath from the diaphragm or hold her breath for about an 45 minutes to an hour. It creates a little tummy pooch, but breathing is more important now and when you wear the clothes later. No sucking in! You will need to put 3-4 layers of tape on. To keep track of how many layers have been put on, use your marker to scribble and graffiti each layer and then cover it up with your next layer of tape. Define the bust area well as it is easy to flatten it with tape.

  4. Take a commemorative picture!

  5. Check for weak spots by pressing and tapping. Use more tape if you need to. This baby needs to stand on it’s own.

  6. Mark the apex of each breast, the belly button, the center of the clavicle, and the center back with marker.

  7. Lay the wrapped person face down on a bed or something soft. The wrapper will cut down the center of the back bottom to top, or whatever is easiest. Be careful.

  8. Once the shell is off, carefully trim away excess tape from lower edge, armoles, and neck. Tape the center back closed.

  9. Trace the armholes and lower aperture onto paper. For the armholes, trace them off and compare them one on top of the other. Hopefully most of the lines will be similar. Using your good judgment, ruler, and French curve, “true” your lines: where the lines diverge, find the middle between the two and put your new line there. Your goal is to make both of your arm plates the same. For the base plate, divide your traced oval into quadrants, left front, left back, right front, and right back. As you did with the armholes, compare the sides and true the lines to make the whole plate a standard size. The front edges should be mirror images of each other, and the back edges will be mirror images, but the front and back will not be reflections of each other. Create a neck for your mannequin by draping with paper or fabric. This is the trickiest part because I can’t give you instructions! Once you’ve made a neck that fits, cover it in duct tape. Trace the top of the neck hole off, and true once again. Fit the neck into your form’s neck hole and tape it on.

  10. Use the trued armhole, base plate, and neck hole patterns to cut these pieces out of wood. It is possible that you might be able to get away with cardboard for the arms and neck, but the base absolutely has to be sturdy.

  11. Cut the 2x4 into 3 pieces 18” long. Mine have a triangle cut out of the upper outer edge of each as well.

  12. When your dowel rods are dry, screw them into the bottom center of the base plate from above. Screw each 2x4 section into the rods to make feet, constantly checking to keep it level!

  13. Slip the duct tape form over the base plate. It should be quite tight. Make sure she’s standing straight, then staple the duct tape to the wood securely.

  14. Stuff the mannequin with hamster bedding carefully and tightly so that it neither bulges nor buckles.

  15. As you reach the armholes, staple them in. Fill her up to the top, and staple in your neck plate.

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