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Pad a Dress Form to Your True Body Shape

Learn these tips to pad a dress form to your body's true contours.

Dress forms have lovely firm shapes, with perfectly lifted breasts—which is wonderful if you have a similar build. However, they are not like real bodies, especially those with any extra body weight.

When making custom clothing for clients, I realized I needed to add padding and shape the dress form to something that was closer to a human shape. If the client had a large bust, I would ask for one of her bras to put on the form, then stuff the cups with fiberfill batting. Still, I was unhappy with the shape and weight. Real breasts usually have some weight to them. I added dry beans with the padding and achieved a more realistic shape. Fitting on a rigid dress form, even if it is the exact shape as the body, is misleading: The firm breasts on the form don’t need support, unlike the bustline of most human women.

Another issue is that few women are the same size as a dress from. Most women have different sized bottoms and tops. Usually women buy a form to fit their shoulders and bust. It is easy to pad the bottom of the form to a shape that resembles your own, even simply adding some volume to the waist.


  • Paper and pencil
  • Clear plastic wrap (I prefer the type that sticks to itself, like Glad Press’n Seal)
  • 4 cups dry beans (small legumes, like lentils, work best), rice, or unpopped popcorn (More may be needed if you are large-busted, or large bellied.)
  • Bonded batting (If you are only one or two sizes larger on the bottom, a crib-size quilt bat should be enough. If you are four sizes bigger on the bottom, you will likely use a twin-size bat.)
  • Small bag pillow stuffing, to fill the cups of a bra or add volume to the belly and derrière areas

Pad Your Dress Form

Measure yourself

Take your measurements, in a well-fitting bra with cups, not a sports bra. Remember to take more than just your full-bust circumference. Measure across your back, side seam to side seam, and across your bust, side seam to side seam. This is particularly important if you are full busted. Your front measurement will be larger than your back measurement. Measure your waist, and high and low hip. Again, measure the front and the back of your body, side seam to side seam. If you have a belly, your front high hip will be larger than the back high hip.

Shape the bust

humanize the dress form shape the bust 1

For a body with a bigger bust than the dress form: Put one of your own bras on the dress form. Pin the lower edge of the bra band to the form to anchor it and support the weight of the padding.

humanize the dress form shape the bust 2

Make several pancakes of dry beans secured between two layers of self-sticking plastic wrap; make them in graduated sizes so you can layer then to form dimensional mounds.

Cut some circles of batting and alternate layers of beans and batting until the cups are full. You can use bits of fluffy stuffing to smooth the contours of the bra cups. Notice how the dry beans give shape to the bra, much like a human breast. You can take photos of your own torso, with front, back and side views, so you have a better understanding of your own unique breast shape. Add more dry beans if you need to angle the breasts on the dress form toward the floor.

humanize the dress form shape the bust 3

You can spend a long time creating a close replica of your body, or you can just make the dress form similar to your own body.

Shape the lower torso

humanize the dress form shape the torso 1

To add volume to the waist, hips and belly: Cut circles from the bonded batting. Cut several in smaller shapes to pile up to make belly or buttock shapes.

humanize the dress form shape the torso 2

Wrap plastic wrap around the form so it clings to itself.

humanize the dress form shape the torso 3

Now add a piece of batting or a couple of pieces at a time, wrapping with plastic wrap to hold the layers in place. Add a few banana-shaped rolls of dry beans.

humanize the dress form shape the torso 4

Bellies and buttocks typically have a drape to them.

Measure after every few layers to see how close you are to your measurements. I don’t cut the plastic wrap, I just keep wrapping in one continuous piece. To define areas, you can twist the plastic wrap into a thin rope shape, and wrap the “rope” around the body to define the waist, love handles, or derrière.

humanize the dress form shape the torso 5

If you have padded the body and it is too big, you can simply add a couple of tight layers of plastic wrap to make it smaller.

Working with your customized dress form

To sew flattering garments you really need to understand your body shape, and just taking the time to pad your dress form will help you understand your true body type.

customized dress form

It is invaluable to have a dress form similar to your own body.

The plastic-wrapped dress form allows clothing to hang freely on the form as it is slippery, and it can easily be pinned. If you tear the plastic wrap, simply add a few more layers to patch it. This is why I like the plastic wrap that sticks to itself.

Tip: Enlist the help of a friend to build your padded dress form, and to take some reference photos of your body from the front, side, and back.

Do you customize your dress forms? If so, what techniques do you use? Will you try any of the ones I’ve demonstrated? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


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  1. sewpeds | | #1

    I have used a less permanent method because I share the dress form with my daughter, who has similar height but different curves. I use my collection of shoulder pads saved from clothes of the 80's. They can fill a bra easily or re-create a swimmer's muscular shoulders. Pads with a straight edge at the shoulder seam placed horizontally wrap nicely just below and behind the arms to expand the body circumference at the low bust line and mid-back, but taper toward the waist. I wrap batting fleece around the waist as needed, and cover the torso with a stretchy snug old cami. The fleece can shift,though, so I like the plastic wrap idea.

  2. User avater
    MorningRose | | #2

    Wonderful looking body double with little effort. I will definitely try this.
    I have worked with duct tape doubles and/or standard forms padded with fiberfill, but wasn't really happy with either. This looks like I'd be able to actually drape without needing a live person to confirm the baseline.
    Thanks for the tip!

  3. Sissy709 | | #3

    Well, what a great tutorial. I bought a display mannequin from a store that was changing theirs for some reason or another. It is a tad to small and I didn't know what to do with it. Thanks for the informative help.

  4. user-981442 | | #4

    With considerable assistance from my sewing teacher I have used this system with great success, stuffing padding into stockings to form the sausage shapes on belly and hips, then removing padding as I loose weight. I have also fitted a silk slip over the form to highlight the allover body shape and I drape her in an extra large scarf when not in use. For obvious reasons, I call her Louise. With every best wish, Thelma Ferris, Australia.

  5. nlblack | | #5

    The waist and hips of my dress form were way too narrow so I found some ace bandages which I wound around and around until it matched my measurements. I also put a tight tank top over the whole business to keep it smooth. The ace bandages can be adjusted as needed too.

  6. User avater
    [email protected] | | #6

    This is a great idea. I have an old inexpensive dress form that I've tried working with, but having less success. This tutorial just might be the solution. Thanks Threads!

  7. karen1011 | | #7

    I will definitely try this. It seems very simple.

  8. luvtosew66 | | #8

    Awesome! I really want to make one.

  9. User avater
    user-3106855 | | #9

    Nice article. I padded my dress form similar to what you did with poly fill and stretch plastic . I didn't use the lentil beans. That looks like a very good idea.
    Sew tote

  10. bbtildentoo | | #10

    Fabulous! Spent this rainy afternoon with lentils and stretch and seal. Magic! Thanks so much, I'm so delighted with the result!

  11. Mona_Shines | | #11

    I just had to thank you for this article. I am a very large busted woman and I have always had problems trying to sew tops for myself. I think this is the answer. Thanks again for helping me solve this dilemma.

  12. bettyjohnson | | #12

    I think padding your dress form is the only way to go for easy fittings. I tried a bunch of padding but then I found my padding system from Fabulous Fit and I love it!! It has really soft pads that fit right onto my dress form under a cover. GREAT idea!

  13. user-353196 | | #13

    I have been using Kenneth D King’s version (threads). It allows you to put the personalized form on the dress form and then take it off. That way you could conceivably have several different “suits” with only one dress form. I believe this is how the couture houses operated at least in the past.

  14. User avater
    TimVaughn | | #14

    Nice Article!

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