Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pineapple Log Cabin Block 21 of 36 & Fabulous Fit Dress Form Review, Part 2, & SOMETHING NEW...

King Sized Pineapple Log Cabin Progress: Block 21 of 36
So, back to the paper-pieced pineapple log cabin quilt that I was working on before I was sidetracked by the Christmas caroling costume!  I finished block 21, which means I only have 15 more blocks to go until I have enough for a California King sized bed quilt.  And I'm grateful to have a pretty quilt block to top off this post today, because otherwise I'd have to lead with this one:

Say Hello to Headless Helena!
Ta da!  Let's all extend a warm Southern welcome to my new dress form, Headless Helena.  As you may have read in my last post, I originally ordered a size 10 Studio Dress Form and customizable padding system from Fabulous Fit, but I discovered that although the size 10 dress form's measurements were slightly smaller than mine overall, I was not able to add all of the lumps and bumps that make up my own body shape to the size 10 dress form without making her much too big.  After consulting with Alice at Fabulous Fit, I exchanged the size 10 dress form for a size 6.

I suppose I should have taken a picture of what the size 6 dress form looked like when she arrived, before any padding was added, but I didn't think of it.  Just imagine a headless, limbless, but perky 16-year-old cheerleader, and that's pretty much what a size 6 dress form looks like right out of the box.  (Now is probably a good time to warn readers that this blog post will be talking a lot about Mom Boobs, so if that sort of thing offends you or does not interest you, feel free to stop reading).

Although I ordered my dress form from Fabulous Fit, I should mention that the Fabulous Fit system works with ANY dress form you may already own, provided that your dress form is small enough to match your skeletal frame.  That bears repeating -- with padding, you alter your dress form by adding lumps of flesh like boobs, belly, and badonk-a-donk buttocks...  You can increase her dimensions at any point with padding, but you cannot do anything to make the dress form SMALLER if even one part of her is too big.  My initial mistake in ordering a too-big dress form in the first place happened because I looked only at my full bust, waist, and hip measurements and ordered a dress form one size smaller than the smallest of those measurements.  However, the part of my body that is the smallest is the upper chest area between my bust and shoulders and the size 10 dress form was 2" BIGGER than me in the upper chest.  I also realized that the dress form needed to be MUCH smaller than I am at the bottom in order for me to create the necessary "curves" of my belly and behind and still end up at the correct overall dimensions.

Once I had a size 6 dress form instead of a 10, here's what I did to get a fairly accurate representation of my own size and shape.  I knew I was going to have to add significantly to the bust on my dress form, so I went out to Jo-Ann's and bought several different packages of shoulder pads and bust enhancer pads that I could use in conjunction with the contoured pads that came in the Fabulous Fit kit.  I also purchased about a yard of the thickest polyester quilt batting they had.  As per the Fabulous Fit directions, I started at the top of my dress form, pulling down the tight knit fabric cover over one section of the form at a time, slipping the appropriate contoured pads into position beneath the cover to correct the dimensions and shape where needed. 

Who Knew?!  I Have Trapezius Muscles!!
We did use the Fabulous Fit shoulder pads on the shoulders (to correct the shoulder width and slope), but discovered that we also needed to put some small, thin Dritz shoulder pads at the back of the neck, along with a layer of the poly quilt batting at the base of the neck, to create the shape of what appears to be trapezius muscles at the back of my shoulders.  (I know, right?  How did I get muscles THERE?!  Must be from hours hunched over my sewing machine, free-motion quilting...). 

Wacoal 851205
My upper chest measures 33 1/2" and the size 6 dress form measured 33 5/8" in the upper chest, so no additional padding was needed there.  But Helena's bust was 4" too small at 34" instead of 38", and she obviously has not breastfed any children and/or she is somehow exempt from the laws of gravity because her boobs were also up too high.  In order to afflict her with Mom Boobs like mine, the dress form's boobs had to be kind of hanging off just BELOW the original bust point on the dress form.  We were having a VERY hard time getting the correct assortment of pads into the right shape and into position, and then they would slide out of place and look like alien boobs as soon as we pulled the cover down over the pads.  Finally, I decided to sacrifice a brand-new bra (Wacoal Halo Lace, Style 851205) that fits me perfectly, and that made everything so much easier.  Duh, right?  I mean, my own boobs require the magic of underwires and lots of heavy-duty elastic to stay up there where they belong, and unlike Helena's padding, my boobs are actually attached to my body! Once we put the bra on the dress form, and with the straps and back hooks adjusted exactly to fit my body, it was so much easier to create the correct bust shape on the dress form -- and the bra held everything in place on the dress form, just like it does on my body.  I'm going to wear a bra just like this one under any clothing I make for myself, so the $48 bra was a worthwhile sacrifice to get a good fit through the bust and upper shoulders.

The Fabulous Fit kit comes with one set of breast pads, which are shaped like this:
Fabulous Fit Contoured Breast Pads
Alice at Fabulous Fit had sent me an extra pair of breast pads when I went down to the size 6 dress form, but I ended up only using one set of their breast pads because they didn't stack well and they created a weird double ridge at the side when I tried to use two of them.  I really liked the way the breast pads create a smooth, even curve on the outside of the dress form, but I needed to use an assortment of different pads under the Fabulous Fit breast pads in order to fill in the space below the dress form's higher bust line.  Each of Helena's boobs is "built" from one Fabulous Fit contoured breast pad, one Fabulous Fit additional contour pad (shaped like an eye), one Dritz Tear Drop Shape Enhancer pad, and one Dritz Push Up Bust Enhancer pad.  (The Dritz Covered Set-In Shoulder pads in the photo below were used to give Helena her trapezius muscles at the back of her neck).


Additional Pads Used
So, a combination of four different pads to create each boob on the dress form -- no way would they stay in place when I pulled down the cover if they weren't trapped in position by the brassiere!  An added benefit of putting one of my own favorite bras on Helena is that now, even if I'm sewing in my pajamas, I can tell on Helena whether a neckline needs to be raised or a boatneck needs to be adjusted to prevent my bra from peeking out when I wear the finished garment.  Although you can't see it well in the photos, it is very easy to feel the edges of the bra through the cloth cover on the dress form.

Helena With Matching Mom Boobs
My upper chest is the ONLY part of my body that is even remotely a size 6, so everywhere else on the dress form needed padding.  I used a layer of the thick poly quilt batting that extended from just below the bra band in the front all the way to the bottom of the dress form.  The batting extends around to the back of the dress form on the sides, but although we needed to have a layer of padding on Helena's back, we had to cut the batting away from the small of her back and her derriere.  The waistband of my store-bought jeans and pants always gaps at the back of my waist, and I wanted to recreate that hollow on the dress form so that my ME-made clothes will hopefully fit better in that area.  Finally, I had to use not one but TWO of these Fabulous Fit Stomach Pads to create the correct amount of abdominal childbirth wreckage on Helena:


Fabulous Fit Stomach Pad
Helena's Two-Pad Tummy
Technically, you only get one stomach pad in the fitting kit, but they are identical to the Side Back pads (used to erase or reposition the waistline) and my dress form didn't need padding there.  I should note that these contoured stomach pads were placed BELOW the layer of quilt padding on my dress form, too.  They don't stack well and I had to offset them slightly, which would have created a double bump effect if the pads weren't placed beneath the batting.  Another reason I was glad that my dress form started out so much smaller than me!



Fabulous Fit "Back Hip" Pads
Last but not least, Miss Headless Helena needed butt pads.  Dress forms are so ridiculous, really, with their pancake flat tummies and behinds.  Who looks like that who isn't wearing Spanx, anyway?  The Fabulous Fit butt pads are euphemistically named Back Hip pads, as in Baby's Got Back Hip, and I'm All About That Back Hip...  They do a pretty good job of creating a more realistic tush on a flat dress form.  I didn't go nuts with trying to recreate the exact size and shape of my behind on the dress form, we just positioned the butt cheeks in approximately the right position, did a final check on the measurements, and then pulled the cover down the rest of the way.  I ended up using straight pins (the kinds with the large, round heads) sparingly to secure the stomach and butt pads in place so they wouldn't move when the cover was pulled down.  Definitely recommend the pins!

Headless Helena, Rear View
Now the Fabulous Fit system comes with TWO tightly fitting knit fabric covers.  The first cover has side seams, and that's the one you are gradually pulling down over the dress form, slipping the pads underneath as you go.  The second cover has a tight-fitting turtleneck and princess seams, and that cover goes on top at the end to smooth everything out.  I definitely needed to use the second cover since I had polyester quilt batting puffing up at the back of my dress form's neck, but I discovered that since the princess seamed cover wasn't custom made to match my curves, it was pulling straight from shoulder to full bust and from full bust to waist, enlarging the upper chest and below bust areas.  Okay for loose fitting garments, I suppose, but the whole point of this adventure was to match the dress form as closely as possible to my shape so I could use it to sew some fitted dresses and blouses.  My final tweak was to use more of my round-headed straight pins to pull the cover in close to the dress form above and below the bust line, as well as in the small of her back.  Those were the places where the second cover wasn't fitting close to the dress form.  Now, could I have altered that cover to make it fit, or made a new, custom cover that fit the adjusted shape of Helena better?  Yes, but then it would have been difficult to get the cover on the dress form unless I put in a zipper...  and how much time do I really want to spend on this?  The pins do what I need them to do.  I'm also aware of the fact that, if I have any weight changes or changes in the distribution of my lumps and bumps over time, I'm going to have to take that cover off and make the necessary adjustments to my dress form all over again.

Headless Helena, Ready to Sew
And so, my final word on the Fabulous Fit dress form and fitting system: It's a keeper.  I suggest allowing PLENTY of time to customize your dress form and enlisting the assistance of kind, honest friends.  My husband was helping me initially, but when he lost patience with the process my mom stepped in to help me finish the job.  Yes, you start by taking a comprehensive set of body measurements, but a lot of this is subjective eyeballing, especially when you are trying to figure out whether padding needs to be added all in front, all in back, or all the way around the dress form.  I did not personally put most of the pads on Helena, instead, I stood next to Helena in my underwear while my helper positioned the pads on the dress form to match the lumps and bumps on me.  In addition to the Fabulous Fit pads, the Dritz shoulder and bust pads, and the straight pins, I recommend a bottle of good wine and a box of Kleenex as essential tools for completing this process successfully.  The wine helps you keep your sense of humor, and helps you to stay warm while you're standing there shivering in your underwear for hours.  And the Kleenex is because once a dress form is customized to show EVERY BUMP AND LUMP ON YOUR BODY, it can be a little bit depressing -- especially since the dress form starts out with a perfect figure right out of the box.  I can't bring myself to post the pictures I took of my dress form that were from unflattering angles...  ;-)


NEW fabric, Prewashed and Ready to Iron

And now, as a reward to myself for all of this self-inflicted suffering and angst, I bought a bunch of cheerful fabric for my 1930's Farmer's Wife quilt blocks (YES, I am starting a new project and NO, I haven't finished any of my other quilts yet, thank you very much).

I'm still loving my paper-pieced pineapple log cabin quilt, but those blocks get monotonous to piece one after another, 97 fabric strips per block, and I need to sprinkle in some variety.  With the Farmer's Wife sampler quilt, I plan to explore more paper piecing as well as using templates rather than rotary cutting.

Choosing Fabrics for First Farmer's Wife Quilt Blocks!
The first block in the book is Addie, and I'm going to use templates for that one and will probably select coordinating fabrics to go with either the pink or the green version of the Tula Pink damask pattern (not both).  The second block is on the right, Aimee, and I'm going to paper piece that one with the Allison Harris Cluck Cluck Sew floral print, the striated blue fabric, and the solid black. 

That's what I was up to on Superbowl Sunday! 

I'm linking up with Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts, Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times, Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt, and Design Board Monday at Bits 'n Bobs. 

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!
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