Sometimes it feels like we're swimming in dress forms at the studio. We have our professional Alvanon form; this was a MAJOR investment for us a few years ago (I think it cost close to $5K including shipping and duties) and it's what we use to test all of our samples since we use it as the basis for our block. The Alvanon is an industry form, and all their forms are based on standardized measurement data so it gives us a good "universal" base to start with; we'll be adding a second Alvanon form once we start developing patterns for our new extended size range. We also have a Classy form, sent to us to last year. For this form I chose a size that most closely resembled my body size, but it's curvier than I am in real life so it always required a lot of additional fitting on my body. I also have a vintage Wolf form at home that I use less for fitting and more for displaying my jewelry and belts.
This year, Beatrice Forms kindly sent me a dress form to review. Spoiler alert: IT IS THE FREAKING BEST.
Unlike our Alvanon or Classy form, the Beatrice is not based on standardized measurements. Instead, it is based on a 3D scan of my body. To get started, they send a kit with a close-fitting knit t-shirt and bicycle shorts, along with a piece of twill tape. The twill tape helps mark the waist, and it's also wrapped around the neck and pinned to the middle of the bra to define the shape of the bust so you your form doesn't have one big mono-boob. We downloaded their app and then Amy used it to scan my body all the way around. While this is happening, you are supposed to stand normally - not attempting idealized posture or sucking in your belly or any of the things we tend to do when we're thinking about how we're standing. This part was hard! I had to consciously stand in my standard, slightly slouched position. Just to be safe, we did the scan twice to make sure we were being as accurate as possible.
Beatrice Forms is run by a husband and wife team. I met Allison in one of my Ginger workshops when she was just getting the business started a couple of years ago, which is when she offered me a form to review. I loved dealing with them during the process; this isn't a big company, just two folks passionate about sewing and technology. The data from the 3D scan got sent to them through the app, and after a few weeks Nathan sent me a 3D drawing of what the form would look like. Here's what he sent me:
I'm not gonna lie... it's a little weird to see your body like this. Right away I noticed my uneven shoulders and breasts, the roundness of my shoulders and tummy. I've never really noticed the asymmetry of my body before. I'm sure there is some intellectual explanation for this; we are too subjective about our experiences within our body that maybe we only truly "see" them when they are divorced from our subjective reality. Or something smart-sounding like that. Because these guys are so on the ball, Nathan noticed that my posture in the scan was different than it was in a blog post I had posted around the same time and wanted to make sure the form was an accurate scan, but of course I had been standing up super straight in the photos we took. This form is a "true" representation of my body, which is exactly what you want if you're going to use it for fitting the body you actually have as opposed to the one you present when someone is taking a photo.
I kept postponing getting my Beatrice because I've put on a bit of weight in the past year and was worried I'd lose the weight and the form would be too big. This is dumb for so many reasons. First, this is the body I have now. And honestly? I like my body now. She's a bit softer than she was a few years ago, but she gets me places. I'm not a dieter or someone who works out with any regularity, so part of my journey with accepting this form was accepting my body exactly as it is. Even if I happen to lose a few pounds, my form still has all the important information; the angle of my shoulders, my waist to hip ratio, the shape of my back. I don't generally wear super fitted things so I think regardless of weight fluctuations, she is going to be a great long-term friend.
When the form arrived, it was like Christmas and my birthday and New Year's Eve all at once. The form itself is a soft foam, covered in a close-fitting knit cover (they even included a pattern for the cover if I ever needed to make another). It's fully pinnable and includes a heavy-duty adjustable steel base with rollie wheels. I love the pretty wood detail on the top and the overall feeling of sturdy dependability. Since the form is foam, it's quite light and I have no problem picking it up and moving it from home to studio (which I have already done several times). She also came dressed in the cutest neck scarf that I'm just realizing I forgot to put on for the photos. She doesn't include arms, just squared off shoulders, but I have some foam arms hanging around the studio from a really old dress form I can pin on if I need them.
Here we are, side by side:
Here is a close up of the front and back:
As for fitting... this form is truly life-changing. LIFE. CHANGING. To be honest, until I got my Beatrice I never used any of my forms for fitting myself personally. I always fit on my body, taking photos and looking in the mirror and tweaking and trying on and tweaking and trying on. This form totally changes all that. Because it's basically my body in squishy foam form, I can feel 100% confident fitting directly on the form and know it will fit my body exactly. I'm making a fitted couture dress right now, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to test my muslin. I had a moment of panic at first. The muslin fit when I pinned it on my body, but I couldn't get it do up when I put it on the form. I was about to email Allison in a panic that I had somehow lost weight when we confirmed my body measurements against the form and realized they were exactly the same.
The problem wasn't the form, but the fact that I was squeezing into the muslin and sucking in my stomach to get it to pin closed. Obviously, the dress form can't suck in her breath, and it was kind of like a bomb going off in my brain. I thought back to all the dresses I have overfit in the past. I would squeeze into them and tell myself they fit only to find I had to undo the zipper when I was sitting for any length of time. The dress form doesn't lie. It forced me to actually make the muslin fit properly, which is to say, making sure it had the right amount of ease, not the ease I thought I needed when I was standing up straight and unconsciously sucking in my stomach.
The dress I'm working on is from the new Named pattern book and it has bust and waist darts. I haven't sewn anything this fitted in a while and because it's a couture project and the fabric cost an arm and a leg, I want the fit to be PERFECT. I've had so much fun letting out seams and taking them in, adjusting the length and width of the darts. This form lets me shape this dress EXACTLY to my body. I can see it from all angles, spot drag lined I maybe wouldn't have noticed otherwise. It's really a radical fitting experience.
Here is a snap of the muslin I'm making. The left side is the dress more or less as drafted. The right side is after I've tweaked it a bit, taking in the shoulder, dropping the bust dart, adjusting the side seam to better conform to the shape of my body. As you can see on the left, there are quite a few more drag lines around the bust area than the right.
I feel like I'm learning a lot about fitting right now. Because I can experiment so much more easily on the form, I'm able to make better intuitive decisions, tinker around to see what happens when I deepen a dart or shorten it, take in an armhole or let out a seam. It's so much faster and easier to figure this out on my form than on my body. I can also better account for the quirks of my body if necessary, like adjusting darts or the shoulders to better fit my asymmetry.
Obviously, having a custom dress form made is a big investment, and I'm very grateful that Beatrice sent this to me to try. They retail for $1299, and if you do have a big body shift, they will scan and send you a new form for half the price. Having used a lot of forms, I can say without reservation say this is the best form on the market for the sewist who sews mostly for herself, especially if you are someone who cares a lot about fit, or wears a lot of fitted clothing. There is no generic form that will ever give you the same accuracy as fitting on an exact replica of your body, and on an emotional level, I think seeing my body in this way has lead me to love and appreciate it even more. Since I started sewing, my relationship with my body has totally changed. I've come to accept it in a way I never thought possible when I was buying ready to wear, and this form feels like a physical manifestation of that evolution. I can look at this form and see solutions rather than problems, and that is a powerful thing.
Now, some exciting news. Beatrice Forms has kindly offered a free custom form to the winner of our #BlazerOfGlory challenge. *mic drop*
That's right! If you're participating in our challenge you could take home a glorious Beatrice of your very own; we'll be choosing a winner on April 28th. We're so happy to partner with such a generous small business and can't wait to share this amazing product with the lucky first prize winner in our challenge.
Either way, I hope you'll consider investing in your own custom form even if you're not participating in the challenge. I would absolutely save my pennies and purchase a Beatrice for myself if I wasn't already a proud owner. Do you have any questions about my Beatrice form? Let me know in the comments!