Apr 13, 2014

Making A DIY Bust Shape: How To Build A Dummy Body Using Chicken Wire

For a while I've wanted to get a dummy body to display the scarves I knit but unfortunately, living on the Island of Ireland leaves me with 2 choices: paying astronomic shipping rates to get a large item delivered to me, or making one myself.

There are a few YouTube videos that show you how to make a dress form: you can get someone to cover you with duct tape, get that someone to cut you out of the shape made, close it up with more tape and fill it with stuffing, newspapers, expanding foam...

Being the only adult in my house (I'm not sure I should trust a 12 year old to have the patience to do all that work: she might give it up, leaving me half stuck for a few hours, and the cutting bit might be a bit tricky - I don't want blood on my dummy!), I decided to use another DIY method to build my dummy body: of course it had to be the hardest and slowest one!

First I got a small roll of small gauge chicken wire in a local shop: you can get some in most hardware stores, you don't need a very large quantity, a 100cm length is enough for an average size bust.

Then I put on my gardening gloves and tried shaping my roll into something that looked like a female body shape:

You really need gardening gloves for this, as chicken wire has sharp bits and if you're a knitter or a crocheter, you need to protect your hands! You might want to cover your kitchen table with newspapers before you start, I left my cheap tablecloth on to protect the table from scratches and the tablecloth is still a bit grey.

Shaping is a bit tricky: you need to pull the holes in the wire slightly apart for wider areas (chest, shoulders and hips), and push them tighter for skinny areas (neck and waist).
I call her Barbie: she's not made out of barbed wire, but her waist is Barbie-like skinny. Hopefully I'll manage to fatten her up a bit, but as she'll only be used for scarves, she doesn't need to look too realistic (she has a bigger chest and tinier waist than me, but the height and shoulder to shoulder width are about right).

Now comes the messy bit: that wire is pretty sharp and not that pretty at the same time, so I decided to cover my dummy body with papier mache.

I started tearing up strips of newspaper in front of my kids hoping they would want to finish the pile and it worked!

Then I got my 12 year old to show me the papier mache mix she had used in school for her art classes: I thought it would be more complicated but it's only a pancake consistency mix of flour and water (messy, but easy enough to clean afterwards).

While my youngest was out playing with a friend (being a bit of a mess hater, I was a bit relieved that she was not around), I enrolled my 12 year old to help me cover the dummy shape with papier mache: it took us about 1 hour before the shape was all covered but it needed more layers so I let the first coat dry outside for the rest of the afternoon.

At that stage I had papier mache over the neck opening but not the bottom opening, which was a good thing because one of my very wise Facebook likers advised me to stuff it with newspapers to avoid it becoming "wonky".

The next morning I turned the bust over using my clean recyling bin: I used clean papers and cardboard found in the said recycling bin, as well as lots of old brochures and magazine pages to stuff the body, because I didn't want to run out of newspaper. Now is the time for me to confess to very rarely buying a newspaper, but I take all the local free newspapers I can get!

After stuffing it, I covered the bottom part of my dummy form with papier mache (still turned up neck down in my recycling bin).

Then after lunch, I added some white craft glue to the mix and added a layer to the front, while at the same time trying to fix some gaps and bumps, before letting it dry on the sunny patch in my kitchen.

I'll be doing the same with the back later on, and I will be painting it when I can rely on the weather to be dry and not as windy as it is today because I'm not cleaning paint stains off my kitchen floor. It needs to be sealed with some kind of paint or varnish (I will be using matte paint I had bought for another DIY project that did not happen and I don't want a shiny dummy when taking my scarf pictures), because I am afraid the smell of pancake batter would attract mice into my house in winter: it will need a thick coat of paint!

If you want to do this in your own kitchen, set aside 2 full days of no serious cooking because this will take over your kitchen as well as your time. I think using a hair dryer on a low setting would help it dry more quickly but I decided to let it air-dry, as I have plenty more things to do in between papier mache layers (I just hope my kids don't step in the papier mache mix bucket or on my dummy while I'm upstairs typing this!).

I'm not sure when I can post a picture of the finished dummy (or list the shawl I finished making, since I'll need this dummy to be finished and completely dry before then!), but when it is, I will let you all know!

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