The Dummy from Hell

This entertaining story originally came from
but that site no longer exists, and it would be sad to lose so much fun.
Apologies if re-posting this infringes lots of copyrights.

Of course most dress forms (including Uniquely You) aren’t like this, but most of them aren’t much help with fit either, unless you’re close to average. Most only allow you to alter bust, waist, hip, back length. But it’s my lumps and bumps which differ from average – slope of shoulders, cup size, high hips, flat rear, saddle bags. . .

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Note with original post

For the sewing-impaired, a Uniquely You dress form consists of a foam core shaped like a well-endowed woman, and a cloth cover which you sew to fit your own dimensions, then stuff the foam core inside, yielding a dressmaker’s form with your own measurements.

Peter Leppik

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From: Diane Barlow Close [e-mail deleted]
Newsgroups: alt.sewing
Subject: Re: Problems fitting Uniquely You

Mirabelle Severn & Thames writes:

“I recently bought the Uniquely You dressform, and my mother agreed to fit the cover for me. Well, about 1/3 of the way through the fitting, she is running into problems she didn’t expect, and doesn’t feel secure trying to finish the project. Can anyone give advice?”

Reply :

Okay, I think I’m brave enough now to tell everyone about my experiences with “Uniquely You”. I ordered mine from National Thread and Supply Company (in Atlanta, Georgia) who, in turn, get their supply directly from the UY folks but are able to discount it quite a bit. I ordered the “extra small” form and from the measurement range given it should’ve been just fine.

Unfortunately for me, I ordered at the time that the U.Y. folks were trying out a new foam extrusion mix. Somehow I got one of the “test” dummies instead of the real thing. The problem with the new mix was that it discoloured and expanded (greatly) when faced with humidity. I didn’t know that when I got my dummy; I just knew it looked a bit mottled and way too big to “squish” down to my size.

In fact, the dummy had a 44 DD bust! I called the UY company about this but they assured me that I must be wrong, that the bust couldn’t be that big and that even if it was it would shrink once the cover was applied. They explained that the foam was much bigger than the cover, but that the foam would compress greatly and that I should just go ahead and make my cover and all would become clear soon. They explained that a lot of force was needed to compress their foam, but compress it would and I should just try it and see.

After I got off the phone, I remeasured the bust and it was, indeed, 44DD (it was HUGE). It looked like some bizarre, life-sized headless Barbie. Encouraged by the phone conversation with the UY people, I started sewing up my cover. I fitted the top half, on me, just fine. I zipped it off and tried to zip it on the dummy. It wouldn’t go; it wouldn’t squish.

I asked my husband for help. Eventually we had the dummy on the floor with my husband kneeling on top of the breasts and me pushing from underneath the cover trying to compress everything into place. Then we started wondering what this must look like to our neighbours, so I got up and closed the curtains! 🙂 Continuing our wrestling match, we managed to stuff MOST of the breasts into the cover, but we couldn’t, for the life of us, compress them so they all fit into the cover.

We managed to get the cover zipped into place but there was “breasts” popping out all over the place! We decided to see if we could squish the breasts into place any further. My husband pushed from above while I pushed from below. Whammo, side seams gave away and we had breast “leaking” out the side. We tried again. And again.
It was a hot and humid summer day and we were not enjoying this strenuous activity very much.

Finally we achieved some measure of success, with the cover “centered” over massive “breasts” peering around all sides. We stood back. BLAMMMO! The cover seams all gave way at once and blew off the dummy, leaving “Barbie” once again standing naked before us. Not only that, but the “breasts” appeared to have grown! They certainly looked bigger to me, and a check with the measuring tape now clocked them at 50 DD!! Help, it’s Barbie from Hell! 😀

We called UY and complained strenuously this time. I pointed out that my dummy was “growing”. They put the owner/creator on the phone and he realized that we had gotten a “bad” dummy, that is, one made with the bad experimental foam. The discolouration was the key to recognition. He asked me to send it back to him for inspection and replacement.

You’d think that would be the end of it, wouldn’t you? Well, think again! 🙂 I packaged the dummy up, in the original box, and sent it off UPS-insured. I got a call a couple days later because UY had *refused* my shipment! I couldn’t believe it! After they had asked me to send it back directly to them! I couldn’t figure out what must’ve gone wrong so called them back, immediately. They told me they didn’t take damaged goods. What?! What did they mean “damaged” goods? I sent back an intact product! It was a defective product, but then they knew that as they were the ones who had asked me to send it to them for inspection. Unfortunately the person who handled the shipment was away and all the woman on the phone knew was that the shipment had been refused due to “damage”, so I would have to wait a few days for the original person to return to explain why she refused my shipment.

I got my answer a couple days later when a “hit and run” UPS driver lobbed a grotesquely-deformed (previously-a-box) shape over my fence and ran for the truck. It seems that somewhere along the line the package must’ve fallen off the truck and been backed over several times by a truck. The rectangular box was now a triangle and the remains of the dummy had tire tracks on it. Not only that, but it seems it had expanded some more, in transit, and one breast had blown a hole in the box and was now sitting there “staring” at the world rather ominously. The other breast had been ripped off, mostly, and was attached to the dummy by only a wee bit of foam. Numerous other cuts and scrapes told tales of some type of weird raging battle that had been fought between this dummy and who-knows-what! 🙂

I called up UPS wondering how the heck they managed to turn my package into the deformity before me and they offered to send another driver out to pick it up for inspection. By this time I wasn’t about to trust another “ride” on the truck, so I insisted that they send out an inspector directly to inspect the damage here. Under the circumstances, and considering the amount of money involved, they agreed.

When the UPS claims person came out to inspect the damage she asked me what on earth this “thing” was used for. She treated it like she thought she could get Bubonic Plague from it. She started shaking her head and complaining about all the weird sex toys she was forced to inspect now that she was based out here in San Francisco and not back in good old Illinois… I tried to explain that it was a manequin for sewing and fitting clothes, not some “sex toy”. She didn’t believe me. She wrote it up as “inflatable foam doll” and treated it like it had some disease she didn’t want to catch.

She had to remove the dummy from the box, and in order to do that you had to compress the one “escaped” breast to get it back through the hole so the rest of the dummy could come out of the box. She didn’t want to touch the breast. No sirree! She was NOT going to touch another breast, not even a foam one! It was very amusing to watch. She honestly believed it was some kind of sex toy and I was some kind of pervert… 😀 I finally got the dummy out of the box for her, but even then she wouldn’t touch it to inspect the damage. 🙂 It was very embarrassing! She quickly agreed that UPS would give me a full refund and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone leave my house so quickly… 😀

Anyway, all’s well that ends well, and I got my money back in full from UPS. I didn’t have the nerve to try another “Uniquely You”. I bought a Dritz Double. I don’t really need the “fits your shape” capability of UY, as I’m pretty well the industry standard shape anyway. Yes, I’m one of the rare few who can use patterns directly from the envelope and have them fit perfectly. So the Dritz Double turned out to be just fine for me.

I hope this helps someone! 🙂

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Extra help with threading needles and loopers

Have difficulty threading a needle ?
Have nearly as much trouble getting a piece of wire into a needle eye as a piece of thread ?

There are 4 main types of extra help with threading needles :

Easier to get the thread in the hole :
Calyx eye needles – end slot hand sewing needles.
Side slot needles – available for both hand and machine.
Pusher type threading tools – for both hand and machine needles.
Help with seeing what you’re doing :
Conventional wire needle threaders with magnifying lens or light (I’m not commenting on these).

As well of course as the fine hooks used in the threaders built into some sewing machines.
And I have a note on help with threading serger/ overlocker loopers.

People have strongly different opinions on these tools, so do try some for yourself !

Here’s what works for me, for both hand and machine sewing.
Many people find ‘self threading’ hand sewing needles useful for finishing off short ends of thread, as in quilting.
I’m commenting as someone with shaky hands, I don’t personally know how helpful these tools are for someone with severe arthritis or limited vision.

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Calyx-eye hand sewing needles

I find these self-threading needles much easier to use than a conventional wire-loop needle threader.
But there were some things I needed to know before I could use them without hassle.

image source

Put the thread into the V-slot in the end of the needle.
Give a sharp tug, and instant-amazement the needle is threaded.
I started by moving the thread into the slot. Now I find it easier to move the needle onto the thread.

Do buy quality.
Buying cheap ones is just a way of throwing away money. It’s not that cheap needles do the job badly, they don’t do the job at all. They either shred the thread or the thread pulls straight out when you take your first stitch. Before I tried a quality one, I spent some time thinking self-threading needles are unusable.

Quality ones eventually wear out and stop holding the thread, but that shouldn’t happen for a while.

I haven’t tried all brands. I’ve had good experiences with Clover brand. Here’s an enthusiastic review of Prym brand from Tasia at Sewaholic.

Don’t waste time and energy trying to get the thread into the second hole. It won’t go and it isn’t supposed to.
That lower hole provides a bit more ‘spring’ for the end of the needle that opens up as you pull the thread through.

It used to take me several minutes to thread a needle and now not – hurrah. I enjoy hand sewing but a wire-loop needle threader is nearly as difficult as thread for me. Using these, and the pusher-type threaders below, is near miraculous for someone like me with shaky hands.

Here’s a tutorial on using these needles, specifically for people with limited vision.

Calyx eye needles only come in general purpose sewing sizes, there are none for tapestry, crewel embroidery etc. Though it is quite a bit easier to use a wire-type needle threader with the large eye of a crewel needle or a tapestry needle.

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Slot in the side

Here’s the main web-site of the Spiral Eye company.

These look interesting but are expensive to import to the UK so I haven’t tried one.

They have at least 2 advantages :
– they are available in a wider range of hand sewing needle sizes,
– they are available as sewing machine needles too.

Schmetz also make ‘quick threading machine needles’, which simply have a small slot in the side of the eye.
Instructions for using them here.
Universal point needle, sizes 80 and 90. I’m planning to try these.

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Pusher-type threaders

Sewing machine needles

My previous sewing machine had a built-in needle threader which I found easy to use.
The needle threader on my new machine is not the same (or perhaps my hands are shakier than they were).
Anyway, I now find it easier to use a pusher type threader.


Have the machine needle at its highest position, so you have room to work.
Put the thread horizontally into the V of the threader (they only work one way – have the triangle and hook shape on top) and hold it somewhat taught. Move the threader slowly and gently down the front of the machine needle while putting a little pressure on the pusher. The device should push a thread loop through the eye of the needle.

These threaders may be a bit temperamental – there’s a knack to using them, and the fine wire that pokes the thread through the needle eye can bend easily. Avoid the cheap ones, which work rarely if at all. I use a Dritz one, expensive but it works almost every time.

Hand sewing needles

Many people are enthusiastic about pusher-type devices for threading hand sewing needles, but I haven’t done well with them.
They only work for a small range of sizes of needle, so check if they’re suitable for purpose.
Here’s the Clover version. The one I tried would only take small size fine hand sewing needles.
There are one needle size and two needle size versions from other companies.

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Serger/ overlocker needles and loopers

Most serger/ overlockers use the same needles as sewing machines, so pusher needle threaders should work on them as well. Bernina issue a pusher threader with some of their serger/overlockers.

There are long looper threaders, they are like the wire loop hand sewing needle threaders but on a long wire, so not much use to me as I can’t thread them any more easily than I can the loopers. . .

For help with threading looper holes, here are some suggestions – though they do assume you have space in front of the hole for getting at it.

Do try to find a serger /overlocker which has help with making it easier to get at the lower looper hole.
If you can’t visit a dealer or show to try out a machine, these days it is easy to download a free manual for most machine models, so you can check before buying one how easy the threading is. The diagrams of the process may look complex and daunting, just look for a machine which has a tool for moving the looper temporarily into an easy access position.

For looper holes that thread from front to back, try a pusher threader.
You’ll need tweezers to grab the loop of thread behind the hole, as most sergers don’t have room for fingers in that space !

For looper holes that thread from back to front, try a fine crochet hook for pulling the thread forward through the hole.
You need what is called a ’steel hook’ or ’thread hook’, with the shaft no wider than the hook.


Check the length of handle will work in the space available in your serger/ overlocker.

Measure the width of the holes in your loopers in millimetres, as you will need a hook about 1 mm smaller than that.
Many of these hooks give their size in mm. Here’s a table for conversion from mm to USA and UK crochet hook sizes.

I thought people didn’t do fine crochet work anymore, but there are many choices for these hooks from places like Amazon.

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In the days when all sewing was done by hand, it needed specialist metal-working skills and tools to make any needle, and they were expensive.
We are lucky to have these marvellous modern threading helper inventions.
Good Luck for finding ones which meet your needs.

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Links available July 2016

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How a sewing machine works

The sewing machine is a sophisticated machine tool. Similar problem to the first aeroplane, there were many very different design features which all needed to be right before the thing would work at all.

Here’s an animation of the clever way the machine makes its lockstitch.

If you prefer something slower, here’s a pdf with detail about the mechanism.

Here’s an entertaining UK documentary about the history of sewing machine mechanisms (26 mins.)

Another documentary about the history of sewing machines, this time from the US and not free, Still Stitching (100 mins.).

Machines have to be manufactured. Here’s an amazing (silent) documentary about the huge factory in Scotland which made Singer black and gold machines in their heyday (70 mins.). Also incidentally a clear reminder about changes in manufacturing. That was before computers and laser measuring. 80 years ago the film was made to show off marvellous modern methods !

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