Making a block with Cling Film (Saran Wrap)

It started with a blog post from Marianna about her Mummification, in which my friend got her new husband to wrap her torso in plastic food wrap. Nice.

I was intrigued! I had heard of people making “duct tape dummies” or mannequins from glued paper strips. As I have a perfectly nice traditional dress stand from K&L I never tried these things myself. But suddenly, on reading Marianna’s post, I realised there was a quick and easy way to create a “body double” with a roll of Saran Wrap.

So I contacted Marianna and proposed a Cling Film Party. I invited a few of my blog friends to come round for Pizza (after the wrapping) on a Friday night. As well as Marianna herself, Dr Elizabeth was in town (from Sweden). I am glad she came – she is such fun. And she brought chocolate.

Chocolate supplies
Chocolate supplies

My Secret Santa friend Megan is reliable when it comes to attending London events. And I was so pleased that Pia of Overflowing Stash was able to make it. She is constructing a very elaborate and wonderful wedding dress at the moment so I was glad she was able to tear herself away from her hand embroidery. Pia is a very skilled designer and pattern cutter and I was so pleased she was able to bring her expertise to our task.

Making a cling film torso block
How many ladies does it take to create a torso block?

From left to right we have Elizabeth, Marianna, Megan and Pia. Do we look like a Dove advert? I suppose this is the point – that real women have their own personal shape, with their own features, and if you make clothes it makes sense to get them to fit you rather than an idealised size 12, or whatever.

Dove's "Real women"
Dove’s “Real women”

I would recommend this as a good technique to get a block made fairly quickly (around one hour). If you have a competent sewing friend it is certainly worth a try. You need some elastic to mark the waist and any other cross body lines, some narrow cling film (Marianna brought this stuff which is used for wrapping pallets), some sellotape for securing and strengthening, a flexible tape measure to check the dimensions as you go, scissors for cutting strips of wrap, a felt tip pen and maybe some medical scissors for cutting the wrapping off at the end. We also had some black and white fine marking tape that is used for putting style lines on a mannequin, but this is not essential. It is a bit hot when you are being wrapped but with an open window, plus pace, we coped fine.

Elizabeth was wrapped to dress length; Megan and I went for a bodice.

The key with wrapping is to wrap sufficiently to get to the neckline and shoulder line. It needs about three layers. Don’t try to do it in one pass by walking round and round the model. Use strips to mould around the curves. The second important this is not to flatten the bust. Elizabeth had on a sports bra which does this anyway, so I would suggest wearing the most “formed” bra you have to ensure there is a nice bust line. Use adhesive tape/sellotape to secure the wrap vertically, and at the armhole and neck edge.

Once the model is wrapped you need to mark – with a felt tip pen or with the type of black and white tape we used. The waist is marked along the line of the elastic you have around your waist. The rest of style lines are applied like you are taping a dress stand prior to draping. As well as waist, bust and hips you need to mark the side seams, and we also marked the princess lines. You can use the seams on your vest/pants to guide you. Use your tape measure to ensure everything is symmetrical (allowing for lack of symmetry in the actual body). Pia’s experience helped ensure we all got some attention in terms of marking up. This is why a competent seamstress is better than your partner. But some can be taught, no doubt!

We had fun doing this. But it was also revealing, looking at each other’s figures closely and talking about adjustments we invariably made to commercial patterns to deal with our shoulders, hips, etc. I found out that one of my shoulder blades is more prominent than the other – unsurprising actually as I have a shoulder injury. I rarely consider my back, but Pia was able to identify the need to accommodate this.

Once marked the cling film is removed, usually by cutting the CB seam. It is amazing how shaped and realistic the model is. The final job is to cut the pattern open to ensure it lies flat, using appropriate dart lines. Pia shows me how to do this on the floor (with her legs in a yoga pose!) Make sure you label each piece correctly, being especially careful with distinguishing the left and right pieces of the body, CF, CB etc. I will turn this into a paper block pattern and then try it out in calico. The suggestion is to grade it up one size to ensure it has sufficient ease. I will have a go at this and report back.

Spending a Friday night with four other dressmaking bloggers, doing a fun project together, sharing skills and expertise, with wine, pizza and chocolate is my idea of heaven.

I will make up my torso pattern and let you know how it goes.

20 Responses

  1. What fun! Do report back on how close your block resembles one made using a m ore traditional technique.

    My dummy was made during one silly evening with a friend using duct tape and I find it invaluable to see where clothes need adjusting.

  2. Even if your blocks don’t work out as planned, you certainly looked like you all had a fun time anyway.

  3. Oh my gosh, a convention of excellent writing sewists!!! Those look so much better than other versions I’ve seen of this method; the white/black tape markings are super!

  4. You do make me wish I lived London Kate. Looking forward to the results.

  5. Stephanie

    Looks like it was great fun. I like the asymmetry comment, as I was struck by the importance of that during my recent attempts at a bodice block. I hope you a get great blocks out of this.

  6. What a great start to the weekend that was! It totally changed my mood for the next few days. Thank you for hosting!

    If anyone’s curious, the black and white marker tape is ‘Shoben designer tape’.

  7. Barbarags

    I saw this method demonstrated for use in making a close fitting bodice to a strapless dress a few years ago at a sewing exhibition and had not thought of using it for the whole of the bodice. Thank you so much for this post. I will be aiming to get a few people from the sewing club together to try this out.

  8. Hmmmm Montezumas. Looks like you had fun.

  9. Ah I understand now! I’d seen mention of these ‘shrink wrapped’ body doubles before, and I thought it acted as a free standing dress form, but now realise it works like a fitted block draped on the body.
    Hope it works – maybe I should try wrapping my legs for the perfect trouser block!
    Good to see you yesterday x

    • It was lovely to see you. You are really nice company. I think cling film trousers is a great idea. I am up for it, if you are.

  10. Great idea. It looks like such fun. I will be watching to see how your cling film patterns compare to those drafted from measuring. I can see how this method might be more accurate. A very large part of getting a sloper/block to fit perfectly is the skill in measuring accurately. Your tip for wearing a good bra is important. I can see how the wrapping flattens the bust and you need a very formed bra to counteract that. Sorry I wasn’t in London to join you.

  11. Kathleen

    Thank you for blogging this – it sounds exactly what a group of my sew buddies would love!
    I look forward to your follow-up!

  12. Kathleen

    ps Would you mind if I linked this on our Atlantic Sewing Guild fb page? Thanks

    • Of course not. I would be honoured to feature on your page Kathleen. And you have given me an idea for a new post of things to do with a few sewing buddies….

      • Kathleen

        Done – thanks! And in perfectly circuitous fashion, I’m sure that post will give us some ideas for future group projects..Cheers from Noa Scotia.

  13. I live in the Philippines and may go on the hunt for more ladies who sew themselves (as opposed to ladies who sew professionally which is much more common here) just to try this out. I usually draw flat patterns for my slopers and it would be really interesting to compare the patterns that comes from shrink wrap with my existing ones. I am however even more interested to see if this would work to make a trouser sloper? I am sure there would be a very high level of intimacy involved between the wrapper and the wrappee but it may be worth it if we got perfect trouser slopers out of it! Do you think it would work for pants? I only just recently found your blog and as a mid-fifty year old too, much of what you are sewing resonates with me and could go straight into my own wardrobe!

    • I have been thinking about this Karen, and I am pretty sure the technique would work for any body part. In fact my Fit Buddy Pia said she did one of her head to make a closely fitted hood/hat. If I can find someone to help me I will have a go and report back. Also on Wednesday I will report on what happened when I made a toile from my shrink wrap pattern.

      • Looking forward to your next adventures with cling wrap! i am now going to look for the narrow one and a partner to do it with.

  14. I attended a duct tape dress form party (well, we used packing tape) and had good results until my form got ruined on the metro before I got home. Using cling wrap to make a 2-D bodice is intriguing! I think could even get my husband to be a reasonable clinger buddy.

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