My friend and I have a small handmade clothing business. We needed a mannequin to use for photos and display purposes at craft shows. I couldn't really find a display form that I liked and was affordable, so I decided to make my own. It was a fun learning experience, as I had never used most of these programs and materials before.
I decided to design the form in Blender, since it is free and relatively easy to find tutorials for. It does have a bit of a leaning curve, but luckily I didn't have to do anything too complex. I started with this female body base mesh, found on www.opengameart.org, designed by Julian Krischan Makowka. It needed a lot of work to become a human sized torso mannequin.
I chopped off the arms, legs and head from the torso, and used the decimate tool to simplify the form and reduce the number of polygons. This part took a lot of trial and error. It was really important to make sure that every facet was completely flat, and this is hard to do when you are trying to keep the fewest amount of polygons possible. I had to mess around with the shape of the body as well. The original mesh was very long and thin, and I wanted a slightly more realistic body shape.
After finalizing my mannequin shape, I imported it into the Pepakura software to unfold the design into flat planes. This is an in-progress version before I separated all the shapes into a better configuration. I learned by the end of this process that it is important to make each section as symmetrical as possible, all the way down to the glue-flaps. Even though my model was completely symmetrical, the unfolded sections were not, and it ended up warping the mannequin a little bit later on as I glued it together.
I made several mini mockups in paper along the way as I refined the design in Blender. I started with the one on the left, and then decided I wanted to change the proportions a little bit. The one on the right side was next, and I realized that my polygons were not flat, which is why it looks so wrinkly and crumpled. Originally I was going for an asymmetrical design, but it just became to complicated to make it work. I ended up settling on the version in the middle, with a symmetrical layout, and nice planar surfaces.
After finalizing the flattened layout in Pepakura, I printed it out onto regular letter sized paper, which I glued onto sheets of 29 x 46 inch chipboard. Then came lots and lots of cutting with an exacto knife.
Once all the pieces were cut out, it was just a matter of matching up numbered edges and gluing it together. I started with wood glue, but later moved to a hot glue gun as it was much faster (although not as forgiving). In this picture you can kind of see what I mean about making the model symmetrical. The center chest piece is glued UNDER the piece on the left, but OVER the piece on the left. This made things kind of tricky later on.
At this point it is almost fully assembled. You can see that the top section has already been covered in resin. I had to do the fiberglass and resin in stages, because I knew that by the time I had assembled the whole thing it would be very hard to reach up inside the neck and shoulders from the bottom.
For this step I used Bondo Fiberglass Resin. First I painted it all over the outside of the form and let it dry. This creates a very hard plasticky shell. Then, I spread resin on the inside and used small sections of fiberglass mat to reinforce the inside. This created a very strong and lightweight mannequin that is completely hollow. I was pretty intimidated by this step at first, as I had never worked with fiberglass, but it ended up being pretty easy! Protective gear is very necessary though, including a full respirator and gloves. Definitely do this outside. It is also very very messy. I went through probably 10 brushes and got globs of sticky resin everywhere.
This is just before the last coat of resin.
At this point I filled in some divots and imperfections. I used drywall putty, which is probably not the ideal thing to use, but whatever, it worked.
Sooo much sanding.
Here it is before painting. I actually really liked it in the natural brown color, but unfortunately there were just too many imperfections to leave it as is, and it had the bright white spots of drywall putty.
We decided to go with a very light grey chalkboard paint. It had a nice rustic quality, and the idea was to sand off paint along some of the edges to emphasize the shape. I am not usually a fan of the fake antiqued look, but I think it actually well works for this.
And here she is, doing her job as a lovely model at our first craft show! I think it worked out really well.
In the end, it probably wasn't any less expensive than buying a cheap display form, but it was a really fun project! I think it makes sense to have our handmade clothing displayed on a handmade mannequin. I definitely want to make more things using this technique now that I know what I could improve on