How to make your own mannequin

I have been knitting for my shop and I realised that I needed a model who would stay still for long periods of time, work in any space and weather conditions and didn’t need paying. Someone suggested a taylor’s mannequin, but I don’t know anybody who has one I could readily access. Buying one was an option, but internet shopping has that pesky wait for delivery.

So I made my own. I used an old t-shirt, an old bikini bra top, a coat hanger and some leftover wool batting I had hidden away.

First, I sewed the armholes of the t-shirt shut, then put the coat hanger in the neck opening and sewed the neck shut around the hanger. I had a t-shirt that had a low cut split neckline, which when sewed created a line down what my mannequin would call her cleavage. When stuffed, this line helped define a bust. This line could be achieved in a high neckline by sewing a pleat where you’d like the cleavage line to be.

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Despite this line, she needed more support – the fabric was very elastic – so I used an old bra from a bikini to define her shape more sharply. I then stuffed until she had the bust and waist measurements I wanted.

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Then, I tied the bottom shut with a ribbon. If I ever want to model bigger, smaller or differently proportioned clothes, I can just undo this ribbon and alter the stuffing accordingly. This feels like an advantage over a store bought mannequin, it can be personalised to the exact proportions you want very easily.

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Finally, I put a nice shirt on her – a turtle neck hides the neckline stitching perfectly – and pinned it into a good fit. Et voila, a model who will never mind being dangled precariously from a branch for a photoshoot in deepest winter, and is easily stored in the wardrobe.

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To make men’s or children’s versions of this mannequin, you just leave out the bust defining stitching and use the appropriate size and style of shirt. For the stuffing you could use anything: plastic bags, tissue paper, the innards of an old pillow, or even a towel. The more your stuffing material is like commercial toy stuffing, though, the easier it will be to get a smooth, less lumpy surface.

And here she is, modelling like a pro:

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How to knit long pieces on the Prym knitting mill

I’ve been knitting a lot recently, and in my feverish obliteration of my acrylic stash I’ve had to find new ways of dealing with the fact that the more length the piece on the machine has, the more it bunches up in the centre and the more wild the tension gets.

I’ve previously rolled the tubes up as they grow, keeping tension even and ensuring the piece doesn’t catch on the surface the mill is on, but when my scarves were reaching 4 or 5 feet, this was getting tricky.

I had heard someone mention using a carpenter’s adjustable workbench to allow the piece to hang freely, but I don’t have space for an occasional table – let alone an occasional workbench!

My solution? Use the ironing board, like most ironing boards, mine has a hole for the hot foot of the iron to rest in, it’s also adjustable to your height so you can sit or stand.

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Knitting a Jumper on the Prym Knitting Mill

This piece is knitted in 100% lambswool because it was all I had in sufficient quantity, but could just as easily be made in acrylic. The fun bit is as the large bits were knitted on a machine it took 5 evenings or so to complete.

The red lines show 3x 42 stitch panels, knitted on the mill. They are knitted until they are as long as the distance from armpit to hip, then seamed together into a tube using mattress stitch.

The yellow lines are 2x tubes, knitted on the mill. They are knitted until they are as long as the distance from armpit to wrist.

The green sections marked 6, 7 and 8 are edging that I hand knit onto the 3 tubes I am left with at this stage – the mill does not cast off, remember. I chose k2 p2 ribbing, just because I like it. However, as this is the only embellishment you could do something more intricate.

Finally, section 9 in green is the handknit section. Joining the 3 tubes on one circular needle I proceeded to knit a raglan shoulder decrease in the round until I was left with 50 stitches. Then I k2 p2 ribbed until I had a sufficient collar and sewed in the loose threads.

This was my first try and so there were some issues:

– Getting equally sized pieces was tricky, I picked up the live edge of the shorter panels/tube and handknit a few rows until they were equal.

– Tension is crucial in knitting flat patterns on the mill, and being a beginner I ended up with a few holes I had to sew up in the middle of the torso of my jumper. This feels like a practice makes perfect type problem.

Overall, a successful and wearable jumper was the result, it’s a relatively straight forward project and it’s satisfying to see it grow so fast!

Got 600g of yarn and a few evenings spare? Give it a go!

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Casting on with the Mill.

Knitting on the Prym Knitting Mill Maxi is remarkably quick and easy when you get the hang of it, but there are a few things to bear in mind. The instruction guide is easy enough to follow, but nothing can replace practice and learning the kinks in the machine.

  • Casting On/Off: I find the best way to get a clean edge is to cast on a contrasting colour to the wool you’ll be knitting with and knit a good ten rows before switching to the wool you want to knit the piece in. Then when casting off do the same again: switch to a contrasting colour, knit ten or so rows and then remove the wool from the guide and crank the mill until the piece falls off. Then pick up the first and last row of the piece on a needle or stitch holder and rip out the contrasting wool.
  • Guage: you need to pull out a good few metres of wool from the ball and let it hang loosely underneath or pile up next to the yarn guide. Then when casting on make sure that the wool is not too tight and all will be fine.
  • Speed: this is something that definitely comes with practice, the most important things are to ensure that there is plenty of wool loose and to crank the handle at a consistent rate. Then you can gradually crank faster until you are getting eight rows a minute or so.
  • Weighting: longer projects need a lot of space because otherwise they get caught up underneath the mill, the guage is ruined and the machine starts knitting the same stitches again and again until you end up with one long stitch that covers several rows – this can be fixed, but it is always best to avoid it.

And, of course, practice. The only way to really get the hang of the mill is to use it, then speed can really pick up.