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3D Printed Mini Mannequins

When I needed a new work jacket, one that would fit well, be bright and have pockets, I approached Maggie Semple, the founder of a bespoke women’s fashion brand, Semple Ltd. 

While we were discussing jacket designs, I mentioned that I was a maker with a focus on electronics. She then started telling me her ideas about putting electronics in dresses…

On my next visit, I showed her some of my previous electronics projects. This included the 3D printed bunny rabbit I had made for my Mum - to send visual messages to her grandchildren without the need to be on the internet or have a mobile phone. Maggie tapped the plastic and asked what it was – I said I’d 3D printed it. Her eyes lit up and she excitedly told me about an idea she’d had for a few years, but hadn’t been able to find anyone to make for her.

As a bespoke dress designer, Maggie often has to take a lot of dresses around the world to show the sorts of things her company can make. Her team had made some miniature dresses, but they all seemed a bit flat when displayed. She wanted eight-inch tall mini dressmaker’s mannequins, just like the Pandora dolls used in the eighteenth century to display the latest fashions.

Could I make one?

Having never made such a thing before, I obviously said yes.

To see if Maggie and I had the same sort of thing in mind, I started by googling “Woman’s torso, 3D print”. This was not my best idea. I thought Cindy and Barbie were unrealistic!

However, I found a human-shaped .stl model of a woman that I could try. Maggie had given me a miniature dress her team had already made. I had to cut the arms off the model and unpick some of the stitching, but the first attempt was OK.

My 3D design skills are not the best and I couldn’t quite find the right shape/size mannequin torso. But then I discovered MakeHuman. This is a free and open source 3D computer graphics software designed for prototyping photo realistic humanoids. I suspect the developers, a community of programmers, artists, and academics interested in 3D modelling of characters, didn’t expect it to be used in the way I wanted to use it, but it was ideal. I downloaded the software and started to play. This software is wonderful, with sliders that change the image in real time. It was a little surreal sitting in Maggie’s atelier with some of her designers, changing the shape of what was really a computer game character, to make her more “real”. We decided to call her “Hope” in a reference to the Pandora dolls of old. The “gender” setting allowed me to move breast size, position, firmness, etc. and the “torso” setting allowed me to change the waist size and position. I could also change her height and build.

When we agreed on a realistic human shape, which was also suitable to be dressed in a frock, I exported the image as an .stl file.

I then had to manipulate the file to remove the arms and legs and design a plinth and pole for it to be attached to.

And because it’s a 3D print, I could make a couple of different of shapes and sizes.

Cat for scale

The final results? – well, I’ll let Maggie tell you…

"At Semple, we make made to measure clothing for women. As a bespoke service currently venturing into the US market, our potential clients, both in New York and London find Lucy’s scale 3D printed mannequins the ideal way to visualise a completed Semple garment in a range of colours and styles. We are delighted with our new marketing tools that are quirky, logistically perfect and loved by everyone!” Maggie Semple OBE, Founder, Semple Ltd.

I am an inventor, engineer, writer and presenter. Other stuff: Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor of Engineering: Creativity and Communication at Brunel University London; Founder of the Guild of Makers (www.guildofmakers.org); Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and have a PhD in bubbles; Judge on BBC Robot Wars.

28 Aug 2018, 10:44