Figuring Out My Figure Type


I’ll cut to the chase: I have an “X” figure type with sloping shoulders.

Photo taken by Cynthia in her studio Oct. 20.

The suspense is over. Let the fitting begin!

To update:

My longtime reader(s) will remember that one of the first topics I tackled in this blog, in 2013, was identifying my figure type, which I wrote about here and here.

For those posts I followed instructions in The Perfect Fit (Singer Sewing Reference Library) to trace my life-size silhouette onto paper and to compare my proportions to “an average figure that is used as a sizing standard for patterns.”

The exercise was interesting, to be sure, but my conclusions weren’t definitive.  It would have been great, having had this “X-ray” taken of my figure, to have a “radiologist” interpret the image or send me back to the drawing board to make an outline with more precisely placed markers.

I didn’t know exactly what the “ends of shoulders” were that I was supposed to mark. Where was the base of my neck?  My waist location was a cinch, but where should I mark the hip–where the bones are, or where I’m the widest?

Although a yardstick laid from the shoulder to hip was very nearly vertical, indicating a “balanced” figure, I didn’t feel balanced. (“Ballast” was more like it.) I’m always wanting to add visual weight to my shoulder line. The books may have labeled me an hourglass, but I thought I’d better heed the advice for pears. Right?

“Kinda” knowing my figure type was hardly better than not knowing at all. After all, avoiding the worst designs for my figure type is only a start.  I want to know–without so much costly trial and error–what’s worth sewing or shopping for to create beautiful outfits–even whole seasonal collections.

Having my figure evaluated by an expert was one of the main reasons I joined Imogen Lamport’s program 7 Steps to Style.  A couple of weeks ago I donned a leotard and leggings, and Cynthia took a nice, clear photograph in her well-lighted studio. I posted the photo to the 7 Steps to Style Facebook group, where a couple of dozen fellow members very kindly offered their opinions.

And you know what? It is not necessarily easy to size up somebody else’s figure! Some thought “X” (the hourglass shape); some thought an “8” (which has a hip shape resembling Barbie’s, so I’m told); some had reason to believe I was an “A” (which is a nicer way of saying a pear). It was even suggested that I was an “I,” which was interesting because I definitely have a waist.

Responding to lot of observations, I volunteered that whatever figure I had, I had the mindset of an “A” because I always wanted to add a strong horizontal shoulder line. That’s one reason why I like fashions of the 1940s.

I had posted my photo midday Friday my time but at the beginning of the weekend, Australia time, so it was a couple of days before I got Imogen’s response of an “X” figure.  The line from shoulder to hip is vertical (not slanted out like an “A” or in like a “V” figure) and I clearly have a waist. “X” it is–with the further qualification of sloped shoulders.

I know, it makes sense, and maybe I should have had this all figured on my own long ago. But it was awfully helpful to have the opinion of an expert who’s worked with thousands of women to distinguish my salient characteristics.

But this is not just the end of an old story; it’s the beginning of a new, richer story.  Possibly the best feature of this program I’m participating in is the ongoing feedback from Imogen and hundreds of fellow 7 Steps to Style members. I have this new, solid piece of information I can test and refine over the months and through the seasons, with the possibility of critical but supportive input beyond what I’ve ever had before.

Things are looking up!

Photo by Cynthia DeGrand

Vogue Patterns 8772: Easy Options Blouses


Even though summer can be the easiest and most fun season to sew for, I didn’t sew much for summer during our years in Minnesota.  After all, it wasn’t till May that I was finally convinced I could probably go outdoors without a coat, and in September I was bracing myself for the first coworker to make a nasty crack about when the first snowflakes could be expected to fall.

I made this sleeveless blouse but in a shorter version.

To shrink the summer-sewing window of opportunity smaller yet, we often traveled in June, July, or August–sometimes to places with fabric stores selling wonderful cottons and linens for light dresses and sleeveless blouses.  In New York, Chicago, and even Glasgow a citrus-colored handkerchief linen or snappy seersucker would catch my eye and sneak into my suitcase for the trip home–where it would languish desolately in the chill of my basement sewing domain.

Vogue 8772: the muslin

Oh sure, I can hear you say, I could have sewn for summer at another time of year–but that would have required me to, number 1, take off my thermal underwear to try on that dress or blouse, and, number 2, believe that warm weather would ever return.  Ha–I was nobody’s fool!  And so I lived with a serviceable but hardly extensive summer wardrobe for years–not that anybody noticed.

Extra fabric at the waist interferes with a smooth line.

Now that I’m back in central Ohio, I’ve noticed.  In reality and in spirit, summer is definitely here.  The peach trees here are set to produce an unheard-of two crops this season.  Strawberries, corn, tomatoes are all showing up early and in abundance, begging to be used–just like my summer fabric stash.

That gaping armhole must go!

Rummaging through the back of my closet a few weeks ago, I found muslins I’d put away late last August– too late for slowpoke me to fit, alter, and sew those patterns into summer attire. But now, for once, I could consider myself ahead of the game.  I tried on my muslin of Vogue Easy Options 8772, read through my notes from last year, and it really wasn’t long before I had produced a wearable test and three well-fitting sleeveless blouses.

To improve the fit and look called for some simple changes within my very limited but adequate alteration abilities:

  • moving the armhole up a little to avoid annoying gaping
  • raising the bust dart half an inch
  • tucking out an inch or so of excess length in the back waist and shortening the front to match
  • changing the armhole finish from a bias strip to a facing

    Drafting a facing to replace the simple bias strip the pattern called for.

    In the muslin I found the bias-strip facing bulky and I wanted a finish that would distribute the bulk more nicely: a facing.

Wearable test: the armhole gap is still there.

In this drapey linen-rayon the excess at the waist really shows.

Another view of that unsightly, but fixable, ripple of extra fabric in the back.

Could I just fold this out and make it disappear, please?

Next: a seersucker. I do like this blouse, despite my inscrutable expression.

I tucked out about an inch in the back pattern piece. Maybe I could have fussed more with it but I’m happy.

Given my limited fitting skills, I’m fine with this result.

Very important: the armhole passes the volleyball test. (And no, I was not the gym class volleyball star.)

Now I’m happy with the fit. I rifled my stashes to make this version from a cross-dye cotton shirting and handsome black mother of pearl buttons.

Should I take in a little more in the back darts, or would that be overfitting? Possibly the latter.

Pass/fail? It’s a pass. Oh, but what’s going on with that left shoulder?

The armhole passes the hailing-a-taxi test.

Having worked out the fit issues I could confidently cut into a favorite fabric: a summery John Kaldor stretch cotton


The–crisp?–feel to this cotton may be due to the spandex, so this fabric doesn’t drape. But the pattern is well suited to this fabric so all is well.

The armhole passes the hailing-a-drone test.

This Vogue Easy Options blouse lives up to its name:  it is easy to sew, and just the sleeveless option by itself is putting variety into my summer wardrobe at a swift pace.

I’ve since sewn a short-sleeved version that was equally successful with a couple of tweaks, which will appear in a future post.

(Photos of me are by Cynthia DeGrand)

What Works, What Doesn’t: Five Versions of the McCall “Mannish Jacket” from 1941


Remember this jacket pattern? Of course you do.

IMG_6681 (345x460)

From 1941, McCall pattern 4065, the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket”

In 2015 I used it for a project following Kenneth King’s “Old School” instructions on his Smart Tailoring DVD.

From 2003 to 2015 I made up this jacket five times.

Don’t ask me why, but I always loved the jaunty pattern illustration.

The actual jackets? I didn’t love them, exactly, although I was proud of the quality of work I did on parts of them.  Only recently (like five minutes ago) did I make this crucial distinction.dark_tweed_jacket_1712-247x460


If I had seen well-lighted, full-length photos of this first version of the jacket on me I could have perfected the fit.

I made the dark tweed one first, starting it in a Palmer-Pletsch sewing camp in Portland, Oregon in 2003 and finishing it at home with guidance from my sewing teacher, Edith.dark_tweed_jacket_1721-460x363dark_tweed_jacket_1722-460x403

In 2006, in a stunt of sewing bravado, I sewed burgundy plaid, green heather, and red plaid versions. purple_plaid_jacket_1732-244x460



The only jacket I’ve ever interfaced with fusible canvas. I know Kenneth King isn’t a fan of fusible canvas, but it turned out to work well in this garment.




I need a little posture-correcting here!

Defiantly shaking my fist at the sewing gods, and with Edith’s encouragement and coaching, I cut the pieces for all three jackets (two requiring meticulous matching) over that Labor Day weekend.  Relaxing, right?


I have always liked this plaid for its colors and scale.

I just didn’t want to be intimidated by tailoring anymore, so I cut and sewed the three jackets, with different pockets, over the course of several months.


It’s fun to cut some plaid pieces on the bias. I cut out a hole the shape of the finished flap from stiff paper, and moved the “preview window” around on the yardage. Then I cut the flap pieces.



It’s nice when you can find the right buttons in the right sizes. These are a souvenir of a visit to Edinburgh.


Bound buttonholes are not my forte.


I had a few tutorials with Edith and also used Jackets for Real People by Patti Palmer and Marta Alto extensively.heather_jacket_1780-460x331


The bound buttonhole is coming apart. But–I love the subtle coloring of this fabric! I picked it up as a remnant for about $3.00 at the Minnesota Textile Center’s fabulous annual fabric garage sale.


I’m happy with the shoulders and notched collar job I did. This wool was a breeze to work with.


Holes in the lining created from carrying tote bags of books to and from the libraries I used to work at. Of all the jackets, I’ve worn this one the most.

I did learn a lot, and achieved a lot, and am still impressed by the ambition of the goal as well as the results.red_plaid_jacket_1808-460x357



I settled for this style of button but think there are better choices out there. Something subtle and matte.


Shoulders are okay, but I keep wanting to subtract a little roominess from the upper bodice.

But if the point of sewing clothes is to wear the clothes, then I didn’t succeed as much as I assumed I would.  I didn’t follow through with planning outfits around these jackets, let alone making the jackets the pivotal pieces they deserved to be.

Even though my now four “Misses’ Mannish Jackets” were underemployed in my wardrobe, yet again I turned to this pattern when I wanted to try Kenneth King’s brand new Smart Tailoring DVD last year.blue_tweed_jacket_1818-252x460

I wanted to try all of Kenneth’s techniques–for a notched collar, felt undercollar, mitered sleeves, and a vent–and the Mannish Jacket met all those specs. blue_tweed_jacket_1856-460x384


This is Kenneth King’s “hidden pocket”: a nice addition to the lining.


The patch pockets on this 1941 jacket are slightly asymmetrical, which I like.

I did consider many other patterns I’d been dying to try for years–but the prospect of going through the whole muslin, fitting, and pattern-altering rigamarole before getting to the tailoring was just too much. I wanted to finish my jacket before attending Kenneth’s weekend workshop in Cleveland a few months later. (And I did.)


This fabric, which I bought at a Textile Center of Minnesota sale, may well date to the 1950s. It likely came from somebody’s stash. The button dates to the 1940s, according to the owner of Taylors Buttons in London.

So that’s how Mannish Jacket 5 came to be: I sewed it as a learning exercise. And the fabric?  I chose that only because I was willing to sacrifice it, if the jacket was a dud. So, looking back, I see just how much learning technique took precedence over making myself something I wanted to wear.

In fact, just now I’m realizing that each of these Mannish Jackets may have been taken on a little too self-consciously as An Exercise in Sewing Self-Improvement.

I suspect this because, when I see these jackets hanging in my closet I hear myself saying:

  • “I put a lot of work into that.”
  • “I did a good job [matching the plaid/sewing the pockets/choosing the buttons].”
  • “I learned a lot.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t padded the shoulders so much.”
  • “Are they too long for me?”
  • “My bound buttonholes are too flimsy!”
  • “I do love the fabric.”
  • “If I just sew the right coordinates, I’ll wear them.”

In other words, I still see them as projects more than as garments.

I don’t notice myself saying:

  • “I love these jackets!”
  • “When can I wear them again?”
  • “What can I sew now to make new outfits?”

Don’t get me wrong: the Mannish Jacket series wasn’t a waste of time. I did learn a lot–and not just how to sew a notched collar without flinching.  But there will be no Mannish Jacket number 6.

What I had only vaguely felt–a sense that, however hard I had worked on these garments, they still fell short, without my knowing precisely why–became clear to me when I saw the stark reality in properly lighted photos.

These jackets were wearing me more than I was wearing them.  The shoulders? Wider than I’d realized before, and not in a flattering way.


I am very dissatisfied with the prominent sleeve caps; they interrupt a clean, straight shoulder line. It doesn’t help that the shoulders are too extended for me. This is the same pattern I used for the preceding four jackets, yet this one turned out so different.


This is too big! So exasperating. Also, I wonder whether I made the best interfacing choices. They are so hard to get right.

The length?  Disproportionate on me. The back? Too roomy.  This is the 1941 version of–yes, a boyfriend jacket! Of course!

I could alter the pattern pieces for future jackets, narrowing the back and shoulder and taking three or four inches from the 26 1/2″ finished length.  I could make a better-fitting Mannish Jacket. However, I think I’d be removing much of what makes the 1941 design distinctive. I also think my appetite for this style has been satisfied.

Instead, I’ll reassign Jacket 5 from bench-sitting as a garment to active duty as a tailoring resource.  And jackets 1 through 4 can serve occasionally as light coats flung over sweaters or flannel shirts and jeans to wear on crisp, dry, fall days.

There are critical points on the way to getting things sewn, where, if I do make the extra effort to identify the lessons, I can reap the full benefit.

As I look back at what my Mannish Jackets could teach me, some lessons are:

  • Photos of myself in muslins and garments give me much better data to work with than squinting in a mirror or getting feedback from well-intentioned helpers.
  • If the point of sewing most garments is to wear them in outfits, I should pay a lot more attention to the outfit level of planning.
  • Planning outfits is a skill in itself. If I plan outfits before I sew the garments, I’m more likely to enjoy really successful outcomes.  If I sew the garment and then only hope I can incorporate it into an outfit, then I’m more likely to be disappointed.
  • It’s okay to sew something as a rehearsal for the next iteration–as long as I’m aware that what I’m producing is just a practice piece. If it does become part of my wardrobe, that’s a bonus.

Lessons learned.  Now to incorporate them into new practices and put myself on an even more rewarding path.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for all photos.)


What Works/What Doesn’t: McCall 7842, Coat (1934)


My coat-making fever this fall has prompted me to take a fresh look at a project I did about five years ago. I was disappointed in the result, but had not really clarified my dissatisfaction until I had myself photographed wearing the coat and could analyze the fit and the look against the pattern drawing. A couple of sewing friends also looked at the pictures and gave me their opinions. It turned out we agreed about the problems and possible solutions.

This was a simple but eye-opening exercise.  I’ve got a much clearer idea of the kinds of problems this pattern poses and the solutions I’d try. Not only that, but I think I’ll make better pattern, fabric, and ready-to-wear choices in the future. Very worthwhile, fun, and interesting.

One of my very favorite pattern illustrations. Now, can I make a coat that's just as great?

One of my very favorite pattern illustrations. Now, can I make a coat that’s just as great?

This McCall coat pattern from 1934 enchanted me with its casual air, generous lapels, and relatively easy construction. I’ve looked at hundreds of coat patterns, and this one remains a favorite. It’s a classic.

So how come my coat doesn’t look all that great on me?

Functions? Yes. Fits? No. Flatters? Afraid not!

Functions? Yes. Fits? No. Flatters? Afraid not!

What works? It’s warm and cuddly. It got me through many a winter bus stop wait between library work assignments around Hennepin County.

What doesn’t work?

This is too BIG!

This is too BIG!

I think part of the problem is in the fabric I chose. I used a bulky wool coating, which was a great choice for warmth but not for drape. I was going to say that my fabric is stiffer than what’s suggested in the illustration, but my fabric falls in gentle folds, too. Nevertheless, I think that because I’m only 5′ 1 1/2″ I really have to be careful with bulk in full-length coats.

Wide, wide, wide.

Wide, wide, wide.

Another big problem is proportion. I recall shortening the coat about 8 inches, which threw off the proportion. The illustration shows a classic proportion of one third above the belt and two thirds below.  Measuring the drawing with a hem gauge, I noticed that the one-third proportion–2 inches–was achieved by turning up the collar. All three renderings show the turned-up collar (which I like, by the way). On me the division is closer to half and half, which isn’t flattering.

Looks great on her...

Looks great on her…

And then, those lapels! They just drag the eye down. How could I have missed this in the muslins?

For one thing, the upper collar comes down too far. And then the lapel is positioned too low. It looks quite different from the pattern illustration.

What I missed in the illustration was the fact that the lapel, or front facing, continues below the tied belt. This also brings the eye down, which I don’t need.

...but the collar and lapels are too low on me.

…but the collar and lapels are too low on me.

Also, the belt is a little wider than ideal, and it divides me into two unflattering halves.

So I have these vertical challenges going on.

I also have width challenges. The bulky fabric adds width. When I wrap the coat around myself, the overlap completely covers one of the patch pockets. That’s obviously wrong.

An alternative from the same period. It might be fun to try this just for the Hepburn association.

An alternative from the same period. It might be fun to try this just for the Hepburn association.

Where width would be welcome–in the shoulders–raglan sleeves are not as good a choice as set-in sleeves, but they can work with the right shoulder pads and the right overall design.

My question is, could I change this pattern enough, while retaining its distinctiveness, to make a coat that functions, fits, and flatters?

Here's another McCall coat, from 1936.

Here’s another McCall coat, from 1936.

Working with a patternmaker, I could change the collar and lapels to bring the eye up, take out the excess overlap to correct the width, and narrow the belt.

For the wearable test I would try a thinner fabric that drapes, for the most dramatic contrast with the previous version.

This coat clamors to be made, too.

This coat clamors to be made, too.

This would be such an interesting experiment, sometime I might try it. But the improvements must lead to a wonderful pattern, not one that’s a little better. It might be that a wrap coat, in the end, is simply not a good style for me.

If that’s the case, some other coat patterns are waiting in the wings for their moment in the spotlight.

Interesting seaming! This is the back of the Hollywood pattern shown just above.

Interesting seaming! This is the back of the Hollywood pattern shown just above.

(Photographs: Cynthia DeGrand.)

What Works/What Doesn’t: The Anorak


The anorak analysis is in.

The anorak analysis is in.

Remember the anorak I finished a while back?  I’ve been wearing it on neighborhood walks for a few weeks.

I modeled it recently in a photo shoot in Cynthia’s studio.

And last week I brought it to a gathering of sewing friends.

This anorak has been worn in the wind and rain, stuffed into suitcases, tied around my waist, styled for photographs, and held up to the scrutiny of three discriminating and frank sewing experts.

The drawstring waist needs to be repositioned.

The drawstring waist needs to be repositioned.

I’ve been asking myself the what works/what doesn’t questions I described in my previous post.

What are my findings?

All the categories in the Context column were Works with one exception.

  • Occasions.  This is everyday wear. Works.
  • Activities.  Urban outdoor walking, errand-running, travel.  Works. But keeping the contents of the pockets safe: Doesn’t work.
    Pickpockets' paradise.

    Pickpockets’ paradise.

  • Roles. Runner of errands, walker of neighborhoods, watcher of birds, traveler. Works.
  • Physical conditions. It keeps me dry in a shower. It’s not waterproof, but that’s okay. Works.
  • Mood of the occasion. Everyday activities are pretty mood-neutral. Works.

    This back would be too roomy for Quasimodo.

    This back would be too roomy for Quasimodo.

  • Other wardrobe items. This goes great with a lot of my casual clothes. Works.
  • Other fabrics, patterns and buttons.  Plenty of fabrics and some patterns in my stashes go with the anorak for future coordinates. Works.
  • What I’m moving into. I foresee more everyday activities in my future for which the anorak will be handy. Works.

The Context column was nearly a clean sweep. The Individual column was a mixed bag:

  • Personality.  No personality clash here. Works.
  • Style. I suppose in the world of anoraks this is my style.  (I really must replace that white cording, though.) Works.

    The back is big, true, but the hood is just right.

    The back is big, true, but the hood is just right.

  • Fit. The hood, sleeve length and circumference are fine. There’s too much blousing in the front and especially the back. A big Doesn’t work.
  • Silhouette. The waist definition is a big improvement over my old boxy windbreaker. But seen from the side, the waist has got to be resituated. And the excessive blousing is also unflattering. Doesn’t work.
  • Color. I bought the fabric for the yellowish-green cast, an interesting neutral that works well with my coloring and clothes. Works.

    With my body double.

  • Physical characteristics. I created this category to remind me about my range of motion, extremities that get cold easily, feet that need arch support–things like that. The anorak gets a passing grade. Works.
  • What I’m growing into. Whatever psychological thresholds I may cross, the anorak should be fine. Works.
Between shots in Cynthia's studio.

Between shots in Cynthia’s studio.

The anorak has two glaring problems.

The front and back have way too much design ease and the drawstring waist is angled when it should be parallel with the floor.

And–my mistake–I misread the pattern directions and microscopic illustrations, and sewed the flaps onto the pockets when they should have been attached to the fronts in such a way as to keep the pockets closed. This is hugely annoying.

But–these problems just might be fixable. Yes!

Instead of wearing this anorak only at night or relegating it to the back of the closet overcome with guilt and peevishness, I may be able to salvage this.

Next time, I'll do the pockets the right way!

Next time, I’ll do the pockets the right way!

Edith asked me, “Do you have more of this fabric? You could save the hood, sleeves and pockets and cut new altered fronts and a back.”

I got to thinking, it’s worth a try. I’ve already invested a lot of effort (not much money–the fabric was $1.49 a yard) in this garment. Perhaps for some more effort I’d have a garment that would work in all categories.

Plus, I’d have an altered pattern ready for sewing another well-fitting anorak someday.

It was a big advance for me, seeing, with Edith’s help, how I might make this garment right, rather than writing it off. Now I’m taking a second look at other projects, defining the good points and the problems and asking myself, “How could I make this right?” I might not be able to save the garment, but I might correct the pattern, at least, and be very happy with it.

So, readers, I’m going to try taking this jacket apart, having Edith coach me through the pattern alterations, and reassembling the pieces.

Whatever the results, you’ll see them here. They’re all part of the hero’s journey of getting things sewn.

This way to a better anorak!

This way to a better anorak!

(All photographs are by Cynthia DeGrand.)