It Figures: Doing a Figure Analysis, part 1


Up against the wall.

Up against the wall.


I’ve asked myself time and again how I could hang back from sewing certain patterns, for years, even, when I am so crazy about them.   I think the reason is I’m not a jump-in-and-try-it sewer.  I like to think things through. And through.  And through!

I want information!  I want answers! Preferably before I sew one or more muslins and cut into my irreplaceable fabrics.

Much of what stops me from sewing certain patterns is being unsure whether they flatter my figure.  Some design aspects might work for me and some might not. How can I distinguish the good from the not-so-good?

I’ve read plenty of articles over the years about figure types, and I bet you have, too.  But I still wonder:

  •  What skirt lengths are best for me?
  • What skirt styles are best?
  • Why do some raglan sleeves look okay on me and others look terrible?
  • Are my legs short, or am I just a short person that’s proportionate?
  • I’m small.  But am I a “true” petite?  And what difference does that make, anyway?

Would a figure analysis help?  It was time to find out.

A librarian to the core, I gathered my sources:

  • The Perfect Fit, Singer Sewing Reference Library, pp. 22-35, “Analyzing Your Figure”
  • Threads magazine, February/March 2009, “The Golden Rule of Proportions: Use an Age-Old Ratio to Look Your Best” by Sandra Ericson, pp. 37-41
  • In the Dressing Room with Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great, by Brenda Kinsel, “Stand Up and Be Measured,” pp. 74-85

I chose the procedure in the Perfect Fit book, where a helper outlines your body on a big piece of paper.  My helper was my sister and photographer Cynthia DeGrand, and the location was her studio in Columbus, Ohio (only 764 miles from my home in Minneapolis).

The directions in the The Perfect Fit are easy to follow. I tied a piece of elastic around my waist for a reference point.  The book also directs you to wear a short chain necklace around your neck.  I skipped that.

I stood right up against the paper on the wall, and Cynthia traced my outline with a pencil as accurately as she could.

Then she marked these locations on the outline:

  • top of head
  • base of neck (The location was to be determined by the chain necklace.  Cynthia just estimated.)
  • ends of shoulders (Confusing.  We decided on the boney bumps as reference points.)
  • underarms at creases
  • waist where the elastic rested
  • fullest part of hips
  • knees

In the book the outline is smooth and symmetrical.  Despite Cynthia’s steady hand, my outline had a lot of wiggly little lines and was not symmetrical.

Smoothing out the wiggly pencil lines with a French curve, then tracing with a felt-tip marker

Smoothing out the wiggly pencil lines with a French curve, then tracing with a felt-tip marker

I smoothed out the wiggles with a French curve.  Then I drew a visible outline with a wide black felt-tip pen.

Drawing in lines of the shoulder points

Drawing in lines of the shoulder points

The next step was to draw horizontal lines through all the reference points  listed above.

Then I took the paper off the wall.  I folded the paper in half, matching the top of the head with the point where the paper (and my feet) touched the floor, and creased it.  Then I folded the paper in half again, making a good crease.

Folding the outline into fourths.

Folding the outline into fourths.

I opened out the paper and drew in vertical lines connecting the shoulder and hip reference points.

Connecting shoulder and hip reference points.

Connecting shoulder and hip reference points.

One more step, not in the Perfect Fit book:  I drew broken red lines tracing the three creases I created.  Then I could easily compare the black lines of my figure with the “perfect” proportions of the red lines, seeing how much and where I was at variance with the norm.

Next time:  Did I learn anything from my outline?

So readers, have you ever done this type of figure analysis?  Did it help you recognize something you hadn’t noticed just by looking in the mirror?


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One thought on “It Figures: Doing a Figure Analysis, part 1

  1. I haven’t been sewing for a while, as I am not as happy with my body shape right now. But, even when I was in good shape, I learned that fullness at the hips, is NOT good on me. Although, being a girly- girl, I love full skirts. Hem length and the gradual scaling of fullness from the hips to the hemline is the key to that silhouette working on me. It is a game of scale and proportion. Hem lengths are relative to the circumference of the hem itself.

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