It Figures: Figure Analysis, part 2

Me with my good buddy, my figure outline

Me with my good buddy, my figure outline


In my previous post I described how my helper (sister and photographer Cynthia), and I created an outline of my figure so I could stand back and view it with some objectivity.  We followed instructions in the book  The Perfect Fit in the Singer Sewing Reference Library.

I hoped this exercise could show where my outline proportions match pattern company standards and ancient Greek ideals, and where they varied.  I thought that knowing this could help me determine the best proportions and garment styles for me.

Well…I’ll start with the firm-ish conclusions.

Note that in these illustrations:

  • The black horizontal lines are drawn through the reference points of the base of my neck, shoulders, underarms, waist, fullest part of the hip, and knees.
    • The red broken lines are where I creased the paper. They represent  the “ideal” proportions the Greeks and today’s pattern companies divide the body into.

    Long-waisted. Equal shoulder and hip width.

    I’m a little long-waisted.  See how the broken red line is above the black underarm line?  That’s extra space that shows I’m longer-waisted than the standard.

  • See the parallel red lines drawn through the shoulder points to hip points?  The outline shows my shoulders and hips are equal width.  I was surprised.  If I loosen up my exercise and eating regimen the least little bit, a pear-shaped figure is my reward. I’d anticipated lines slanting wider toward the floor.
  • I’m short-legged.  (Not surprising.)  In The Perfect Fit the black line marking the fullest part of the hip is much lower than the red broken line.  In the standard figure the black line would be up there with the red line.

    Short legs.

    Short legs.

I may be short (barely 5’2″) but I’m not a true petite.  True petites, say Pati Palmer and Marta Alto in their book Fit for Real People, are proportionately shorter all over, not just in the legs like I am.  And as I said earlier, I’m long-waisted.  (As a short person, the thought that I’m long in anything comes as a surprise.)

I have average shoulders, not sloping or square.  The distance between my base of neck line and shoulder line is 2″, which is the standard in commercial patterns.

Average shoulders

Average shoulders


But, readers, enough about me.

The truth is, I wouldn’t draw firm conclusions based only on this outline.

Cynthia and I wondered where exactly to mark most body points.  The top of head and waist were easy.  But where exactly to mark the base of the neck, the “ends of shoulders” (I chose those bony bumps), the underarms, hips and even knees?

I also don’t get why the fullest part of the hip would be marked but not the hip sockets.  Where people carry their fullness relative to the hip sockets can vary greatly.

So marking reference points differently would yield different results and conclusions. How reliable would they be? Not very.

"What info does this foldline give me?"

“What info does this foldline give me?”

So, am I recommending skipping the outline exercise and quitting this whole figure analysis thing? Nope.

In his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) Seth Godin writes, “…the opposite of quitting is rededication.  The opposite of quitting is an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart.

So here are three more approaches.

If you enjoy calculating ratios, see “The Golden Rule of Proportions: Use an age-old ratio to look your best” in Threads magazine Feb./Mar. 2009 by Sandra Ericson.  She writes, “A wonder of nature is that the height of the average person’s head, from top to chin, divides into the height of their body seven and a half to eight times.”

Ericson directs you to have a helper trace your outline on a sheet of paper.  Then you calculate using your head length to draw the “ideal grid” onto the outline, and observe the variances.  She shows examples of outlines of real women overlaid with their ideal grids, with clothing choices showing their best silhouettes.

I admit I found this article daunting at first glance, and my casual summary doesn’t do it justice.  It deserves a separate post.  I’ll try all of Sandra Ericson’s instructions and report back in the next few months.

Pati Palmer and Marta Alto describe making a “body graph,” which looks like a much-improved version of the outline I did, in their book Fit for Real People.  They give detailed instructions with lots of informative photos and drawings.  They also supply a drawing of so-called “perfect” proportions, a worksheet to collect all your data, and Marta’s filled-out worksheet showing her figure variances.  I’ll also try the Body Graph myself and will write about this.

Finally, Brenda Kinsel’s chapter entitled “Stand Up and Be Measured, ” in her book In the Dressing Room with Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great, uses the very minimum of math and no outlines.  You pair up with a partner and determine proportions using a cloth measuring tape and a pair of dowels.  This sounds like a social, fun, and informative way to train your eye and appreciate your assets.  Kinsel is so positive but grounded in practicality, too.  I must give her exercises a whirl, too and report back.

I’m curious to know what fund of knowledge I may amass from spending a few hours trying out all these figure analysis methods.  Whatever I learn, I’ll pass on to you, readers.  These are all tools that, together, I hope, will lead to more confident pattern and ready-to-wear selection.

So, readers, have you tried any figure analysis methods from sewing or fashion books?  Did they help?

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?