Archive for the ‘body shape’ category

Sewing a Wardrobe in a Weekend : Pattern and Body Shape

April 25, 2010

There’s a fascinating article by Sue Neall on sewing a 6-piece wardrobe in a weekend.

The Vogue 2910 Adri pattern is oop but still available.


Sue Neall is an expert sewer. Look at that pattern : sheer fabrics, double welt seams, top stitching, lined bias cut top and skirt, skirt also has side-seam zip and shaped hem, pants with darts, curved pockets, zip and waistband. How did she do it all ? Whew, I get flustered just thinking about it !

Are there pattern possibilities and sewing processes which might make a weekend wardrobe an achievable aim for the rest of us – even for people who don’t sew knits and haven’t got a serger/ overlocker. . . ?

There are many patterns labelled Very Easy which are not also Super Quick. Although the processes are easy they’re not fast, for example simple collars. Or there are a lot of processes, such as an eight-gored skirt.

For speedy sewing, most of us need patterns with a small number of easy processes. Something like Park Bench Central Park (quick to sew, but sizing only for people with some experience).


Another problem with patterns that are both quick and easy is they’re usually straight up and down, and about half of us aren’t.

– – –

Pattern and body shape

Styles which are straight up and down are only flattering for those of us who are straight up and down. And this is related to speedy sewing. You don’t have to be full busted for it to be well worth taking the time needed to add bust darts to most of these patterns. And do some side seam shaping : curving in for a waist or flaring out for larger hips.


Moving the pattern side seam by 1/2 inch changes the garment by 2 inches or 1 size.
Moving the pattern side seam by 1 inch changes the garment by 4 inches or 2 sizes.

Nancy Nix-Rice (“Looking Good” p. 36) comments about rectangular shape garments :
– pears/ triangles : need shoulder pads to balance shoulders to hips.
– inverted triangle : rectangles make hips look as wide as shoulders.
– hourglass : rectangles hide best feature – small waist.

Nancy Nix-Rice uses the ‘Vogue’ body shapes of inverted triangle, triangle, rectangle, and hourglass. She doesn’t separate people who are rectangular (straight up and down) from round (waist larger than bust). ‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ does. They suggest round / apple shape people need soft curved shoulder shapes rather than square ones. Big shoulders may not be fashionable these days, but fitted shoulders are. Happily so are cut-on and raglan sleeves, which have a softer effect. And are quicker to sew.

– – –

Triangle/ Pear

Smaller above the waist, larger below. If you have a clearly indented waist, also look at Hourglass advice.

For a pear, a rectangle shaped garment big enough to go over the hips is huge at the top. That’s why shoulder pads are recommended, to stop all that spare fabric from sagging. Not a good starting point. I prefer flare at the side seams, from shoulder or underarm.


Vogue styling advice for pears usually suggests shoulder emphasis and a neat waist with full skirt. And these are not quick techniques.

Easiest to start from a-line or flared patterns. Or perhaps ones with a bit of gathering, though that’s not a super quick technique. There are surprisingly few of these patterns, considering how many there are of us with this shape.

One possibility is oop VE Vogue 8371. Those ‘handkerchief’ corners would look very droopy on me, but easy enough to cut them off.


Make a larger size and add a front opening to the sleeved version, for a jacket.
Change the length of top and skirt for more current proportions.

An equivalent is See & Sew Butterick 5203 (add a skirt), or Vogue 8542 for knits.

There are of course other a-line and flared patterns. I chose V8371 to show some of the extra steps you may need when there is not a wide choice of suitable quick patterns.

Being small busted, I look better with an interesting neckline/ front. VE Vogue 8482 with an easy drape neck is a possibility (flare the side seams).


This is an example of what keeps coming up – those of us who are not rectangular may have to do some pattern altering or change style features to get flattering patterns.

– – –

Inverted triangle

Larger above the waist, slimmer below. It’s helpful to separate people who have large cup size but narrow shoulders, from people with wide shoulders but a small cup, and people with both large.

Big shoulders – taper a rectangle.
Big in front – well worth the effort to do an FBA, or at least add bust darts.

For people with bigger shoulders, there are Very Easy patterns which assert the shoulder emphasis with a strong horizontal line. Such as VE Vogue 8552. (possibly remove zip and centre back seam).


(I think the pockets might look good on someone with large shoulders, but less so on someone with a large cup size.)

Inverted Triangle is the body type that’s most likely to have difficulty getting into a more fitted design without an opening. See my post on size. You may be surprised by what you can get over your shoulders or bust without needing a zip. If so, you can also leave out the centre back seam.

But you are more likely to need a zip or other opening in a more fitted design. In that case, for a quickly made pullover style you might prefer drop shouldered loose fitting rectangles, like Anything But Ordinary by Louise Cutting.


– – –


Balanced above and below a clearly indented waist.

What a pity to waste a good figure by not adding bust darts.

Nearly all patterns from the big companies have at least a little side-seam waist shaping, so increase it.

Sadly, belting a rectangle garment gives what Nancy Nix-Rice (“Looking Good Live” DVD) calls the ‘sausage effect’ – fabric bulging above and below the belt.

There are Very Easy patterns with simple princess seaming combined with cut on sleeves. Not so much extra work after the fitting is done. Perhaps VE Vogue 8512.


(Change the neckline if this isn’t right for you.)

Again see my post on size. You may be surprised how much you can narrow the waist and still get it over your head without a zip.

Or add fish eye darts at waist level. But make sure they don’t make the waist area too small to get your shoulders through.


Best to add bust darts as well, or you may get odd fabric strain lines.
Princess seams are probably much less work once the fitting is done !

It’s not very flattering for people with an indented waist to wear styles without side seams.

– – –

More shape means more work

For us non-rectangles, it’s adding shape which takes the pattern adjusting and sewing time.
Unless we just use fabrics which fall into place to show our curves : knit fabrics, soft fabrics with little body, or cut on the bias.

Sadly, tapering or flaring the side seam gives a curved hem, which is much slower to sew than a straight one !

As there are so few Super Quick patterns for us non-rectangles, we may need to do a lot of pattern preparation :
– fitting work : add darts, change side seam shape, adjust lengths.
– adapting suitable patterns : change necklines, add or remove openings, etc.

Or use very oversized ’boutique’ style patterns, as in the Shapes pattern line. These envelop all body shapes, but are not to everyone’s taste.


Sue Neall, who sewed the 6 item wardrobe in a weekend, did her pattern altering as part of her weekend. But the only pattern adjustment she made was an FBA. For us less expert more oddly shaped sewers, there isn’t time in one speedy weekend for basting, trying on, and fiddling with the fit. So it’s either use a TNT or make a muslin beforehand.

So I think we less experienced sewers with less straightforward shapes should do our pattern preparation before the main weekend, as well as fabric preparation, collecting notions, and winding bobbins. So we just leave the cutting and sewing for the breakneck phase. Though admittedly even two express weekends, a cutting one and a sewing one, would be a super-challenge for most of us. . .

– – –

6 becomes 4

Apart from changing the side seam shape, most ways of improving things for us non-rectangles involve more sewing processes. So while there are Very Easy patterns for us, they’re nowhere near as quick to make.

Perhaps those of us who are not rectangles are going to have to settle for making only 4 items in a weekend, and leave the 6 item wardrobes to the rectangle shapes among us 😀

It is of course ridiculous for me to be writing about speed sewing, as I’m the world’s slowest sewer. On the other hand, perhaps that’s why it’s a topic that fascinates me so much. . .

I’m planning more posts, on speedy processes and specific patterns.

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Patterns and links available April 2010

More on Advice to Ignore

February 6, 2010

Elizabeth commented on my previous post :
“No, no, I’m going to ignore you and slavishly follow some magazine editor’s tips for skinny urban women with a professional job.

But seriously — the points you raise are not always easy to figure out. If they were, we would have done it by now, no?”

– – –

I agree that finding your best colours, shapes, and styles is not easy or quick. Once I started thinking about this I had a whole lot to say !

Styling books are a big industry because they’re selling a dream – that someone will wave a magic wand and it will all be obvious and easy and we will look marvellous. And I think many stylists are, very humanly, best at giving advice to people in similar circumstances. In the same way that fashion journalists focus on the showrooms of the fashion capitals of the world. (You only have to look at the people actually walking along the key fashion streets of Paris, Milan, London, New York, to realise that most people don’t dress like fashion magazines at all 😀 )

Perhaps some people don’t have as many difficulties with recognising themselves in the style books as I do. But I suspect many do.

I admit I’ve got a large collection of style books bought in hope. . . and yes of course, they suggest a whole lot of interesting things to try which I might not have thought of myself. But it isn’t the case that everything they suggest is right for everybody. If I did follow exactly what they say, I would often be wearing the wrong colours, the wrong shapes, and the wrong styles. Fortunately I know enough about myself and my life usually to recognise when I would be unhappy with what they suggest.

– – –

I’m sure anyone who’s read a styling book has their own examples, but here is some of the advice that goes wrong for me :

Colour :
I’ve never managed to identify my colour category from a book. More than 20 years ago I had a personal session with an inspiring Color Me Beautiful consultant. She identified me as ‘Clear Spring’. But Clear Springs are assigned the dreaded black. The consultant sorted out about half the Clear Spring colours which were marvellous on me, and the others which were best avoided. A personal consultation using all the big colour swatches is definitely needed for that, and a gifted expert. (Though she did recommend coral as my accent colour. She appears in one of the CMB books as the example of Soft Autumn colouring.)

My previously auburn tinged dark hair has become light heathered grey. My skin is still warm toned, so I’m a mixture of warm and cool tones which doesn’t fit anyone’s categories. (And I have a very low opinion of the recent London published CMB books.)

I have now chosen paint chips which match my skin and eye tones, plus a lock of hair. They’re subtle colours which rarely appear in fabrics. But I always compare fabric samples with them, to check what ‘goes’ and what ‘jars’ (often surprises).

Shape :
Standing, my hips are 2 sizes larger than my top. When I sit down they spread another 4 inches. Definitely a pear. I’ve already gone on at length about the odd advice given to the pear-shaped in the Lucky Shopping Manual.

Most stylists tell the pear shaped to wear shoulder pads so their shoulders are as wide as their hips. I would be wearing those 80s pads that were so wide you had to go through a door sideways (see some astonishing examples in re-runs of Murder She Wrote). I am more interested in advice on how to make my hips look as small as my top. And sorry stylists, I know you all say everyone looks better in shoulder pads, but I never wear them. They’re just not my style. Hurrah for sewing – we can change the shoulder seams and darts of what we make so that clothes fall well from our shoulders whatever shape they may be.

Most stylists also tell pears to wear horizontal lines across our shoulders. I’ve always known that was wrong for me, but never understood why until I read Trinny and Susannah’s Body Shapes Bible. I’m a short waisted pear. Horizontal upper lines make us look even more squat. Horizontal upper lines are good on long-waisted pears. And T and S couldn’t find any short waisted pear celebrities to use as encouraging examples (the only body shape they failed with). Oh dear. I don’t think it is actually impossible for us to look good, I’ve managed it myself in the past. But it’s certainly a challenge !

Some stylists go into more detail about body shape with recommendations for specific body parts : long and short neck, wide and narrow shoulders, etc. The trouble is this makes for incompatibilities in what they advise. ‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ is a beautiful book full of fascinating insights. But most of the advice they give on one page is incompatible with what they say for me on the next page. . . Nancy Nix-Rice ‘Looking Good’ is another favourite book (very dated illustrations but covers the widest range of topics). About me she says :
To Broaden Narrow/ Sloping Shoulders : DO Select details (…) to maintain a horizontal shoulder emphasis.
To Lengthen a Short-Waisted Body : DON’T use horizontal bodice details.
Aaargh – Help !

I do try out the suggestions in style books. Darlene Miller’s ‘Your shape, your clothes and you’ has very detailed ideas. As usual, I don’t fit neatly into her scheme (my head, upper and lower body all meet different criteria !), but I do find her suggestions interesting. I use a personal croquis. Snoop shopping upsets me, as RTW fits me so badly. Instead I hold pattern and fashion magazine photos next to me in the mirror, as I wonder if they would look good on me. And I keep an eagle eye out for what flatters and what doesn’t.

Style :
I rarely feel comfortable with any of the personal styles in books, though some come close. In David Kibbe’s ‘Metamorphosis’ I’m a ‘Soft Classic’. Lots of good insights in the text. Then there’s a photo of someone styled this way, and she’s wearing a ‘Mother-of-the Bride’ dress and picture hat. Oh dear. I would never want to look like that (even if I had been a mother-of-the-bride). From the other photos, I would guess Kibbe has difficulty with styling less exuberant people. I think Soft Classics are better catered for by Loes Hinse’s designs.

A lovely Color Me Beautiful consultant in the early 90s described me as a ‘Eurochic with Romantic accessories’, a heart warming phrase I still keep in mind. Eurochic is a concept you don’t see mentioned these days – a sort of elegant current casual. (It’s in Mary Spillane’s CMB book.) At the time Armani was super-fashionable. I don’t at all agree with one style book which says it’s impossible for casual to be chic, as one is precise and the other is don’t-care. That seems an oddly blinkered view. But that writer (Angela Marshall) is an extreme classic. She admits to having difficulty knowing what to wear at weekends. Though her expensive repetitive little book is the best at recognising personal style isn’t only clothes but also work, hobbies, manner, home, relationships. . . I think many designers and fashion magazines do recognise the need for high quality stylish relaxed clothes.

To identify my personal style, I notice what I wear consistently. I particularly enjoyed the style exercises in Brenda Kinsel’s ‘Fashion Makeover’. (The rest of the book isn’t right for me at all. No, I wouldn’t find it a treat to lounge by my pool waiting for a bevy of masseuses and chefs to give me an at home spa day. I won’t even have my hair and make-up done. But I did get insights from the style exercises !) I keep in mind long ago clothes which I remember with affection. (That velvet dress with a lace collar my mother made when I was 12, which I rapidly grew out of. Wouldn’t fit my active lifestyle, but I need touches of it as I loved it so much.) And I imagine myself wearing what appears in pattern and fashion magazines, and check if I would feel happy. I’ve made a list of ‘would love to wear’ patterns which have lasted beyond initial enthusiasm, and it’s not as short as I thought it would be.

– – –

I think the good style books guide personal exploration, rather than dictating. Such as Brenda Kinsel’s ‘Wardrobe Companion’. I also enjoy Garza and Lupo ‘Nothing to Wear’, a fun read. Mainly general encouragement, but then they fall in the trap of giving specific examples, which are all ‘urban cocktail’. Good for their clients in NYC no doubt, but not relevant to this suburb (even though estate agents describe us as ‘exciting and cosmopolitan’ now we have a Starbucks where the local radio host holds court 😀 ).

That seems to me a key problem for style books – this uneasy balance between general advice about exploring, which works for everyone, and specific examples. I know I feel more secure when writers give specific visual examples. I feel I know more clearly what they mean by their words. And I feel more confident when I know the alternatives to choose between. But I usually don’t recognise myself in any of the specific examples. So my desire for confidence that I understand the message actually backfires.

I think there are some things you can sort out for yourself fairly painlessly. My list of Personal Style questions is possible food for thought.

I do still occasionally buy styling books, but I’m looking for tips rather than expecting them to solve my problems. I now find it more helpful to follow discussions at Stitchers Guild, which are full of useful comment and inspirational wardrobes from a wide variety of real people. I’m getting much more clear about what is right for me, by thinking out my answers to the style questions people ask there.

This may be an unending process, as fashion styles (and we) change. I’m still far from being confident I’ll get it right every time, but I’m a lot closer than I was a year ago. . .

Sadly, there isn’t any way of avoiding doing the work of trying things out. Or of avoiding big mistakes – try to make them in cheap fabric ! I once bought a red fake fur coat. I love red, and fur coats, and I loved myself in the coat. But I only ever wore it in public once. I’m a quiet and private person !

This trying out doesn’t have to be a miserable process. It’s like fitting. We take one small step at a time, and see if we’ve made things better or worse – and it works out in the end. Every move in a better direction is a big plus 😀

– – –

P.S. Training to be a Style Consultant is lengthy and expensive. There are even college textbooks on it (see Fairchild Books on Image Management). So people in the business reoognise this process isn’t all that easy.

– – –

Links available February 2010

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“The Lucky shopping manual” – advice for the pear shaped

August 27, 2009

An attractive and interesting book, but sadly the advice about what’s best for the pear shaped or small busted is the opposite of what works for me.

– – –

Note : Butterick-McCall’s-Vogue has changed their websites. My BMV links now only get you to a page where you can search for a pattern number.
I apologise that I haven’t changed to the new individual URLs, but it would be a lot of work.

– – –

In the section on Jackets , they suggest a classic blazer for the pear shaped. Oh dear. Have they never noticed how ridiculous someone looks when the top of their jacket is too large and floppy with nothing inside to fill it, while the hip area is bursting and straining at the buttons. Not an attractive look.

ReadyToWear jackets are not made with enough fabric in the seam allowances at the hip level. So it isn’t possible to let them out to increase the hip area by 2 or 3 sizes.

Here’s where we sewers who can make our own clothes have such strengths and advantages. Though a fitted lined jacket is definitely not a beginners’ project. It’s wondrous the way a well fitted garment makes someone look as if they have no figure flaws.

Here are some of the alternatives to blazers that I like :

Fitted above the waist and fuller below the waist, such as McCalls 5594, McCalls 5766, or McCalls 5936 :


or simply released pleats without a waist seam, such as Butterick 5393, or Vogue 8600 :


or a flared or tucked style that doesn’t fit to the waist, such as McCalls 5638, or McCalls 5762 :


(The smock-like version would need to be longer and without the strong horizontal trim line to look good on me.)

Notice most of these examples have large collars – a good way of drawing attention up to the face, and giving more visual ‘weight’ to the upper body.

And for Tops to enhance a small bust, the Lucky book suggests a stretchy top with gathering at the bust. Well, what could emphasise the smallness of my bust more than wearing a stretched fabric, making it obvious there isn’t anything there to stretch it. Definitely best not.

In her Spring/ Summer Newsletter 2009, Pati Palmer talks about ‘essence of waistline’. My personal preference for disguising my small bust is to use woven fabrics for tops, with darts to give ‘essence of bosom’.

Jeans and pants : To minimise your butt, this book suggests large centred pockets on jeans. Goodness, perhaps people with large butts emblazoned with large centred pockets never appear in New York City, or these authors might change their minds.

The best advice I’ve seen on back pockets for large backs was, I think, in Burda WOF magazine. Oddly enough, it suggested what the Lucky manual says for pants : use high welt pockets just under the yoke. (Sorry I can’t find the drawing.). Not classic jeans style, but at least it doesn’t put a large square on a large round, and so draw attention to a large blodge. Well, a large square is better than a small one 😀

For front pockets, they suggest curved pockets for pear shapes. Perhaps these work well for people with a silhouette which tapers out gradually from waist to widest part. But below my indented waist and high hips, this sort of curved pocket just points outwards, saying ‘look here’. I prefer slanted pockets.

Here are the alternatives, McCalls 5394, and McCalls 5239 :


Sorry these images aren’t perfectly size matched. But I think they show how you can use curved horizontal pockets if you want more curves, and straight slanted pockets if you want less 😀

I do agree that in-side-seam pockets are not good in a fitted garment over curvy hips. Particularly with my high hips, it’s almost impossible to make them lie flat without gaping. Sad, as this is the easiest type of pocket to make.

Dresses : There I was, thinking how lucky I was to be a teenager in the 50s (though only because of this feature of the clothes), when the dresses had tiny tops which emphasised my neatness above the waist, and voluminous skirts which disguised where my hips were. But these Lucky editors strongly tell everyone not to wear them. Perhaps that’s true if you’re a size 0 rectangle shape. But I think 50s style dresses are a good idea if you’re a 14 on top and 18 below (sewing pattern sizes) and want to look size 14 overall. Though I admit you do look better with a trim waist (achieved by most people in the 50s by wearing the obligatory corset).

Here are a couple of examples, Butterick 5350, and Butterick 5320 :


I’m sure I have a lot more to learn about the best styling for my shape, but these are what I’ve found flattering so far from personal experience.

This Lucky book includes much that is useful and food for thought. It gives good advice on looking trendy and stylish. There are some things that work immediately for me, plus inspiration for a lot of thought about how to take the essence of their styling suggestions and adapt them from ‘wouldn’t be seen dead in’ to ‘looking good’. But I don’t think the authors have ever actually looked at someone pear-shaped.

Patterns available August 09.

Personal Croquis

August 6, 2009

To make good pattern choices, it’s useful to have a drawing of our own body shape.

Fashion designers often sketch their styles over a drawing of the human body which is called a croquis. You can even get pre-printed pads of them – though those are for ideal model bodies. (‘Croquis’ is a french word pronounced ‘crow-kee’.)

As Imogen Lamport points out in her Body Shape Bible, there are 3 important aspects of your body shape :
– your silhouette from the front (me – I have an indented waist, and larger hips under prominent high hips),
– your length proportions (me – I’m very short waisted, so most style advice for people with a small waist makes me look all hip),
– your special features (me – small bust, flat rear, protruding tummy).

Here’s my body image for wearing a fitted top and belt.
No insult intended to hobbits, but I don’t think this is an ideal look for a human. It is the sort of thing you may be able to check for by using a croquis.

– – –

Making your personal croquis

Here are 4 possible approaches.

In the recommended method for making a personal croquis, you are supposed to :
– take a photo of yourself in your undies
– trace round the outline of your photo so you have a drawing of your body silhouette.
– sketch the proposed garment over this body shape diagram, to see if it suits.

There are very detailed instructions on making a croquis from photos in Gale Grigg Hazen’s book ‘Fantastic fit for every body’ (best selection of copies from AbeBooks).

Drawing neatly around the edge of a silhouette is not something I have the skills to do (I have shaky hands).
What I did was print the photo out on card. Cut out around the photo, and turn it over so I’m not distracted by the details of the photo.

Get someone else to do the drawing for you, though you still have to take the photos. Here’s a service from Najah Carroll.

No photos needed. Use a drawing which has been computer-generated from some basic body measurements : My Body Model.
The shape they draw doesn’t work for everyone. They don’t include the special features of my body (such as sloping shoulders and high hip bones) which are the reason why I need help with knowing what shapes look good on me.

– – –

Using a personal croquis

When you use one of these aids for getting a picture of your own shape, you still have to do your own sketching of possible styles. My Body Model have a beginners’ video on that.

I’m not much good at that, so I often simply compare my shape by eye with a line diagram of a pattern I’m interested in. Less accurate, but gives a starter idea.

Here for example is me, compared with Sewing Workshop’s Deja Vu pattern. Oh dear, obviously not. Though I love the style it’s not for me.


Sadly, it would make me look like a balloon ! I may make it even so. The construction looks intriguing, and it would be a cosy cuddle-up for winter. But I won’t expect it to be flattering 😀

(This version of my body shape is the diagram for a short-waisted pear from the former Littlewood’s site information about Trinny and Susannah. Sadly the diagrams are not in their body shape book.
The big differences from my actual shape are that I’m unusually short from armhole to waist, and as I have a long head+neck my length proportions are unusual.)

And how about this Issey Miyake Vogue 1114 design, which Vogue Patterns recommend for the triangular of shape. Maybe it would look good on some of us, but I don’t think it’s worth trying for me.


While this Vogue 8509 dress pattern, with it’s vertical bodice pleats, could be something I would wear, if these days I ever did have reason to wear a dress.


Making this comparison has been a real ‘eye opener’. I thought I was allowing for my ‘bottom heavy’ shape in making pattern choices, but I’ve completely changed the patterns I go for since I started using this tool.

– – –

Originally written August 09, updated May 2020, patterns not now available.

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