Monday, January 11, 2010


Before I get started on the post, I want to thank you all for the lovely comments and congratulations on the birth of our first grandchild.  He is of course, wonderful.

Now to the topic.   I spend a lot of time looking for garments on high end websites like Net a Porter for ideas of what  I want to sew.  Then  comes the obsessive trolling for patterns to see if I can even come close to what I envision because my pattern drafting skills are not up to drafting from scratch.   I also spend a lot of time trying to figure out if it will look good on me and be worth my time to sew.   I'll use my croquis to give me a feel for how the style will look on my body if I am in doubt.  If its a Vogue pattern I'll look at the  key to figure flattery.  Which often makes no sense to me and isn't really helpful at all.

According to the chart I am a triangle.  I am of the small shoulders and large bust variety and my width is at my upper hip, just below my waist so I am often puzzled by their choices.   I need bust darts and fitting seams.  I also find drop shoulders or too much width across the bust line to be unflattering and I often see both of these in a recommended garment.   I like how I look in a pencil skirt but a triangle rarely appears on one of these.

# 1168 is a new Donna Karan that has a triangle in the guide.  (its the one in the upper right) This has a sleeveless top with not one fitting seam or dart in sight.  There is no way that this will look good on me, but on a small busted triangle it may look quite nice.  How about #1167, the one in the lower left.  The photo must have been clothes pinned in back for the photo, because the drawing of the jacket looks like a shapeless rectangle.   There are bust darts, but it will fall straight down from a large bust  and make me look larger than I really am. You'll notice that this is actually supposed to be suitable for all body types.
#8624 is another one that will add pounds to my figure.  Look at those wide wings from underarm to hip.
Obviously this set of 4 keys is just not enough to really decide figure flattery.  There are other systems out there that work better, but they are rather  cumbersome.  So what do I do?  I could keep to the tried and true, but that would be boring.  If it's something I am unsure of I'll draw it on my croquis.  I look at the proportions especially .  Will it divide my body in unflattering ways?  Is it the right length for me.  Sometimes just adjusting the length will be enough.  Are there slimming seamlines?   The Knipmode dress as drafted would have fallen at an unflattering point on my legs so of course I shortened it but what attracted me to be honest, was how good it looks on Oprah who is not a sylph.  Not exactly my figure type, but a curvy woman too.

I have a drawer full of patterns I haven't sewn and sometimes its because I let the pattern seduce me, not seeing the unsuitability of their lines.  Fortunately I only wasted a few dollars, not my fabric or my time.   I have a harder time as I get older finding chic, interesting garments to sew.  I still want to look stylish.  I'd have an easier time of it if I worked in an office where I was required to dress up a bit.  But I don't and finding interesting looks that suit my life is often difficult.  This issue of Vogue pattern magazine has some lovely things, but the best of them are dresses that are of limited use to me.  I do like the Rachel Comey top and skirt, #1170  third down on the right above, obviously making the skirt longer, or just making the blouse.  I also like the  knit dress from Donna Karan that I think will look good on me. It's the third down on the right below.  There's a sale coming up at Joann's so if I invest a few dollars in them it  won't hurt all that much if I don't make them.  I've been sewing more from Burda Style (BWOF) lately and there I am on my own in figuring out what will look good on me.

So dear reader, how do you decide what to sew?  Do you agonize as much as I do in choosing patterns or do you make quick decisions?


  1. Nancy - I'm 5'2" and big in the rearend and in the bust. The way I choose things for myself is to look for some sort of princess seaming. If it's got that (and it doesn't matter if it's the one where the seam goes into the armscye or the one that goes straight up into the shoulder seam), then I've got a good shot at making it fit me in the bust, waist, high bust and shoulders area. If I can get those right, then generally it will look good on me.

  2. I am also a triangle, and I also have a hard time figuring it out. I'm not even sure, if I recognise a flattering fit, when I have it on! Sometimes I try tight on the bottom and baggy on the top hoping to balance things out. Or, I try baggy on the bottom tight on the top hoping to hide things.

    I am probably best when I just try to wear things that fit properly and don't try to hide the shape I really am.

    Congratulations on your new grandson!

  3. I love that you brought up this topic, Nancy! I hate those little symbols! Maybe that level of oversimplification works for some people, helping them find what flatters them, but if I relied on them, I'd go insane. I fall into the "rectangle" category, small on top, small on the bottom, without much definition at the waist. You can already see from the samples that you posted how *few* patterns there are for that shape! That being said, I often make patterns that aren't for the rectangle and they work just fine on my body. All I can say is that it's constant trial and error for me, figuring out what works and what doesn't, and it's also not always intuitive. For example, the empire waist, which many say is flattering on any figure type, is a surefire way of making myself look like a tree stump!

  4. I am a triangle too and have a pretty good idea of what will look good on this 50 year old body, but still sometimes I get the idea that a style I really like that isn't right will look generally never does!!! :)

  5. I don't think you're a triangle at all (full-busted cannot equal triangle). I think you are definitely an hourglass. The sands shift as we get older (don't I know it!), but the underlying body structure is there. If you doubt me, look at the rear view of the recent photo of the dress you wore to your grandson's bris. Hourglass. :-)

  6. Which one of us fits into a neat little box? I think of myself as a 'pear-bottomed hourglass' (small shoulders, curvy bust, small waist, big hips and thighs), but maybe Debbie has it right and I am an hourglass with more sand in the bottom. Either way, fitted (darts, princess seams, etc)is my friend.

    PS - The dress is beautiful! What did we do before spanx??

  7. I'm always attracted to patterns that are not suiting my lifestyle: beautiful suits, especially jackets and dresses made of high quality fabrics. Reality check: mostly working from home often just means a pair of jeans, a top and a cardigan in this period of the year. In general I'm aware of what fits my hourglass figure, but I would like to experiment different styles more than I'm currently doing.
    As I wrote on my blog I need a few less casual outfits though, but still pretty informal compared to the impression a lot of pattern envelopes give.

  8. To me this always ends up feeling like a style discussion. I want to say do you know your style and what type of fit you want to achieve? Then ask questions like what kind of fabrics do you like? What kind of garments do you like to wear, look good in and receive a lot of compliments in?

    See I know that if I didn't work in a corporate or business casual environment, I would dress with a more artsy flair. I would still wear dresses but they would have big flowing skirts and I would wear loud prints and bright colors.

    I personally think its a matter of knowing who you are, what style you want to wear and going from there...

  9. Looking at how my coworkers in your age dress, the best dressed ones tend to be the ones who keep to simple lines and forms (your tried and trues) but who experiment with texture, pattern, color and accessories.

    For the record darling, you are never, ever boring. Have you SEEN how the majority of women dress on LI? Not pretty.

  10. Hey, I hear ya' about the dressing one's age but stylish thing. It is difficult. I'm a pear all the way. I know what styles work on my body, but dressing stylish without looking like I'm trying to pull it off that I'm 25 again is challenging! My lifestyle is casual also. I don't like to look frumpy.

  11. This is the hardest part of sewing and it is difficult to not be swayed when you see a popular pattern, even if you know it is not your best look. I have to say I wouldn't call you a triangle either...

  12. Great post. I think it is all about knowing yourself and going with a style that plays up your best features. When I break that rule, the outfit sucks. So I don't look so much at specific style lines as much as at what emphasizes whats best, ie, the upper chest shoulder area is one of my better features so I try to concentrate on great necklines. That is more how I approach finding a flattering style. As far as the Vogue's geometry approach, I have always thought it was rather silly and off the mark.

  13. I sort of stick with the same types of patterns. Over time, I've figured out what looks good on me. I still don't really know what "shape" I am. I often feel like a rectangle but then a pear and sometimes an hourglass with no boobs (just shoulder width).

  14. I agree that these shapes aren't very useful. I've found I can only learn what works by experimenting. For example, with wider hips I would think that A-line skirts would work best. But I've found that both A-lined and pegged shapes work because both make hips look deliberate. The only shape that doesn't work for me is a straight skirt which draws (unwanted) attention to the curves that are there. Your knipmode dress is fabulous btw!

  15. Buy a copy of Trinny and Susannah's Body Shape Bible or books from the What Not to Wear Series. I learned a lot about how to flatter. In particular I learned not to wear big clothes to mask figure faults. They make it worse. I tried on a very figure hugging sheath dress that I thought I could never wear and it was much more flattering than I ever imagined. I am also a princess seam affectionado.

  16. I make quick preliminary decisions and then cull.

    The Vogue figure indicators are useless: I am an hourglass, 5'3" but with a long torso, and I can tell you emphatically that every one of their patterns does NOT work for me, even though every single one will have the hourglass icon associated with it.

    Clean/simple lines, defined waist shaping, that's what works best for me.

  17. Thanks for the great post, Nancy. I do agree that the Vogue symbols are useless and often confusing. I'm still experimenting with what looks good on my body - sometimes I win, sometimes I don't. I do like to try different styles and see how they work. I'm still learning and have way too many patterns to use in my experimentation. My body type isn't listed. I think it's a combination - gotta be different. Enjoy your grandson!

  18. Sigh. I have a harder time figuring out what patterns will look good on me, as opposed to shopping in a store where I can try it on. My pattern purchasing has been so hit-or-miss. I feel like I have a lot of clothes I've made that I would never buy if I saw them hanging on a rack, but I wear them because I made them.

  19. I am an "hour" glass. I say that with quotation marks, because I'm probably more of a "24hour"

  20. I’m with you – I’ll be damned if I can use the figure symbols on patterns. I don’t get too concerned about figuring out *what* figure type I am, as I have figure flaws/assets that don’t neatly fit into one category or another.

    When I compare my measurements to standard ones, I find I have narrow shoulders (triangle), a big bust (hourglass?), and only a minimally defined waist (rectangle). My hips and thighs are not particularly full. I’m also short-waisted with very long legs. I don't match any of those categories.

    As far as the patterns you posted go: 1168 would not look good on me (particularly as styled with the belt) because it’s too blousey at the waist. The jacket in 1167 is definitely out – I need waist definition! And 8624 adds visual width at the waist, exactly where I don’t need it. I would probably avoid 1170 because of where the sleeves end – at the fullest part of my bust (and my slightly flabby upper arms). It would be much better as a sleeveless, cap or ¾ length sleeve on me, though.

    For what it's worth, I would only consider 1164 (with 3/4 length sleeves) and 1159 to be acceptable out of all the styles in the catalog pages you posted. I recently gave away about 1/3 of my pattern stash because I realized that the styles were absolutely wrong for me. I’m really focusing on getting a few dress/shirt/pant/skirt patterns to fit me really well, then I’ll modify those for whatever the current “trends” are (at least, for those that I think will be flattering to me).

    Things I have learned to look for:

    Lower necklines - Scoop, draped or V-necklines – I need to show some skin between my neck and “the girls”
    Waist shaping (even though I need to let most things out 4-5” at the waist in order to breathe!)
    Dropped waistlines on pants/skirts (to give the appearance of a longer torso)- a pencil skirt with a slightly lowered waistline works great for me.
    Diagonal lines (like the style lines of #1159)
    Blouses/shirts/tops that can be worn untucked at hip length
    Draping/soft fabrics
    Princess or vertical seamlines
    Sleeveless or ¾ length sleeves
    Skirts/dresses that end from 3” above to 2” below the knee. (I can occasionally go shorter but only if I’m mostly covered up on top – otherwise, I think it’s too much skin showing for a 46 year old)

    Things I avoid:

    High necklines
    High waists on pants and skirts
    Boxy jackets
    Double breasted coats
    Horizontal lines at bust and waist
    Loose fitting tops & dresses
    Any bulk or detail at waist/hips/bust (which pretty much leaves just the neckline!)

    I highly recommend reading Imogen Lamport’s Inside Out Style blog. She has probably the best advice I’ve ever found about how to flatter your figure, and has improved my appearance easily by 200%. :-)

    Sorry for the novel - hope this helps!

  21. Thanks Christine a great comment. I pretty much know what looks good on me but I often have trouble finding patterns that fit that criteria and that I like!

  22. What an interesting topic. I never even looked at the symbols before reading your post. I think it may be food for thought, but ultimately, it's trial and error. I just look at blogs and Pattern Review to see how a pattern actually sews up on various body types and then just go for it.

  23. i buy dress patterns but I seldom wear dresses, I buy skirt patterns, but I live in jeans or shorts depending on the season...I always buy patterns that I will never use. I should just buy t shirt patterns and be realistic about it. Occasionally I make dresses - for weddings and dinners and such, and I use these as my excuse for having ten times more dress patterns than I will ever use.

  24. Another rectangle here, glad that I don't follow Vogue's markings because as Selfish noted, there aren't many rectangle-flattering patterns. (Except some of my favorite Vogues, both to look at and made up, are patterns NOT recommended for rectangles.) Take that, Vogue.

    I think it's just a matter of figuring out what you're comfortable wearing, and going from there. Looking at proportion is always key for me - at 5'3" and more or less the same measurement top to bottom, I try not to dress myself to accentuate my cylindrical, fire-hydrant shape.

  25. Like Christine my body does not fit into the 4 "normal" body shapes. I have to look at the line drawings and visualize how it would look on me. One book that has helped me is "Style Rx dressing the body you have to create the body you want" by Bridgette Raes. I still make mistakes on some patterns. The other thing I found is if the fit is good then the garment is good. Fitting the pattern is nine tenths of process.

  26. I am an apple, but larger on the top and narrow on the bottom. I buy patterns because I see them and like them.l Then I adapt them using my pattern drafting program, so they suit MY body. The bought pattern is then adapted for my body.

  27. Nancy, I've thought quite a bit about this topic. As you do, I use my own personalised croquis, and I think proportion is absolutely the key to making flattering clothing. Those symbols? Useless, as far as I can tell. Knowing your own, unique body and your own style are key.

    I have found that establishing my *vertical* proportions has been much more helpful than my horizontal proportions, which is what those symbols are based on. I am exactly average height, but I have short arms, short legs, a short back and a long lower torso. Patterns need to work with that, making my legs appear a little bit longer, emphasising the expanse of waist. 3/4 sleeves, for example, are a wonderful trend for me because my arms appear more normally proportioned. By contrast, capris make my short legs even shorter. Everyone is different, but I think vertical proportions are equally or more important than horizontals on most people.

    For you, I see you as having a balanced figure (more on the hourglass level), with relatively shorter torso and relatively longer legs. Nice. Meaning you can wear those slightly longer tops and probably even tunics (a horrible trend for me). You do have slightly narrower shoulders than hips; I looked at your recent beautiful BWOF animal-print T and grey trousers (perfectly fitted! great!) and wondered if a slim shoulderpad would be good in that blouse?

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  28. Oh Nancy, I enjoyed your analysis of "selecting suitable patterns". Often I let the pattern photo seduce me. Like you I have accummulated a lot of patterns, most I have not tried and know I will never try for myself. Because they are not suitable for my body type. Lately, I've been careful in my purchasing of new patterns, selecting what I know will work on my frame (TNT silhouettes).