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Find Your Best Silhouette

Threads magazine - 141 – Feb./Mar. 2009

1. Compare your shape to the ideal proportions shown in this grid...

Many of us think that it takes an innate talent to design a beautiful garment. Talent does help, but great design really comes with a combination of design elements that anyone can master. One of the most important is proportion—and in clothing design, proportion is essential to a successful garment. Luckily, getting proportions “just right” isn’t difficult; all it takes is an understanding of a formula that designers have used for ages: the “golden ratio.”

The golden ratio not only helps you recognize why an object looks beautiful but also provides a method for creating harmonious designs. You can analyze your own body proportions and learn where your figure differs from the ideal shape. Then, you can work with the golden ratio to correct those proportions through the design of your clothes.

The master grid for the human body (drawing 1) will help you understand what is considered ideal, and from there, you can make more flattering garment choices. This grid is drawn using the head as a basic measurement. 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. The waist position is three head lengths below the top of the head. The distance from the waist to the floor is five head lengths. Triple half the head length to find the best shoulder and hip width (they should be the same). The waist is as wide as the head is long and is two-thirds the hip width.

Comparing your shape with the ideal proportions found can help you develop more flattering designs in your clothing. To make a personal croquis, print out the blank grid. Enlarge or reduce a photograph of you, making sure that your head fits within the space of the first two lines.

Note where your figure differs from the grid. Now, armed with the knowledge of precisely where your proportional problems lie, you can zero in on the best silhouette. For instance, if you want your waist to appear narrower, choose a silhouette that puts your waist width into more ideal proportion to the sweep of your hem, e.g., an A-line skirt.


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  1. FFO | | #1

    Thank you so much for this article and grid tool, it will be invaluable to all my design projects because of my disproportionate figure. Being a creative scientific type of person, this way of being able to calculate my best lengths, widths, angles, etc. helps to keep both sides of my brain working in harmony on a project.
    Keep up the good work on inspiring and teaching! This article is just another reason I have to justify schlepping around my numerous volumes of Threads through all of our moves. I love you, the movers don't!

  2. usersuz | | #2

    I've seen the Golden Ratio applied in quilt design, but this is the first time I've seen a practical application to garment design. Now this is what I call a great tool: bravo!

  3. AlaskaDeb | | #3

    I am a math teacher in a middle school. I also teach a clothing construction class as an elective. This article was like a golden windfall! I can share it with my sewing class and my math class. It is fun to see all of the places where this proportion occurs in our world. My sewing class just made purses and now I am wondering if their eyes chose rectangles with the golden ratio. I will have them measure and see. Thanks for all of the info. and ideas.

  4. denise | | #4

    O dear i do not understand the above it reminds me of one those dreadful maths problems that sent me in to tears in my school years maths not being a strong point with me.

    Is there any one else game enough to say they do not understand where this is coming from or leading to.
    We all have different shapes can this be a one size fits all.

  5. SarahAnnSmith | | #5

    This is a beginning... I understand the concept of taking measurements and then comparing my proportions to that of the model, but then how does one know what silhouettes will best suit me? The last paragraph gives a hint...that an A-line skirt will help a waist appear narrower. OK, what about broad shoulders? hefty hips? I've-had-a-baby-belly-bulge? flat chest? How does one compensate? What fashion details will help?

  6. Kips | | #6

    I think this is a great idea, but I'm having trouble printing the grid.... is there another link for the grid printout ?


  7. BeBe53 | | #7

    As one who has always truly enjoyed math - yes, it's true! - I must admit I'm stumped! The cool graphic caught my eye, so I read the article. What is the "golden rule"? Where and how does it come into play in this? Are there futher instructions/information for using this chart? Or am I just still groggy from the night's sleep?

  8. edf | | #8

    The golden ratio is an ancient mathematical constant that rounds off to 1.6. It is calculated by the formula (a+b)/a. The larger of the two numbers is "a". The ratio is appealing to the human eye, and can be found in nature. All you ever wanted to know about it is on Wikipedia.

    In terms of this grid, the unit of measurement is a head. The top of the body to the waist is 3 heads. The waist to floor is 5 heads. Thus (5+3)/5 = 1.6. If a person happened to have a very long head, no neck and a very high waist, their proportions would be 'off.' In such a case, clothing could be chosen with a dropped waistline, and a neckline that draws the eye downward.

    I remember long ago, my home ec teacher telling us that a blouse and skirt should be in the ratio of 3:5 for pleasing appearance. Nothing about a head there, but this, too is the golden ratio.

    This article is all about awareness. What happens after that is personal creativity.

  9. gmcsewer1 | | #9

    I cannot get to a place where I can print the diagram. I think it would be a very helpful thing to have.

  10. polital | | #10

    This was fun to see but not entirely new. Does anyone remember Disney's "Donald In Mathmaticland"? It explains the golden ratio including reference to human bodies although not clothing making.

  11. AkashicLiz | | #11

    I was also intrigued by the mathematical nature of this concept and it would be very useful indeed if I can apply it to what the article's title aspires to. In order to find my best silhouette, I would need some further guidance regarding what (in the author's opinion) constitutes 'more flattering designs in my clothing'. I am very well aware of the Golden Ration, having taught figure drawing for a number of years, but how to apply this concept to the idea of creating a better silhouette probably needs further expansion. Is there any chance that there's more to come on this?

  12. sewquick | | #12

    This is a good article and the comments are also good. I can't seem to print the grid. Do you have any suggestions for doing this?

  13. LovinToSew | | #13

    Regarding printing the grid. I copied the grid and pasted it into a Word document. Stretched the image to full page size, then printed. It is a bit fuzzy, but good enough to use as a model.
    With my 5'12", size 8/10 frame, I need all the help I can get to appear shorter than my 6' husband. Though I am lousey at math, I am going to give this concept a try. Thank all you fellow sewers for your comments and explinations and comments!

  14. User avater
    elainegood | | #14

    To print the grid and the example, take a look at the two little boxes to the left of the 'golden mean' example.

    Click on the bottom one to see the empty grid; in the text at the bottom of the graphic, you'll see the clickable link 'enlarge'; click that and you'll get the printable view.

    Hope this helps.

  15. AcornCottage | | #15

    I'm afraid that I must agree with denise, and AkashicLiz, and BeBe53...

    While I'm not "math-challenged" I just don't get it. I read the article in the current Threads magazine too, and I still couldn't figure it out. If I put my head where the head is, I am too short. Well after decades of trying to reach the upper cupboards in my kitchen, I already know that (ha ha!) And truly, it would be useful to have more suggestions as to what and how to choose your "best silhouette"...

    Mostly I adore your magazine, I have an almost complete collection of back issues, and refer to them all the time, for various techniques and inspiration.

  16. User avater
    MaineCoonMama | | #16

    I agree with AcornCottage,... I didn't understand it. I too would like more suggestions for clarification.

  17. User avater
    Amme | | #17

    I enjoyed reading this article. I understood (I think) - but I wanted more depth & exploration. Maybe this should have been a 5 part series of little articles like this?

    Here's how I understood it:

    2:3 and 3:5 proportions are very pleasing to the eye.

    Option A: Take a feature you want to highlight - the article illus showed a silhouette with a high, slim waist. Highlight it (a contrasting belt), then build the golden ratio with the blouse and skirt. (blouse 2: skirt 3)

    Option B: Find where your figure varies from the golden figure. Then, in the ex., make a seam or hem where your waist theoretically is. (diagonal is ideal?) Keep the pant or skirt to the other part of the ratio (5). Thus, you look like you are proportional.

    I used a full length photo of me to compare to the 'ideal.' I hope this helped everybody else.

  18. younga1025 | | #18

    This doesn't really help at all. It is simply talking about optical illusions, not hard design facts.

  19. User avater
    patsijean | | #19

    Peggy Sagers has a much more practical and easily understandable explaination of flattering use of proportion. I attended a workshop several years ago and heard her speak on the subject. She would be a welcome follow up to this article. Like many, I found the article less than informative than usual. After reading it on 3 separate occasions, I took away from it a beginning understanding of the basic proportions of the body, but no practical way to understand and use the information.

  20. iluv2so | | #20

    This was a VERY frusterating article, I had my friend draw my shape and have been working to glean tidbits from the pictures and text to see how to make it work for me. This definately needs to be a several part series, or at least an extra online. I'd like to hear how others are making it work for them.
    I love the Threads magazine and have reread every issue since #25 multiple times. iluv2so

  21. PeppermintPam | | #21

    I'm 5'5" and have a top of head to chin length of 8". However, my waist -where my belly-button is-(which is where I wear my skirts and pants) is 1 1/2" below my 'natural' waist. Look at the models wearing bikinis and you'll see their natural indented waistlines are definitely higher than their belly-buttons. So now what? Is my ideal skirt length still the same? Also, I like my skirts longer - lower calf length, so how do I determine how long to make it to still be in proportion? And because my waist is lower, does this change the length of my blouses too? Not that I expect an answer, but this article raised more questions for me than it answered. I agree with so many others who requested practical follow-up information.

  22. ASGSEWS | | #22

    We used this article as the basis of a recent American Sewing Guild meeting and found it helpful, but not the full picture. The book "Looking Good" by Nancy Nix-Rice has a much more in depth set of instructions that are very helpful.

  23. User avater
    costumingdiary | | #23

    This is fantastic to find the ideal. But I agree we need more information. I've tried to find books or a chart on all the body relationships and can't find one. Since I'm a little nuts, I'm creating an excel spreadsheet to do the math. I was once a statistical analyst and I love geometry.

    This article educated me about length. Now my questions are: "What is considered the ideal width of the shoulders, width of the hips and width of the waist?"

  24. User avater
    Suzanni | | #24

    I loved the logic of the method. It is the simplest explanation of the Fibonacci Series. I plan on using this method in designing some upholstry work.
    (as well as garment construction)

  25. nichan | | #25

    full explanation is in the magazine, though...
    Glad I still got this magazine...may be it's the last one of my first subscription...
    I'm reconsidering to renew...

  26. healthstar | | #26

    I agree that the article was very interesting, but not quite ready for prime time.I an good at math and clothing design choices and changes. Being very short waisted, used to be high busted, high hip bones and very long lege and arms, patterns never fit. Neither did bought clothes fit to my liking so I started sewing at 8 years old. Have solved some of my changes by experimenting, but I would like something more concrete so I am more confident of the outcome and like what I spend time and money creating.Looking at the one example with an offcenter neckline and dropped waist, I under stand the dropped waist, but the model had an off center hip area and the final design made that off center more off.To me it made it more apparent, rather than camoflaging it.I have not tried drawing it up , but I would think off center to the other side would be better. The sleeve lenghts were the same even though the arms were longer Hands hanging furthur down. I don't under stand that concept. Please give us some more useful guides to deciding ht lenghts and widths. Where does on measure the shoulders for this concept?

  27. sewslow67 | | #27

    I thought I saw a larger Croquis a few weeks ago, but I didn't download it as I thought it was be here later. Now I am very disapointed that there is only this little one like in the magazine. What a disapointment! Does anyone else have the original that you wouldn't mind sharing? I really want to do this exercise as I'm sure it would be very helpful.

  28. SewFresh | | #29

    Thank you Sandra, for this clear way to analyze figures so easily. I will offer your article to my garment sewing students and to our bridal clients to help them understand why dresses work and don't work for their figure types. I have been a custom designer/dressmaker for over 30 years and use my experience to help them determine proportion and style for their events. This will help them to see how to accentuate their positive figure attributes as well. My studio is in Colorado but we offer our services to bridal parties living in many other areas. http://www.sewfreshstudio.com I will post this on my blog with your credits if I have permission. Please let me know thank you.

  29. jgflo | | #30

    I have just read the March Threads article on perfect proportions. I have also just read all of the email comments by readers being frustrated with the complexity of charting your own body. In the early 1980's I created a body proportion system which I sold to over 1900 colleges, universities, high schools and vocational technical schools throughout the United States and worldwide. The system worked and brought satisfaction to tens of thousands of women. The system is easy to use by entering 14 body measurements (horizontal and vertical) into computer software. The resulting personal, detailed printout takes the guesswork and anguish out of style selection. The system was so successful that I sold it to an educational publishing company which still markets it. I would love to help each of you, and can do so if you contact me for details. Gail Florin. [email protected].

  30. KharminJ | | #31

    While this *is* an interesting article, it feels more like a "teaser" than a truly usable piece.
    Editors - would it be possible to add a photo of a real person (not an ideal, ideally) with the grid overlaid, so that we can better see what kind of information we're supposed to get? The Gatherings discussion (following post #9562.1) tells several tales of frustration with both the article in print and this Extra. Thanks. Kharmin

  31. carolina | | #32

    Thanks for the article and all the responses. I was able to save the picture and grid in my Adobe Photoshop 3.2 starter software (free by the way). Enlarged it to 8x10 to fill the paper in landscape mode. Also, the accompanying grid. I will send the picture file to anyone who asks.
    Email me at [email protected]

  32. User avater
    _nikki_ | | #33

    Hello all,

    The print article accompanying this online extra explained in more detail how to draw your ideal shape. For width measurements, use:

    Shoulders = 1.5 x head length

    Waist = head length

    Hips = 1.5 x head length

    For the enlarged grid, click the word "enlarge" from the empty grid's photo description above.

    Thanks for all of your comments. We read them all and take them all into consideration when working on future articles and online features.

  33. User avater
    _nikki_ | | #34

    Also, the print article featured 3 "real" figures with suggested garments. I will check to see if we can upload an image or two from this to show these examples here.

  34. tessy38 | | #35

    I tried to print the grid but there is no link that says enlarge when I have the grid up to print.
    I must be missing something somewhere, when I click on the grid it comes up a little larger but no link that says enlarge.
    Thank you,

  35. User avater
    VictoriaNorth | | #36

    In the caption for the blank grid there should be a click to enlarge link. I have also added a link within the body of the article to find the large version of the blank grid.

  36. tessy38 | | #37

    There is no place on my grid picture that says enlarge, when I printed it out it was 2 1/2" X 3". Is that right?
    Thank you again.

  37. blaise | | #38

    Very difficult to understand, need simpler words

  38. maxijo | | #39

    My height is 152cm I have determined that my best skirt length ratio is 60cm. I want my garments to a body length of 104cm. I am bamboozled... How do I work out the best length for a top which I would like to wear outside my 60cm skirt?
    Dividing 104cm by 1.618 gives me a length of 64cm. wearing this outside my skirt creates only 50cm of my skirt visible, surely this is not a good look on someone so short! HELP I had been a subscriber to Threads since issue 34 in 1991 but ceased a couple of years ago because it no longer inspired me.
    Since then I have scanned each issue in the newsagent hoping to find the innovative magazine it used to be. Thinking that the Golden Rule article may do it for me I purchased it - alas
    it has not. Like many other correspondents I have found the article frustrating maybe I will give it another chance if more details are forthcoming.

  39. roths1 | | #40

    I have read and re-read this article, hoping to figure out a way to put it to use. No luck on my end. Not many specifics given. Sure hope there can be a follow-up article that expounds on this theory.

  40. Littletree2 | | #41

    I don't know if this is the right place to make general comments, as it's the first time I've posted any comment, but I want to say how thrilled I am with the latest edition of Threads in which scallopped edges are explained, as well as the wonderful top made from 2 squares. I am a new sewer and this really inspired me. I can't wait to try it. Holding down 2 jobs makes that a challenge, but nevertheless I will find the time. My clothes closet needs a lot of help and having something so apparently simple to make is really exciting to me.

  41. User avater
    Snowlady4715 | | #42

    Reading through the comments above, it would be helpful if the year was included with the date they were written. Also, why weren't the questions answered? Maybe this won't get answered either. Just curious.

  42. user-6360640 | | #43

    Click on the link in the article to print enlarged grid. "print out the blank grid (drawing 2)."

    The trick is to get a full body photo of yourself in the pose shown and enlarge it so the head fits the head to chin line on the printed grid. No math. This shows how your body is different than the 'standard'

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