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Sewing for Body Shapes & Types

Perhaps no other problem in sewing is the source of frustration as sewing fashionable clothes that fit. Everyone wants clothes that fit their specific body. Good fit is characterized by a garment that follows the shape of the body without any indication of stress, creasing, wrinkling or pulling.

Understanding your body shape is essential to proper fitting clothes and will eliminate any of your frustration. You should not begin to buy or alter a pattern without knowing your exact contours, body shape and type, also known as your body shape silhouette.

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and figure characteristics change through the years. Everyone’s body is different and unique, and so is yours. Therefore, sewing patterns designed for an average figure can’t possibly fit everyone perfectly. Not everyone has an average figure outline.

Female body shapes vary greatly, so patterns are sized not only for different measurements but for figure types of varying proportions.

To determine which body shape most closely resembles your own figure:

* first you must take your body measurements
* next, carefully appraise your body shape silhouette, front and back, in a full length mirror

Wear undergarments or a body suit for both procedures. You will then be ready to compare your body shape or figure with the standards.

Choosing the correct size and figure type will minimize grading garment patterns to make alterations and further adjustments, and make sewing clothing for different body shapes easier for you.

You will find that exact measurements do not correspond exactly with those in any specific size. Do not be alarmed; the person who is fortunate enough to have those standard measurements or body shape is next to impossible to find. The size you choose should be the one whose measurements correspond most closely to your own.

If, when you compare your measurements to the size ranges, you find that you fall between figure types or body shapes, take stock of your body structure. Stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself these questions. Is your body long and slender or shorter and more closely put together? Then refer to the information below regarding figure type for a general description of the figures. They will give you a clue to your perfect figure type or body shape that best suits you.

Overall height is one indicator of figure type, but length of legs, and sometimes of neck, can be deceiving. Far more important are length of torso and location within it of bust, waist, and hip levels.

Small body changes may require a careful re-evaluation of the body shape silhouettes that are most becoming on you, rather than necessitate the purchase of a larger pattern size.

How many sewing enthusiasts do you know who plunge directly into cutting the same size they’ve worn for the last five years, only to discover that those few pounds added or subtracted make an irreversible difference in fit once their fabric is cut?

Even if you have maintained your same weight, it is very possible that certain body areas may have become fuller while others have become more slender.

Pattern sizes begin with grading or sizing of contemporary average figure types and body shapes. The pattern industry uses a common set of basic figure measurements based on statistical averages compiled by the federal government for bust, waist, hips, back waist lenth and height.

Compare your bust, waist, hip, back waist and height measurements with those of the figure types to see which one corresponds with your own body configuration. There is a wide variety of figure types to choose from to make sure you will not have to compromise. Choosing the correct size and body type or body shape will minimize alterations and further adjustments, and make sewing easier for you.

They include:

*Miss Petite

You may find that you do not conform easily to these measurements. Very seldom do people’s measurements and body contours conform to idealized standards, since two people wearing the same size differ several inches in height alone. The standards are simply meant to be a generality that you can use as a starting point for size selection and alterations.

Altering patterns will help you fit the person with sloping or square shoulders, large busts and hips, long legs or arms, and a short waist.

Compare your body measurements with those for your figure type, and circle those closest to your own. Buy most patterns by the bust measurement because this area is the hardest to alter. Measurements listed are the actual body sizes; true pattern dimensions have, above and beyond the actual body sizes, built-ins, “livability” or wearing ease. Amount of ease for movement and attractive fit changes with the fullness of the style of the garment, so be sure to choose your pattern size by listed body measurement.

Frequently women fall between two sizes. If this applies to you and you happen to be a thin, small-boned type, choose the smaller of two sizes. Conversely a large-boned person will require all the ease of the larger size.

Usually your waist and hip measurement are the best guides in selecting skirts, slacks, jeans and shorts unless your hips are much larger in proportion to your waist. In that case, we recommend that you use the hip measurement as the deciding factor because the waist is easier to adjust.

When sewing, you need to consider 4 basic body types:

Hourglass – Shoulders and Hips Equally Wide With a Narrow Waist

* Average shape used as pattern sizing standard has shoulders and hips that look about equally wide, so figure looks balanced above and below the waist. Waist is clearly indented. Pattern size charts use figure measurements to describe average figure shape – bust is 2″ smaller than hips, and waist is 9 ½ to 10″ smaller than hips.

Triangle – Hips Wider than Shoulders

* Figure looks smaller above waist than below. This is also known as the pear-shaped body because of its bottom-heavy figure. Narrow and sloping shoulders often put figure in this category. On full-figured women, fullness is through seat, hips, and thighs. Flattering pattern styles fill out the shoulders and bodice for more balanced appearance. Patterns with full sleeves, extended shoulders, blouson bodice, bateau necklines, and high shoulder yokes are especially appropriate. Shoulder pads broaden natural shoulders for more pleasing proportions.

Inverted Triangle – Shoulders Wider Than Hips

* Figure looks larger above waist than below. On full-figured women, fullness is carried through bustline and midriff. Because of this top-heavy figure, this is also known as the apple-shaped body. On slender women, broad shoulders or developed upper body muscles resulting from athletic pursuit may put figure in this category. Flattering pattern styles fill out hips for more balanced appearance. Recommended fashions are full skirts, dresses with shirring or draping across hips, and pants or skirts with soft pleats.

Square – Shoulders, Waist & Hips Equally Wide

* Waist is not clearly indented because it is larger in proportion to hips. On full-figured women, fullness is carried in middle of body through waistline and abdomen. On slender women, figure looks fairly straight up and down. Flattering pattern styles bypass natural waistline; examples include chemise and princess-seamed dresses, overblouses and tunics, loosely fitted jackets, and layered separates.