Dressmaker’s Library:  Drawing the Fashion Figure for Body Positivity


The standard croquis favored in fashion illustration is an elongated, slender figure that can be 8, 10 or 12 heads high.  However, this style of croquis is not a modern model of beauty.  It has come and gone with variations throughout the 20th century and into the current time.

Fashion designer Erte favored an elongated figure upon which to draw his extravagant designs worn by high society women and actresses on stage during the late 1910s.  The boyish, angular fashion figure of the 1920s gave way to the willowy, softly curving fashion croquis of the 1930s.  Come the 1940s and 1950s the feminine form filled out and there were some artists writing and illustrating their own books showing students, aspiring illustrators and hobbyists how to draw male and female figures more reflective of the everyday body shapes .

In this posting I share screen shots of three fashion illustration books that I hope put the subject of body positivity and fashion illustration into a historical perspective.

My purpose is to set forth a balanced perspective not only in books that provide croquis to trace over.  I also want to make more widely known books that show you how to draw a body positive croquis in a step-by-step approach.  All croquis are based upon preliminary drawings consisting of ovals, rectangles, cylinders, circles and wedge shapes.  With practice you can gain even a rudimentary ability and in time you will be able to do quick sketches.  The key is to practice and let your hand movements flow without fear or worry. Enjoy the process and discover what is waiting to be expressed.

It is good to know how to draw croquis of different sizes and styles.  This diversifies your skillset and helps connect you as a dressmaker to a broader sense of proportion based on different sizes.

The style of croquis you use should be the one that pleases you and best expresses the idea you are working on.

Fashion Illustration 1920-1950
Techniques and Examples
by Walter T. Foster

Foster’s book offers detailed diagrams for figures and clothing of the period from 1920s to 1950s.  This is one of my favorite books for fashion illustration because the figure changes with each decade.  Male and female figures are given and detailed.

Drawing the Head and Figure
by Jack Hamm

This book was published in 1963.  The croquis and technique used will help you draw figures in tune with the current call to create more realistic renderings of female body shapes.  The technique used in the book will provide looks that work well with retro styles of the 1940s and 1950s.  Examples are also give for drawing the male figure.

Gertie’s New Fashion Sketchbook
by Gretchen Hirsch

The premise of Gertie’s book is a good one.  Gertie’s body positive croquis are intended to represent the a more realistic body upon which clothes can be sketched. The croquis are smaller than most standard sized croquis.  The upper and lower torsos are each two heads high with the length of each head being about 3/8 to 1/2 inch high. Each page has two to three croquis in different poses (front, back and side views).

The drawback is how faint the croquis are on each page. This is not a book of figures to trace over. Rather these are figures to draw on.  Each page is perforated and meant to be torn out and drawn over.  Because the figures are so very lightly printed I’d recommend using the pages over a light box.  Otherwise a very bright desk lamp is needed to ensure you draw the lines as best as possible.

Gertie’s croquis remind me of the ones Jack Hamm drew, only his are bolder and easier to render if photocopies are made and then traced over.

New Precision Draping Project: Pencil skirt and blouse with ruffled collar

More practice in Precision Draping.  Half-toile of pattern made from tissue paper drape.  First fitting.  Sleeve made through flat patternmaking.  Ruffled collar made off of the drape through flat patternmaking. Facing and buttonhole extension to be added.  To be paired with a pencil skirt drafted from a pattern created with instructions from the 60s.  

Style influences are from the clothes my Mom and the neighborhood women wore when I was growing up in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.

Spring Vacation 2022: Shopping and Styling Fun


I’m on vacation from work this week. I decided to stay home and immerse myself in all my beloved hobbies and activities. I have not gone clothes shopping at a bricks-and-mortar location since before Lockdown of Spring 2020. I decided it is about time that changed.

There is a lovely boutique on Wood Avenue in Linden, New jersey called New Image. All during Lockdown 2020 I would go for walks and look at the window arrangements of clothes and accessories. Everything is so pleasing and in good taste. Things worked out this week and the shop was open when I went out. I usually get off work after New Image closes for the day, so it took some time for me to get there.

Shopping Experience

The store is well laid out with accessories and shoes featured near the outfits they would complement. There is lots of room to move around and many mirrors. The overall feeling is boutique like yet personal. There is no crowding in the store.

Merchandise cannot be returned so you have to make sure you try your selections on before buying. I found two tops on sale that came to a total of $25. They are perfect for dressing up the denim skirt I draped and sewed during Lockdown of 2020.

New Image Boutique is located at 116 N. Wood Avenue, Linden, New Jersey 07036. Telephone 973-803-6242.

My New Pullover Tops from New Image

This stiped top is from Orange Kiss. It is stretchy and comfortable. It is a size M and fits me just right with a little extra room to move in. I usually wear a Medium in stretch tops.

The polka dot top is from dianabelleNY and is labelled a size S. It fits me very well without being tight around the body or binding at the neck.

These are perfect for dressing up my denim skirt.

Accessories, Shoes and Stockings/Pantyhose

There are times I do not find my bare legs attractive with an outfit. The matter of choosing to wear stockings or pantyhose depends on personal preferences and the climate. During the summer I do not wear them but at other times of the year I think they look very sexy. They also hide bruises and imperfections. Dark stockings also add a youthful look.

The shoes I paired with these two looks are: 1. a pair of fabric square toed ballet flats from Bob’s Skeecher’s and 2. a pair of black pumps by Jaklyn Smith.

My late Mom left me her costume jewelry and collectibles which I treasure. The three gold tone charm bracelets were sold by Avon during the 1980s or early 1990s. I paired the hearts charm bracelet with the we’re in the money charm bracelet since I liked the idea of mixing up love (hearts) with symbols of wealth like diamond rings, yachts and gold bars.

My Finished Looks

I am very happy with the resulting looks and hope this gives you some ideas for styling your own denim skirts.

Denim skirt with grey toned pantyhose, black ballet flats, seashell gold tone charm bracelet and striped pullover by Orange Kiss.
Denim skirt with black toned pantyhose, polkadot pullover by dianabelleNY, gold toned charm bracelets, and pumps by Jaklyn Smith.

Draping in tissue paper, part 1

New work in progress…I am taking up the challenge to drape in tissue paper.  During WWII there was rationing of consumer goods including fabrics like cotton and silk.  To conserve resources for the war effort, fashion schools and books about patternmaking taught students how to drape in tissue paper instead of muslin.  The technique was used by author Nellie Weymouth Links in her 1947 book “Precision Draping”.  I taught myself the method during Lockdown 2020 except at the time I used muslin.  I think it is time I learned how to do it in tissue paper.  If I am successful, I will save a lot of money!  The new project is a blouse with a blouse yoke.  The kind of blouse yoke I will make is for the lower part of the blouse.  It is described in Claire Schaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques”.  The pattern is derived from a skirt pattern.  The yoke holds the upper part of the blouse neatly in place and fits smoothly under the skirt.  I will post a screen shot of the sketch and half toile when completed..

Photos of work in progress

First pattern of bodice and blouse yoke draped in tissue paper.
“Preccision Draping” by Nellie Weymouth Link
Photo of blouse with blouse yoke. From “Couture Sewing Techniques” by Claire Schaeffer.
Misses Size 4 Wolf dress form in my work area.

The Fashion Croquis: Preliminary Sketches of Ensembles


The full figure does not always have to be drawn in and developed. When you need to focus on the ensemble itself, you can sketch just the outfit and accessories using the croquis under a sheet of tracing paper.

Developing the sense of proportion and harmonizing accessories

When you are exploring proportions, acceossories and the total look of an ensemble the full figure can be omitted from the sketch. Sometimes the only detail I add is a hairstyle.  This initial sketch helps finalize the personality of an ensemble.  From there a second sketch can be made, this time drawing in the figure and expression on the face.  Remember, the croquis is a muse and flight of fancy.  You are free to depict both as your imagination concieves of them.

The Fashion Croquis: Muse and Model, source of inspiration!


The fashion croquis is meant to represent a stylized version of the dressmaker’s or designer’s muse. The form does not have to be realistic. The purpose is to use a representation that enables the imagination to become inspired. The croquis is a means upon which to bring an idea to life in it’s very first stages.

Sources of Inspiration

The appearance given to the croquis is meant to be dramatic. It should tell the story of the creator’s vision and the aesthetic upon which the designs are based. In the initial stages proportions, colors and poses can all be exaggerated. The key word is inspiration.

Realism of the figure and the proportions of the garment details are worked out later, once the draping or patternmaking begins.

My personal choice is the 10 or 12 heads croquis that represents a tall, willowy and slender woman. My inspiration is rooted in the artwork of Erte. As well, I take inspiration from the illustrations in the stylebooks of Marfy Studio. My reasons for choosing this style of croquis is that I find great enjoyment in the sketching as well as the sources from which I derive that inspiration.

IMy sketches always have a cartoon-like quality to them. Again, it is to give the finished sketch a sense of light-heartedness. When it comes to sketching a design it is up to the individual to choose the kind of croquis they use. Nobody can dictate which one is right or wrong. Go with what best expresses your creative vision and move forward from there.

My 3/4 Croquis which you may copy, distribute and use

My sketches using the 3/4 croquis

The above sketch was made using the 3/4 10-heads croquis. Notice how it is filled out. The croquis because it represents the bone structure of the figure will always be slimmer than the final sketch. I like my sketches to look old, as if they came from a vintage sketch book, comic book or series of drafts from long ago. To get that look I use colored pencils and color from the wrong side of the sketch. I also use crayon on the wrong side and then smudge with a Q-tip.

Sheath Skirt Half-toile created from pattern drafting instruction sheet circa 1960s


Close-up of the vintage pattern drafting instructions circa 1960s.

On 6th January 2022, I posted screen shots of an original 1960s pattern drafting instruction sheet. Since the original is faded, I typed up the instructions along with my comments. The instructions are the simplest flat pattern drafting instructions I’ve used so far. In this posting I evaluation the half-toile created using the measurements for a Misses Size 4. Please click this link for the pattern drafting instructions

Evaluating the Results

The instructions about dart placement referred to a basic bodice with a vertical dart under the bust. The position of the first dart for skirt front and back had to align with that dart on the bodice. I used the measurement from Center Front to Princess Line and the waist. For the back skirt I measured from Center Back to the Princess Line at the back waist. The second dart was located in the center between the princess line and side seam .

I am very pleased with the fit of the skirt. The drafting instructions state that 2 inches is added to the hip measurement for ease. However, no ease is factored in for the waistline. Considering that I will use a waistband and perhaps a lining I knew ease at the waist was essential. I also know the blouse I envision for the outfit will be tucked in. I added 1″ to the waistline and then drafted the skirt.

The only correction I have to make is mid-way along the hip curve. Once the curve has a more even line the pattern will be ready for cutting the fashion fabric.

How to refine a Denim Sheath Skirt look


In this posting I share some of the fitting and sewing techniques I used to refine my favorite denim sheath skirt. The skirt is made with a bottom weight 100% cotton denim by Kauffman. The fabric was laundered and dried prior to marking, cutting and sewing.

The pattern was developed entirely through draping in cotton muslin.

The skirt had several parts of the construction done by hand. The blouse was purchased online.

Fit is Everything!

To give the skirt more style ease I had to add extra width at waist, hip and hemline. Some sewing books say extra width can be added at the side seam. I found that it is better to open the pattern between the second dart and the side seam. You measure the mid-way point between the dart and the side seam. Draw a vertical line from waist to hem. Then open 1/4 of the total amount of style ease needed. This alteration is the same for front and back of the basic sheath skirt pattern.

In the photo of the back pattern piece for the skirt you can see the place where the cut was made and extra paper added to the pattern between the second dart and the side seam.

Note: The pattern for the skirt was made using Precision Draping by Nellie Weymouth Link. I gained weight since the time the original drape and pattern was made. This necessitated the need for the alteration.

Dressmaker Finishes for a Refined Look

A slot zipper application was used. I followed the hand sewing technique detailed in Couture Sewing by Claire Schaeffer. Instead of using a prick stitch or back stitch, the zipper is sewed into the seam using tiny running stitches. To further secure the zipper in place, the zipper tape is fell stitched only to the side seams, at the edges. The zipper stop is covered by a lightweight piece of lining fabric. I used a small piece of lace hem tape instead.

A kick pleat with insert was made in.center back seam. It provides ease of movement as well as a finishing touch. The top of the kick pleat is stitched into place using a triangular shape. A kick pleat is more refined than a high slit at center back of the skirt. That is why this skirt works well for casual dress days at work or an outside meeting with business associates.

All seams were pinked and then edge stitched. Wrights Flexi-Lace tape provided a finish for the hem and kickpleat.

How to draft a Sheath Skirt Sloper

These pattern drafting instructions were given to me by a student who attended the Traphagen School of Design in the 1980s. It was a private design school in New York City. The instructions are very simple when you take the time to read them through before you start drafting your pattern. Make a muslin to test the fit before using this as the basis pattern for any pencil skirts or other designs based on the basic skirt sloper. The basic sheath skirt (a/k/a pencil skirt, slim skirt, wiggle skirt) has not changed. This pattern can serve as a sloper for vintage or modern skirt designs.

Measurements Needed

Center Back Length (from center back waist to desired length of skirt)
Center Front Length (from center front waist to desired length of skirt)
Back waist measure (from side to side seam at back)
Front Waist Measure (from side to side seam at front)
Hip Measurement – 7 to 9 inches below waist-use widest circumference.  Add 2″ of ease to measurement.
Lower Edge of Skirt (this measurement is determined by the hip circumference plus 2″ ease

Important Note:  Look at the complete diagram.  The rectangle runs from point A back to point A front at waistline.  Point B back runs to point B front.  Point A to B in the back and Point A to B in the front is the skirt length.  I found it easier to start with a large rectangle where A-A and B-B equals the complete hip measurement plus 2 inches of ease.  So draw A-A for the waist.  The draw A to B for center back.  Draw B to B for lower edge.  Then from B in lower edge of front draw a straight line up to A front.

Then proceed to step 2.

1.   Draw a line from A to B equal to desired length of skirt measurement.

2.   Square a line up from A and B equal to 1/2 ofequal to 1/2 of B (lower edge) and mark center C.

3.   A to D is 7 to 9 inches below waistline.  This is the hipline level.  Connect D on center back to D on center front.  Mark Center E. 

4.   Measure from point A at center back to 1/2 of back wait measurement plus 1 1/2 inches for two waistline darts.  Mark point F.

5.   Measure from point A at center front to 1/2 of front waist measurement plus 1 1/2 inches for two waistline darts.  Mark point F.

6..   Square a line up 1/2 inch from point F to G on both front and back.  Mark point G. 

7.   Shape curve of hip from point E to G on back and front.

8.   Shape front waistline from A to G.  Shape back waistline from A to G.

9.   Plan the position for a 3/4″ wide dart to correspond with the waistline dart position of the back bodice*.  Make dart 6 inches long.

10.   Plan the position for the second dart 3/4″ wide and 5 inches long.  This dart should be the center from the end of the first dart and the side seam at the waistline.

11.   Plan the position for a 3/4 inch wide dart to correspnd with the waistline dart position of the front bodice*.  Make dart 4 1/2″ long.

12.  Plan the position for the second dart 3/4 wide and 4 inches lont.  This dart should be the center from the end of the first dart and the side seam at the front waistline.

13.   Cut out sloper.  This sloper must have 1/2″ seam allowances added at waistline, side seams and center back.  Add hem allowance at bottom of skirt.  The hem for the basic skirt is usually 2″