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Tips & Techniques > Proportional Shortening (Sewer-Friendly Math)

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Posted by: monijo

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Posted on: 11/16/08 8:44 AM
Review Rating: Helpful by 4 people   Very Helpful by 11 people   
Proportional Shortening (Sewer-Friendly Math)

Original Tip Posted by Seamingly Simple 2/4/07

Seamingly Simple, an engineer, wrote:

"I've struggled getting skirts to the proper length for my petite figure. Trial and error in front of a mirror works for some designs but if the skirt has a separate yoke the yoke must be shortened the right amount before assembly.

One day I did the math: at 5'2" I am 94% of the 5'6" height of Burda's design model. If a skirt is 30" long for someone 5'6", the appropriate length for me would be about 94% of this, or 28.25". If the yoke and lower portion are 10" and 20", the correct proportions for my height are about 9.5" and 18.75", respectively.

This method of proportional shortening works well for skirts. For other garments, it provides a starting place for estimating the amount to shorten when tissue fitting. I'm not a 94% scale everywhere: I tend to need more shortening between the waist and hip than between the shoulder and waist, for example.

This approach can also be used by tall gals to estimate how much to add: a 5'10" figure is 1.06 times as tall as a 5'6" model and would be suited by a skirt 1.75" longer than the 30" skirt."

Proportion is how one section of a garment visually relates to another section of the design. This relationship should be harmonious and in balance so that the garment will look pretty and all eyes will turn your way when you walk by. Thumbs down is a too long skirt on a short person that will only visually reduce height the more, or a yoke that is too long for the bottom skirt section.

For what it is worth, the following is the "sewer-friendly math" needed to calculate Seamingly Simple's suggestion for a skirt that is sure to stop traffic.

Basic Heights for Commercial Patterns

Misses': 5' 5" to 5' 6"
Misses' Petite: 5' 2" to 5' 3"
Women's: 5' 5" to 5' 6"
Half-Size: 5' 2" to 5' 3"

*Use the maximum height to calculate proportion.

Note: If you are short, use a petite pattern if available. That way, you will be refining rather than rebuilding the pattern. Second, select a skirt pattern by hip measurement with 3-4" of ease. Then, alter the waist to fit with 1-2" of ease. Finally, to avoid frustration and to check fit, sew a muslin. Or, at the very least (and if you are a bold sewer), cut 1-inch "in-case" seams as recommended by Palmer and Pletsch's Pants for Any Body.



A = Personal proportion percentage

B = Personal height

C = Pattern basic height

D = Pattern finished skirt length

E = Personal skirt length (proportion) in inches

F = Amount to shorten pattern finished skirt length

* * * *

A = .94 (94%)

B = 5' 2" (62")

C = 5' 6" (66")

D = 30"

E = 28.25" (28 1/4")

F = 1.75" (1 3/4")

Method of Calculation

*Round numbers to the nearest quarter inch.

E = (B/C x 100) D

F = D- E

Step One

A = (B/C) x 100

= 62"/66"

= .94

= .94 x 100

= 94%

Step Two

E = A x D

= .94 x 30"

= 28.20"

= 28.25", rounded (28 1/4")

Step Three

F = D - E

= 30"- 28.25"

= 1.75" (1 3/4")



A = Personal skirt length (proportion) in inches (yoke plus bottom skirt section)

B = Personal height

C = Pattern basic height

D = Pattern finished length (yoke plus bottom skirt section)

E = Amount to shorten pattern finished length

F = Pattern yoke length

G = Pattern yoke length proportion of pattern finished length

H = Personal yoke length

I = Amount to shorten yoke

J = Amount to shorten bottom skirt section

* * * *
A = 28.25" (28 1/4")

B = 5' 2" (62")

C = 5' 6" (66")

D = 30"

E = 1.75" (1 3/4")

F = 10"

G = 3 (about 1/3)

H = 9.50" (9 1/2")

I = .50" (1/2")

J = 1.25" (1 1/4")
Method of Calculation

*Round numbers to nearest quarter inch.

A = (B / C) D

I = F - H

J = E - I

Step One

A = (B/ C) D

= 62"/66"

= .94 (94%)

= .94 x 30"

= 28.20"

= 28.25", rounded (28 1/4")

Step Two

E = D - A

= 30" - 28.25"

= 1.75" (1 3/4")

Step Three

G = D / F

= 30" / 10"

= 3 (about 1/3)

Step 4

H = A / G

= 28.25"/ 3

= 9.42"

= 9.5", rounded (9 1/2")

Step 5

I = F - H

= 10"- 9.50"

= .50" (1/2")

Step 6

J = E - I

=1.75"- .50"

= 1.25"" (1 1/4")


A person that is 5' 2" tall using a basic pattern based on a 5' 6" model with a finished skirt length of 30" needs to shorten the pattern by 1 3/4".

If that same person is using a pattern with a 10" yoke and 20" bottom skirt section, she will need to shorten the yoke by 1/2" and shorten the bottom skirt section by 1 1/4".

Thank you, Seamingly Simple, for an excellent idea!


The Sew/Fit Manual; Ruth Oblander and Joan Anderson; "Sizing Categories and Pattern Comparisons"; p.6; The Sew/Fit Co.; Burbank, Illinois. (First printed in 1978 and still going strong.)

The Sew/Fit Manual; "Fitting Your Pattern After Adjustments Are Made"; p. 103-141.

Pants for Any Body; Pati Palmer and Susan Pletsch; "Three Steps to Good Fit"; p. 13; Palmer/Pletsch Associates; Portland, Oregon. (Out of print. See for what they have now.)

Sew News; "Grade Patterns to Change Sizes"; Claire Shaeffer; p. ?; 19?. (This is a very good and clear explanation of pattern grading. The best of them all.)

Fitting Your Figure; "Off-the-Chart Sizes: Whether You're a Size 2 or 22, You Can Grade That Pattern to Fit"; Nancy Bryant; p. 24; Taunton Press, Inc.; Newtown, CT.

Sew News; "Balancing Act"; Peggy Sagers; April, 1999; p. 50.

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Chimey said... (4/14/09 10:10 AM) Reply
This is a great article and fits perfectly in with the topic of sewing in proportion using the Golden Mean in last months Vogue Magazine. In contrast to Vogue, however, this article gives me the math tools (which my brain lacks) to finish the job! I've lived in India a lot and understand the homesickness thing. But when I am in the US I long for India, which I am in India I think about the US and family.......dilemma! But Nigeria....for 40 years...that boggles my mind!
Sarah J Doyle said... (11/21/08 10:34 AM) Reply
This must have taken quite a bit of time to work it all out. Thanks so much for the effort. Looks good.
Peggym said... (11/21/08 10:31 AM) Reply
Thankyou so much for working this all out. I am tall but can use these calculations in reverse
glenj said... (11/16/08 6:31 PM) Reply
This is fantastic and makes perfect sense.thankyou for taking the time to do this,so that the rest of us can have an easier time working it out!
ryansmumAria said... (11/16/08 4:02 PM) Reply
WOW! To think someone took the time to analyze all this is amazing and very interesting. Just when you think you have heard it all! Thank you for sharing this!
petro said... (11/16/08 12:01 PM) Reply
This could work well for things like pocket placement on garments too, thanks!
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