The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

The Golden Ratio

I posted a photo on Facebook over the weekend, and it looked like some ancient mysterious proportion jibberish, and it’s really not.

ratio1It’s a very familiar ratio or proportion aid used since the ancient Greeks, but civilizations all over the ancient world used it.  It’s one of the most common ratios found in nature.


Here’s the outline of a nautilus animal shell.  What this shows is that when you mathematically calculate the curves and place the squares over the curves, you get a mathematical ratio.  That means you take the squares next to each other and you will find that they increase or decrease at the same rate.  That ratio is 1.618.  It goes out further than that, but for us that’s good.

The ancient Greeks used it extensively in their design – the most notable being the Parthenon:

The Greeks discovered how pleasing the ratio is and how often it occurs in nature.

What’s so fabulous about this ratio is how you can use it to help you in design.  Here’s how it helps me.  As you know I’m short and so my “sweet spot” on hems, lengths and proportions is very short.  On taller folks, they have a lot more room, whereas we short people don’t.

The problem here is that the sweet spot on short folks is so small that most short people conclude that they can’t wear the same things tall people can.  Some say they have to wear long jackets only, or can’t wear short jackets, can’t wear capri pants or can’t wear longer skirts or whatever.  What the real problem is that for short people it’s just hard to find that sweet spot.

Enter the Golden Ratio.  This is a mathematical system where by to help you find that spot.  And that’s what I used in my recent outfit to find my capri length.

ratio1So looking at this again.  What I did was set a length for my top – I wanted it past the wide part of my hips – so I took my height and made the golden ration from the height – the longer/bigger block being the top (that’s the measurement on the left side).

Then on the length for the pant, I took my waist to floor and the larger/bigger part was my pant or capri length.  Now after I finished this I did leave a little extra cause in this fabric I noticed that it like to gather around my knee a little – I’m OK with that, but wanted to take that into consideration on my hem length.  And I’m known to fudge a little on this to get it like I want, but using this ratio gets me very close in the ball park and helps me figure out where the proportions are the best on my short frame!

You don’t necessarily have to use the large on top/small on bottom like I’ve done here, you can use it the other way around.  But using these proportions sure makes it easier to find that “sweet spot” and enjoy wearing clothes that you never thought you could before.  Play around with this proportion and see what fun things you can discover about your own proportions.


  1. Claire,

    Thanks for posting this! I saw this explained in a House Beautiful decades ago and kept that magazine because of this description! Of course its application was in regards to architecture…not fashion. It works for everything as shown in the shell.

    Thank you again! I love your blog!


  2. I tried making a simple knit skirt that was slightly pegged and it looked truly awful on me. I kept wondering why as I made sure the hem didn’t reach the heaviest part of my calves.

    Now I have something else to play with – maybe if I got the ratio of shirt hem and the skirt hem right? Thanks for sharing a fun idea.

  3. It’s amazing what a little tinkering can do. But do be careful not to “peg” the skirt too much. A little is a great line, too much is awful. It’s amazing how little it will take – sometimes as little as 2% is enough to show the line. Leave the over-exaggeration to the runway!

  4. Can’t wait to try this. I’m 6′ tall and used to everything purchased being odd. So I sew to get these things to look and feel more flattering. Love the info!!

  5. Thank you! I am pretty short myself, 5’2″ on a good day. I’ve been looking for more information about using the Golden Mean in fashion design. Designing with this in mind can make the difference between fabulous and dumpy. The right proportions and hemlines make a huge difference in the look of an outfit.

    • Caroline – it gives you a great place to start instead of just starting in the dark. I find it’s not the end-all (but then what is for that matter), but at least you have a place to start. Basically we all know what works for us and what doesn’t, but if we have a head start about where to look, then that at least puts us a little ahead of the game instead of starting out just in the dark directionless! Good luck!

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