I have already lived to regret glibly posting that I’d see if Mrs C’s gynametric pattern drafting instructions had any relevance to an uncorseted, food-loving twenty-first century body. If you’re going to follow along, you’ll need the PDF that Kathleen posted; I’m starting at page 11.

The style of English language has evolved over the years, which sometimes makes reading old texts slightly challenging. A well-written text, though, will not present a problem to the modern reader. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. For just about every sentence I’ve read so far — and I haven’t got very far — I’ve come up with about three interpretations of Mrs C’s instructions before I’ve hit on (what I think is) the right one.

The meandering post after the jump is my thought process as I tried to follow the instructions in the book. The first part was done very late at night, right after I had finished drafting a patent application, so I wasn’t in a mood to make allowances for ambiguity.

Here we go…

Take the measure of wrist between the wrist joint and hand.

Okay, good, got that. Six inches. Ooh! Sounds petite!

With one point of the compass at A, draw a quadrant A B C, to the size of wrist measure,

And so soon, here’s where it started to break down for me. Is it the entire perimeter of the quadrant — two radii plus an arc — that she means should equal my wrist measurement? Or just the arc? Or the radius? Is it because it’s late and I’m overthinking this?

Fortunately, on the following page, she does indicate that “A B is size of wrist” which suggests that I should be drawing a quadrant with a 6 inch radius. So here’s our first quadrant:


next with the arc B C, increase the figure to D E, that being the line, or circle on which the length of back and size of waist both, are described.

Yeah. So now, I’m supposed to draw another quadrant with center A and larger radius, but this new radius is a mystery. “[N]ext with the arc B C” could mean following the shape of BC, measuring from the points B and C, with the common center A, or using the length of arc BC… which is it?

Figure 1 in the book — and there’s nothing to say it’s to scale — suggests that we’re not doubling it. Reading ahead, it seems that the arc of this new quadrant, DE, is supposed to correspond with the length of the back in one example involving the “2nd order and 3d class” (meaning you’d use DE to separately work out the waist).

At this point, I did a little figuring by computing the resultant radius if DE was equal to my back waist length (which is about 15.5 inches), and guessed that she meant that I was supposed to use a radius equal to the length of arc BC, which is approximately 9.42 inches:


The length of back is determined by adding 1 2 and 3, parts of the measure — by part is meant one-sixth — of wrist measure — to the arc D E, or taking 1 and 2 parts from said arc.

If you’ve looked at the book diagram, you know that there are no less than three points, each labelled 1, 2, and 3. After about ten minutes of inward ranting, I combined this with the one-sixth reference to arrive at “The length of the back is determined by adding one-sixth, two-sixths, or three-sixths of the wrist measure to the arc DE, or taking one-sixth or two-sixths from said arc.” And this interpretation makes sense, because…

These different lengths of back make the different classes to which bodies may belong, there being six in number, as designated by the numbers written thereon, nearest the point E.

… And the Number of the Back shall be 6! Ahahahahaha. Did anyone else find that funny? I found that funny. But it’s after 1 a.m. and I’m trying to decipher incomplete instructions on how to draft patterns from my wrist measurement.

What I gather from this is that to determine your back length measurement from DE, is that you actually need to select one of six values:

  • length of DE minus 2/6 of wrist measurement
  • length of DE minus 1/6 of wrist measurement
  • length of DE
  • length of DE plus 1/6 of wrist measurement
  • length of DE plus 2/6 of wrist measurement
  • length of DE plus 3/6 of wrist measurement

This is indicated in Figure 1 by those short horizontal line segments that are around point E: note that “3″ is right on the line defined by AE, meaning that you take the length of DE if you fit that class.

So in fact, we need two measurements; we need to know our back waist measurement in order to classify the body. My actual back waist length is about 14.5 inches or so. When I need to estimate my back waist length in practice, I seldom use that because I don’t actually wear skirts and trousers that fit around my actual waist (at least, not when I can avoid it); garments that hang from a lower point on my torso are more comfortable, so I estimate the length of tops to cover up the rest of the torso accordingly.

But based on my “real” back waist length, I’m roughly in the third class because DE is equal to approximately 14.8 inches.

After getting the correct length of back, with one-fourth of it increase the circle a third time, making the line F A.

One quarter of 14.8 inches is 3.7 inches, or a length FA of 13.1 inches. (In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m rounding to three significant digits.)


The size of waist is determined by adding fractional parts of the wrist to the arc B C, or elbow measure, the smallest size having one part added, the second in size having two parts added, and so on, until the whole wrist measure is added for the largest size; that makes one-half of the waist.

At this point, I puzzled over whether I was meant to determine my waist according to my “size” as determined by how I determined my back length “class”, or if I was meant to take yet another measurement, meaning that Mrs C’s method is actually driven by three body measurements, not just one.

After some sleep, I realized I should proceed with my actual waist measurement. Beginning at the bottom of page 12, she says:

The waist measures, which are seven in number, denote the different orders to which a body may belong. I will here state that bodies belonging to the 6th class, as well as the first order, are extreme cases, and are rarely seen.

These “orders” are determined with how well the person’s body complies with these gynametric rules, but they must be different than the “classes” previously described with respect to back length, because there are seven of these waist orders and six back classes. (Therefore, she is saying that it is unusual to be in the first waist order, or smallest waist size; for my numbers, that would have been an 18.8 inch waist. It is furthermore unusual to have an extraordinarily long back waist length, which with my numbers would have been 17.8 inches. I’ll agree with her there.)

Based on this, then, I start with BC (9.42 inches) and I need to arrive at 13.5 inches, which is half of my actual waist. That puts me between the fourth order, adding fourth-sixths of my wrist measurement (13.42 inches total) and the fifth order (14.42 inches); we’ll go with the fourth order, or 13.42 inches.

Although gynametry may claim to predict certain body measurements from a single bone measurement, it certainly can’t predict all of the measurements required to draft a pattern without some help. Considering the ambiguity of Mrs C’s instructions, it’s not surprising that I missed this point; what she actually said on page 10 is:

… it is necessary only to use one measure to obtain a circle, and that another, or but one measure is required to obtain the size of the various parts, and consequently of the entire body. (emphasis added)

That suggests that only two measurements are required. Two, three, close enough.

Moving on:

After the correct waist measure is ascertained, with one-fourth of waist proper, measure on line D E from point D to its terminus, then dot, draw the intersecting line from A to said dot, letting it continue to line E G.

One-fourth of my waist proper (we’re pretending that’s 26.8 inches, based on the fourth order of the waist, which is fine; I haven’t eaten much today yet) is 6.7 inches. Therefore, I draw a chord from point D, and use that point of intersection with DE to draw a line segment from A to the arc beginning at F:


I didn’t measure the diagram to get the length of arc FG. I used the cosine rule. The angle formed by DAG is 41.7°, therefore arc FG is 41.7/360 times the circumference of circle with radius AF, or 9.54 inches.

The numbers written on line D E nearest its centre denote the different waist measures of any given wrist, while the figures on line F G denote the bust measure of its corresponding waist. I do not mean the actual measure of the bust around the figure, but it is a dividing measure between the bust and hips.

The first bit there corresponds to what we worked about about the seven waist classes; my diagram, above, reflects only the line that represents my measurements (it would be the intersection labelled “4″ at arc DE). Strangely, in the example given on page 13, Mrs C says that “[f]rom D to Q is 1/4 of waist”… Q? Where did Q come from? We know from from following the previous directions that one-quarter of the waist is the chord that we drew from D.

This means that the measure of FG in my diagram should be my “dividing measure between the bust and hips”… but on page 13, Mrs C also says that the length FG is the quarter-bust measure (while she is working out an example on page 13, the meaning of FG should not change).

Granted, because of the ambiguity in her writing, I do not know if she means the arc length FG, or the line segment FG. Turning to the example on page 13 again, she seems to be using different wording to distinguish line segments (“[f]rom D to Q”) from arcs (“A B is size of wrist”). I conclude that she means the line segment FG is the quarter-bust measurement; if it were the arc, that would make the full bust measurement about 38 inches, but the segment is 9.33 inches, for a full bust measurement of 37.3 inches.

From the example on page 13, this diagram fills in some dimensions:


Note that the “waist to hip joint” is not the distance between the waist and the widest part of the hip, it’s to the pelvis bone.

If you recall that Mrs C described that being in the second order and the third class was most common, I’m partly there: I’m in the third class, but I’m in the fourth order. But I still don’t match up to her numbers:

Measure Gynametric Actual
Wrist 6 in (actual measurement)
1/4 waist 6.7 in (approx. actual measurement)
1/4 bust 9.33 in 8.25 in
Arm at elbow 9.42 in 9.5 in (elbow slightly bent)
Hand over the thumb 10 in (AB plus 4/6 wrist; 4 is from my “order”) 8 in (thumb towards palm) 9 in (hand flat on table)
Back length 14.8 in (approx. actual measurement)
Waist to hip joint 3.7 in 3.75 to 4 in (to top of pelvis bone)
Inner arm 18.8 in (back length plus 4/6 wrist) 16.5 in (wrist to armpit, arm slightly bent)
Skirt length 43.6 in (twice gynametric inner arm plus AB) 39 in (waist to floor)

Note that describing DE as an arc defined by a circle quadrant is slightly misleading; the curve DE is definitely the back waist length, since it was measured, but for some people it will be short of a full quarter-circle, and for others it will be a quarter-circle plus a little extra. Because I’m not clear what the waist-to-hip-joint is really supposed to represent, I can only say that it looks like it’s in the right ballpark.

Generally, because I was in the fourth order, thanks to my waist measurement, the measurements gynametrically derived from the waist measurement were all off because the classification of orders according to actual waist measurement inform the inner arm, hand, and skirt length calculations.

If I could have called myself second order, then it looks like some of those figures would have worked. You can see that I made the assumption that based on her worked example, where she said “two parts” on page 13 she meant that because she was using a second-order example; if she meant those “two parts” to be fixed for all orders, though, the inner arm and the hand measurements would have been pretty good, and I’d be less likely to trip over my skirt (I wonder if the length made allowances for petticoats, etc.? I’d have to look at the pattern drafting instructions to find out).

This correction wouldn’t have helped the inaccuracy of the bust measurement, though. The bust measurement is based on the position of point G, which is determined by the intersection of the chord from D, the length of which was determined by the actual waist measurement. Based on this, I am apparently not as buxom as the ideal shape that Mrs C envisions… assuming I understood her instructions properly, of course!

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15 Responses to Gynewhat?

  1. Kathleen says:

    J, you’re making my head hurt :) . I couldn’t wade through all of her. Wasn’t all her drafting “for the Lord” a riot? Your illustrations are much nicer, clean. I am so learning disabled that I can’t follow written instructions unless it’s one instruction w/illustration per line. The older books were really bad about copious amounts of text. Ever try wading through Morris?

  2. Amie says:

    As I gracefully scrolled past each picture in an attempt to find a breath of air, my eyes protruded ever so more from their eye sockets.

  3. j. says:

    I wonder if this book was a one-off for her…

    I’m glad you posted that — I haven’t had time to try your spreadsheet and hoped to do it today, but now I wonder if you were on to something that Mrs C didn’t get!

  4. Teijo says:

    Oops! It looks like I misread the AF calculation, and you got it right.

    AF = ( wrist circumference ) + ( back / 4 )

    Thus, the “pelvis bone” Mrs. Coleman refers to must be the iliac crest. The distance to it from the waist is simply ( back / 4 ).

    I also got the formula for the “bust measure” wrong – the result should be the 9.4 inches you arrived at. (On page 19 Mrs. Coleman describes it as “…not really the bust proper, but a dividing distance, which is used to get a sufficient space for the waist and the necessary darts…” which probably means it also includes ease.)

    Mrs. Coleman’s writing really is confusing! Still, I’m curious how a pattern based on her instructions would turn out. I’m fairly sure that she didn’t make her living as a writer, so the clothes she made must have been good enough to sell…

  5. Teijo says:

    No – I think she did mean DF. It is a bit confusing, but:

    AF = AD + DF

    DF = AF – AD

    To get there, we need a bit of preparation. Elbow circumference, or AD, is first derived as follows:
    AD = ( Wrist circumference * 2 * pi ) / 4

    Then the arc DE is calculated:
    DE = ( elbow circumference * 2 * pi ) / 4

    Now we are ready to get AF:
    AF = ( actual back / 4 ) + DE

    The waist to hip joint distance can now be calculated as follows:
    DF = AF – AD

    It would seem that Mrs. Coleman bases her calculations on actual wrist, waist, back, (and maybe also front) measurements. The “class”, “order” and “position” categories indicate deviations that are probably used to adjust the draft (together with the “square” or “sloped” shoulder type.

    This does seem more plausible than using just the wrist circumference…

  6. j. says:

    Definitely, it looks like if the notion of “orders” is ignored after they are used to prepare the diagram, the results are a lot closer to reality — the inner arm, for example, would have been very close to actual, but it was only too long because I concluded I was supposed to add four-sixths of my wrist measurement based on her worked example.

    This means that when she wrote up that example on page 13, Mrs C shouldn’t have said that it was for a person of 2nd class and 3rd order; she should have just said that the definitions on page 13 applied across the board.

    And this means I must have completely misunderstood her meaning of waist to hip joint, which she called DF; but that’s only a line segment. Did she mean the arc FG?

  7. Teijo says:

    The spreadsheet I made based on the text yielded values closer to the actual measurements. Perhaps our interpretations of some bits were different. The writing certainly is convoluted enough… I reread some parts about four times.

    When I plugged in your wrist, waist and back measurements I got the following:

    Wrist circumference (actual) 6
    Back (actual) 14.8
    Waist (actual) 27

    So far so good…

    Elbow circumference 9.42
    Hand circumference (over thumb) 8
    Waist to hip joint 9.08
    Inner arm (arm’s eye to wrist???) 16.8
    Skirt length 39.6
    Under arm length (arm’s eye to waist?) 8.4
    Bust measure (bust – hips: drafting unit?) 33.75
    Quarter bust 8.44
    Quarter waist 6.75

    It would be interesting to see what results others get.

  8. alwen says:

    Well, I nearly always trip over translating picture-free instructions like that into actions, even if they turn out afterwards to be less ambiguous than these!

    So I’m giving you a round of applause here.

  9. Maureen says:

    I suspect that this was most useful for seamstresses who might take a few measurements from a client and then draft patterns and sew dresses based on those measures. (My great-grandmother was such a seamstress). I think that the different orders etc are ratios of hip to bust and the like along the lines of Junior/Misses/Women.

    If the bust calculations were a little greater than your measurements you could do as my grandmother did and sew starched ruffles to your undergarments. ;-)

  10. bunchkin says:

    I think my brain just exploded.

  11. Wannietta says:

    Holy Mathematics Batgirl!!! I think that Gynametry is a closely related science to Alchemy – works better in theory than in practice. “A” for effort though Jenna!

  12. dao says:

    I’m glad you post this! because i actually dl the pdf from Kathleen post. Reading through it the first time it was super confusing, and reading your post today show i wasn’t the only one! I’m going to try to do my measurment too, your post helped alot!

  13. heather says:

    glory hallelujah! i’m impressed you went all the way through that. not being a math fan, i think it’d be easier to just take the measurements…..especially since you had to take them anyway to confirm mrs. c’s method.

  14. Chialea says:

    Congrats on your geometric exercise. It’s a very “practical” use of the math. ;)

  15. Thanks for hauling yourself through all that.

    Sometimes I wonder if the hours of tech editing I do on knitting and other instructions are worthwhile. I am convinced, in my heart of hearts, that they are, even though I know my results will never be perfect (and the only aspect of my work that anyone is ever likely to notice and comment on is the part that’s not).

    Sounds like Mrs. C. didn’t have any tech editing at all. . . .