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Do you use a croquis in your historical costuming design thought process? I often do. I’m a very visual person, and when an idea for a Regency gown (most usually) starts boiling around in my head, I need to get it onto paper. If I don’t, it just keeps swirling around distracting me. Sometimes that ends up looking a little something like this:


Or this:


I made the gown based on this sketch several years ago, and it’s still one of my go-tos and favorites.


(Why are they bending over? Hell if I know. I can’t sketch upright figures, I guess. Maybe they’re about to pet a dog or accept a tea cup?)

Most frequently, though, I prefer to use a real croquis–but not an idealized figure. One that more closely resembles my figure. Like this one:

Regency Croquis2

(If you’re unaware of what the heck a croquis is: it’s that idealized fashion figure that fashion designers use to sketch their garment concepts on.) The croquis above started out with a more typical, natural modern bustline, not this uplifted one. But it was always a rather voluptuous fashion figure. I got lucky when I found it, because it really resembles me quite a bit in terms of roundness and vertical proportions. The trouble with most fashion croquis, as you may imagine, is that they are idealized figures. To start with, most are extremely thin and elongated–they tend to stand about 9 heads tall. The torsos and legs are unnaturally attenuated.

The benefit of using that kind of croquis is that it enables a designer to better display the particulars of a garment design’s features. But most human beings are more like 7 heads tall. (When I say “head,” what I mean is that if you were to look at a photograph of yourself and measure from the top of your head to your chin–one head’s length–and then use that increment to measure down the body, you would discover how many “heads” tall you are.) So if you don’t stand 9 heads tall, but you want to sketch a design for yourself, using a 9-head-tall figure won’t give you a very accurate idea of how that design will translate to your own human proportions.

The figure above is actually about 6 heads tall. That’s about right for my real-life vertical proportions. But I needed to alter the original croquis to give it an uplifted bust. I hand-copied it in pencil, complete with the body reference lines–all but the bust area. To ‘raise’ the bust, I simply set the top curves higher on the chest (like mine are anyway) and slightly flattened them, which is how mine appear in my 1810s stays. A quick change to the hairstyle into one appropriate for a Regency lady, and voila: a personalized, Regency croquis!

All that was necessary then was to make some photocopies, lightening the lines to some extent so they don’t interfere with the garment sketches that go overtop. I’ve scanned them, too, so if I run out of the hard-copy croquis I can just print new ones.

And this is how I use it:


A gold-spotted ball ensemble I made (but haven’t blogged). This is where the design started, after I managed to snag some GORGEOUS fabric at a sewing expo a few years back.




This is a sketch for a ballgown after one that the character Henrietta wears in 1995’s Persuasion film. I spent a lot of time staring at the screen and making notes to try and figure out what was going on and how to copy it. It’s on my list.


Not only does using a croquis help bring costume ideas to life, and show me how it will look on a figure that closely matches my own, it also helps me think through how the garment might be made and its details reproduced. It’s also a really handy way to keep most of my notes about it in one place. As you can see, these aren’t pretty, clean design sketches that one would put into a portfolio to show off. They’re working notes.

So, do you croquis?

*BTW, I don’t mind at all if you snag my naked croquis to use for yourself if she fits your figure, too. (Not that I could stop you ;-} )