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Making a dress with mathematics
· · 1 comment

Making a dress with mathematics

· · 1 comment

Someone sent me an article written by female mathematician Eugenia Cheng about making herself a dress. She's recently been making face masks and could sew well. She figured that she might be able to apply her experience with differential geometry to achieve a well-fitting dress.

The body, especially a woman's body, is composed of a number of positive and negative curves. Having an idea of where these curves fall on the body helps a pattern maker know where to put darts or gathers to make a flat piece of fabric fit around those curves.

She writes about a British mathematician name Christopher Neeman, who set out to make his wife a dress using these principles. Apparently, he thought mathematics would help him a lot more than it did. It took him much longer than expected to produce a dress that ultimately satisfied his wife.

The author of the article has no grand illusions about the importance of geometric equations but rather all the dresses she's tried on in her life and the shared knowledge of generations of dressmakers. Pinning the dress is the best way to ensure it fits.

You see, women's bodies come in such a wide variety of shapes and sizes, it's unimaginable that a simple equation would satisfy them all. Perhaps this is part of why ready made clothes sometimes fit poorly. It's easier to make them for straight up and down super skinny models than for women with curves.

As a dress-maker myself, understanding fabric, drape, and patterns is something intangible. I imagine some day we'll have machines that scan the body and make custom patterns for you, but even then, to capture style, proportion, fabric drape, and most importantly, taste, requires a certain je ne sais quoi.

If you'd like the read the article and have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, you can see it here. If you don't have a subscription, I've made a PDF available of the paper copy.

Happy reading!