Diagonal Design Details

Of all the directions design line can move … diagonals may just be the most figure flattering.  Graceful and sensual, they lead the viewer’s eye gently across your body and away from any figure challenges while adding visual interest to a basic silhouette.  Each garment below takes advantage of diagonal lines to create the illusion of a smaller waistline and a shaplier figure.

Important Note:  the closer a diagonal is toward vertical the more slimming it is likely to be.  The closer to horizontal … not so much.  Look for diagonal lines that create at least a 45-degree angle across your body. 

The wavy effect of the lapels on the popular cascade sweaters are another effective diagonal — especially good on rectangle, inverted triangle and oval figure types.  The fullness of this style almost always requires a Shoulder Shaper to support the look, so either choose a version with sleeves or wear a sleeved top underneath. (This example is a coat, hence the bulkier fabric.)

Plaids and stripes can make figure-friendly diagonal lines when cut on the bias grainline like the skirt on the left below.  Double-check, though, that the softer drape of the bias-cut fabric doesn’t result in more body cling than you prefer.  The crosswise pull at the hipline in the right hand images gives you a horizontal line instead of the planned diagonal – oops!

Bias plaid skirts also need to be balanced.  See how the skirt on the left seems to lean to one side?  If the stripes within a plaid are not the same both lengthwise and crosswise on the fabric, then the skirt needs a center front seam so the two sides of the skirts can be symmetrical and the plaid lines can meet in a beautiful (and vertical-seamed) chevron.

The diagonal drape formed by the waistline tucks on this slim faux-wrap skirt are nearly vertical.  A typical sarong – actually wrapped and tied on the body –usually creates nearly-horizontal drape instead …  less flattering, especially if you have a bit of tummy fullness.  I’d like this skirt even better without the horizontal focus created by the sash.

The diagonal folds on these tops create the look of a very tiny waistline (good on all figure types except Ovals).  The point from which those diagonals radiate looks narrow; the point they radiate toward looks a bit wider by comparison.

Tops with diagonal hemlines side-step the widening effect of a distinct horizontal line near your hips.  And they make you look taller — therefore thinner — in a very sneaky way.  Someone looking at you will perceive your upper body extending from the low-point of the diagonal to the top of your head.  And they will perceive your lower body extending from the high-point of the diagonal to the floor — giving you that extra few inches (the depth of the diagonal) added to your apparent height.

You can easily create a similar diagonal hem on your straight-bottom knit tops.  Simply run a row of gathering stitches along the side seam allowance inside the garment, from hemline to near the underarm.  Pull the stitches and knot off the threads.  You can shirr both sides or just one, depanding on the hemline effect you prefer.

Diagonal hemlines on dresses and skirts also create visual movement, elongating legs and lower bodies, like this:


What diagonal lines can you find — or create — in your own closet?

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Patricia W Tingley on July 17, 2017 at 7:01 am

    Excellent presentation!

    The one thing I have noticed on the angled skirts and lower dresses is the poor hems which, for me, spoil the overall presentation of style.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 17, 2017 at 8:25 am

      What kinds of hems are you seeing and what would you prefer?

  2. Marlette on July 17, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    Perhaps Patricia is referring to the skimpy hem depths we see so often that are poorly sewn and or stretched when sewn so that the inside of the hem pulls and makes the garment hang awkwardly.

    Your tip on gathering the side seams is another option to my previous column comment about using clear elastic.

    Thanks again, Nancy

    • Nancy Nix Rice on July 17, 2017 at 9:27 pm

      When I sew my own — or when I need to fix a ready-make garment’s narrow hem — I love the Double-Sided Fusible Stay Tape to press the hem smoothly in place and hold it securely while I topstitch it. The tape comes 1″ wide and I trim in in half or thirds to use that way. Find it at Pamelaspatterns.com.

  3. Pamela Ann on July 22, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Been sewing most of my dress clothes, Another wedding coming up in September and I am ready!, I am SO SO Sick of poorly made clothing, I do not sew every day clothing b/c quality companies carry nice things for that but for dress??
    Oh my, its pathetic!
    Hems are my bug a boo, I am seeing LOTS of downright ugly mismatched stripes, unkempt hems, and apparently no one cares what they toss on at times,
    Thank you Nancy, I own your book and have taken your class on Craftsy and owe a lot to you for the information on how to have an orderly closet and lots of things to wear,
    This helps a lot with travel also`,,,and one thing important I have learned in my life ( recently) is to have that Wedding outfit DONE ( several choices) way before the wedding unless mother of bride or groom. Jewelry and all accessories~
    , Another is the Holidays, by September I want to go over everything that I will potentially wear to any Christmas plays, concerts , parties or New Years Eve parties ( accessories and all) I am never in a panic because of planning, , Additionally I also assess any makeup and grooming needs in fall and plan my hair appts accordingly because the back up for appointments is greater~
    Gosh,,,,it makes for a much smoother holiday season ( especially when having kids and grandkids in for a week!)

  4. Pamela Ann on July 22, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    I forgot to mention that I also use Pamela’s tapes , different types for different purposes,

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