Sometimes it’s good to review the basics! We have such a range of sewing abilities in our community, from pros who have been sewing for decades to others that have yet to sew a stitch, but regardless of where you are on that spectrum, we think it’s wise to revisit and examine some of those core skills we should all have in our toolbox. Today, we want to focus on the correct way to take your measurements. There is almost always a few new tips you can pick up so we hope this series is helpful for everyone.
Taking proper measurements is the first step in making sure you are creating a successful garment that fits well. This process can be fraught with all kinds of emotions. Our bodies are shifting constantly and it’s not unusual to gain or lose inches here and there for any number of reasons. If you are someone who feels anxiety around those numbers, it can be a useful practice to use a new/weird unit of measurement. If you recognize inches, try centimeters! Or if you are a metric lover, try inches! Most importantly, don’t rely on old measurements out of habit. It’s important to constantly be retaking and checking your measurements so you ensure you’re always cutting the right size. We only have one body, and we have that body now, in this moment. Let’s honour it by making it some clothes that fit!
You will need:
- Downloadable measurement sheet (get it here)
- Flexible tape measure
- Comfortable and typical undergarments
- Mirror Stool or chair
- Piece of elastic and safety pin for around your waist
- A chain or necklace with a pendant
- Hair elastic
I am going to show you how to take all your measurements solo, but it’s helpful to ask a friend or family member for assistance. Please wear the undergarments you will be wearing with the final garment. If you are making a form-fitting dress that you plan on wearing with Spanx or a specific bra, wear that when you take the measurements. If you are making an everyday garment, wear whatever undergarments you would normally wear (sports bra, underwired bra, no bra, whatever!)
FYI: a handy guide for having a consistent waist measurement as a reference point is to take a piece of elastic and pin it around the smallest part of your waist. This is your “natural waist”, and what we will base a few measurements on. Decide if you are going to use the top or bottom of the elastic as your reference point and be consistent.
When taking measurements, try to hold the tape taut (not tight) and level. The tape should sit close against your skin with no wiggle room. Now, let’s start with the most common and important measurements for choosing a pattern size: bust, waist and hip.
HOW TO TAKE YOUR BUST MEASUREMENT
When sewing patterns give a bust measurement in their size charts, the full bust is what they are measuring. This measurement is taken across the fullest part of the bust (generally at nipple height). Make sure the tape is laying flat and level across the radius of your torso and ensure you’re not holding it too tightly.
HOW TO TAKE YOUR HIGH BUST MEASUREMENT
This is an important measurement because it helps determine your sewing cup size. Please note that cup size in this context does not refer to bra sizing, but rather the difference in inches between high and full bust. A 2″ difference between those measurements is equivalent to a B cup (a difference of 1″= A cup, 2″ = B cup, 3″ = C cup etc.) FYI, if the difference between your high bust and full bust is higher than 2″, you may need to make a full bust adjustment on most patterns.
The high bust is taken by measuring your chest above your full bust. Wrap the tape behind your back ensuring it’s lying flat. You can check in the mirror to make sure it’s lying straight and level across your back. Try and relax your arms to ensure you’re not engaging your pectoral muscles which could alter this measurement.
HOW TO TAKE YOUR WAIST MEASUREMENT
This is going to be taken over or instead of the elastic you already have on. It should sit at the smallest part of your waist, aka the natural waist. If you have a more rectangular torso and a less obvious natural waistline, you can choose a waistline based on where it looks best to you proportionately. This is a good measurement to also take seated. Take both and if there is a noticeable difference, record them both.
HOW TO TAKE YOUR HIP MEASUREMENT
The hip measurement refers to the widest part of your lower body. Using the mirror, try to ensure the tape is level front to back. You can slide the tape up and down till you find where you are widest. This is what we call full hip and is one of the main measurements that we use to find pants sizes or general sizes for a dress/jumpsuit etc. It’s also a good idea to take this measurement seated and to record it separately. If you plan on sitting down in the non-stretch pants you are making, you’ll absolutely want to have the seated measurement to compare.
Now let’s talk about some supplemental measurements you should have on hand! These are helpful if the sewing pattern provides a comprehensive set of finished measurements, and may let you know if you need to make further adjustments to your pattern.
APEX TO APEX
Here we are measuring the distance between the fullest part of each breast (aka the apex or nipple area). This is a particularly useful measurement if you are bigger busted, as you might want to change dart placements or do FBAs on patterns that don’t include bigger cup sizes. If you are making very fitted bodices, lingerie or bathing suits some of these measurements get taken into consideration as well.
SHOULDER TO APEX
This measurement is taken from the shoulder seam directly down to your bust apex. If you are fuller busted this measurement can change quite a bit depending on the support your bra offers so again, make sure you are wearing the undergarments you plan on wearing for the finished garment.
The bicep is taken around the fullest part of your upper arm. Ensure the arm that you are measuring is down and relaxed (unless you are a professional bodybuilder in which case you might want to flex while you take this so you don’t hulk out of your fitted shirts?? Up to you!)
CENTER BACK LENGTH
This is one of the trickier ones to take by yourself but if you take the beginning of your tape and hold it against the chain at the back of your neck and let the tape fall down your back, you can grab the end with your other hand and lay the tape against the elastic at your waist. Once you have the tape against the elastic, use your fingernail to mark where the tape meets the elastic. That’s your back length.
CENTER FRONT LENGTH
This is taken from your clavicle (collar bones) to your waist elastic. Super helpful for lengthening and shortening and choosing sizes.
This is definitely a tricky one to manage solo but I have a trick! Use an elastic (a hair elastic works great) around your wrist to hold the beginning of the tape. You’ll want this to fall where your ideal sleeve would end. Drawing the tape up your straight (relaxed) arm, measure to the shoulder point and then, mark with your nail and record your arm length!
This is another one that is a bit tricky, but you can either do the same thing we did for the arm but this time with the elastic on your ankle, OR you could stand on the edge of the beginning of the tape measure and draw it up to your waist elastic and then subtract an inch. You could try both and make sure it’s the same.
STRIDE / CROTCH
This measurement refers to the distance from the waist in the front to the waist in the back. Obviously, this is most crucial for pants fitting and can be called stride or the crotch curve length. While you don’t want to be too short with this, you want it to be relatively “true” since you will be adding ease to this area with most patterns. This is different than “Rise” which is traditionally either just the front or back measurement. We generally provide front rise measurements for our pants patterns because it gives a fixed measurement to indicate how high the pants are supposed to sit on the body. If you’re given a rise measurement, use it to compare to other pants in your closet to get a sense of where the waistband will sit – it can be tricky to try to measure front rise on your body since you don’t necessarily know where the inseam will sit against your crotch.
This is the fullest part of your upper leg. That can vary depending on so many things so again, just make sure the tape is level and you are recording the widest part. You could also try sitting and seeing if this changes the measurement a great deal. If so, record both.
In this post, we show you how these data points can be used to choose a size, grade between sizes and make some common fit adjustments. There is so much you can learn about pattern drafting and fitting once you start to understand your measurements and I hope you feel inspired to pull out the taAlways try and remember, your body is just right, right now and it deserves to have clothes that fit. Also, math is fun!
Oh! And if you have some measurement tips (especially for solo fitting) please leave them in the comments!