Hi all! Amy here. As part of our 2021 agenda, we wanted to start the year by going back to 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, that 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, no matter how much experience you have, 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 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 regular undergarments
- 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 may be 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 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 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 the bottom of the tape as your point and be consistent.
We have included a wide range of measurements in our free downloadable worksheet. You may not need all of them, but it’s a helpful resource and exercise to gather them all so you’re all set to fit a wide variety of garments. Also, next week I will be showing you how to take the measurements we’ve taken today and use them to make common adjustments to patterns.
While a head measurement isn’t something we generally use, I like knowing my hat size! It might come in handy one day and it’s a good start if you are feeling trepidatious about some of your other measurements. It’s taken around the widest part of your skull; try and make it level front to back.
If you are having a hard time deciding where your neck is, a good tip is to put on a necklace (a chain with a pendant works well). Generally, a chain will fall at the same place that a collar or neckline would sit, so put the tape around your neck and measure around where the chain hits the sides and back. Again this is not a very common data point but useful if you’re making something collared or a turtleneck, and for choosing sizes. It is a very common measurement for men’s clothing.
The shoulder measurement is taken from that spot on your neck where a necklace chain sits and ends at the boney terminus of your shoulder. Take this measurement in the mirror so you can see where the shoulder ends. If it’s a little sloped or soft at that spot you can choose visually where you think that point should be; raising your arm to feel where that joint is is helpful too. This is where a sleeve cap would start on a tight-fitting shirt. If you have a tight shirt you like the look and feel of, check where the seam is and use this as your measurement point.
For shoulder measurements, you should take the measurement of one shoulder AND across your chest, from shoulder point to shoulder point. Make sure you note if you’re taking this complete measurement at the front or back, since they will likely be a bit different.
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.
Your full bust measurement is pretty much just what it sounds like, the fullest part of your bust. Make sure the tape is laying flat and level, and again, try and relax your arms.
APEX TO APEX
Here we are measuring the distance between the fullest part of each breast (aka the apex). 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 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 what 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!)
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.
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 taken from your clavicle (collar bones) to your waist elastic. Super helpful for lengthening and shortening and choosing sizes.
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.
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 or in lieu of your standing measurement. We’ll get into this in more detail next week when we talk about ease, but 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.
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.
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 rise, stride or the crotch curve. 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 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.
Next week I will be showing 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 with pattern drafting and fitting once you start to understand your measurements and I hope you feel inspired to tackle some challenges with me in this series. Always 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!