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Nerdy sewing tips: How to take your measurements

If there's one thing we've noticed from teaching dressmaking classes, it's that beginner sewists almost always slip up when it comes to the crucial task of taking their own measurements (and funnily enough, they usually add inches!). It may sound obvious, but without an accurate set of measurements, making a dress that fits well is impossible. In this post, and with the gorgeous (and brave!) pineapple bikini-clad Victoria as our model, we will demonstrate how to take your measurements.

First things first, it's a good idea to strip down to your smalls - we don't want bulky jumpers adding any unwanted inchage to our waistlines now! Do, however, measure yourself wearing the bra that you would normally be wearing.

Grab a pen and a flexible measuring tape (and before you ask, no - your boyfriend's/husband's/dad's/DIY-obsessed-BFF's metal tape measure will not do! And they'll probably rip you to shreds while you're at it), stand yourself in front of a full length mirror and take the following measurements (either in inches or centimetres, whatever you prefer), being careful not to twist the measuring tape as you hold it around yourself. Oh, and measure from the right end of the tape, ie. 1cm/1"! An easy mindless mistake we've all made...

Full Bust

Your full bust is, surprise surprise, the circumference around your ribcage at the fullest part of your bust. This is usually nipple height.

Hold the tape firmly (but not tightly) around yourself, trying not to let the tape sag down your back. Don't hold your breath as it will puff out your chest, and keep your free arm down by your side.

High Bust

Most sewing patterns will not give a high bust measurement in their sizing chart, but it's an important one to be aware of as it is the relationship between your high bust and your full bust that will usually dictate whether or not you'll need a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) or indeed a Small Bust Adjustment (SBA).

NB: As a general rule, if your full bust is more than 2" larger than your high bust, you'll probably need an FBA, whereas if your full bust is just 1" larger or less than your high bust, you'll probably need an SBA. This, however, will also depend on the relationship between your full bust and waistline measurements, as well as the specific design of the pattern you are making.

Hold the tape around your ribcage, pulling it up to your underarms and above your bust. Again, breathe normally and keep your arms and shoulders relaxed.


This can be a little confusing because a lot of people don't actually know where their natural waist is. It is not your jeans waist size, and it is not always the smallest part of your torso if you don't happen to have an hourglass shape. Your waist is located halfway between the end of your ribs and the top of your hip bones.

Pull the tape around your waist and have a little feel of what's comfortable for you. If you're making a dress or skirt with a cinched in waist, for example, the Elisalex Dress or the Charlotte Skirt, this is where it will be the tightest. We definitely advocate sucking in a little if it means we can shave half an inch or so off our waistlines! 


The hip measurement is not literally taken from around your hip bones, rather, the hip measurement indicates the fullest part around your bottom.

Now that you've made a note of your measurements, you can now cross reference with the sizing chart on the back of most sewing patterns (or indeed RTW sizing charts). Pay extra attention to a pattern's 'Finished measurements' section, as this will give you a better idea as to how a garment will measure up when finished. Some will be very form fitting, will little or no 'ease' (the amount of extra space allowed by a garment from the body itself), and therefore the finished measurements will be similar to the sizing chart. Or, in the case of our Victoria Blazer, which has a lot of ease, the finished measurements are considerably bigger than those dictated by our sizing chart.

And that's all there is to it - the first step to handmade frocks that fit as good as they look!

Comments on this post (2)

  • Mar 18, 2014

    Hi Marsha, we draft our patterns to a B cup – which is not necessarily the same as a B cup in bra sizes… If your high bust measurement is 2" less than your full bust, then you would fall into a B cup in dressmaking terms. For every inch extra difference between your full bust and high bust, you would go up or down a cup size. For example, if your high bust is 3" less than your full bust, you would be a C cup; and if your high bust is 1" less than your full bust, you would be an A cup. Hope this helps! x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Mar 15, 2014

    What cup size do you use when drafting your patterns?

    Many thanks!

    M <

    — Marsha Gibson

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