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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.

Waist

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! 

Hips

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 (4)

  • Feb 05, 2019

    BTW – I can’t imagine that modelling for your photographer would have taken too much bravery by your beautiful lemon bikini clad Victoria as she has a truly gorgeous figure & lovely skin to show off for this article…! Oh to have those days back again – Hmmm … maybe not, as I wouldn’t have had all the incredible, but not always pleasant, experiences that life has sent to me … I think that at 66 each wrinkle & stretch mark are the scars from the many war wounds (or perhaps medals?) that I’ve gained from some difficult periods battles that we all experience during our lives, some just had skirmishes, while others of us seemed to be at the front battle lines of world wars of life. I now contentedly & without guilt, admit that the ‘rounded’ areas are the result of all the chocolate that I’ve used to ‘self medicate’ when needed (or just plain ‘wanted’ lol) to assist me to come out the other side of those battles! Although I occasionally wistfully admire those with their lovely figures & still fresh faces, I’m not ashamed of my size 16 now either. Who knows, I may even manage to reduce my intake of chocolate, which I admit has been my Waterloo for the last three years or so since I discovered just how much I adore quality dark chocolate (& of course we all know that dark chocolate is good for us … I’ve just not managed to find the line marked ‘moderation’ …yet! 2019 here we come … & now with a far better insight into pattern measurements & how we can ‘manipulate’ them so that they actually look as though they were quite literally ‘made for us’! . Thanks for listening to my blurb, but I had to comment on your lovely model … & well, once again, moderation eluded me. (maybe the heat has finally cooked my brain!)! :) Cheers … again …. Wendy.

    — Wendy Maxwell

  • Feb 05, 2019

    Thank you SO very much to both you, Marsha Gibson and to you, Elisalex – By Hand London! That was an excellent question and one that I’m sure that I wouldn’t have thought to ask … maybe because I haven’t sewn any clothing for many years, and even then, I was a ‘perfect 10’ according to all of the patterns, so I never had to consider having to alter something to fit me properly. Unfortunately, as the years have passed by, so has my ‘perfect 10’ figure! :) I’m sure that I will now be altering patterns thanks to an increased bust measurement, as well as a ‘more rounded’/‘curvier’ tummy!
    I loved how you answered the question Elisalex as I doubt that I will have any problems working out how to upscale any patterns that need it before I begin cutting out my fabric! I’’’m sure that I’m not the only person who you will have saved frustration, cutting out too skimpy fabric by blindly but faithfully following the pattern to then discover that the item is too small (in may case) or too big in others. It’s not too difficult to take in an outfit that is a little too big, but it’s not so easy to let something out if the fabric was cut to suit that smaller figure.
    Once again, I thank you both very much for your thoughtful question & for the equally well thought out response! I’ll certainly be signing up for email updates from this site in future!. Kind.regards, Wendy M. suffering in a VERY hot summer here in the sub-tropics in Oz! I may whine for about 2 to 3 weeks in January, but for the rest of the year the climate is perfect for me, especially as I know what ‘cold’ can be like in the UK after having lived there for 5 years! :)

    — Wendy Maxwell

  • 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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