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Taking Measurements for Dressmaking

There is a proper way to take measurements for dressmaking to give the best fit when making a garment. You should keep an accurate record of all your measurements, and check them each time you start to prepare a new pattern. The following notes should help you to take an accurate set of measurements.

There are no secrets here! You will never be able to fool yourself or anyone else about your size again! Having said that, keep in mind that different manufacturer’s sizes are different. One high street retailer’s size 14 is another’s 16, and yet another’s 12.

The first trick starts with your underwear!

If you have never done so, or have lost or gained weight since the last time, or even had a baby, get yourself fitted for a bra professionally. Did you know that more than 75% of women are wearing the wrong size of bra? Quite apart from the health problems this can cause (such as painful shoulders, backache and breast pain), a well-fitted bra that gives the correct support looks far better under you clothes than one that is too tight, causing unsightly bulges, or leaves you sagging in places that require support! Unfortunately, the older we get, the less we can afford to ignore this important point.

Knickers that fit are equally important. There is nothing so nasty as a ‘Visible Panty Line’ pointing out that you have squeezed a size 18 bum into size 14 undies! If you feel better in supportive undies, again, it is well worth your while to find something that fits properly, asking for fitting help where needed.

Many of the better department stores offer this advice free to customers, and it is worth spending a little extra on good quality, properly fitted underwear. With the knowledge you are in the process of gaining, you will save far more making you own clothes than you will spend on the difference between cheap, badly fitting undies and those that fit well, are comfortable, and do their job without showing on the outside!

Having an accurate set of measurements to work to will mean that the clothes you make will fit you properly. Taking an accurate set of measurements is not difficult, but takes care. It is almost impossible to take your own measurements, so we will do this exercise in pairs.

Look at the diagram below. On it are marked all the measurements you will need for most garments. Patterns for garments that require more will tell you which extra measurements are needed. There is space to add these to your personal measurement chart when you need them.

Diagram for Taking Measurements

A diagram showing the correct way to take measurements for dressmaking.


  1. BUST/CHEST round the fullest part of the bust/chest
  2. WAIST round the natural waistline: not tight
  3. HIP round the fullest part of the bottom
  4. HIGH HIP round the prominent hip bones
  5. FRONT from the hollow of the throat to the natural waistline at the front
  6. FRONT BALANCE from the shoulder over the point of the bust to the natural waist line
  7. FRONT WIDTH across the width of the chest above the bust
  8. NECK round the base of the neck: a comfortable fit
  9. INSIDE LEG from the crotch to the ankle bone, or to where you wish the trouser hem to fall
  10. RISE from the natural waistline to the crotch level: sit on the table and cross your legs; measure from the waistline to the table top on the side of the upper leg
  11. ARM: TO ELBOW from the point of the shoulder to the point of the elbow (with elbow bent)
  12. ARM: TO WRIST from the point of the shoulder, round the point of the elbow and down to the wrist bone (with elbow bent)
  13. BACK WAIST from the prominent bone at the back of the neck to the natural waistline
  14. BACK WIDTH across the width of the back from arm to arm
  15. BICEP round the thickest part of the upper arm
  16. WRIST round the wrist at the bone: give enough slack to make a comfortable cuff fitting
  17. BACK BALANCE from the top of the shoulder to the waistline at the back

Other useful measurements are:

  • CROTCH SEAM from the waistline at the front between the legs to the waistline at the back: a comfortable fit
  • SHOULDER WIDTH from the neck to the point of the shoulder along the top
  • FINISHED LENGTH from the nape of the neck to the hemline (or from the waist in the case of skirts)

You should take the measurements in a minimum of clothing for the sake of accuracy.

A diagram showing a measurement chart for dressmaking.

© 2010 Kate Dicey & Bamber Sewing Machines

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