How to take accurate body measurements

The first step when you are planning to sew a garment for yourself (or someone else) is to take accurate body measurements. Without these essential measurements it is impossible to establish what size pattern to select and therefore ultimately achieve a great fit. You cannot assume that you will be the same size as what you are in high street clothes e.g. saying I am a size 14 in Next so therefore I will make a size 14 top. This is due to a variety of reasons:

  • Pattern company sizing charts are completely different to high street size charts
  • Even pattern companies vary in their sizing charts
  • People vary in sizes between different shops and even within the same shop sometimes
  • An average person is rarely the same size throughout their whole body i.e. bust, waist, hips etc

This is where the beauty of making your own clothes comes in – you can make a garment to fit YOU and fit you properly THROUGHOUT. This is achieved firstly by taking accurate body measurements so it is important that you know how to do this correctly.

Tools required:

  • A decent tape measure. As tape measures get old they can get stretched so make sure you have a good one available to use.
  • Notebook and pen/pencil or body chart to record measurements on.
  • I have found a good body chart to use to record your measurements. It is free to download from the FoldLine website here. Alternatively just jot it down on a piece of paper.
  • An extra person is ideal but not essential!

What you need to wear:

  • Ideally you need to be wearing the same underwear that you plan to wear underneath your chosen garment. Some bras are padded for example so a different bra can affect the measurements taken.
  • Either take your measurments in your underwear or with well fitted clothes e.g. jersey top and leggings. Jeans for example can affect the measurements as can bulky tops.

Other top tips:

  • Be honest with your measurements!! Don’t take any notice of what the measurements are – they are only numbers. The size you come out as in the pattern size charts may well be bigger than your high street size, sometimes by a couple of sizes. Ignore this – they are different scales altogether, you cannot compare the two so don’t panic that you’ve suddenly put on weight and are 2 sizes bigger than you think!

Ready to take your measurements?

Let’s go!

There are numerous body measurements that you may need to take depending on what you are planning to make. In this tutorial we will focus on 4 measurements only – Full bust, waist, hips and nape to waist/hem.

  1. Make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing (see above ‘What you need to wear’)
  2. Make sure you have the right tools to hand (see above ‘Tools required’)
  3. Stand in a relaxed upright posture with feet close together.
  4. Start by taking your FULL BUST measurement
  5. Next take your WAIST measurement
  6. Next take your HIP measurement
  7. Next take your NAPE TO WAIST measurement or NAPE TO HEM measurement, whichever is required (top vs dress)

FULL BUST

  • This is the fullest part of your bust – all the way across your back and over the apex of your bust. Make sure that the tape measure is horizontal i.e. not falling low at the back
  • Take the measurement when you are breathing nice and relaxed (don’t breathe in to save an inch or so!!)
  • The tape measure should be pulled together closely but not too tight or not too loose (you should be able to get a couple of fingers underneath the tape measure comfortably)
Take the measurement across the apex of the bust
Make sure the tape measure is level all the way round
It may be useful to look in the mirror at this stage to check it is level

WAIST

  • Stand with your hands resting on your hips (your 4 fingers at the front and thumbs at the back). Your thumbs should be in a straight line across your natural waistline, pointing towards each other at the back. This is your natural waistline. You can also imagine if you tied a knot in a piece of string around your narrowest part of your body to form a loop and you let it go so it rested on your hips – where it falls to rest is your natural waistline.
  • Again make sure the tape measure is horizontal and pulled together firmly but not too tight and not too loose. You should be able to insert 2 fingers underneath the tape measure. Do not tempted to breathe in and suck your tummy in!!!
Place your hands on your hips
Your thumbs will point towards each other at the back
This is your natural waistline

HIPS

  • This is the fullest part of your body and is lower down than you think (not at the top of your hip bones). It can be useful to look at your silhouette in a mirror for this one to see your fullest point. It is approximately 18-23cm below your natural waistline. Again make sure that the tape measure is horizontal to the floor.
This is the measurement you need to take for your hips
Make sure the tape measure is level all the way round

NAPE TO WAIST or NAPE TO HEM

  •  The nape is the bottom of your neck where a neckline of a garment would normally fall – it is usually where the most bony part of your neck can be seen/felt.
  • Place the start of your tape measure at the nape of your neck and then measure down to your natural waistline (see how to measure your waist). You also need to measure where you want the hem of your top or dress to be. When measuring the length of a dress it is MUCH easier if you enlist someone else to help you. If you do it on your own it involves bending to the side/back/front so the measurement won’t be very accurate!

When you have recorded these measurements it is time to compare these to the size charts within the pattern (usually on the back of the envelope). By comparing your measurements to the body measurements chart and the finished garment measurements chart it is possible to work out what size pattern to choose. 

Have a go and see what your measurements are. Ask someone else to take your measurements too and see how they compare. If your body shape changes regularly then it is important to repeat your measurements. I tend to do a quick check at the start of each project just in case!!

I hope you have found this useful – any questions or queries then feel free to leave a comment or get in touch!

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