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how to measure yourself

This is one of those things that seems really obvious when you’ve been sewing for a while, but is a question i get from beginners all of the time, so i figure its worth a mention!

When making yourself a garment there are a few basic measurements you’ll need, and it’s important to get them right:

BUST // The measurement around the fullest part of your bust. Ensure that the tape measure is level with the ground and flat, don’t pull too tightly and ensure that you are wearing the bra you will wear when your garment is completed. Keep in mind that the bra you wear can greatly impact not only your bust measurement but also the fit of your garment.

WAIST // Measure around the narrowest part of your midsection. Again ensure that the tape measure is level and flat, and please for goodness sake don’t “suck it in” you will not be doing yourself any favours. Breath normally and relax. Note that where your natural waist sits can be vary for different body shapes, but it is generally above your bellybutton.

HIP// This is different to your anatomical hip, when we talk about hip in garment making we are talking about the widest part of your lower body. This may be closer to being around your bottom, or upper thigh. As a trick try shifting the tape measure up and down a bit until you find your widest part.

These are the basics that you will find in size charts on sewing patterns, and are generally pretty easy to measure on your own. You may find that you sit in different sizes for each section, and that’s okay! Simply cut the size that is appropriate for each section and grade between them on the pattern. Personally i am a M bust, S waist and M hip, so i alter patterns accordingly cutting a M in the bust, grading down to a small in the waist and back out to a M in the hip.

UPPER BUST // I just want to mention upper bust quickly as there has been a lot of discussion about upper bust in sewing blogs, and personally, i think this measurement gets misused quite often. The upper bust is the measurement just above your bust, you take a tape measure around your back inline with your bust, then tilt it upwards around the front of your body so that it sits above your bust point. This measurement is useful for those who have large cup sizes, as most patterns are drafted for B or C cups. It simulates the measurement you would have if you had a small cup size. You would then use this measurement in place of the bust measurement, and then do a full bust adjustment on your pattern. Thus ensuring that the pattern fits appropriately across your shoulders. Unfortunately I see this measurement get misused all the time, and there is a trend of thought going around at the moment that you should use this measurement in place of your bust all the time. This is not true. Patterns are generally not drafted using the upper bust measurement – mine certainly are not – so if you use this measurement in place of bust when you don’t need to, you will always end up with garments that are too tight. So please be careful.

HEIGHT // Obviously you need to take height into consideration, though you’re probably never going to use your complete height in sewing. I am not particularly tall at 165cm /5’5″ so i always need to adjust hemlines on myself. My fit model is taller than me, and all my patterns are drafted for around a height of  172cm/5’8″, though in some patterns like the Virginia leggings i provide a tall height and petite height to cover those on either side of that spectrum. Keep in mind the height that patterns are drafted for, and adjust accordingly.

SKIRT LENGTH // This obviously isn’t really a body measurement per se, but i think it’s important to keep in mind your preferred skirt lengths so that you can easily adjust patterns and choose patterns appropriately. This is hard to measure alone, so either get some help, or measure a favourite skirt or dress hem, or stand in front of a mirror and hang your tap measure down until you reach your preferred length. Most pattern companies will provide finished garment measurements for their styles, and  you should pay attention to these. If you note the finished lengths and compare to your preferences before you begin sewing, you will never be surprised with how things turn out.

Id say these are the most basic measurements you should keep in mind when sewing – obviously if you get serious about your sewing you may want a more custom fit, in which case you can take as many minute measurements of every part of your body as you’d find useful hehehe

Did i miss anything? Any questions or thoughts to add?

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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Siobhan
Siobhan
7 years ago

Thanks for the tips! I always forget how to breathe my hips.
In regards to high bust v full bust, I’m a DD cup but if I choose my high bust measurement size it is WAY too small. I add 2″ to my high bust measurement to choose a size (eg 34″ high bust + 2″ = 36″ size). Which makes sense if you think that pattern companies draft for an average bust which is slightly bigger than the high bust, not a completely flat chest!

Siobhan
Siobhan
7 years ago
Reply to  Siobhan

OK that should say measure my hip!

Kieran
Kieran
7 years ago

The high bust thing is something that confuses me SO MUCH. I honestly have no idea how to fit my torso. I have quite a large cup size, but I have a teeny tiny ribcage, so my bust measurement is usually in the same size group as my waist and hip size. And, my rib cage is tiny, but my shoulders are not tiny (not super wide, but kind of…normal). Well fitting RTW tops are a joke, I always have to go for knits or boxy fits and even then it isn’t great. And even when I match the measurements of a size on a sewing pattern, the bust is often too tight. But, if I cut a size based on the upper bust and then do an FBA, won’t that make my shoulders fit weirdly? AH CONFUSION!

Siobhan
Siobhan
7 years ago
Reply to  Kieran

Oh that is rough! Poor you! Maybe try to find a size which fits your shoulders, grade out to your waist, do an FBA and adjust for your ribcage as needed? I don’t envy you your fitting issues.

Kim
Kim
1 month ago

I love you patterns, just made the Curve Dove and need some help for next time. I am a 22 in the bust, but a 14 in the hips and 20 in the waist, If I graded to a 14 hip I am guessing the top wouldn’t go over my bust? Still learning and trying to make clothes fit my unique shape with very broad shoulders.

Kim
Kim
1 month ago
Reply to  Meg

Thank you for your speedy reply
I think I will try grading to an 18 hip.
Just completed the Virginia leggings today, love them ?