4. Gabby’s Fitting Series — How to Measure Patterns

Hi Sewcialists!

Happy Monday! I hope you’ve had some time to try out measuring a few garments to get the hang of it. Today we’re going to be looking at patterns, so go ahead and pull out a few you’re curious about, and get your straight pins and measuring apparatus ready!

But first — bonus content!

Books I like about fitting!

And now…

Vintage Vogue!

You can use the same numbers chart from my last post, linked again below, to record your numbers. A reminder, I’ll be speaking in inches since I am in the US, however feel free to measure using whichever standard you prefer!

As you lay out your pieces, make sure to lap your seam allowances where possible. This will save you time subtracting those amounts, and it also gives you a good idea of what your seamline shapes and join transitions look like.

If you are measuring a pattern that has a bodice, make sure you have both front and back panel, and that they are pinned or taped at the shoulder. Then lay the front panel on the back, and line up the pieces at the bottom of the armhole. Check that the shoulder is folded forward, if what you’re measuring has a forward shoulder. This amount will stay the same at both the neck and the armhole, unless the pattern is improperly drafted, or it’s a design feature. You can then use a ruler to hold the pieces down at the shoulder, and measure down from the HPS to the bottom of the panel. I always make sure I have both the front and back pieces together, otherwise my length measurement may be off. Of course, if you know your forward shoulder amount, you may always add that measurement to your front length to get the finished front length, but it’s very easy to forget to do that, and boom, now you’re missing 1/2″.

If you are measuring pants, tape or pin the front and back panels together starting at the top of the outseam. You may also place the pieces together joined at the crotch, if you’d like to review the rise shapes, but keep in mind that frequently back inseams are shorter than the front. You’ll see this across all fabrications: a shorter back inseam that has been eased into the front allows for a smoother back leg visual that doesn’t crash at the thigh. (Crash = puddles of horizontal and diagonal folding!) Back leg ease is extremely common in denim and other casual wovens, and you may even see this in tailored trousers — this amount can vary anywhere from 3/8″ – 1 1/8″.

One of the trickiest things about measuring patterns is multiplying to find your circumference measurements, and then subtracting your seam allowances from that to get the total measurement. Please note that the pattern measurement may not match your finished garment measurement, due to built in shaping (remember that bust projection we talked about on the dress last time?) or rib trims, elastics, etc.

Since most patterns have seam allowances added, you may find it helpful to make a cheat sheet with multiples of the seam allowance measurements. For example: 5/8″ + 5/8″ = 1 1/4″, 3/8″ + 3/8″ = 3/4″, etc. That will save a lot of time when you are measuring and subtracting seam allowances, if you’re not already used to thinking in fractions. Also, I feel absolutely zero shame using a calculator! 1/8″ = .125, 3/8″ = .375, 5/8″ = .625, 7/8″ = .875, etc.

A really nice thing about measuring patterns is the ability to write and mark directly on them — that way, if you need to adjust an armscye and match your sleeve cap line length, you’ll have your first measurement written right there to compare to, and you can keep track of your changes that way. You can also mark your seamlines at your measurement points, so you don’t have to subtract any seam allowances at all 🙂

Ok, let’s check it out!

Front Panel
Back Panel
Forward Shoulder – Front and Back Together at Last
Don’t forget to mark your seamlines at your high point shoulder and your shoulder at your armhole, like I did in this video! Luckily, the difference in measurements is negligible 🙂

Again, the point of doing this is to learn how your body measurements work in concert with the patterns you are sewing, so you can reduce the amount of muslins you make and get a better idea of any adjustments you need before you start cutting.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

xo Gabby

Gabby is a technical fashion designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler.  She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again.  See her on instagram @ladygrift.