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Handmade clothes and accessories make the perfect additions to your wardrobe and to the wardrobes of your friends and family, too. These pieces are special and unique, and they result in a closet full of tailored-to-you items that no one else will have. If you’ve never made your own clothes before, know that it’s never too late to start. “The little girl inside me always wanting to design and make clothes is doing cartwheels right now—you have no idea! But the truth is, I am no expert,” shares Erin Sesil, an ethical fashion creator. “I’m a beginner who refuses to give up, has watched pretty much every YouTube video I could get my hands on, and most importantly has observed with immense admiration my fellow sewists who I can truthfully say I’d be no where in this journey without.”
Ahead, tips on how to expertly take your own (or a loved one’s!) body measurements so that you can create tailored pieces.
Before You Measure
Taking body measurements for sewing or knitting projects can be intimidating at first, but Sesil confirms that making clothes is possible for anyone who wants to do it. “If you are new to this magical world—welcome! It’s messy, humbling and beautiful all wrapped into one,” she says. “You have a whole community just like you waiting to take you under their wing, teach you everything they know, and cheer you on as you twirl in that dreamy newly made piece!”
The first thing to keep in mind, she explains, is that the finished garment’s measurements will be a bit larger than your actual body measurements to allow for ease of movement. You also don’t want the finished garment to be too loose fitting. Sesil says that you should double check measurements. Next, you also need to think about the pattern itself. “If you are printing and assembling your pattern at home, make sure you’ve printed to scale and not scale to print,” she says. “When you scale to print you reduce the the size of the pattern to fit the paper and in turn shrink the actual measurements. If you’ve been here before. Don’t worry! It’s a common mistake. Just always double check the print settings and make sure scale to print is not the default.”
Finally, Sesil says that you don’t need to fear playing with grading between sizes. “My body measurements rarely line up perfectly with just one size. [For example], my chest has a mind of its own. Grading between sizes gives you the flexibility to be somewhere in the middle. Somewhere that hugs your body just perfectly!” she explains.
What to Measure
So, what do you usually need to measure for handmade clothes? Patterns ask for bust/chest, waist, and hip measurements, but some may also ask for shoulder, bicep, and neck measurements. Check what the pattern requires for body measurements and start there. “Taking accurate body measurements can be tricky. Especially if your chest/waist/hips are not proportionate to one another. And, let’s face it—is there even such a thing?!” Sesil says. “Some of the best advice I’ve learned along the way is to take your body measurements and then also measure a favorite or similar style ready-to-wear piece in your closet. Compare those with the finished garment measurements on your pattern and you should be pretty close to accurate!”
Bust or Chest Area
Wrap the flexible measuring tape around the fullest part of the chest. Go under the armpits, around shoulder blades, and back to front.
Waist and Hips
“Don’t suck in your tummy for this one!” says Sesil, who recommends to wrap the measuring tape around your natural waistline; this is above your belly button and below your rip cage. To measure your hips, start at one hip and wrap around over the fullest part of your backside to the other hip, then close the loop.
Shoulders and Back
From the back, take the measuring tape from shoulder to shoulder to get the length.
Wrap the measuring tape around the fullest part of the bicep.
Place the tape where the collar will be located. The head needs to be held up in a natural position. Make some space between your neck and the tape measure ( a fingertip’s amount) and wrap the measuring tape around until the loop is closed.
The inseam refers to the length of pants or skirts. Measure from between the legs down to the ankle.
Measure at the fullest part of the thigh for the most accurate measurement (and to ensure that pants don’t fit too snugly).