Monday, November 24, 2014

Making Clothes That Fit: Part 1 Measuring

There are a lot of reasons that I sew but I would have to say that the biggest one is so that my kids can have clothes that actually fit them.  I'm not sure how many people there are out there that are an actual size, but I'm guessing when it really comes down to it not all that many, yet time and again I hear people complaining of ill fitting patterns.  They are either too wide or too short or simply don't look like they did in the picture.  My general response to this (after an inward sigh) is "Did you go by measurements or make the size your child wears?".  Even worse is when those new to sewing will give up altogether after a few bad experiences.
I mean lets face it when buying clothes often vary hugely in size between different brands and in much the same way sizings can vary between different designers and pattern brands.  The advantage with RTW is you can try different sizes but you obviously don't want to make different sizes of each pattern, the disadvantage of RTW is that if none of the sizes are quite right you can't do anything about it whereas with patterns you have the power to make almost anything fit!
So what do you need to implement this all consuming super power of the perfect fit?  You need a tape measure, a piece of paper and a pen.  I know it's all very high tech.

I was possibly very lucky to discover this super power early on in my sewing career partly because my Mum was the costume maker for our local dance school where everything was made to fit precisely, and secondly because I started using patterns for my kids that were european sizings which had me completely baffled to start with.  So I'll take you through a bit of a check list of how I work things for general sewing for the small people in our house. (This does apply to myself as well but the measurements I take are slightly different and I prefer to get someone else to take them, plus I don't have to do it quite so often).

1. When to measure
I remeasure the kids each season (can you believe how quickly small people grow) or when I am making a 'special' item or outfit.  Also if it has been more than a month since I measured them and I am testing a pattern then I will recheck the measurements appropriate for that pattern.  I have a notebook that stays with my sewing things that has their measurements in it which I find really helpful because I'm generally organising patterns/sizings etc once they are asleep at night.

2. What measurements to take
For me it works best to take a full set of measurements each season.  I use the Ottobre sizing/measurement chart as a guide and have added a couple of extras to them.
This shows the base measurement I take for both my children which are:
Back waist length (distance from most prominent vertebrae to the waist)
Sleeve length
Shoulder width
Outseam length (from waist to the floor/ankle depending on pattern)
Also depending on the season I add in skirt length for my daughter and shorts length for my son which varies on what they want that year (within reason).
I find that this usually covers me for most patterns, every now and then there will be a special measurement required like thigh or ankle circumference, wrist or upper arm circumference or for a hat obviously head circumference.

3. How to measure
Whether you prefer to measure in inches or cms is neither here nor there, just do whatever works.  It is important though that the measurements are taken correctly.  I grab the kids just out of the bath, throw on some underwear and take their measurements.  Don't take measurements over vests/tee shirts etc or they will not be accurate.  Make sure the tape measure is taut but not pulling the skin, and that it is sitting flat on the skin and not twisted.  A couple of important things to note are that the waist measurement is the 'natural waist' NOT where most kids wear their trousers.  I have seen people mention that tying a piece of ribbon around the natural waist can help with the back length measurement but I don't bother.  The hips are usually measured around the fullest part of the bottom, and the other one that can be a bit tricky is that the sleeve length is taken down the outside of the arm over a slight bend in the elbow.  Finally don't forget to measure your child's height as well :-)

4. What next
Now you are armed with the list that is the key to your superpowers for garment fitting.  Take this list and compare it to the pattern you want to make.  It is important to compare ALL the measurement given in the measurement table of the pattern, in general designers put them all there for a reason!  If it's easier mark or highlight them and don't panic if they cover more than one size (often my kids cover 3 different sizes for different measurements).  So if you have ever made something and been disappointed with the fit, when others seemed to have no problems, this may shed some light.

I'll be back later this week with how to actually use this list to adjust a leggings pattern in part 2 and a top pattern in part 3 :-)

Happy measuring.


  1. I aways measure the kids each season. Good to remember. Sometimes I even measure more often depending on how things seem to be fitting.

    1. I think it's easy to forget to do, especially if you sew when your children aren't around and are desperate to get on with a certain project. The results make it well worth while though :-)

  2. Ooooh! Great series - just pinned for my friends to read!

    1. Thanks, hopefully it can help people out :-)

  3. Such a great post!! I measure my children pretty often. :)