Measuring the body for a new dress or garment isn’t as easy as it sounds. It requires care, patience, and frankly, experience in order to really nail the measurements for dressmaking. We’re not just talking about inches and yard, here, but fit and style, as well.
For the truly stunning fit that we always aim for when constructing custom clothing, detail and accuracy are crucial. You’d never want someone walking around in one of your creations that has been poorly fit, and taking the time to make alterations or – in the worst case – to start over because of careless measuring can really ruin your day and take the fun out of your creative process.
Before you touch a bolt of fabric, you’ll want to get accurate measurements for your client or model. Schedule some time for the measurements when you won’t be rushed or distracted. I find that the kids’ naptime is a great time to schedule measurments, as the house is quiet. Your dressmaking kit should include a good tape measure. Nylon tape measures work just fine, clean easily, and are inexpensive. A good cloth tape measure may cost a little more, but feels great in your hand and really changes the whole ambiance of a measurement session. For me, a cloth tape in my hands reminds me that I love the work, and shows respect for the needs of my client. They probably never notice, but I do, and maybe that shows.
Have your client dress comfortably and not wear anything bulky or puffy. If they’re comfortable with the idea, and you have a private space in which to work, have the client disrobe as much as possible, allowing you to get true body measurements. Even bulky boxers can impact the final measurements – I’m not suggesting you measure your clients in the nude, but just that you make them aware prior to the session that they should wear form-fitting clothing if at all possible.
Have the client stand comfortably with good posture, arms down and to the sides of their body. Watch for slouching or twisting of the hips and shoulders, and try to correct these shifts as much as possible before starting your measurements. Some people have very poor posture all of the time – shouldn’t we measure them in this state? Not at all. Clothing is meant to fall in a certain way on the body, and to shift with our movements. A well-fitted garment may slouch with you, but a poorly-fitted one will struggle to look good when you move.
While there are some standard measurements you’ll need for all garments, bust, hips, and waist alone won’t cut it if you’re aiming for a truly extraordinary fit. Make it a habit to collect arm length, inseam, neck, arm, and leg diameters, and the like regardless of the style of garment being made. You may feel silly measuring a woman’s inseam for a cocktail dress, but believe me, you may actually want that information before you’re done!
• Arm length is measured on the inside of the arm, from the crook of the armpit to the bend of the wrist. Measure the arm both straight and bent, and measure each arm separately. Most of the time they’ll be identical, but the one time you run into a client with an extra inch on the left, you’ll be glad you checked, and so will they.
• Measure the waist by wrapping the tape around the midsection at the navel, and letting it fall and settle naturally. The final resting place of the tape is where you should measure the waist. Not too snug, and not too loose, here.
• Chest measurements are done just under the armpits and around the fullest part of the bust. For men, the widest part of the chest is what you need.
• Measure leg length three times, once when you start the session, once in the middle, and once at the end. Shifts in posture and position can affect this measurement, so use the average. Your client will thank you when she’s not walking on her dress all day! Measure from the hip to the heel for the most useful number.
• Get a measurement of the hip at the widest point.
• Back length is particularly important with occasional pieces. Lay your tape from the base of the neck to the waist for this one.
Recommended Read; Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Patternmaking Simplified