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How to Measure a Pattern to Assess its Fit

Before cutting, check your pattern’s measurements against your body measurements.
Threads #112 - May/June 2004
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You love the fabric, you’re excited by the pattern, and you’ve taken and recorded your measurements carefully. What’s the next step to a successful garment? Measure the pattern and compare your measurements with those used to draft the pattern. After you measure the pattern, you can reconcile any discrepancies and put the fit in your favor.

The fact that most people can’t fit into a commercial pattern without making a few adjustments is no surprise, but using your measurements to figure out where to make those adjustments on the pattern tissue can seem a bit mysterious at first. I’ll show you how to measure a pattern so you’ll have a fair comparison with your body size, and start you in the direction of choosing the best among the multi sizes on the tissue or altering the pattern to fit.

It’s all in the numbers: measure and compare

To take an accurate set of measurements of yourself, refer to Threads #106, pp. 32-36, and ask a friend to help you with the tape measure. You won’t need all of the measurements shown for basic pattern adjustments, but they can be useful for more advanced pattern alterations. You’ll find photos of the key measurements with the pattern information given here.

Measuring a pattern is inherently easier than measuring your body. Begin by selecting the relevant pattern pieces: garment front, back, and/or side panels, and sleeve. Once these have been adjusted, use them as the basis for altering connecting pieces such as facings, collars, and waistbands. Because flat pattern measurements are intended to determine the finished size of the garment, you’ll need to omit seam and hem allowances from your measurements, as well as any cut-on facings. Simply draw stitching and edge lines around each pattern piece. Don’t forget to leave out fullness that’s controlled by darts, tucks, or pleats when measuring.

Ease into a good fit

We all know that patterns aren’t designed to end up skintight, with exactly our measurements—there’s always some extra space built in, both for comfort and movement (wearing ease), and for style (design ease). To learn more about the difference, see “Basics,” Threads, # 104, pp. 20-22. For details on determining the ease on a pattern, see “If you want to fit in, maintain minimum ease” on p. 44. When you’re adjusting a pattern for fit, it’s essential to take into account wearing ease, which will vary from figure to figure and from one part of the body to another. Wearing ease is built into all dimensions of a garment, but is most important in circumferential (as opposed to lengthwise) measurements, so be careful not to remove it when making adjustments. You can preserve design ease as is to maintain the intended look of the garment, or adjust it to reflect your own sense of visual proportion.

If you want to fit in, maintain minimum ease

Wearing ease is that extra space in a garment that lets you take a deep breath, raise your arm above your head, or sit down without splitting any seams. Be sure to maintain the minimum amount of ease recommended at right for well-fitting, comfortable clothing; where a range is provided, consider that larger figures require more ease than slight ones. If you have your own ease preferences, follow them instead.

To calculate the intended ease of a pattern through the chest, bust, waist, and hips, subtract the pattern company’s standard measurements (usually found on the pattern envelope) from the finished dimensions of the garment (these will be printed either on the envelope or on the pattern piece itself; if they’re not provided, measure the pattern pieces from seamline to seamline). The difference is the total ease, or wearing ease plus design ease. Subtract the minimum wearing ease given here, and you’re left with design ease.

Wearing ease recommendations:

  • Bust: 2 to 4 inches; 3 to 5 inches for coats
    and jackets
  • Chest width: 12 to 34 inch
  • Back width: 34 to 1 inch; 1 to 2 inches for
    jackets and coats
  • Biceps: 112 to 212 inches; 3 to 412 inches for jackets; 4 to 6 inches for coats
  • Waist: 1 inch
  • Hips: 2 to 4 inches
  • Crotch length: 1 to 2 inches
  • Crotch depth: 12 to 1 inch

Measure the bodice and adjust accordingly

Both vertical and circumferential measurements are important in fitting the bodice; match vertical pattern dimensions with those taken from the body, plus minimal ease of 14 inch. Follow ease recommendations on p. 44 (“If you want to fit in, maintain minimum ease”) for round-the-body measurements; remember to measure back and front, when needed, and to double the flat half-pattern dimensions for full circumference measurements. 

Measuring the body

measuring the shoulders of the body

Notes

Shoulder length and bust depth: Should equal body measurement, plus 14 inch ease.

Back width and chest width: Adjust armhole seamlines in or out to improve fit.

Bust point to bust point: Use to position dart ends; darts should end no closer than
1 inch from the bust point.

Biceps girth: Adjust at underarm seams of sleeve, tapering to original seam by mid-forearm. Adjust bodice side seams to accommodate sleeve changes.

Neckline: Neckline shapes and sizes vary with pattern styles; check first that the neckline is at least as large as the neck measurement, then make a muslin dickey of the upper third of the bodice, with only the shoulder seams stitched, to fine-tune the fit.

Limb length comparisons are straightforward

A direct comparison between your length measurements and those of the pattern, plus 14 to 12 inch of ease, provides a good starting point for fitting basic garments. Fullness of sleeves, the presence of cuffs, the taper of pants legs, and the height of the shoes you intend to wear with the pants will all affect how much extra ease to add.

measuring the legs of the body

Measurements help match pants curves to yours

Circumference dimensions at the pattern’s waist and hips, as well as the crotch length and depth, must be reconciled with your own measurements. Use recommended ease amounts to build comfort and good fit into the pants.

Notes

Waist and abdomen: Measure abdomen across front at depth of greatest fullness (e.g., at waist, or below). Add or subtract at side seams, equally in front or back, or more in front if a full abdomen warrants. Adjustments may also be made by deepening or eliminating darts.

Hips: Adjust at side seams, by curving gently from waist to hip; taper gradually back to original width at hem.

Waist and abdomen: Measure abdomen across front at depth of greatest fullness (e.g., at waist, or below). Add or subtract at side seams, equally in front or back, or more in front if a full abdomen warrants. Adjustments may also be made by deepening or eliminating darts.

Hips: Adjust at side seams, by curving gently from waist to hip; taper gradually back to original width at hem.

Crotch length: Adjust either at crotch points (front and/or back), or by raising or lowering the waistline at center front or center back. Adjust this before crotch depth; solving fit problems here often also takes care of crotch-depth issues.

Crotch depth: Compare your measurement literally with that of the pattern, and make adjustments as needed at marked crotch-depth line (usually from crotch point to side seam, perpendicular to the grainline).

measuring the curves of the body

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