How to take body measurements

how to take body measurements / made by rae

The very first thing that every single person should do before they sew a piece a piece of clothing for themselves is take out a tape measure and get some good, honest body measurements. In this post I’ll go over how to take the four body measurements that you’ll need to choose the right size to sew with one of my sewing patterns.

The problem with body measurements
Unfortunately, many of us would prefer to skip this step. It seems easier just to pick a size, maybe guess a little bit based on the size chart. We’ve also learned to associate measuring ourselves with negative feelings about our bodies instead of seeing the measuring tape as an empowering tool that can allow us to custom-tailor our clothing to fit and flatter our beautiful bodies. While I can’t instill a sense of love for your body — only you can do that — I hope I can impress upon you the importance of viewing your measurements as the first step to sewing something for yourself that you can be proud of. One of the great things about sewing your own clothing is that you don’t have to put a size tag in the back of something you make. No matter what size pattern piece you use, making yourself a piece of clothing that fits — not too tight, not too loose — feels empowering, no matter what your size or shape.

Can’t I just skip this and use my ready-to-wear size instead?
OK, let’s say you decide to pass on measuring yourself completely. That means you’ll need to guess what size you need using the size labels on the pattern pieces instead of your body measurement and the size chart. This is risky, considering every pattern maker uses their own measurement chart; a size large for one of my patterns might be different from a size large somewhere else, including the ready-to-wear clothes you might have in your closet. Hypothetically now you’re in a sewing no-man’s-land: you’ve jumped into your project completely blind, hoping you’ll accidentally end up with a piece of clothing that fits.

Are you ready to get out your measuring tape and find your body measurements? OK!

A few general guidelines

  • If possible, measure in the morning; by the end of the day, gravity has taken its toll on your body and you are not only shorter, but wider.
  • Wear your best-fitting (and ideally, supportive) undergarments when measuring. This is SO IMPORTANT!
  • If possible, have someone help you take these measurements. When your arms are relaxed at your sides instead of trying to hold up the tape measure, you’ll get a more accurate measurement.
  • Do not pull the tape measure as tight as it will go. The tape measure should fit as loosely around your body as possible without falling down.
  • Wear tight-fitting clothing such as leggings and a tank top, or just your undergarments, rather than loose-fitting or thick clothing.

Start with your upper bust. Place the tape measure around your torso, right under your armpits and over the top of your bust. The tape measure should form a loop that is more or less parallel to the floor, but if it’s angled up a little in the front to clear the top of your bust, that is fine. Write this measurement down.

Now measure your bust. Place the tape measure around the fullest part of your bust. Write this measurement down. 

It is helpful to have both bust and upper bust measurements whenever you are sewing a pattern that includes a bodice, such as a dress or blouse. In my sewing patterns, I include a “Choose your size” section that explains how to use these two numbers to help you choose your size, to decide between the A/B and C/D bodices (such as in Gemma, Josephine, and Beatrix), and to help determine whether a bust adjustment is needed.

how to measure the waist

For your waist, place the tape measure around the smallest part of your waist, and write this measurement down. It’s important to note that this measurement is usually taken WELL ABOVE THE BELLY BUTTON, and that unless you wear high-waisted pants, this is not where the waistband of your pants are. Most pant waistbands sit at the “low waist” which is different than the “natural waist” that you are measuring right now. 

If you’re pear- or hourglass-shaped like my assistant Melissa (shown in these pics), your natural waist should be pretty easy to find. If you’re apple-shaped or banana-shaped (like me) or carry a good deal of your weight around your waist, though, it may be a bit harder to locate, and may actually be larger than your hip measurement. In this case, measure between your lowest rib and the top of your hip bones.

how to measure your hip / made by rae

The hip measurement can also be a bit tricky to find/take, because the location of the hip on the body varies from person to person, making it hard to nail down an exact location for the hip measurement. The other thing that makes everything more confusing is that the hip measurement is usually NOT at your hip bones, which are (again, usually) much higher on the body, closer to your low waist, where you might find the waistband on a pair of low-rise jeans.

The hip measurement should be taken around the widest part of your booty, below your hip bones. Write this measurement down.

Once you have your measurements, write them down in a notebook so you can refer to them later. Remember that if you gain or lose weight, start or stop exercising, or have other changes to your body, you’ll want to take them again!

Now you’re ready to choose your size and make a muslin!

Jess’ Polka Dot Isla

Polka dot knit Isla

Last summer, Jess came to Ann Arbor for what we call a “workaway” — a week of intense work here in Ann Arbor at my studio (Jess and I live in separate states, so our work is always remote), eating out, playing with the kids, and general cousin-bonding hangout time. That was when we were developing the Isla Pattern, and we made several tops that week. This one for Jess came out especially well; we’d been tweaking the armholes and bodice length, and this was one of the first that fit just right.

Polka dot knit Isla

Polka dot knit Isla

We snapped some photos before Jess left, and then we launched the pattern, and then it got really chilly (we could delve into my angst over never being able to release seasonable patterns, but let’s not get into that right now), so I put these pics on hold. Now that warm weather is here, it seems like the perfect time to post this cute little top.

I’ve been rounding up my favorite summer patterns and your makes in a “Summer Wardrobe” newsletter series over the past few weeks, which has been really fun. Today I sent out the Isla edition, which featured a bunch of your Islas from the #islapattern tag on Instagram (you can see a bunch more on my Made by YOU with Made by Rae Pinterest board as well). You can see past issues of my newsletter or sign up if you’d like!

Polka dot knit Isla

Fabric: Cloud9 Fabrics interlock knits “spots” in citron. Cloud9 sent me this fabric so I could see what their interlock fabric was like (super soft!) when I was designing Sidewalk.

Polka dot knit Isla

Posted in isla
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Matcha Top

Matcha Top

Earlier this spring my friend Meg of Sew Liberated released the Matcha Top pattern and I had that thing in my shopping cart and downloaded before you could say Matcha. I loved the versions that Meg had posted on Instagram, and the combination of the collar, center front slit, and roomy design just seemed like the perfect pattern for spring. I used a rayon I found at Indiesew, so it’s incredibly comfortable, and between that and the great design, it’s become one of my favorite tops to wear!  Even in hot weather it looks great with shorts, though this is how I wore it most of the spring:

Matcha Top

I found the pattern to be quite easy to sew with the possible exception of the collar which is understandably less “beginner” than the rest of the top, but I’ve sewn a fair amount of collars before and didn’t find it to be difficult.

Matcha Top

In the photo below you can see how much ease the pattern has, which is why I think fabric choice is really critical for this pattern. If you tried making it in a poplin or quilting cotton, I don’t think it would work. Meg made some great fabric recommendations, including double gauze (one of my favorites) and also some great loose-weave ikats, and I’d love to try both of those for a subsequent version.

Matcha Top

After sewing the collar on the first time and finding it too tight (I later realized I had traced it incorrectly — Hugo was probably pulling on my leg or something), I ended up using a collar from a larger size to help widen the back; normally the collar would be closer to the neck than what you see in these pics, but I like it this way too. Next time I will use the correct size and just add a bit of width between the two back notches for my broader-than-normal shoulders. Meg also recommends using a smaller collar to widen the gap between the two sides of the collar, which could be really cute too.

Matcha Top

I’m actually also taking Meg’s Matcha class at Squam this fall, so I’m really excited that I’ll have a chance to make another version and learn some tips from Meg. Squam is something I’m just really excited about, period. I’ve wanted to go for years, and this fall is their last one and I managed to squeeze myself in after getting on the waistlist. It looks like it’s going to be amazing!!! And that reminds me, I need to go buy my plane tickets yet…

Starry Sky skirts for Clementine

Clementine's Starry Sky skirt

These simple gathered skirts are so easy and addicting to make. I used the Starry Sky skirt project that I contributed to the most recent issue of Making Magazine for these. Perhaps the fact that I made not one but three for Clementine is evidence that they are basically Sewing Crack? They nearly fall off my machine. Bonus: she’s worn these three skirts non stop since January. When it was cold she’d wear them with leggings underneath, and now that it’s warm she wears them with those shorty-legging things that are called tumble shorts or undershorts or something like that.

Starry Sky skirt for Clementine

This first version is made with a Japanese quilting cotton that I picked up on a trip to Seattle last year at a great shop in Kirkland called Circa 15. Great quilting fabric selection but also a great selection of apparel fabrics (union chambray, double gauze) there as well. It’s hard to see but there are tiny little pandas scattered in the flowers. Clementine picked it out.

Starry Sky skirts for Clementine

The second one is a Nani Iro brushed cotton that has some sort of magical glitter ink (unicorn blood?) so the flowers sparkle. The sparkles are a Big Win with my girl, and the brushed cotton makes it super soft.

Starry Sky skirts for Clementine

Starry Sky skirt for Clementine

Check out my little vampire. Until a couple of weeks ago we were convinced those front teeth would never grow back. She’s been completely toothless in front for nearly six months. And then, a few weeks ago, a solitary front tooth started growing in, and the dentist assures me there are more to come.

Starry Sky skirt for Clementine

One thing I should point out (that you can really see in the photo above) is that Clementine is taller than the size I made for her, so the hem on these skirts lands a little higher than normal on her. She measures a size 7 in her waist but a size 9 height, so a I made a size 8 as a comprimise. There’s still a 2″ hem, however, so I can take them down yet in fall. I also like to leave a little excess elastic in the waist so that I can take the waist out too. These skirts really can last a long time if you want them to!

Starry Sky skirts for Clementine

I made the third skirt with my Sidewalk Knit in the green pencil print. I’ve discovered that this print is nearly impossible to photograph correctly; I think it must be a combination of the super bright colors with that teal hue…for the life of me I cannot get my camera or editing software to get the colors right on screen, though the closest one is above.

Starry Sky skirt for Clementine

The knit makes the skirt drape closer to the body, so there’s less “poof” to it than the other two, but it’s comfortable and swishy.

Starry Sky skirt for Clementine.

Starry Sky skirt for Clementine

If you’re looking for the instructions for this skirt (it comes in both children’s and women’s sizes), pick up a copy of Making Magazine issue 3! It’s now available online from the Making shop, as well as many other local yarn and fabric shops. Here in Ann Arbor you can pick up a copy at Spun in Kerrytown.

Jess’ Bianca Dress with Contrast Facing

Made By Rae Bianca Dress

Made By Rae Bianca Dress

One of my patterns that never really got its time in the spotlight is Bianca, which launched just months after Hugo was born three years ago. It’s a lovely pattern for summer sewing, and this dress version from Jess that features the facings on the outside and contrast hem has always been one of my favorites.  Bianca also can be made as a top, and is best suited to fabrics with drape or a looser weave, like this Nani Iro double gauze (a collection from a few years back). The contrasting facings and hem bands are Kaffe Fassett shot cottons purchased from Hawthorne Threads.

The Bianca PDF pattern includes tips for how to make the facing visible the way Jess did for this version, and she added the contrast hem bands for a fun variation.

Made By Rae Bianca Dress

Here’s how to add the hem bands:

  • The finished hem band on this dress is 3″ tall. For the same proportions as shown here, remove 2.5″ from the hem of  both the front and back pattern pieces. Bianca has a slightly curved hem, but it’s way easier to add a contrast band if the hem is a straight line, so measure 2.5″ up from the bottom edges of each pattern piece, connect those with a straight edge, and slice along that line.
  • For the hem bands, cut two rectangles out of contrast fabric that are 7″ tall, one as wide as the front and one as wide as the back.
  • For Step 6 in the pattern sewing instructions, choose option B to sew side vents, and sew the seam allowances as directed for a “Clean Finish.”
  • Fold each hem band in half lengthwise with right sides together and sew along the short ends of each hem band with a 1/2″ seam.
  • Trim the corners, turn each band right side out, and use a point turner to push out the corners. Press.
  • Pin hem bands to front and back hems of the dress with raw edges together (two layers of hem band, one layer of dress), and sew together with a 1/2″ seam. Finish these edges with a serger or zigzag stitch.
  • Press seam allowances up (toward dress) and top stitch 1/4″ above the seam you just sewed to hold the seam allowance in place.

Made By Rae Bianca Dress

Alternate instructions: View B of the Beatrix Pattern has detailed instructions to attach hem bands in a slightly different way, so you can refer to those steps if you have Beatrix in your pattern library.

Made By Rae Bianca Dress

Made By Rae Bianca Dress

Posted in Bianca
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