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Archive for May, 2012

I credit my Mom with teaching me to sew. I remember in elementary school learning how to thread her old steel Singer from the 60s; how to raise and lower the foot and wind a bobbin. As I got older, I got lessons in grain lines and hemming, and how to put in a zipper. We made my prom dress together; she did the lined and underlined bodice, and I put up the miles and miles of hem by hand. I dove into fiber arts of all sorts in college, and when I graduated the only thing I asked for was my own sewing machine. My little plastic Kenmore from Sears isn’t fancy, but it’s been a workhorse.

Of course, my real lessons in fit, alterations, and the proper way to cut and stitch a pattern came under the tutelage of the incredible Rich Hamson at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater. Four years in the costume shop taught me all the niceties of lining up plaids, pad stitching, how to flat-line like a pro, and most of all: quality. The trick to making a costume that will last for 8 performances a week for six months at a time without needing a ton of repair or adjustment comes from making it right the first time.

The most important part of making clothes is know what size to make. This is true no matter how you’re doing it: sewing, knitting, pop tabs, whatever. Taking your own measurements can be tricky, so get a buddy to help you if you need one.

Edit: I’ve had this post finished for weeks, but I haven’t put it up due to my complete lack of time to take photos. I’ve finally decided to stop waiting for the light to be right or the time to be available, and I’m just going to steal from the best of the internet. I’ll include the sources of everything I post and links back, but if I’ve used your photo and you want me to take it down, please just ask. I hate doing this – I believe in using my own content, and not grabbing someone else’s – but time’s not been on my side lately.

Bust/Chest: The main bust measurement you need is around the fullest part of the bust. Run the tape measure around your back and over your breasts or pecs at the largest point. Wear the undergarments that you’ll be wearing with the finished piece (or none, if that’s the way you’ll wear it)! It does no good to take a measurement wearing a bra if you’re going to go au natural, or in a whole Spanx getup.

There are two other kinds of bust measurements that might be called for. For overbust, wrap the tape measure around your back and above your breasts. For underbust, wrap the tape measure around yourself under the breasts, where you bra band usually goes.

Waist: This refers to your natural waist, not where you wear your trousers. Look at yourself in the mirror and wrap the tape around the narrowest part – usually just below the rib cage. This measurement is essential for dresses that need to curve with the body, and may be where you want a pant or skirt waistband to go. For a lower rise garment, you can measure up from the crotch seam to where the waistband will fall, and then measure around yourself at that point.

Hips: This is the fullest part of the hips and bottom, usually between 7″-9″ below the waist. Sometimes a pattern will call for a high hip measurement, especially corset patterns or things with a waist yoke. Take this measurement at the level of the upper curve of the hip socket.

Image from: http://www.bambersew.com/blog/index.php/taking-measurements/. Line 3 shows the true hip line, and line 4 is for the high hip.

These three are the essential measurements you have to have before you can make anything (well, ok, you don’t really need a hip measurement to make a shirt, but you know what I mean.)

Others that might come in handy:

Neck – Use a piece of string or yarn to make a loop around the base of your neck, then measure it. Tape measures are usually too stiff to do this one accurately.

Front Waist – Measure from the base of the neck down the front and over the bust to the waist.

Back Waist – From the base of the neck to the waist down the center of the back.

Inseam – I generally start this measurement about two fingers’ width from the crotchal area and measure to the ankle bone. The real trick to this one is just to cut everything too long and hem it on the body.

Rise – To find your true rise, start your tape measure at the natural waist in the back and run it between your legs and up to your natural waist in the front. Low rise pants will describe themselves as a certain number of inches below the waist, or a certain number of inches up from the crotch join. Having a true rise measurement will give you a better idea of how something will fit your particular body.

Once you have the proper measurements, you’re ready to begin. Now you need to think about ease. Ease is what lets you wear the clothes and not the other way around. A spandex racing suit has negative ease; that means it’s smaller off of you than on you. A caftan, on the other hand, has positive ease. If you’re working from a commercial pattern, the jacket will usually list the body measurements for a particular size, and then the measurements of the finished garment; subtract body from garment and you’ll get the number for how much ease you want. Check this for all three measurements – the number might not be the same for each. (A blouson top might have six inches of positive ease at the bust, but only one and the waist.)

If you’re making something up from scratch and you’re not sure how much ease you should leave, grab something out of your closet that fits like you want it to and measure it. Now, subtract your body size from those measurements, and you’ll know what you should be aiming for.

Next time: How to make the paper pattern look like you.

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