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Accurate measurements when sewing are crucially important to the success of a project.
People, home decor, pattern pieces, fabric lengths, and even hems and seam allowances must be measured correctly.
So, how do you measure these items?
Using the right sewing measuring tools, of course! That and remembering always to measure twice and cut once.
Here are some of my favorite measuring tools in sewing to precisely measure fabric, patterns, and even bodies.
Types of Measuring Tools in Sewing
For basic sewing projects, a tape measure is all you need. However, as you start to sew different projects, collecting different types of measuring tools will improve your precision and accuracy.
Certain tools work best for measuring the body, while others work well for measuring fabric or when drafting or altering patterns.
I’ll start this list of measuring tools with the most basic options and then move on from there.
1. Tape Measure
The most common and useful measuring tool for sewing is a tape measure.
Tape measures vary in length, material, and whether they’re retractable or flexible.
Soft tape measures are flexible and can measure curved items like the human form in addition to yardages of fabric and pattern pieces. Almost anything you want to measure, really.
Standard flexible tape measures are 5 ft long, but extra-long 10 ft options are available to assist with bigger projects. Industrial versions of metal, retractable tape measures are also available up to 100 ft long, which can help measure huge windows and very long fabric yardages.
When selecting a flexible tape measure material, choose fiberglass or another synthetic material that won’t stretch over time.
Other important features to look for include numbers on both sides and both metric and imperial measurements.
I use inches when sewing, but my brain works with millimeters when machine embroidering.
Tape measures also come in different widths, but I prefer a 5/8″ width, the typical clothing seam allowance.
I also enjoy carrying a soft retractable tape measure in my purse when shopping. Often, I find myself using it to measure more than just fabric!
Rulers made from plastic, metal, or wood help mark and measure fabric and pattern pieces.
I prefer rulers over tape measures for adjusting patterns and measuring small fabric pieces because hard rulers don’t curl on flat surfaces.
My favorite type of ruler is an acrylic, transparent ruler.
You can see through transparent rulers to better mark hems and topstitching lines and check grainlines. You can also easily mark and measure buttonholes, tucks, and pleats with transparent rulers.
I’d say 2″x18″, 1″x12″, and 2″x12″ flexible transparent rulers are the most common. They usually have 1/4″ or 1/8″ gridlines, allowing for very precise measurements.
If you have a rigid acrylic ruler, like my one from O’Lipfa, you can use this as a straightedge for a rotary cutter and also as a way of measuring 30, 45, and 60-degree angles.
These come in different measurements, and some have lip edges for hanging over cutting mats.
One other rule that I love is my Martelli strip ruler.
I line it up with a fabric edge and use my rotary cutter to measure and cut perfect strips in 1/2″ increments. It’s an incredibly useful tool for quilting.
3.Yardstick or Meterstick
A yardstick, made from wood, metal, or plastic, is one yard, or 36”, in length. If you use the metric system, you may prefer a meterstick, which is 100 cm, or one meter, long.
Now, why is a yardstick or meterstick helpful in sewing?
- Because it doesn’t bend, it can measure items above your head in addition to long lengths of fabric.
- You can measure and extend fabric grainlines and even measure hemlines with a yardstick. If you have a metal yardstick, you can use it successfully with a rotary cutter.
- It’s useful when drawing long, straight lines while pattern drafting. This saves a lot of time compared to drafting with a 12″ ruler!
4. Flexible Curve Ruler
A flexible curve is made from plastic or rubber and has an internal metal core.
What’s unique about a flexible curve is it can bend to any shape, which it will then hold while measuring or tracing.
It’s perfect for measuring, altering, and drawing awkward curved shapes like armholes and neck holes. Some types also have utility for quilters, as the width of these curve rulers is 1/4.” These help mark accurate seam allowances on curved quilt borders and scalloped edges.
5. Adjustable Seam Gauge
This small, 6″ metal ruler is indispensable for measuring and marking accurate seam allowances and hem depths, especially around curved fabric pieces or drafted patterns. It’s also useful for marking pleats, buttonholes, and tucks.
The small tab on the inside slides around, allowing for different seam allowance measurements.
I highly recommend everyone have a seam gauge in their sewing room!
6. Measuring Gauges
To help measure small seam allowances for accuracy, consider purchasing a measuring gauge.
These tools have every common sewing measurement from 1/8″ up to 2″ on the 14-in-1. My favorite way to use them is to check a scant 1/4″ seam allowance after I’ve started a new piecing project. It’s much easier than laying a seam on a tape measure.
The Seams Right by Nancy Zieman is a more awkward shape to manipulate, but a perk is that you can use it to mark buttonholes, and it can be pressed on when making pocket corners or fabric creases. (I usually prefer to use my Dritz Ezy-Hem for pressing pockets, though.)
7. Pattern Drafting Tools
I’m lumping the French curve, hip curve, set square, and tailor’s square underneath this category of pattern drafting tools when sewing.
There are also several tools that are a combination of these drafting shapes, such as a Fashion Ruler.
French curves help draw curved lines and are also used to adjust curved pattern sections such as armholes and necklines.
Hip curves feature a more gentle curve and, as such, help make or adjust hiplines, hems, and other minimally curved shapes.
A tailor’s square looks like the letter L and has a right angle to help with lining up lengthwise and crosswise grains to square fabric corners. You can also use it to scale patterns.
Lastly, a set square is a right triangle, meaning it can be used for marking and finding fabric bias, drafting accurate geometric shapes, and altering and grading patterns.
My favorite measuring tool for patterns is my Fashion Ruler.
I DO NOT recommend the current Dritz one that looks identical to it, though (above left). I dropped mine once, and it broke, unlike the 1970’s version I got from my grandmother.
8. Self-Healing Cutting Mat
Did you know you can simply use a self-healing cutting mat for basic, gross fabric measurements? Cutting mats have units of measurement along both sides, and many have angles to use for reference when cutting quilt pieces.
After using the mat to measure, I recommend a straight edge when cutting the fabric with a rotary cutter, though.
While you can use a wide ruler for marking 90-degree angles and finding fabric grain, another option is a transparent T-square.
This sewing measuring tool looks like a big T and can also be used when drawing long lines and measuring and altering patterns.
10. Quilting Rulers
If you’re a quilter, acrylic quilting rulers are a big help.
They come in various sizes and shapes and help measure perfect squares, triangles, hexagons, and other shapes. Use a rotary cutter to cut right along the fabric once it’s lined up and measured beneath the ruler.
As a huge Martelli fan, I love their template squares with fussy-cut windows.
11. Cardboard Cutting Board
A cardboard cutting board unfolds and transforms any surface into a flat measuring and cutting surface. (Use scissors only, no rotary cutter!)
I use this as my hard surface when I sit on the floor in front of our TV to cut fabric. It has grid measurements as well as cutting angles.
12. Adjustable Ruler
Adjustable rulers unfold and hold their shape better than tape measures.
I don’t have a huge sewing space, so the fact that this plastic ruler is small but folds out to a long length is great!
13. Stick-On Measuring Tape
When I redid my sewing room, one of the first things I purchased was a metal, adhesive measuring tape.
This is stuck on the edge of my sewing table and provides rough measurements in a snap!
14. Chalk Hem Marker
If you don’t have a dress form to help with marking hemlines at different heights, a skirt marker can help!
You can get a Dritz chalk hem marker (the tripod is unsteady) or look into Wawak’s skirt markers.
15. Expandable Button Gauge
Measuring the distance between buttonholes and buttons can be a pain. However, my expandable gauge helps to mark more precise and even placement.
I will say that the measurements aren’t 100% accurate on one of the sides of the gauge when it is barely extended, though.
Why I Use a Calculator When Sewing
My undergraduate degree is in engineering, and my calculator was indispensable then.
It’s still indispensable now and is one of the sewing supplies I keep in the drawer next to my sewing machine. I sew after my kids go to bed, and my mental math isn’t as sharp late at night.
Why try adding 5/8″ seam allowances and other measurements in my head (or on paper) when I can add or double-check measurements by using my calculator? This saves me a LOT of heartache from unintentional math errors.
Measuring Tools in Sewing – Final Notes
Well, those are the measuring aids in my sewing room!
Any tools that you use to measure fabric or alter patterns that I’m forgetting? Let me know.
Also, check out some of my favorite sewing marking tools as well!