One thing I am constantly asked by students is to take their body measurements. Measuring yourself is not as easy as it may seem, and so often you require more than bust, waist and hips. Here's my guide to taking accurate measurements for dressmaking, with some handy tips to make it easier for you.


The first thing you need is good-fitting underwear! Your bra is all-important – it must fi t properly, as this will be the foundation for your garments. If necessary, get remeasured and treat yourself to something new. The same applies to knickers – don’t measure wearing knickers that hold everything in, if you're not going to wear these all the time.

Top tip!
Well-fitting underwear is extremely important when taking your measurements

Let's start measuring!

You will need a friend to help now!

The next stage is to stand in front of a full-length mirror in your underwear – scary! Analyse your figure, are your hips wider than your shoulders? Turn sideways and check your posture, do you have a sway back, round shoulders, a tummy? Honesty really is the best policy.

Waist, Hips & Bust

Now it’s time to measure. Place a simple chain necklace around your neck and then take some elastic and tie it around your waist, it must be snug and the elastic will find your narrowest point. Also tie some elastic around your hips, the widest part, and another piece under your arms and over the top of your bust. With the help of a friend, measure around the elastic at the waist, hip and over bust. Use centimetres, they are more accurate. The tape measure needs to be snug but not tight. You also need the full bust measurement over the fullest part of your bust. While the elastic is still in place, measure the distance from your waist to hip, where the side seam would fall, and then measure from the waist to where your finished skirt length would fall. Measure also the back waist, from the chain around your neck, down your spine to the waist elastic.

We are not finished yet!

Measure your waist at its narrowest point


See how to measure your bust, waist, arms, hips, height, inside and outside leg and rise with this printable visual guide! This free PDF download includes tip and hints from the Love Sewing team to help you achieve the perfect fit.



Neck, Shoulder & Back Width

A neck measurement is useful – using the line of the necklace to help, measure around the neck, so the tape measure meets at the centre front where those two little bones are. A shoulder measurement is also required and this can be done by measuring from the necklace to the dimple at the shoulder/arm joint (this can be difficult to find). An easier way is to put on a tight-fitting T shirt with a set-in sleeve and making sure the armhole seam is sitting where the end of the shoulder is. The seam should be vertical, not sloping down the arm or pulling in toward the neck.

Once you are happy with the armhole seam you can measure the shoulder. Whilst the
tight T-shirt is in place, measure also across the chest and above the bust from armhole seam to armhole seam – this is the chest measurement. Take the same measurement across the back from armhole to armhole – this is the back width.

Find the dimple at your shoulder point for an accurate measurement


You now have a great set of body measurements to help you choose your pattern size and make any pattern adjustments necessary. Just remember that 5cm of ease over your body measurements is the standard, especially at the bust and hip, and 2.5cm is best at the waist.

Measure your straight and bent arm, and consider range of movement

About Alison Smith

Awarded an MBE for her services to dressmaking, Alison is an industry expert in classic couture and a published author. Alison has her own shop and line of patterns, and you can also learn with Alison at one of her exclusive workshops. Find out more on her site


You might also like...

How To Achieve the Perfect Fit: Dressmaking Masterclass


Sew Positive: We discover how the simple process of stitching can transform how we see ourselves


Masterclass: How to Grade Up A Dressmaking Pattern