Selecting and Using Equipment: Measuring Tools

Accurate sewing depends to a great extent on accurate measuring. The manner of measuring affects the finished size and shape of the garment and the harmony between various body areas and the corresponding fabric.

Learning to use metric measure may be necessary for everyone. Commercial patterns began to introduce metric measurements several years ago. Once the system is understood, it's surprisingly easy to use. Metric measurements are always designated with whole numbers.

When divided into smaller units, the decimal is used rather than the fractional division common to the inch system. Wherever measurements are quoted throughout our text, we state amounts in inch measurements first followed by the metric equivalent in parentheses.

We suggest purchasing equipment with both metric and inch measurements to help relate the two systems.

YARDSTICK (Meter Stick)

A measuring stick is of great help when marking long, straight lines on the flat surfaces of a pattern or fabric. It is also useful when laying cloth smoothly on the cutting table. Sliding the stick between layers of napped or rough fabric helps the fibers, yarns, and bubbled areas adjust correctly during the grain- straightening and fabric-flattening processes.

The most durable types of measuring sticks are made of metal or waxed hardwood with metal end tips. The markings should be clearly printed in fractions and whole numbers. Smooth surfaces, edges, and corners prevent snags in fabric. Several plastic measuring devices similar to yardsticks are available. They usually combine a curved edge, a straight edge, and an L-square (90-degree angle). The curved edge is very helpful for designing areas with curved lines and for redrawing curves during pattern alteration.

Store metal or wooden measuring sticks in a hanging position in a cool dry place. This prevents warping, rusting, and other damage. Remove finger marks and other soil by wiping the sticks first with a cloth treated with furniture wax, then with a dry, soft cloth.


The flexibility of the tape measure makes it useful for measuring large curved or flat surfaces on the body, pattern, or fabric. The best tapes are made of fiberglass or cloth that has been specially treated to prevent stretching, tearing, and wrinkling. Paper tapes tear, fray, and wrinkle easily and don't retain their accuracy. Nearly all tape measures are 60 inches (1.5 m) long. This length has proven to be the most useful and efficient. Securely attached metal end tips increase the useful life of the tape and aid in taking accurate measurements.

A tape with both inch and metric markings is especially useful. Efficiency is further increased if the tape is reversible (the inch and metric markings begin with the number I at opposite ends of the tape on opposite sides). A tailor’s tape usually begins with the number I at the same end on both sides of the tape. This tape has a small, firm shield attached to the beginning of the tape that aids in taking the inseam length of pants. Other nonreversible tapes are more useful and efficient if the end beginning with 1 is marked for quick identification during use.

To maintain the temper in the tape material and prevent stretching and twisting, tapes should be loosely wrapped in a smooth coil when not in use. This will also keep the markings clear for a longer time. Fiberglass and treated cloth tapes may be cleaned with a damp cloth.


Pattern and fabric markings are easily seen through a clear plastic ruler so that details can be measured or positioned accurately. A narrow, flexible ruler is useful for measuring small curved areas. Stand the ruler on its edge to measure or mark curved lines. The ruler can also be wrapped around the wrist or arm to measure the area and determine the ease desired. Wide plastic rulers [ 4 inches by 15 inches (10 by 37.5 cm)I are available but are too rigid to be bent. These wide rulers usually have several parallel slots that vary in distance apart. They are helpful for marking straight-of-grain lines, even amounts of change during pattern alteration, and so forth. However, the slotted areas break apart easily unless the ruler is used very carefully. Wide plastic rulers will also chip and break if dropped.

All plastic rulers should be stored in a hanging or flat position to prevent warping or breaking. Plastic is affected by extremes in temperature. These rulers must not be brought into contact with a hot iron. When cold the plastic is brittle; it will break or shatter if bent quickly or severely. Any plastic ruler is easily cleaned with a damp cloth. Chemical solvents—such as dry cleaning fluids—cause damage.


This simple but very useful device is usually 6 inches (15 cm) long. It has an adjustable marker to measure short or repeated distances during clothing construction, knitting, and so forth. A gauge with both inch and metric measurements is very useful. The marker should move easily, mark with precision, yet remain stable until deliberately changed.

A metal seam gauge is more durable than plastic, and the markings are usually easier to read. The metal marker is more pointed, therefore helping to produce more accurate measurements. A gauge that has a hole both in the marker and the end point (to accommodate a pencil and a pin, respectively) can be used as a simple compass to draw scallops and other curves.

A seam gauge should be kept flat during use and storage. Bending a metal gauge or using it as a screwdriver damages the smoothness and may cause the marker to move too loosely or tightly.


A level hem is one mark of professional fitting and sewing. An uneven hemline is usually an indication of a need for further fitting. Once proper fit has been incorporated above the hipline, leveling of the hem will be necessary only for skirt styles involving bias areas.

A hem marker is an upright measuring stick that's firmly attached to a base and is used to measure the skirt hem a given distance from the floor. An adjustable marker attached to the upper end of the stick allows simultaneous measuring and marking. Two types are available.

The marker on spray-types is a container of chalk with an air bulb attached. When the bulb is pressed, a short line of chalk sprays onto the garment. (The cutting line should be marked, not the foldline, because chalk remains in some fabrics and can leave a stain.) The chalk marker is very efficient; you can use it to mark your own skirt if you stand looking straight ahead with the body weight carefully balanced. Talcum powder can be used to refill an empty container or chalk refills can be purchased. The air tube and bulb deteriorate with use, and the tube will break or split if kinked.

The marker on pin-types is a hinged clamp that opens to allow the skirt to lie inside and be held firmly in place. When the clamp is closed, a pin is inserted into the fabric through a groove in the end of the clamp. The pins can be placed either at the trimming line or at the foldline. This hem marker requires a little more time to use than the spray-type. Time is saved later at the ironing board because the marking pins are accessible for reuse when turning the hem.

Both markers will remain more usable if stored hanging upside down. In this position the clamp on the pin-type is closed, thus preventing twisting or breaking, and the air tube on the spray-type extends straight from the nozzle on the container cap. Oversettling of the chalk, which occurs when it's kept in an upright position, will also be prevented.

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Friday, 2009-10-16 18:13