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Victorian dressmaker measuring her client

Taking measurements is a vital element in the creation of a perfectly fitting block or garment. Extra care at this stage can save you an extraordinary amount of time, effort and extra expense later. So before we begin, I need you to make me a few promises:


  1. You will be honest about your measurements. Telling little white lies will only result in a garment that does not fit. I can guarantee that you will not be satisfied with the resulting block if you have not given your true measurements.


  2. You’ll take it seriously – too often, a costumer is left working with inaccurate measurements because she had a measuring party involving herself, her best friend and a few too many glasses of wine! Make sure you get it right, I can’t stress that enough!


  3. The measurements have been taken whilst you’ve been wearing what you would normally wear under a the finished garment, as much as possible (a slip and well-fitting bra are fine but there’s no point measuring yourself for a fitted bodice block whilst wearing a sweater.) It may help to wear a close-fitting top with sleeves since you'll need to know where your "armscye" (armhole) is.

Do we have a deal? Right, here goes!

Measuring diagramTie a string or ribbon around your waist, where you bend naturally – not too tightly, just snug, and horizontal. This will help you to take the vertical measurements accurately. Move around, bend from side to side and so on until it sits comfortably.

Remember to stand up straight (but not overly so) with your weight evenly distributed.

Bust (1) – measure horizontally around the fullest part of your bust along the nipple line, and straight across your back. It helps if you stand with your back to a mirror, with the person measuring you in front of you, so that they can see in the mirror that it’s straight across your back. Remember to lower your arms.

Natural waist (2) – breathe normally, and don’t suck in your stomach. Measure around your waist along the ribbon, horizontally.

Hips (3) – measure horizontally around the widest part of your hips. Note the level where you’re taking this measurement at one side.

Waist to hip (4) – measure down your side from the waist tape to the level where you took your hip measurement.

Front shoulder to waist (5) – measure from the middle of the top of your shoulder down over the apex of your bust, straight down to the waist tape.

Chest (6) - Measure across your chest from armhole to armhole, about 7cm (3”) below the hollow of your throat.

You're halfway there!

Measuring diagram, backShoulder (7)– Measure from the base of your neck to your shoulder bone.

Neck size (8) – measure around the base of your neck, touching the collarbone below the hollow of your throat.

Nape to waist (9) – bend you head forward and feel around for a protruding bone at the back of the base of your neck. Put the end of the tape measure here and straighten up, then measure down the centre of your back to the tape around your waist.

Back width (10) – measure the width of your back around 15cm (6”) below your neck bone. The ends of the measurement fall where the armhole seams of a close-fitting top would lie.

Armscye depth (11) – The “armscye” is the armhole, the fabric edge to which the sleeve is sewn. Measure from that bone at the back of your neck straight down your back to a point level with the bottom of your armhole. It may help to place a ruler under your arm, but make sure it’s level and not too snug (you don’t want the armhole to be too tight!)

Dart – for our purposes today, this is a standard measurement that's related to your bust size. Refer to the table below to find the "dart" for your bust size.


Bust size
Dart (cm)   Bust size
Dart (in)
82 6.4   32 2 1/2
87 7.0   34 2 3/4
92 7.6   36 3
97 8.2   38 3 1/4
102 8.8   40 3 1/2
107 9.4   42 3 3/4
112 10.0   44 4
117 10.6   46 4 1/4


As you can see, this chart gives only the mid range of bust sizes, but you can see that the difference between sizes is 5cm (2") and the difference between dart sizes is 0.6cm (1/4"), allowing you to work out the dart for bust sizes that fall between entries in the table or outside this range.

This "dart" measurement is used to determine the size of the dart at the bust. The table makes the assumption that the bigger your bust size, the bigger the dart - in other words, the bigger the bust size, the bigger your cup size. Any woman wearing a 32F or a 46A will know how flawed this logic is, so here you can see what I meant about sacrificing accuracy in favour of simplicity. We'll work to make this measurement more accurate by getting a little more complex in a future episode...


Write down any other fitting issues that you think you might need to allow for.

Now check all the measurements again – even I find this helpful when measuring clients, just to be sure!

saw a youtube video yesterday that said if your bust size is more than 2 inches bigger than your 'high bust size' which is taken above your boobs at around the underarm height. Then to use the high bust size measurement instead otherwise the garment will end up too big. I know this was asked years ago but maybe somebody else will come along and read it and find it useful
Ava, I'm so sorry I didn't see your comment until now - our comments feature hasn't been working properly for a while, it seems, and I haven't had them sent on to me.

I think the best way to tackle drafting when you have a full bust and small waist, but are shortwaisted, is to take a leaf out of the Victorians' book. Victorian women were often smaller, but had much more pronounced hourglass figures than we do.

They tended to include two or three small darts side by side, and they'd use multiple pieces in their patterns to allow the excess to be removed little by little in mutiple spots.

Example from 1895

You can flip through this book online and find lots of options. You have to have your wits about you and some patience to follow the language, but these instructions *are* useable. Give them a try, or just use the general idea in your modern draft

leon stanford
bodice pattern dress
i want a bodice block pattern
sissy wood
draft pattern
recommended reference for pattern drafting
I dont have a wbsite yet.

I followed the tute step by step but the armsyce has me confused. How do i draw the circle for it. I have a french curve but i truly dont know how to use it. Also i am in desperate need of a sleeve slopper tute which will go with this block. Any help will be appreciated

Hi Ayse, it's not a regular curve, so there's no perfect way to draw it; it's a freehand curve, crossing all the points specified. You can use your French curve to help you by bending it into a reasonable-looking curve that matches the diagram before drawing along it.

As for a basic sleeve tutorial, tht's also in the Beginner section, here: http://yourwardrobeunlockd.com/articles/free/beginner/246-drafting-a-basic-fitted-sleeve

Hi, I'm referring to our page 8, "from b to C is half our bust measurement plus 5cm (2")"... I think it supposedly 6" instead of 2" right? My bodice looked weird, and I've tried redoing it 3 times to make it right. But then, I read again your note on "beginning to draft", you say we are to add 6" for the paper width. Pls confirm.
armscye measurement
I'd like to ask a question regarding the correct measurement for the armscye, based on my personal figure.
i have, what is sometimes referred to as, a dowager hump...although perhaps not as pronounced as that term might suggest...therefore, measuring from the bone at the base of the back of the neck, and down over the hump to the armhole depth, is not going to give me an accurate measurement for drafting the armscye (since there is extra length in the spine area). I have so much trouble drafting a correct armscye since I also have a shallow depth from shoulder to armhole level. What would you suggest so that I could successfully draft a proper fitting armscye? Thanks

Merrin, thank you for your question. There's no simple answer for that one, I'm afraid; as with so much in costume making fr the unique individual, this is one for our ingenuity to solve.

Have you tried measuring to the armscye level both over your back and down your front too, and looking for a solution inbetween the two figures? Alternatively, you may get a better measurement by measuring further out from your neck, from the top of your shoulder down the side of your back?

It might also help to measure around what will be the armscye to give you more clues. Placing the tape measure on your diagram, with the end held against the measurement you've taken in a ring, will enable you to arrange it into a sensible curve that looks right. Putting all of these rough figures together will give you a ballpark - something that you can start with to get you to the mock-up stage, where you can then refine what the numbers have told you. Good luck!

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