Check Your Pattern for Proper Fit

Guide C-220
Revised by Wendy Hamilton
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University

Author: Professor and CES Grants and Contracts Development Specialist, Media Productions Department, New Mexico State University. (Print friendly PDF)

Photograph of sewing tape measure.

(© Pixelrobot |

To be certain your fashion will fit when it is completed, be sure your pattern measurements are similar to those of your body. By comparing your measurements plus ease to the actual measurements of the pattern pieces, alterations needed for good fit can be made before you cut out your pattern. The amount of ease in a pattern will vary from fashion to fashion and from one brand of pattern to another. Because of this, your usual size 12 pattern may not always fit you. Use this checking procedure to help ensure proper fit in your finished fashion.

I. Preparations for Taking Measurements

Have someone take your measurements while you stand in normal posture. Be sure to use a tape measure that doesn’t stretch. Take snug—not tight—measurements. Record the measurements as you take them so you can use them to check patterns for fit. Be sure to record the date the measurements were taken.

Measurements should be taken over well-fitting undergarments. Help mark the location of your waistline by tying a cord around it. Tie another cord around the base of your neck to mark the location of your neckline. A cord should also be tied around your chest above the bust line. Place it high under the arms and parallel to the floor across the back. Leave these cords in position while taking all measurements.

Study current fashion magazines to see where the top of the armhole should be. For some seasons, the normal armhole may be fashionable. In other years, the shoulder may be extended or it may be high to create a narrow shoulder line. Have your helper mark the back, front, top, and bottom of the armhole (usually about one or two inches below the armpit) with a pencil or chalk.

For the shoulder seam location, draw a line from the prominent bone at the top of the arm along the highest point of the shoulder to the neckline.

Mark the underarm seams with chalk or with a row of pins if you are wearing a full slip. These lines should be about 1/2 inch back of the middle of the armhole in line with the shoulder seam marking. When your arms are hanging straight at your sides, these lines should be hidden.

After all these preparations are made, you are ready to begin taking your measurements. Use the following illustrations and instructions for exact measuring procedures.

II. Taking Your Measurements

As you work, be sure the tape measure is pulled snugly and that it is parallel or perpendicular to the floor, depending on the measurement. Take each measurement at the location illustrated; detailed instructions for each measurement are given on page 4. Write each measurement in the correct space—be sure to take measurements for right (R) and left (L) sides where indicated. In some cases, front (F) and back (B) measurements are required.

illustration showing where to measure on a body.

III. Determining Alterations NeededName___________________
Transfer your measurements to the appropriate space. Measure your pattern at corresponding points and compare todetermine alteration needed.
Measurement Point Your Body Measurement (inches) Usual Allowance for Ease (inches) Total Amount Needed (inches) Pattern Measurement (inches) Alteration Needed (inches)
1. Above bust          
2. Full bust Front          
3. Below bust          
4. Waistline Front          
5. High hip/abdomen Front          
(2–3 in. below waist) Back          
6. Full hip Front          
7. Waistline to hips R L        
8. Back waist length          
9. Chest width          
10. Center front length          
11. Bodice length over bust R L        
12. Shoulder length R L        
13. Shoulder to elbow length R L        
14. Elbow to wrist length R L        
15. Upper arm circumference R L        
16. Elbow circumference R L        
17. Sleeve cap length R L        
18. Shoulder to bust length R L        
19. Bust width (point to point)          
20. Underarm length R L        
21. Back neck seam          
22. Upper back width          
23. Back width across shoulder blades          
24. Back bodice length over shoulder blades R L        
25. Armhole depth R L        
26. Shoulder height R L        
27. Side skirt length R L        
28. Center skirt length Front          

IV. Measurement Techniques

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Bust. Take these bust measurements: 1) Above bust. 2) At full bust. 3) Under bust. Keep tape parallel to floor across the back. Then, take front and back measurements at full bust from side seam to side seam.
Waistline. Measure snugly where the belt should be. Take both front and back measurements between side seams.
High hip/abdomen. Measure at fullest part, usually 2–3 inches below waistline. Keep tape parallel to floor.
Full hip. Measure at fullest part of hips, keeping tape parallel to floor. View figure from both front and sides to see whether hips are larger at the hip or thigh level. If in doubt, take both measurements and use the larger one. Record measurements from side seam to side seam across the front, and from side seam to side seam across the back.
Waistline to hips. Record distance to full hip measurement from waistline. Usually, it is 6–10 inches below the waist.
Back waist length. Measure from the prominent bone at base of neck to waistline.
Chest width. At a point about 6 inches down from shoulder seam at neckline, measure from armhole seam to armhole seam.
Center front length. Measure from base of neck straight down to waistline.
Bodice length over bust. Measure from the neckline at shoulder seam over bust, straight down to waistline. Keep tape parallel to center front.
Shoulder length. Measure from base of neck to top of armhole line.
Sleeve length. With arm bent, measure from top of armhole down to the elbow, and from elbow to wrist bone.
Upper arm circumference. Measure around fullest part of upper arm. This is usually at bottom of armhole. Also record distance of this measurement from top of armhole seam.
Elbow circumference. Measure around elbow with arm bent.
Sleeve cap length. Tie a cord around the arm, level with bottom of armhole. Measure from top of armhole seam to this cord.
Shoulder to bust length. Measure from shoulder at neckline to bust point.
Bust width. Measure from bust point to bust point.
Underarm length. From the cord tied around the chest, measure underarm side down to waistline.
Back neck seam. Measure along back neckline from shoulder seam to shoulder seam. Stand tape on edge to measure a good curve.
Upper back width. Measure across back from top of one armhole seam to the other.
Back width across shoulder blades. At a point 7 inches down from shoulder seam at neckline, measure from armhole seam to armhole seam.
Back bodice length over shoulder blades. Measure from middle of shoulder seam, over shoulder blades, to waistline. Keep tape parallel to center back.
Armhole depth. Measure from shoulder seam at top of armhole down back to the cord tied around chest.
Shoulder height. Measure from shoulder seam at neckline down to the cord around chest.
27-28. Skirt length. Measure from waistline to the floor center front, center back, and on each side.


1These guidelines pertain to women’s fashions only. (Back to top)

For more on this topic, see the following publications:

C-205: Selecting a Pattern Size for Perfect Fit

C-214: Clothing Construction Standards

C-312: Fashion Feasibility

All Clothing Publications:

Original author: Susan Wright, Extension Clothing and Textiles Specialist.

Photo of Wendy Hamilton.

Wendy Hamilton is an Extension Evaluation and Accountability Specialist at New Mexico State University who provides expertise for program development and evaluation. She has worked at four land-grant universities, and has a diverse background in textiles and clothing, adult education, 4-H youth-at-risk, horticulture, evaluation, and grant writing.

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Revised March 2015