Measurements and Fitting

NOTE: Book recommended for beginning sewers. It contains a lot of basic sewing/fitting techniques,
terms, basic fabric/thread information, hints on buying a sewing machine/serger, etc. The book is:
"Mother Pletsch's Painless Sewing - Fourth Edition" and
can be ordered on the Palmer/Pletsch website (click here).

These notes are primarily aimed at measuring and fitting dolls. However, I have put in some references
to human (and human pattern) measurements for comparison and to use when working with a
human pattern to create a doll pattern ---- (see Pattern Creation Page).

I will not be covering how to make pattern alterations for individual body differences as it would take an entire book! I highly recommend purchasing a bookthat has lots of pictures along the lines of"if your garment wrinkles/pulls here, this is the problem and how to fix it" (see above recommendationas a start). You will find such a source invaluable in achieving a proper fit. I am merely offering this "tutorial" as a guide to measuring a body (doll or person) and gaining awareness of many of the differences that will require a pattern alteration.

MEASUREMENTS - only part of the story!

There is no doubt that taking accurate body measurements will get you a better fit - either for yourself
or for a doll. However, it is only part of the story as body shape is also very important.
Taking accurate measurements is the first step.

You almost can't take too many measurements! I have a costuming book that notes 90 "basic" measurements
that should be taken. And then there are additional measurements listed for specific costume elements.
When I worked in a large university costume shop, we took a minimum of two full pages of
measurements (small print) - the actors accused us of wanting to clone them!

1. The first step is knowing where to take measurements. All of the key measurements must be noted (bust,
waist, hip, etc.) as well as reference points as to where these were taken (shoulder to bust, neck to waist,
waist to hip line, etc.). For example, the hip measurement is taken at the fullest part of the hip - but it must
also be noted how far down from the waist this measurement is taken. So you will be taking both horizontal (around the body) and vertical measurements. After taking measurements, it is important to measure the pattern
in the same places you took the body measurements to see where alterations need to be made.

In the notes above I mentioned that patterns have a standardized place where the fullest part of the hip (or
bust, etc.) is located on the pattern - this is usually 8-1/2 to 9" down from the waist (on a people pattern). If the fullest part of the hip is further up or further down than that, an alteration must be made to the pattern to get it
to fit correctly. This reference measurement is also important to know on a doll - especially if you are using a pattern that is not specifically designed for that particular doll. You will need to look at the doll pattern closely
to determine where they have placed the fullest part of the hip, where the bust line is located, etc.

I have included some pictures below with blue tape lines on the doll to show where each measurement is taken.
To mark reference points that will stay the same throughout the measuring process, put a rubber band or piece
of masking tape around the doll's waist (where the waistband of a garment will be), around the hip (at the fullest part of the derriere) and anywhere else that would be useful depending on the design that will be made.

On people, it is useful to do the same with a piece of elastic tied around the waist, etc.

Dolls aren't always easy to measure. Use a narrow tape measure (I took apart one of those spring loaded
automatic rewind kind - they come in a plastic case and the tape is only about 3/8" wide). Another useful
method is to place a string or narrow strip of paper around where you want to measure, mark the
joining points and then measure the string or paper.

2. Taking The Measurements (pictures are shown below for location of these measurements on the body).
*I show some of the basic measurements to take - there are numerous additional measurements that
can be taken depending on what kind of garment you are working on. These are just a start.
The blue lines show where these measurements should be taken:

Around the bust line, at the fullest part. It is also helpful to take a front and back bust measurement-
figure out where a side seam would go and then take a separatefront bust and separate back
bust measurement. These 2 added together should equal the total full bust measurement.
**Note: For a person, they should be wearing the bra that will be worn with the completed garment
when taking this measurement. Different bras can create very different measurements!

High Bust
Above the bust line, around the body (This measurement is important for human ladies with a bra cup
size above a B. Consider choosing a pattern by your high bustmeasurement if the other parts of the
garment - shoulders, etc. - always are too big.You will have to do the alteration to your pattern to
accommodate a larger cup size, but the rest of the garment should fit better.)

Under bust
Another important measurement if you have a full bust - or are fitting a tight bodice.

Shoulder to bust point
This is a VERY important measurement. The bust point is where the darts should point to - however,
bust darts should never be placed/sewn right up to the the bust point. They should stop shortly before
the bust point - on a 16-18" doll that would be 1/8 to 1/4". On a person, the darts should stop approximately
3/4 to 1" before the bust point. On a princess line garment, the fullest part of the curve of the side front should
be over the bust point (see the pattern enlargement page for a visual of this). Measurement istaken from the top, center shoulder line to bust point (on a doll the shoulder line is easy to determine because there is a seam!

Bust Point to Bust Point (or the apex)
This measurement will be divided in half when measuring a pattern from the center front. The vertical
darts in a bodice should line up with this measurement. (see picture below of sloper).

Shoulder over bust point to waist
Start at the top center of the shoulder - the tape measure should conform around/over the bust as
you take the measurement.
This measurement would give you the correct amount to add to the length
of the front when doing a bust cup alteration (for above B cup size). *When altering a pattern for a C or
above cup size, the front will need lengthening as well as expanding the width.

Taken around the neck where a jewel neckline would fall.

Neck to shoulder
Measurement taken as shown - will be especially useful if the doll (or person) has large or small shoulders.
The shoulder "end" is determined by where you want the shoulder seam to end and the sleeve top to begin -
this is some times changed due to certain design elements (remember the big shoulder pads of the 80's!)

Center Back (of neck) to shoulder
"Back neck to shoulder" - I find this measurement useful because sometimes the pattern I'm using doesn't
have a jewel neckline - so I can still check to see if the shoulder measurement will work (measuring
the pattern using this measurement is shown below). Taken from center back neck to shoulder line.

Center Back
This measurement is important if the doll or person has wide shoulders or a wide back.

Back Waist Length
This will tell you if your bodice pattern needs to be lengthened. On people patterns, this measurement is
one of the basic measurements shown on the envelope or instruction sheet, so you can determine
any alterations needed by comparing your measurement to what is listed on the pattern.

Waist measurement is taken where you determine you want the waistband to be - this is for both dolls
and people (and can be a VERY individual preference). On a doll I will take a strip of fabric and hold it
around where I want the waistband to be - then place a rubber band at that place on the doll so I
have it marked when taking length measurements (e.g., back waist length).

Hip (circumference)
This measurement is taken at the fullest part of the hip/derriere.

Waist to hip
Take measurement from waistline to hip. This is an important measurement as you want your skirt or pants
pattern to have the fullest part of the hip at this place. Some dolls/people have high/round derrieres while
others have a lower, more sloping derriere(see comparison pictures of the dolls below and you will see there
is a great difference in where the hip line falls as well as a difference in the shape of the side curve).

Side Length (underarm to waist)
This length is used when you are making a fitted bodice. Taken from underarm to waist.

Arm Length (for sleeves)
Start at where you have determined the shoulder line to be and measure the length of the arm to the wrist (with elbow slightly bent). Depending on the type of sleeve you are making you may also want to measure from the shoulder to the elbow and to the wrist separately. Also measure around the bicep area if the sleeve is fitted.

Measure around the wrist.

Hand Spread
This is a specific measurement needed for doll clothes. Since the doll cannot close up the hand when
putting on the garment, this measurement is especially important. When making a slim, tight fitting
sleeve the sleeve either must be big enough to fit over the hand spread or an opening will have to
be made at the bottom of the sleeve (and snaps applied). When working with a slim sleeve for a
jacket, make sure the width of the sleeve will accommodate the hand spread.

Waist to floor (or ankle)
Depending on what I am making - e.g. long straight skirt, pants, long full skirt - I may take 2 or 3
measurements. With a full skirt I might want to know the waist to bottom of stand measurement if
I want the skirt to end up long enough to cover the stand. For pants, I would take the measurement
to where I would want the pants hem to be. Slim leg pants will be shorter than the flare bottom pants.
For a straight skirt I would take the measurement to the top of the stand.

And now, THE REST OF THE STORY.......
After carefully taking a set of measurements there is another step to take before working on the pattern. A body analysis is essential in determining alterations because the measurements do not indicate the actual shape of various parts of the body. Even on dolls, each one has a very
different body shape and proportions.
See below picture:

These dolls are all 15-1/2" to 16" tall - yet all have VERY different shapes. For example, one has a long torso (3rd from left); another has a tiny waist and shorter torso (2nd from left). One has very square shoulders (3rd from left) while others (2nd and 4th from left) have more sloping shoulders. Look at the differences in the hip curve and where the legs join the torso. Even the shape of each doll's legs is very different. Here's another picture to analyze:

 The differences in breast shape - and position - are very apparent here. This also shows how a bust
measurement may be the same but there still may have to be pattern alterations - e.g. two people with a
36" bust measurement, but one is an A cup size and the other is a C. The distribution of the measurement
is very different - one person may have the larger part of the measurement in the front (the C cup person)
and the other may have it in the back (for example, the A cup person who has a broad back).

One way to check to get a good visual of the body shape is to do "body graph." this would be done
with a doll by placing the doll on a piece of paper and drawing around the body:

When completed and placed side by side you can quickly see
some of the differences in the proportions of the dolls.

Note shoulder slope is greater
than on Tyler's body on right.
Also the extreme difference between
the shoulders and tiny waist.

Note Tyler's squarer shoulders - this
might not match with the general slope
of a pattern designed for another doll.
The longer torso allows for a more gentle
difference between the shoulders and waist.

*This can also be done with people. You would need a large sheet of newsprint paper! Tape to a wall or
door and have the person you are measuring stand with their back against the paper and draw around
the body. Make notes (and dots) where the waist is, where the hip line is (and if one hip is higher
than the other - very common in women), and the slope of the shoulders.

Once this analysis is done you may find additional body measurements you will
need to take before measuring the pattern to determine alterations.

Measuring the pattern to check for fit

There are some alterations that can be done in the first fitting stage with your mock-up
garment. However, if the garment is too small, it is much harder to determine how
much and where additions should be made to get a proper fit.

*Personal philosophy alert!*

I am a staunch proponent of measuring as much of the pattern as possible BEFORE doing any fabric cutting. If you get into the habit of doing this you will not only understand your pattern better, but perhaps haveless headaches in the fitting stage. REMEMBER - when you are measuring the pattern, do so in the same places that you measured the body. This is why you needreference points on the body - you will also mark them on the pattern. 

 This is the bodice pattern I choose to use for an example - the bodice on the left is a blouse style and thus will have different ease amounts than the fitted one on the right (the bustier is shown under the blouse on the left). How this affects the determination of fit and measuring the pattern is shown below. 

***Whenever you are measuring a pattern you will not include seam allowances or darts in your total pattern measurement. An example is shown below when measuring the bust line of the bodice. 

I start by placing a mark on the pattern where the bust point is using my shoulder to bust point and
bust point-to-bust point measurements. I start by doing this on the blouse bodice front (see gold colored
lines) - however, I see that the bust point measurement from the doll does not line up with the darts on
this piece. Since this blouse is not a fitted garment, I know that some ease has been added so that the
blouse can fit over the fitted bustier underneath. When I pull out the bustier piece to see where the bust
point will be located, I note that I have no way to measure the pattern piece from shoulder to bust point.
This is where some additional measurements are needed - so I go back to my doll (who still has the blue
masking tape lines on her!) and measure from the bust point to her waist. I can then measure the pattern
in the same place (I take the pattern piece measurement from the waist up to the bust point) - as well as
from center front to bust point. On this piece I can see that the darts line up well so I can go forward
using the blouse piece as is. I can always tweak the fit if required on the mock-up.

The bust circumference should be checked to make sure the blouse will have enough room to fit around the
doll and over the bustier. Line up the front and back pieces and place a dotted line (orange) on both pieces so
you know where to take the bust line measurement. Top picture (below) shows the line to follow across the
front and back to get the bust measurement. The bottom set of pictures shows how to actually do this measurement going from center front to seam line and from seam line to dart, moving to other side of dart and to center back. Remember, this measurement must be doubled to get the total bust line measurement of the pattern.

Orange dotted line marking where to measure the bust.

Measuring center front to side seam line (pin is
placed in tape measure at center front line)

Measuring center back to right side of
dart (pin at center back is at the
measurement mark from front piece).

Measuring from left side of dart to side seam line

Fold tape measure on last pin mark and you will have the total bust line measurement. The total
measurement is 8-1/2" - Tyler's bust measurement is 7-1/2". Since I'm not totally sure how I want this
blouse to fit I will leave the one inch of ease on the pattern to do my mock-up.

At this time I will also measure the back waist length to see if the bodice is long enough (it is). To double
check this measurement, I measure the shoulder to waist (over bust) on the front piece and compare it
to the doll's measurement - the pattern measures exactly 3-3/4" which is the doll's measurement. (When
I cut out my mock-up I would add 1/8" to the front and back bodice length for some ease - it can
always be taken back out when I do the first fitting if I feel it isn't needed.)

At this same time I check the cross-back and shoulder measurements (marking lines shown in picture -C-
above). As you can see the doll's measurements are about 1/16-1/8" less than the pattern measurements
(shown on each side marked with orange dot). Once again, I will leave this "as is" until I do my mock-up
and see if I want to change the shoulder line - or if I want this ease to remain in the garment.

If the bodice has sleeves, I would go ahead and do this same measurement exercise on the sleeves -
and make decisions based on the type of sleeve I am working with. For example, a full sleeve would
need a bit of ease in the length to get the blousing at the cuff at the wrist; a long straight sleeve would
have to be wide enough to go over the hand spread and length would be noted, etc.

Whenever in doubt about the fit, simply add a little to the pattern piece (remembering that you've done this when you sew the seam line on the mock-up) and changes can be made during the first fitting of the mock-up.

I've chosen a simple straight skirt to show how measurements are done. The first thing I note on the pattern
is the waist to hip line measurement - I simply measure down from the waist using the measurement
I've taken on my doll. I've marked the hip line with green on both the front and back pattern pieces.

Measure these pieces from center front to side seam and from side seam to center back seam - in the same way the bodice was measured (remembering to double the pattern measurement to get the total pattern hip measurement). This particular pattern measures 7" at the hip line - exactly what Tyler measures. This would work in some circumstances if I want a close fit (and when the fabric is cut out a little is automatically "added" to the size). However, if I want to fit it over tights or a bodysuit, I would add a little to the sides of each pieces for some ease.

I then measure the waistline in the same way - going from center front to the side of the dart, moving over
to the other side of the dart to the side seam; going from side seam of back piece to side of dart, over to
other side of dart to center back seam. Double this measurement like you did with the hip line. I note
that the waist measures approximately 1/4" LESS than what Tyler's measurement is. I choose to get
the additional 1/4" by making the skirt front dart narrower (see picture below).

If you look at these pattern pieces carefully you will see how deep (wide) the darts are. In general, the
deeper the dart the bigger the "bump" (either derriere or bust) it is meant to fit around. In this skirt, both
the front and back pieces have large darts - however, Tyler has a nice flat stomach, but a full, rounded derriere.
So I choose to get the 1/4" I need in the waist by making the front dart smaller (see picture below) and it
will also give me a flatter front to the skirt. This is a judgment call made from experience. It is also why a
really good book showing how to do alterations for different fitting "challenges" is a necessary resource.
Each body shape may require a different type of alteration to achieve a proper fit and without a
good reference
source it is difficult to know how to determine the correct alteration.

 Another exercise I did was to see how the shape of the hip line would be once the dart (back) is sewn in.
I placed the pattern piece (with dart unpinned) onto a piece of paper and drew around it (see below-orange
line); then I pinned in the dart. I drew another line so I could plainly see the curve. This can be an important
piece of information if you have a hip curve in the pattern that isn't the same as the body that the garment
is being made for. If you reference the above comparison picture of the 4 dolls (facing front) you will see
that each doll's hip curve shape is very different. This is another place where patterns are standardized,
but bodies are not. So the curve may have to be re-drawn if the pattern does not match the body. If in doubt,
again add a little to each side seam so you can pin fit the curve at the mock-up stage.

 The last thing I will check is the length of the skirt. This skirt pattern is mid-calf and I want a shorter
skirt. I so determine length by measuring Tyler from the waist to where I want the skirt hem to be,
add 3/8" for a hem and cut off the pattern (or fold it under) at my marking.

You are now ready to do a mock-up! (For some pictures of pin fitting the mock-up, see the
Pattern Creation page).

Last Revised: May 13, 2014
Copyright 2000 - Dale Rae Designs