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|Ok, so you have decided to start a new sewing project. You have chosen your patterns, and are looking at them trying to figure out where/how to begin. Yay! Congratulations, for getting past the wishful thinking/design stage!
The very first thing you need to do now, is take your personal body measurements. It is tempting to take quickie measures by yourself, just so you can get to the next step. But you really need to take your time, get a friend, and do this part right. Unlike modern patterns that have a minimum of 4" of ease added to them, most historical pattern have virtually no ease allowances. Which means if you measure poorly, your dress most likely won't fit. A really big problem is that the 4" ease gap of modern patterns has allowed hobby seamstresses to become overly lax in taking proper measurements. In particular, the Bust Measure. The most important measurement of them all.
But let's back up a minute. Before you take your measures, you need to put on your underwear and corset. I highly recommend that you wear a proper corset, and not just a modern bra/panty set. I will save the corset debate for another post. But if you are measuring over a bra, and not a corset, the resulting lower bust height can be a little problematic with getting a Victorian bust measure. Another note is that historically, a tailor would take a ladies measurements OVER her clothing. As we today take the measures over the corset, not the dress, be sure to not pull the tape too tight.
Ok, back to the bust measure. Have your partner who is measuring you stand behind you, holding the end of the tape in one hand. As your partner passes the tape around your body, you are in charge of placing the tape so that it passes over the widest part of your bust. Interestingly enough, while you fiddle with this, your elbows will be up in the air. During this time, your partner should be lifting up slightly on the tape, so that the tape passes up into your armpits. While your partner maintains enough tension on the tape to keep it in place, you drop your arms to your sides, and stand comfortably straight, head up, shoulders down, back, and even. In this position, your partner can take the tape straight across your back and read your measurement. Unless you have a very high back to your corset, this will most likely place the tape above the corset. Lay the tape smoothly across the back, but don't pull it tight. If you have a lot of extra tissue that comes out over the top of your corset at the back of the arm, you can pull the tape a little bit tighter. (This will make the dress pull in some of that tissue later.)
View from the back.
View from the side.
View from the front. (the tape slipped upwards slightly durring the photo sesion.)
As you can see, the tape will most likely raise a little bit at the back. If you are wearing a bra, the fullest part of your bust may be lower in front, and the angle towards the back more pronounced.
This method measures you at the absolute fullest part of your body. This is the most fabric that you will get in your bodice. And remember, there is no ease. What you measure is what you get. Commonly today, a person will stand in front to measure. But doing so allows the back of the tape to drop too low, or to fall about bra band level. It is my experience that allowing the tape to fall in the back will make your measurement a full 2" less than what it should be. I get complaints all the time about mockups and bodices that are 2" too small, or reviews saying the patterns runs small, etc. Well, this is where it all most likely went wrong, not taking a proper bust measurement at the very beginning.
Up next, the back width and other measures.
Thank you, Sandy and Tonya for modeling for me!