You and I and everyone knows that a bad workman blames his tools, but have you ever tried creating anything great without equally great technical back-up? I have; It can’t be done and nowhere does this hold more true than in the realm of crafting in general, and sewing in particular. This is why I’ve put together - and checked against expert advice - this guide of the nine essential sewing measuring tools you absolutely must have if you hope to make the perfect work of art that you’ve dreamed up into a tangible reality.
Best Sewing Measuring Tools:
1. Rulers for sewing
A transparent, most often acrylic, semi-rigid ruler is an essential sewing measuring tool when you are measuring, drawing and cutting straight lines. These rulers with easy-to-read markings in contrasting tones are also indispensable when you’re laying out patterns on fabric, marking parallel lines, and especially when quilting.
Here, accurate cutting and measuring are imperative - get it even slightly wrong and the results will be screaming in the context of a set of other, perfectly uniform squares, rectangles, or even triangles or circles - and require a ruler with a nonslip backing and easy-to-read, contrasting measurement lines. The best rulers for sewing come in various shapes: use rectangular ones to cut fabric strips and square ones to cut fabric blocks; for more advanced quilting, they come in circular and triangular forms too. See my separate article on these tools to help you decide which one(s) might meet your needs best.
2. Tape Measures For Sewing
A tape measure, ubiquitous household item though it might be, is also a sewing measuring tool that belongs in every home crafter’s basket. In addition to taking body measurements, it’s a go-to for doing “quick” measurements throughout any sewing project, such as comparing body and pattern measurements. For example, if you want to make a skirt that reaches your knee, measure from your waist to your knee and then measure the pattern from waist to hemline, then adjust the pattern as necessary before cutting the fabric. And yes, the old adage does hold true: measure twice (or, in the case of that friend with OCD, as many times as they need, but let’s not go there), cut once.
But anyway: because tape measures vary a lot in quality, it’s easy to miss the best tape measure for sewing; opt for a non-stretch fiberglass one with metal tips to prevent fraying. The best ones also have measurements in inches marked on one side and centimeters on the other, or even alternating black and white blocks every ten centimeters.
3. Seam gauges
A seam gauge is a relatively small, usually metal or even magnetic, ruler with a sliding guide; it is normally about six inches long. You need the gauge for measurements at hemlines, button holes and any areas where small measurements need to be made, such as pleats and tucks.
Some of the best seam gauges for sewing feature both right angles and curved corners because this makes them ideal for shaping curved hemlines, pockets, and even reshaping patterns - see here. Besides gauging hems on clothing, they are also indispensable when sewing draperies, curtains, throws, and soft furnishings in general. Find out more in my article dedicated solely to seam gauges.
4. T-squares for sewing
As their name implies, these rulers are shaped like the letter “T,” and are very useful for ensuring you cut perfectly square blocks whenever you need to. Considering the proliferation of perfect squares and oblongs in sewing, they’ll save you a lot of time by letting you get it all right the first time.
The best T-squares for sewing are made of see-through plastic, have easy-to-see markings in contrasting colours, and feature guide lines for both equilateral triangles and for bias strip piecing, like this one. The best ones also come with blades in a variety of materials as well as sizes, from practical see-through plastic to swanky brushed aluminium to classy old-school wood, as you’ll see in my article on T-squares.
5. Hip Curves For Sewing
If you’ve ever sewn -or tried to alter - a skirt or a pair of trousers and ended up sighing “Oh well. It will do for the Spongebob party,” you know how crucial it is to get the hip curve right. And this is exactly what the best hip curves for sewing like this one will help you do, so that next time you can make attire for a different kind of do altogether.
They’re also great for sculpting lapels, the hemline, and at the elbow, if you were wondering, so “hip curve” is something of a misnomer. Use them anywhere a slight curve is needed. The best ones are calibrated in both metric and imperial measurements, as you’ll see from my list in my article on them.
6. L-squares For Sewing
An L-square (or tailor’s square) is a two-armed ruler used to make reduced scale patterns - if your relationship with math is anything like mine, here’s good news: this ruler eliminates the need for counting when figuring scale measurements. The short arm has halves, 4ths, 8ths and 16ths; the long one has two-thirds, 3rds, 6ths and 12ths.
You first determine which scale to use, then draw a line from the zero point at the corner of the ruler to the number on the desired scale that corresponds to the original full-scale measurement: for example, if the full scale pattern calls for a measurement of 16 inches and you want to make a half scale pattern, you draw to the 16 mark on the half scale, which creates an 8-inch line. Here is an example of how this looks in practice. I’ll be writing more on the best L-squares for sewing in a separate article too.
7. French Curves For Sewing
The French curve, a cousin of the hip curve, is the most commonly used curved ruler used in fashion design. It’s used for making everyday fitting or pattern adjustments, especially for armholes, necklines and sleeves (or indeed anywhere a curved line is needed) ; as such, it is one of the most useful tools you can have on hand.
The best French curves for sewing are usually made of clear plastic or stylish aluminium and have easy-to-read measurements; it is also an instrument that may be confusing if you are a beginner, because you are not yet skilled at adapting the curves of the ruler to the drawing on paper. Here’s a demo on how to use them, and if you’re curious to find out more, see my article on French Curves.
8. Hem Gauges
One of the major challenges that I used to face as a beginner was creating neat and even hemlines; often, one side of the hem ended up slightly thicker than the other, which resulted in a lopsided garment that would not drape well. Luckily, there are several tools that you can use to create perfect hemlines time and time again: a hem gauge is a basic one that is easy to use.
It looks like a rectangular ruler with one flat edge and a curved edge on the opposite end. Each side features measurement lines, which makes it easy to create specific hem sizes; some of the best hem gauges contain both imperial and metric measurements. Find out more in my separate article on hem gauges.
9. Sewing Gauges
You need a sewing gauge to mark the width of the seam or hem on your garment. They slightly differ from hem gauges in that in addition to measuring hems, you can also use one to determine the proper placement for buttons, zippers, and other embellishments on your fabric. Since it is only a few inches long, it is easy to use.
Here’s how to use one: first off, prepare the fabric by spreading it out flat; the edge of the fabric should line up horizontally or vertically, depending on the direction of the seam. The position the gauge flush against the edge of the fabric; slide the ruler portion of the gauge until you reach the correct seam allowance. Then move the cursor up flush with the edge of the fabric, and mark the edge of the seam with sewing pins. Adding pins every few inches will help keep the fabric straight in the sewing machine. I’ll be writing about the best sewing gauges in a separate article as well. Til then, here’s a quick preview on how to use them:
This brings us to the end of the nine essential sewing measuring tools that you too absolutely need in your sewing basket. I hope you found the list useful, (as I would have done, when I was just starting out in the sewing world), and will rejoin me in reading about each one in more detail later on, where I’ll be highlighting the top 5 examples of each available on the market today.