Sewing For Dummies
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When starting a sewing project, “measure twice, cut once” is essential to your success. Follow these guidelines for taking accurate body measurements and buying enough fabric for your project. And remember, the best needle for the job is a new one, so choose the right type for the fabric and get sewing.

Taking accurate body measurements for sewing garments

When you want to sew clothing, you start with a pattern. Determining your pattern size can be a humbling experience because it requires you to measure your body, but it’s an essential step in making sure the finished garment fits properly. Here are some tips on taking accurate measurements so your project ends up the right size:

  • Get someone else to take your measurements. It is impossible to take them yourself and get an accurate read, so find someone you trust, swear them to secrecy, and start measuring.

  • Dress in your underwear or a leotard, and tie a narrow ribbon or a piece of elastic around your waist, but not too tight. Move around a little bit until the elastic or ribbon finds your natural waistline. Note that this may not be where you wear the waistband of your favorite pair of slacks or jeans.

  • Measure by placing the measuring tape around the torso as parallel to the floor as possible.

  • Have your helper take the following six measurements:

    • Height: ____________

    • High bust circumference at the crook of the underarms approximately 2 inches above the full bust: ____________

    • Full bust circumference at the widest part of the bust: ____________

    • Natural waist circumference (the narrowest part) at the ribbon or elastic: ____________

    • Hip circumference at the widest part and approximately 7 inches below the natural waistline: ____________

    • Back waist length measured from the bone at the base of the neck to the natural waistline: ____________


Estimating fabric yardage needs for common misses garments

When shopping, you may find the fabric you’re looking for . . . and a whole lot more to inspire you. When you don’t have a particular pattern in mind but find fabric that would, for example, make a great pair of dress pants, you can use this guide to help you buy enough fabric when the creative mood strikes.

Because fabric also comes several widths and your pattern envelope may only give you yardage requirements for two widths, you can refer to this guide to buy the correct amount for the width of the fabric.

This project chart gives you a quick reference and approximate yardage requirements for misses sizes 10 to 14 at an average height of 5 foot 4 inches. Other sizes will vary from 1/4 to 1/8 yard. For fabrics with a nap and/or one-way designs, add 1/4 yard for each yard specified. For plaids, add the length of one plaid repeat for each yard specified.

Garment Fabric Width 35-36 inches Fabric Width 44-45 inches Fabric Width 50 inches Fabric Width 52-54 inches Fabric Width 58-60 inches
Pants, full length (add -1/4 yard for cuffs) 3-1/4 yards 2-5/8 yards 2-5/8 yards 2-1/4 yards 2-1/4 yards
Pants, Capri length 2-3/4 yards 2-1/4 yards 2-1/8 yards 2 yards 1-1/2 yards
Shorts, Bermuda length 2-1/2 yards 2-1/8 yards 1-7/8 yards 1-3/4 yards 1-1/4 yards
Skirt, straight 2 yards 1-5/8 yards 1-1/2 yards 1-3/8 yards 1-1/4 yards
Skirt, A-line 2-1/4 yards 1-3/4 yards 1-5/8 yards 1-1/2 yards 1-3/8 yards
Skirt, softly gathered 2-1/4 yards 1-3/4 yards 1-5/8 yards 1-1/2 yards 1-3/8 yards
Shirt/blouse, short sleeves 2 yards 1-5/8 yards 1-1/2 yards 1-3/8 yards 1-1/4 yards
Shirt/blouse, long sleeves 2-1/2 yards 2-1/8 yards 1-3/4 yards 1-3/4 yards 1-5/8 yards
Blouse, long sleeves with tie 3-3/4 yards 2-7/8 yards 2-5/8 yards 2-3/8 yards 2-1/4 yards
Blouse, capped sleeves 2 yards 1-5/8 yards 1-1/2 yards 1-3/8 yards 1-1/4 yards
Camisole, bias cut 1-1/3 yards 1-1/3 yards 1-1/4 yards 1-1/8 yards 1 yard
Dress, short sleeves with straight skirt 4-1/4 yards 3-1/8 yards 2-3/4 yards 2-5/8 yards 2-3/8 yards
Dress, long sleeves with straight skirt 5 yards 3-5/8 yards 3-1/4 yards 3-1/8 yards 3 yards

Sizing up fabric needs for pillow covers

For beginner sewers, pillow covers are some of the easiest, most affordable sewing projects that require the least amount of time and commitment. This table tells you how much fabric you need for typical pillow projects.

Type of Pillow Dimensions (Length by Width) Amount of Fabric Needed for 1 Pillow Cover (Using 54-inch Wide
Fabric with No Pattern Matching)
Standard bed pillow 20 x 26 inches 5/8 yard
Queen-size bed pillow 20 x 30 inches 1-1/8 yards
King-size bed pillow 20 x 36 inches 1-1/4 yards
Square pillow forms 12 x 12 inches 1/3 yard
14 x 14 inches 1/2 yard
16 x 16 inches 1/2 yard
18 x 18 inches 5/8 yard
20 x 20 inches 3/4 yard
30 x 30 inches 1 yard

Selecting general-purpose sewing machine needle point types

If you use the wrong type of needle for your sewing machine and project, the results could be very bad indeed. Use this table to determine which needle is designed for use in your sewing machine and for your project.

Needle Point Classification Needle Point Type and Use
15 x 1H (American); 130/705H (European) Multi-purpose or Universal: Used for most fabrics for general
Blue Tip (American); 130/705HS (European); 130/705HPS (Pfaff);
Q Needle (Sears); Singer 2045
Stretch: Used for knits and microfibers and designed to prevent
skipped stitches and snagging
15 x 1DE (American) Denim or Jeans: A sharp needle designed for sewing heavier
130/705HJ (European) Tightly woven fabrics, such as heavy corduroy, denim, and
upholstery fabrics

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Jan Saunders Maresh is a nationally known sewing journalist and educator as well as a bestselling author of 15 books, including Home Staging For Dummies. She has worked as the Director of Consumer Education for White Sewing Machine Company and JoAnn Fabrics and is also an interior re-designer, color specialist, and Certified Staging Professional. Look for her Web-TV show at

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