Seam Allowance Marking Templates

seam allowance guideI use little circles that my pencil goes through to mark seam allowances along curved seams, and a while back I created a tutorial for making these seam allowance guides by hand.

Recently I dropped the little box that I keep them in and lost the 1/4″ circle. It occurred to me that it would be easier to draw a new circle in Inkscape and print it out rather than drawing a new one manually.

So I thought, why not make a whole sheet of circles, so I can print new circles whenever I need to without having to redraw them? And if I’m going that far, why not make a metric set, too, and post them on my blog? So here they are: Imperial (inches) seam allowance guides and metric seam allowance guides. There are many sizes commonly used for seam allowances, plus larger sizes that you can use to draft facings.

To use these circles, print them out, preferably on heavy paper if you have some. If you have some full sheet adhesive labels, you could print onto those to make things easier. Make sure to print using the highest quality print settings and no scaling (100% or actual size). Measure the border to make sure it matches the dimensions printed in the upper right corner of the sheet.

These circles are not thick enough to work well on their own, even when printed on heavy paper. Roughly cut around a circle, then use double sided tape to stick it onto a piece of a thin, flexible plastic lid (like an HDPE margarine tub lid). Craft glue or rubber cement might work instead of double sided tape, if it will stick to the plastic.

If you don’t have an appropriate plastic lid to use, you can adhere the circles to a piece of paperboard, such as a piece of a cereal box, instead, but they won’t be quite as durable. If they wear out, you can easily make new ones, though! I used paperboard for the large sizes, since I didn’t have a plastic lid large enough. I also used clear box sealing tape over the circle to protect it, but that is optional.

After gluing or taping the circle onto plastic or paperboard, carefully cut out the circle. Use an awl or large needle to punch a hole in the center just large enough to fit your pencil lead through. Mechanical pencils work best, since the tip will always be the same size.

To use the seam allowance guides, stick your pencil lead through the hole in the middle, then run the edge of the circle along the stitching line. When you get to a corner or straight section, it helps to use the guide along the edge of a ruler.

Seam Allowance Guides

Seam Allowance Guides

Metric seam allowance guides

Metric seam allowance guides

Imperial (inches) seam allowance guides

Imperial (inches) seam allowance guides

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Cloning My Daughter in Calico

k2 dress form side frontI tend to get a bit obsessed with custom dress forms. Sometimes I’ll spend more time making them than using them for sewing. But I guess that’s OK – it’s a craft project, and if I enjoy it just for the sake of making it, why not? This time it was PattiJ’s comment on my Mini Stuffed Dress Form Pattern post that got me started on my latest dress form obsession. I had already been wondering if the same technique I used for the stuffed dress forms would work for making a custom form for an actual person. Then the next morning my husband had to get up early, and as I was lying in bed trying to go back to sleep, I planned out how I could make a dress form for my daughter. I’d wrap her up in tape, cut the tape apart to make a pattern, true up the pattern, then sew and stuff the form. It all seemed so easy and logical at 4 am.

I was fully prepared to bribe my daughter to let me wrap her in plastic wrap and tape to make a pattern, but I figured I’d just ask first and see what she said. She said “OK,” just like that. Wow, what a kid. She thinks it’s totally normal for Mom to wrap her up in tape, poor thing.

I planned everything out ahead of time, since getting the taping done quickly would be essential when working with a child. About a half an hour in she started sighing heavily, then after a while there would be a little whimper after the sigh, but she actually did quite well. Of course she couldn’t stand still, so there were some extra wrinkles in the tape I had to figure out how to deal with.

I got the actual taping and marking done in about an hour. The last time I made a paper tape form for an adult, it took about four hours, even with a helper handing me tape, and it was exhausting for everyone involved. So this technique could be a way to make a custom form for someone who can’t stand long enough to make a tape or plaster form, and for figures where padding out a dress form is not an option.

First I marked her neckline, shoulder line, and armholes. I’ve learned that it’s important to mark the armholes carefully when making a custom tape form, then tape right up to the edge of the line. It’s really difficult to go back later and figure out where the armhole and shoulder point should be. A little aside on the markers I used – I did the marking with Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers, which really wash out well. They are perfect for marking fabric – way better than anything I’ve found at the fabric store. I learned about them from this Baste and Gather post.

01-marking neckline shoulder armholes

I wrapped plastic wrap around her body, then covered it with duct tape. I used several layers of Stretch-Tite plastic wrap, which is commercial grade PVC plastic wrap, so it sticks to itself better than most of what you will find in the grocery store these days. Most plastic wrap sold for home use is made of plastic that is safer for use on food, but it’s not as good at sticking to itself. If you want to try this with plastic wrap that won’t stay stuck to itself, use only one layer of plastic wrap, tape it to hold it in place as you apply it, and make sure you tape over all of the plastic wrap, rather than leaving some of it exposed like I did.

I wrapped duct tape over the plastic wrap, then marked reference lines and potential seam lines. I didn’t go to much effort to get the right and left sides the same – no matter how careful you are, they’re never going to match anyway, and I was in a hurry. I figured I’d just average everything out later, which ended up working fine.

I did do my best to mark a level line around the hips, since I used that as a reference line.

03-level line at hip

Here’s the key that makes a sewn and stuffed dress form hold the correct shape – capturing the center profile shape. I made a profile gauge using Popsicle sticks and a piece of cardboard as my variation on this instructable. I captured the center front profile, marking the locations of the hip and chest lines. For the back profile, I put the edge of the cardboard up against a wall so I could establish a plumb line to reference. I traced the profiles onto paper, along with chest marks, hip marks, and plumb lines.

I measured the body depth at hip, waist, chest, and neck.

07-measured body depth

I used water activated kraft paper tape to capture the shape of the armhole. I used four layers of paper tape, so it held its shape pretty well even though I had to remove it before it dried.

I also used paper tape to capture the cross section shape at the lower edge of the form 3 inches below the hips.

Thigh level cross section

I taped around the neck as one of the last steps, since it gets pretty uncomfortable having your neck constricted. Then I cut her out! She was very happy to escape at this point.

I cut out the front profile, marked the body depth measurements on the back profile, and lined up the front profile so the depth measurements were correct. I used this shape to make the pattern piece for the center support that is sewn to the center front and center back of the form and keeps it from bulging out into a round shape when it is stuffed.

11a-tracing body profile

Before I cut apart the tape form, I labeled each piece with its name, left or right, and an arrow pointing up. Some of the pieces were rectangular, and I would have gotten the pieces mixed up otherwise. I cut apart the form on seamlines located so that each piece was fairly flat. I used an armhole princess line in the front, but a shoulder princess line worked better in the back.

I traced the left and right pattern pieces on top of each other, aligned at one point. I averaged the two by putting a dot midway between corner points, then drawing a line midway between the original two. This worked really well. Lumpy, jagged shapes were magically smoothed out.

Then came truing up the pattern to get all of the seam lines to match. This was the point when I started to think I was crazy for beginning this project, but I was too far into it to quit. My new Japanese measuring wheel got a lot of use. The pieces actually fit together surprisingly well, considering. I decided not to try to reduce the chest, waist and hip to match her actual measurements because a) it was easier, b) I’d had about enough of this and c) she’s growing anyway. I did reduce the tummy a little though – whenever you wrap someone in tape the tummy always seems to come out too big.

I added quarter inch seam allowances, cut out the pieces in quilting cotton, and sewed it up using the same construction methods I used for my mini dress forms. I interfaced the neck, armhole covers, and center support, but I didn’t want to fuse that much interfacing on the rest of the pieces, so I used 505 basting spray to layer two layers of quilting cotton together, one layer with the grainline going vertically, and the other with the grainline horizontally. It worked well, was easy to sew, and hardly stretched when I stuffed it, but I think I’d use thicker fabric for one of the layers if I did this again.

fabric scraps for stuffingI stuffed it with fabric scraps that I’d been saving. I save every scrap of thread, fabric, and serger trimming, since I always find a use for it, usually to stuff some sort of dress form. Stuffing with fabric scraps made the resulting form a bit lumpy, but I didn’t want to buy a couple of bags of fiberfill to stuff it with. I can’t believe how much that stuff costs.



And there she is – my calico kiddo.

This is the dress I made for my daughter with the remnants from my blue dress.

k2 blue dress


Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Review: Classic Dry Iron – No Holes!

I decided I needed a dry iron – one with no holes in the soleplate – for fusing interfacing and starching.

I had a really hard time finding a dry iron for sale in the US. The only one I could find was the Continental Electric Classic Dry Iron. I purchased it from Amazon. It’s also for sale at the Vermont Country Store if you want to take your chances with it.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The Good:

There are no holes in the soleplate like I wanted, and when I first plugged it in it heated up quickly. It gets plenty hot – in fact I found myself turning the dial down a notch – but maybe that’s just because I’m used to steam cooling things down? The weight is good, too. Not too light or too heavy.


The bad:

This iron has a significant design flaw. Many reviewers mentioned that the strain relief is too short, and eventually the wires in the cord break. I figured no big deal, since I was forewarned I’d just wrap some electrical tape around the base of the cord to improve the strain relief.

This iron also feels cheap in general. The metal pieces with the labels for the temperature settings are loose and wobbly. The cord is also fairly stiff.

The ugly:

When I opened the box and pulled out my “new” iron, the first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t new. It must have been a customer return that was used quite a bit. It had spray starch residue on the side and brown marks on the soleplate. Also, the cord was bent right at the end of the strain relief.


As I had planned, after plugging in the iron and making sure it worked, I improved the strain relief. The rubber strain relief was too big for the size of the cord, so I stuffed some cut up pieces of zip ties into the hole, then taped around it with electrical tape. I was too lazy to go look for some black tape when I had a roll of bright blue tape handy. I know, it doesn’t look very good, but hey, the lighter color shows up better in the pictures so you can see what I did, right?



At this point I was fairly happy with my iron. Then a few days later I got it out to use a second time, and it wouldn’t heat up. I jiggled the base of the cord, and it heated up for a couple of seconds, then quit again. I considered returning the iron, but at that time it wasn’t available on Amazon anymore, so I decided to try to fix it instead.

I unwrapped all of that tape and unscrewed the back plate on the iron. Sure enough, one of the wire connectors was quite loose. I tightened up that screw, put everything back together, re-wrapped the base of the cord with that lovely blue tape, and plugged it back in. And got nothing. It didn’t heat up at all. Grrr.

I guessed that the problem was broken wires at the bend at the end of the strain relief, so I unwrapped the blue tape again and cut off the cord just past the strain relief. Luckily I had some new crimp-on wire connectors that worked.

I slit open the piece of wire that I had cut off to see if there really was a broken wire, and sure enough, the wires were completely broken. I’m surprised the iron ever worked at all.


This time I actually went and found a roll of black electrical tape to re-do my awesome strain relief fix. Third time’s the charm.


So far it’s working. If I see a vintage dry iron at a thrift store, I’m going to buy it, though. Old wiring makes me nervous, but could it really be any worse than this?

Posted in Sewing

Blue Summer Dress – Balancing the Stripes

blue summer dressNow that there’s not much summer left, I finally got around to making a summer dress! I’ve had this beautiful fabric in my stash for years. I bought it planning on making a summer dress, but I couldn’t find a pattern that would work well with the horizontal stripes, so I never did anything with it.

I figured the easiest way to get the stripes horizontal on my body would be to make the pattern myself. With my prominent rear end and extreme swayback, alterations just get to be too difficult.

I wanted something simple with a waistline seam, and after looking through a bunch of pictures, I chose the Tara Tank Dress as my inspiration. The Southport Dress is also pretty similar to what I wanted.

Since I already have a non-stretch tank pattern, the Colette Sorbetto, that I altered to fit me, I started with that. I put my Sorbetto muslin on my custom paper tape dress form and pinned elastic around the waist, then marked the waistline on the pattern. I also scooped out the front neckline a bit.

To make the skirt, I cut two rectangles of fabric, sewed them together at the sides, and gathered the top edge. I pinned the skirt onto the bodice while it was on my dress form and adjusted the waistline until the hem was level.

blue summer dress finding waistline

It took me a little while to figure out how to make the casing for the tie at the waist. I did not enclose the waistline seam when I made a muslin of the dress, which was itchy, so I made sure to enclose the waist seam in the casing when I made the final dress. Just as I was finishing sewing the final dress, I thought of an easier way to do the casing. Next time!

For the hem, I used a machine stitched blind hem. I clearly need more practice with blind hems. I missed catching quite a few stitches in the fold of the fabric. I marked the stitches that I missed and stitched around again, just catching those spots. After the second time around I still missed one stitch and had to fix that. The final hem looks great, though, and I didn’t have to hand sew it, which made me happy. Hand sewing hems bores me silly and gives me a crick in my neck. I plan on sewing a lot more machine stitched blind hems in the future, so I’m sure I’ll get better at it.

I finished the neckline and armholes with self-fabric bias facings. I used to have terrible results with bias tape, but after I started making my own bias tape, I realized most of my problem was that purchased bias tape is too stiff. I use the free half-inch printable bias tape maker from the Scientific Seamstress to press the folds in the tape. It works really well and has lasted through several projects. She also has a one inch wide bias tape maker. Another tip for making your own bias tape: Use washable glue stick to glue down all of the seam allowances on the diagonal joining seams before putting the tape through the bias tape maker. A quick press with your iron will dry the glue.

blue summer dress bias facing

A few more photos . . .

blue summer dress 2

blue summer dress front

blue summer dress side

blue summer dress back

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Mini Stuffed Dress Form Pattern

I’ve made yet another pattern for DIY mini dress forms. This one has a very nice shape and is my favorite. These tiny dress forms are so cute!

My goal was to make a sewn and stuffed mini dress form with a shape that was both well-defined and attractive so that it could either be used as a decoration or for flat patternmaking and draping practice. I’m quite pleased with the result. I figured out how to add an internal fabric support piece to help it hold its shape, and it has a built-in tube so the dress form can slip over the end of a dowel. The base and armholes are stabilized with cardboard.

I included patterns for three sizes in one pdf: small (1/4 scale), medium (1/3 scale), and large (1/2 scale). Since people have been asking about making full-scale dress forms using my half-scale dress form patterns, I also included directions for scaling up the pattern to life-size, if you want to try it. The pattern is now in my Craftsy and Etsy shops.


Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Patternmaking, Sewing

Measuring Curves

I’ve tried all sorts of methods for measuring curves on sewing patterns. I thought I’d test them all out, since I just got a curve measuring wheel and I wanted to see how it compared to other methods.

I tried walking a ruler laid flat around the curve using a pin as a pivot point. This is one of the more accurate methods if you do it right, but it requires some skill, lots of patience, and good eyesight. The main benefit is you can use the same ruler to measure your straight and curved line segments, so you don’t have to worry about using two rulers with different scales (they can vary more than you might think).


I found references to using a flexible plastic ruler (like a C–Thru B–95) on edge. It might not be too bad for a gentle curve like a hip curve, but it doesn’t really work very well for an armhole or sleeve cap. You can’t bend the ruler to fit the whole curve at once, so you have to align a section at a time. Sometimes the ruler slips and you have to start over. It’s also not the most accurate method.


I tried my 5/8” wide plastic measuring tape on edge. I had to stretch the tape tightly and only measure a small piece of the curve of the time. This is not a bad method if you have an accurate measuring tape.

Recently I acquired a narrow retractable tape measure that came with a vintage sewing machine. It is perfect for measuring curves. It is narrow enough (8 mm [5/16″]) not to flop over when I have it on edge, and it’s also not wrinkly like my other measuring tape, so I don’t have to stretch it as I measure. The retractable tape I have has an accurate scale on the centimeter side, but the scale on the inches side is off by 1/16” over 24”. Fortunately I try to do all my pattern drafting in metric units. As with any measuring tape, you need to compare it against the straight ruler you usually use to see if they match. If they don’t match, buy another brand of measuring tape and keep trying until you get a good one. Also consider that your straight ruler might be the one with the incorrect scale!


I made my own tape by cutting a 1 cm (3/8”) wide strip of poster board or manila folder. I used this method before I got my retractable tape measure. This turned out to be a fairly easy and accurate way of measuring curves. I walked the strip of paper on edge around the curve, marked the end of the curve on the paper, then measured the paper strip with a ruler. It was nice that I could mark the location of notches right on the paper. My problem with this method was that I would forget to erase the marks from the previous curve I measured, so I wouldn’t know which mark to measure to and I’d have to re-measure the curve. Also it’s a two-step method – walk the paper along the curve, then measure it with a ruler. It’s a good method to use if you don’t have a measuring tape that matches the scale on your straight ruler. It’s easier and faster than walking a straight ruler around a curve.


I tried a flexible ruler—the kind with lead inside that holds its shape when you bend it. This was terribly inaccurate for measuring curves, since the actual measuring tape is set in from the edge of the ruler. These rulers seem like they’d be really cool but they’re not. You can’t measure with them, and they don’t hold their shape well enough to accurately copy the shape of a curve, so I never actually use mine.


I was reading 1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts and Tips and one of the tips is to use a plan measuring wheel to measure curves on sewing patterns. I do enough pattern drafting that I figured it would be nice to have one, but after looking at prices, I decided I didn’t need one that bad after all! There are less expensive map measuring wheels which are basically the same thing, just with different pre-programmed scales. I considered buying one, but then I discovered Japanese manual measuring wheels, and decided to get one of those instead. I’m not sure how I found them on Amazon – the poorly translated product title “Measurably faster exactly the length of the mouth curve” is not exactly helpful. If you live outside the US, you can order these measuring wheels through Rakuten.


My wheel didn’t measure perfectly, so I very lightly sanded it down on the edges until it measured the same as my ruler. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong ruler to calibrate it to, so now it measures a little too long compared to my C-Thru B-97 ruler that I use as a standard. Doh. It’s still within a half millimeter over 20 cm.

Measuring wheels only measure accurately if you center the width of the wheel over the line you are measuring, which can be hard to do. My natural tendency is to line up the edge of the wheel with the line, but for a thin line this means I’m measuring just inside or outside of the curve, which results in a measurement smaller or larger than it should be.

There is a new measuring wheel made in the US – the Curve Runner. There was a recent Kickstarter for them*. They are made in both metric and inches versions. I might have to try one of these – the fact that they are clear should make it easier to center the wheel over a line. *They are now for sale through Amazon (20 cm, 30 cm, 8 inch, 12 inch) and Etsy.

The last thing I tried is using a French curve with measurement marks. They have to be pivoted, but not as many times as a straight ruler. I had better results with my free printable curves than my Dritz Styling Design Ruler. The Dritz ruler gave me such poor results (up to 1/8” off over 12”) that I will not use it for measuring. Besides that, it’s marked in inches only. Of the methods I tried, I found that measuring with my printable French curves was the fastest, easiest, and most accurate method when measuring a curve that is similar in shape to the French curve. My printable curves are quite accurate if you print them to the correct scale, your printer is good (be sure to print at the highest quality setting) and you cut them out accurately.



If I purchased a curve with measurement marks, such as the Fairgate curve, I would definitely test it against other methods before trusting it to be accurate. I’ve learned the hard way never to trust any ruler to be accurate – not even expensive metal ones.

Here is the test sheet I made to test curve measuring methods on. Print it with your printer’s highest quality print setting with the scaling set to “None” or “100%”. Measure the border with an accurate straight ruler. If it checks out OK, measure the border with your curve measuring device to see if its scale is good, then measure one of the curves several times.


Of the curve measuring methods I tried, the flexible (lead-filled) ruler and the Dritz Styling Design Ruler were the only ones that were so inaccurate I would never use them. The measuring wheel was up to 3 mm off over 30 cm if I wasn’t careful, but if I kept the wheel centered over the line, it was within 1 mm of the correct measurement. Every other method got me within 1 mm of the correct measurement most of the time.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Break the 5/8” Habit

Years ago, when I first learned about using narrower seam allowances like the garment industry does, it didn’t work for me. I’d sit down at my sewing machine and without thinking, I would sew 5/8″ from the edge, forgetting I’d changed the seam allowance. My seam ripper got a lot of use.

Then I took a break from sewing for a few months, and when I came back to sewing I had somehow miraculously broken the 5/8″ habit. I realized how much better narrower seam allowances worked, especially around curves. Now I mark the seam allowances on my pattern and keep it handy for reference.

I should probably mention that I don’t like to press seam allowances open. Typically after sewing a seam I just serge the edges together for a finish like you find in ready-to-wear. I suppose 5/8″ seam allowances might be a better choice for seams that you prefer to press open.

seam allowancesWhy bother with different seam allowances? For fairly straight seams, it doesn’t really matter what your seam allowances are – you can sew them accurately as long as you have a guide on your sewing machine. In general, though, narrower seam allowances are easier to sew accurately and require less trimming and clipping. Seams where you match an inner curve to an outer curve, like sleeve caps and princess lines, are especially hard to sew with 5/8″ seam allowances. Try changing these to 3/8″ and see how much easier they are to match up properly.

For necklines, armholes, jeans front pocket openings, collars, and sleeve cuffs, use 1/4″ seam allowances. The benefits are that you can sew more accurately and you don’t have to trim or clip curves.

Trimming terrifies me, and I try to avoid it whenever possible. Although I can only remember two times I’ve actually ruined garments by accidentally snipping a hole in them while trimming seams, I’ve had a lot of near misses. Plus I can never get a trimmed seam an even width – it wobbles all over the place, which sometimes shows through on the right side. Also, if you clip or notch a curve, it won’t bend smoothly; you get sharp bends where each clip is.

seam allowance half presser foot widthIf you don’t have a quarter inch presser foot for your sewing machine, instead of 1/4″ seam allowances try using narrow seam allowances that are half of the width of your standard presser foot. That way you can guide the fabric right along the edge of the presser foot for perfect seam allowances and you ensure that the edge of the fabric won’t be on the middle of a feed dog, which can chew up the edge of the fabric on some sewing machines.

Most of the time I don’t have problems with necklines stretching out of shape even when I use 1/4″ seam allowances. However, it is a problem with some fabrics. Here’s how I deal with staystitching for fabrics that stretch out of shape. This method can be used on hard-to-sew fabrics even if you decide to stick with 5/8″ seams.

When you cut out the garment, instead of cutting out the neckline or other edge that will be staystitched, just mark the cutting line and cut roughly around it. If you are cutting on the fold, use a tracing wheel and dressmaker’s tracing paper to mark the other side.

mark neckline

Immediately staystitch, using the marked line as a guide. Staystitching is usually done 1/8″ away from the seam line, but with narrow seam allowances you can accurately sew 1/16″ from the seam line. A walking foot or non-stick (Teflon) foot can also help keep the fabric from stretching out as you staystitch. Don’t cut along the marked cutting lines until you are ready to sew those seams.


For thin, stretchy, or slippery fabric, you may want to pin a layer of tissue paper behind your fabric before staystitching. After staystitching, cut on your marked cutting line, then gently tear away the paper. You can layer paper and fabric before cutting to make it easier to cut out slippery fabric, and if you use tissue paper for the bottom layer, you’ll already have tissue paper in place for staystitching.

Here are some suggestions for measuring and marking seam allowances on your patterns:

For straight seams, transparent gridded rulers are quite helpful.


To mark seam allowances along curves, I use my home-made seam allowance guides.

seam allowance guide

Tape pens or pencils together, adding spacers as needed. A compass can be used the same way. Make sure you always hold either of these perpendicular to the curve, or your seam allowance will be too small in places.

double pencils

Use this little measuring tool. This is not my favorite tool, because I always get it flipped around and forget which side I’m using.

measuring gauge

Use an an adjustable sewing gauge.

sewing gauge

A note on units: I do most of my measuring and pattern drafting in metric, despite the fact that I live in the US and think in inches and feet. Math is so much easier with metric units! However, I almost always add seam allowances after I’m done measuring and calculating, so I add seam allowances in fractions of an inch since all of my sewing machines and gridded rulers are marked in eighth-inch increments.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

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