Measuring Body Width

Body width measurements aren’t commonly used when altering sewing patterns or patternmaking, but they do come up occasionally. I’ve used body width when drafting pants and locating princess seams. The problem is, how do you accurately measure body width? I checked to see if there is a tool for this and found a body caliper, which would not be long enough to measure larger people, and this expensive tree caliper, but neither were viable solutions for me.

In Kenneth King’s Jean-ius Craftsy class, he uses two L-squares attached together with rubber bands to measure body width. I have one L-square, and I looked into ordering another one, but I couldn’t find the exact model number I had, and I was afraid the width would be different on another model and it wouldn’t fit together with the one I had. Pattern drafting L-squares are fairly expensive, so I certainly wouldn’t want to buy two more. Carpenter’s squares are less expensive, so buying two matching ones would be another option (but I already found other solutions that didn’t cost me anything).

Here’s a picture to give you an idea of how the L-squares go together. There is an imaginary light blue L-square behind the real one, and they are held together with hair bands. I tried using rubber bands, but the sharp edge of my square broke them immediately. You adjust the L-squares to match the width you are measuring, then set down the squares on a table and measure the distance between them with another ruler or a tape measure.

I decided to try to find a solution that wouldn’t require me to buy additional tools. I remembered seeing body width measured with a ruler held up to an L-square:

I guess this works OK if you are measuring another person, but it’s hard to hold the ruler steady and keep it perpendicular to the square. If you want to take the measurement by reading the numbers on the square, you have to judge by eye that the ruler is held perpendicular to the square, then remember to subtract the width of the square. It’s also difficult to measure yourself this way. I thought about buying a T-square to use up against the L-square, but then it occurred to me that I could wrap some narrow elastic around the point where the ruler crosses the square. This would hold the ruler in place, but still allow it to slide back and forth. This worked well and allowed me to measure myself.

The elastic is wrapped tightly in a criss-cross pattern and pinned in place.

My L-square isn’t all that long, however, and I wanted to make sure I had an option for measuring wider people I might be sewing for. I tried using two rulers attached to a meter stick with elastic, and that worked, too.

After the measurement is taken on the body, you set down the rulers and measure the distance between them with another ruler or tape measure. Since the rulers will not be perfectly perpendicular to the meter stick, you have to be careful to measure the width at the same point where the rulers touched the body. I decided to always take the body width measurement at the ends of the rulers, just to be consistent.

At this point I had some viable options for measuring body widths, but I was annoyed at the thought of having my rulers literally tied up and having to take the elastic off to use them.

Since you don’t actually use the markings on the rulers, I found some wood scraps and made a semi-permanent body caliper, which I’m quite happy with. The nice thing about this solution is you can make it any size you want.

Update: Here’s a link showing another method of making body calipers out of cardboard. I haven’t tried this method, but it looks like it should work, too.

Posted in Patternmaking
3 comments on “Measuring Body Width
  1. […] are her formulas, if you want to try them. Waist width is measured as a straight line from side to side, not around the body. Measure out the calculated amount from the center line at […]


  2. Theresa Holt says:

    You are a Godsend. I read some many other sites trying to figure out what was meant exactly by “body width” and even more so how to figure out mine and they all made absolutely no sense or confused me even more (this included eHow btw)…Thank You So Much for your illustration and even more for your exact details for the people like me. You are MUCH appreciated!


  3. […] involve measuring body width or marking center points, and I wanted a better pair of calipers than I made a few years ago. Those ended up being too […]


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