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My Favorite Measuring Tools For Sewing


My Favorite Measuring Tools

As you continue along your sewing journey, you’ll find that you need some basic measuring tools.  Accurately measuring and marking certain areas on your paper patterns, on your fabric, starting points for sewing, and ending points to stop sewing are all important for a successful outcome.

As I have mentioned in other posts, I don’t recommend that you go out and purchase all of the measuring tools that I suggest. Purchase what you absolutely need in the beginning, and then as you travel along your sewing journey and you find certain tools, or other items on sale, purchase what you can afford at the time.

Don’t worry, there’ll always be another sale along the way and then you can get the items you just “have to have!”

Square Quilting Rulers

NOTE: Even though my blog is not about quilting, sometimes I use and talk about using, items from the quilt-maker’s toolbox.  I’m starting with square quilting rulers because I use them in my sewing, as well. Square quilting rulers have come in handy for me to use in many different ways.  Here is a glimpse of some of the basics. 

Square Quilting Rulers

  • Square quilting rulers are marked with 1 inch grid lines, within which are markings for every 1/8 inch. These rulers are also used with a rotary cutter and mat made specifically to use with a rotary cutter. 

  • The larger quilter’s ruler is 12.5 inches square and is useful for cutting 12 inch (finished) blocks, with a 1/4 inch seam allowance included.  So, if you want your finished quilt square to measure 12 inches, the block is sewn with a 1/4 inch seam.  With four sides sewn at a 1/4 inch, your finished square comes out to be 12 inches.

  • The medium square ruler is 9.5 inches square.  Again, a 1/4 inch seam allowance is included.
  • The smaller square ruler is 6.5 inches square. You might be able to see in the photo that mine is taped to indicate 5 inch square cutting lines for making coasters that I have given as gifts. (Hmm… maybe we’ll have a tutorial on how that’s done in a future blog post!)

The really small, 6 inch X 1 inch ruler is also used for quilting, but I like to use it as a quick-check for seam allowances since the yellow marks are easy to see.

18 Inch Rotary Cutting Ruler

  • The 18 inch ruler with black markings is 3 inches wide.  It’s my go-to ruler to use when rotary-cutting fabric. 

  • This ruler has a “lip” on one end which makes it easy to hook onto the edge of my cutting mat, as you can see on the right end of the photo, which helps me to hold the ruler steady while I’m cutting with the rotary cutter.  That also helps me to be safer and I don’t have as much chance of cutting my fingers!

Fashion Ruler (A.K.A. French Curve)

French Curve Ruler Used in Sewing

  • The ruler with the curved end is a Fashion Ruler, also known as a French Curve.

  • The Fashion Ruler/French Curve is used primarily in pattern-drafting and is very helpful to get an accurate curve at the top of the sleeve (called the sleeve cap), and an accurate curve in the armhole (also called an armscye), when fitting the two together in a bodice or jacket.

  • Another good use for the Fashion Ruler that I have found is when I’m drafting a skirt pattern, especially in the hipline area.  It makes shaping the curve of the skirt easier, and I get a more accurate fit. 

  • When the hipline curve barely “skirts” that area, it creates a pretty draping of the fabric, giving a nicer fit in the garment.

Seam Gauge

The next three measuring tools are called seam gauges. They are extremely helpful to:

  • check the accuracy of a seam allowance while sewing (see photo to the right);

  • mark a seam allowance with a marking pen, pencil, or chalk;

  • mark a line across fabric, such as a hemline that needs to be shortened on a skirt or pant leg;

  • and mark a stitching line to help us sew straight.
    Seam gauges have a movable slider, with points on the outer ends, that allows you to set a specific measurement on the gauge. One, or both ends, of the gauge are straight across, such as on the black one pictured, enabling you to line up the seam gauge with the cut edge (raw edge), or a folded edge of fabric – as you can see in the photo here.Some seam gauges are metal, and some are plastic. In the photo, the black one and the blue one are both metal; the green one is plastic. Some have notches on one of the long sides to indicate 1 inch increments. The blue seam gauge pictured has a pointed end, which can be used as a point-turner, making it a multi-use tool.

Quilter’s Rule Seam Guide

  • The clear, black-marked ruler, called “Quilter’s Rule Seam Guide,” can be used for multi-purposes. It is 7 inches long and has 1/4 inch markings along one side edge.

  • The dashed lines on both of the long sides can take the place of a seam gauge. On one side, the dashed lines are 3/16 inch away from the outer edge.  On the other side, the dashed lines are 1/4 inch away from the outer edge.

  • This ruler can be used to line up the dashed line along a raw edge so a line can be drawn, either 1/4 inch away from the raw edge, or 3/16 inch away from the raw edge. Marked lines made in this manner can help when sewing 1/4 inch seam allowances, as well as any other time you need to draw a line 1/4 inch away from a raw edge.

Measuring Gauge

Measuring Gauge

  • The silver and the blue “Measuring Gauges” that look like they have multiple edges, have just that – multiple measuring lines. These are handy little measuring tools to have when you’re short on storage space.

  • These measuring gauges have measurements from 1/8 inch all the way up to 2 inches, with markings on both sides.

See-Thru Ruler

  • The “See-Thru Ruler” is 15 inches long X 4 1/8 inches wide. It has six slots through which a pen, pencil, or chalk line can be drawn 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, 5/8 inch, 3/4 inch and 1 inch away from a previously-drawn line. This ruler is useful when needing to draw longer lines a specific amount away from an adjoining line, with more accuracy.8ths Graph Ruler & See-Thru Ruler

8Ths Graph Ruler

  • The last ruler, an “8ths Graph Ruler,” is used primarily when draping cloth on a dress form, or body.  This ruler helps to turn a flat piece of fabric into a garment. It is more flexible than any of the others I’ve mentioned, and has markings as small as 1/32 inch inside of 1-inch sectioned gridlines. This ruler is 18 inches long X 2 inches wide.

  • I don’t use this ruler very often, because I don’t do much draping.  But sometimes it comes in handy when I need to mark small increments for curved lines on a garment pattern piece.

Flexible 60 Inch Tape Measure

Flexible 60 Inch Measuring Tape

The last of my favorite measuring tools is the flexible 60-inch tape measure that is used around the world. It has inch markings on one side and centimeter markings on the other side. Most people will recognize this measuring tool when it’s draped around a tailor’s or a dressmaker’s neck while fitting a garment on a customer or a model.  Some are also available in 120-inch lengths.

This has been a short introduction to some favorite measuring tools that I’ve found to be very useful in my sewing studio. I hope this post will help you understand more about how to use various types of measuring tools.

Be blessed, Be creative, Learn to Sew! “It’ll keep you in stitches!”

Sandy Davis, Certified Sewing Instructor, Your Sewing Coach

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