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Nov 6

Sewing room tools, Part 1: Measuring and drafting

Love numbers or hate ’em, we all know we can’t sew if we can’t use a ruler. So, this week let’s talk about measuring tools. The types are numerous, and here I’ll show you what I have in my collection and what I use them for.

There are plenty of others out there, and if you have one you love that I didn’t cover, please leave a comment telling us about it.

The tools

This is my 2″x18″ clear ruler. I think this is my most-used measuring tool. You can get these pretty much anywhere. They are often found with the quilting notions. Some are soft and bendy. Mine is hard. Either way, they are invaluable. I use them for everything from drafting a pattern to measuring hems. Because it’s see-through, you can do so much with it.
This is a 6″x24″ quilting ruler. It’s great for all kinds of uses. It also has diagonal bias markings. If you are using a rotary cutter, you can use this ruler as your guide to run the cutter up the fabric.

I do some quilting, but I do other sewing more, and I still find many uses for my quilting notions.

This is a 6-1/2″ square quilting ruler. Also clear, its grid comes in handy for a multitude of jobs. It certainly helps you measure out a nice square of many sizes. Made of hard plastic, it can be used with a rotary cutter.
Yard stick. A nice long measuring device that goes up to 36 inches. They are inexpensive and a must to have on hand, but I don’t always trust that it’s going to give a nice straight line because they often seem cheaply made. They do the trick for most projects, but if I draw a particularly long line using it, I often double check with a better-made ruler.
This is a vary form curve. It’s got ruler markings and a nice bend to it to help with curved areas of patterns, such as armholes. Pattern drafting supplies like this aren’t found any old place. You can search online and buy them from pattern supply stores like SouthStar Supply. When I took some patternmaking classes, that is the place that was recommended by the instructor.
This is a hip curve stick. It’s also great for making curved parts of patterns, such as the side of a skirt. Between the curve stick and the vary form, you can usually get just the bend you need.
The L-square ruler is made of durable metal and helps you get a perfect square. Oh, sure, sometimes I try to just use the 2×18″ ruler for that, but if I check it against the L-square, it’s often not accurate. This ruler has markings radiating from each direction, meeting at the corner.
I don’t know the official name of this, but I call it a “bendy ruler.” It is exactly that: a ruler that can bend this way and that. It’s great for measuring curves and is often more accurate than a tape measure because it stays put.
Tape measure. I suppose we’ve all got one of these, right? They are especially useful for measuring around body parts.
Sliding gauge ruler. This is a short 6-incher with a slider on it. It helps you make accurate measurements around, say, a hem. Just line up the slider right where you want it and mark all the way around the edge.
French curves. These are found in art stores. You can use the various curves, rotating to find that perfect fit. Again, these are useful in patternmaking for any curved area, like the vary form curve but smaller.
Triangles, to help you make perfect, squared-off corners, like the L-square but on a small scale.
Protractor. OK, I never use this. I’m not even sure why I have it with my measuring tools. If someone has any tips on how this could be useful for sewing, please comment below!
So, how do I store all of these devices? I simply hang the large ones on a nail next to my table. The rest I keep inside my sewing table in bins or in the caddy on top. It’s sometimes a pain when I need the one closest to the wall (and that’s always the one I need!) but I only have 1/3 of a room for my sewing area, so I have to be very “compact.”
There are, of course, lots and lots of other measuring tools out there. I’ve always been interested in the hem rulers, but never invested in one. If you have a favorite, please share it in the comments section!

Stay tuned for other sewing tool posts.

  • thanks, great idea for a blog! I have a plastic ruler that I picked up from a sale bin, because I thought it would be a useful thing, but I’m not sure that I’m using it correctly or getting the most out of it, perhaps you can help?

    It’s similar to your vary form curve in shape, kind of tear-drop, but with one edge an 11″ long straight-edge, and the other side has the curve, marked with a 15″ increments. It is thin, flexible plastic, and reads on one side “use this side to draw the armhole and neckline for the front pattern”, and the other side “use…for the back pattern”. It has a cut-out curved piece in the middle that I’m not sure what it’s for, and along the outside curve are some dots and arrows that I’m supposed to match up with underarm center openings, for sleeveless or with sleeves…
    The ruler didn’t come with much instruction beyond what is printed on the ruler itself, and I think that this device must be infinitely useful, if I could only figure it out! I’ve used it when drawing armholes, but it didn’t make sense to point arrows and match dots and I can’t help but feel that I’m missing something…?? It would be awesome if you or maybe one of your readers knows about this type of ruler and could give me some insight on how to get the most out of it! thanks again! 🙂

  • I would be lost without my drafter T-Square.. I have a a few in various sizes, up to
    4 foot, works great with or without a large cutting mat.

    I also have a ruler that you can use to make up to 12″ circles down to 1/8″circles.

  • Barbara Erwin

    “Protractor: … how to use. I would also appreciate the thinking behind this and how to use it. I have one and it has come in handy to make perfect circles. Of course I know that is NOT what it is really for.

    Any others know what to do with it?


  • Barbara Erwin

    “bendy ruler” … I think you call that a Bendable Drawing Curve. I have come across this in a catalog but never purchased one.

  • Barbara Erwin

    “Form Curve” … once again I have one of these but never figured out how to really use it. Maybe you could show us how it is meant to use.

    I love buying new “tools” thinking they will help with my sewing. Maybe they would if I knew how to use. them.

  • Barbara Erwin

    It’s me AGAIN! One of my favorite if you make pillows is the “Pillow Template”. They are great!

  • admin

    I’m not sure. Could you send a photo? It sounds like it’s just for making armholes in pattern drafting, which vary from the front of the pattern to the back. But I’ve never used one. I’m trying to remember back to the couple of pattern drafting courses I took. I actually know a patternmaker (she lives in the same city I do, but I’ve only talked to her online. She runs this amazing site: and could ask her if you send a picture to me.

  • Marlece White

    The Protractor: Because of my sloping shoulders, the protractor is really excellent for making shoulder pads.

  • Pingback: Sewing room tools, Part 2: Marking « Warehouse Fabrics Inc Blog()

  • disqus_agvy9fEbJg

    SouthStar Supply Company offers the vary form curve in seven sizes. Which one do you recommend for patternmaking?

  • Robyn

    Sorry for the delay in response. We just implemented a new commenting system and it didn’t notify me of new comments.
    I’m afraid I don’t really know the answer to that; I don’t have tons of patternmaking experience — just a few classes. Mine is 18″ and I believe it was the same as the one they had in my classes.
    A great site for pattern design is Fashion Incubator.

  • bionedd

    Protractor. an be useful when measuring angles when drafting.

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