Check the Tools!

by Ramona on June 9, 2015

As I work on the next series for the ASG website, it reminded me of something I wanted to pass along to you.

Picture4When working with patterns, whether drafting from measurements or altering a commercial pattern, many measurement tools are used: French curve, tape measure, 36” ruler, L square, cutting board, etc. Because these tools are manufactured there can be variations in their accuracy one to the other.

Long ago, while working in my custom dressmaking business, I came across the issue of measurement variations with tools while doing some work for a client. I had taken her measurements using the cloth tape measure. When I altered the pattern she had given me I used a fiberglass tape measure, the cutting board, and the ruler side of the French curve. I don’t remember exactly how it occurred, but while double checking measurements before cutting the fabric (you know—the good old rule of measure twice, cut once) I found I was a good ½” off (really 1” because the fabric was folded in half) and thought I had paid great attention to detail in measuring for accuracy. I remember re-measuring, then checking and checking yet again coming up with different measurements.

I recalled having measured with a cloth tape measure but working the pattern with the French curve ruler and fiberglass tape measure. I had come up with different measurements between the three tools. I laid all three, one atop the other so all the measurement increments were visible, and discovered to my astonishment that all three tools had different increment marks! It was astonishing to me this had never been mentioned in all the schooling I’d had (or maybe it was and I happened to be absent those days).

Take a look at the differences in the current tools I use.

Picture1Here is a photo of the cutting board with the fiberglass tape measure on top. I removed the metal tab at the beginning of the tape measure so I could lay the edge of the tape measure right at the beginning mark on the cutting board. At the 1” mark on the cutting board, the tape measure is slightly less. But at 18” take a look. The tape measure is almost 3/8” longer than the same mark on the cutting board! Needless to say, I never use a printed cutting board for measurements but only use the grids for aligning fabric.

 

Picture2Now compare the wooden yardstick to the cutting board. The same type of thing except the yardstick is only about 1/8” longer; not as much as the tape measure but still enough to make a difference.

 

 

Picture3And here is the tape measure compared to the yardstick. In the beginning the measurements are accurate but then at about the 3” mark it starts to vary. At the 19” mark it is off about 1/8” or so.

The moral of this story? Check the tools being used for pattern alteration one against the other for accuracy—all those 1/8”s add up either positively or negatively! You don’t want a surprise during fitting of having an inch less fabric (or more) than you planned on for ease. Usually, but not always, the more expensive the tool the more accurate the tools will be. Do check every single one, though, and be consistent in using the same tape measure that is used in taking body measurements for the pattern alterations.

Sew ’til next time…enjoy the journey of sewing!

~Ramona

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