Drawings + Measuring: The Basics of Sewing


We’ll begin this course with a little debunking of the myths being perpetuated about what we are and aren’t capable of. The first two complaints I hear when teaching how to make clothes:

“ I don’t know how to draw!”

“I’m bad at math”

Ok. Let’s dissect these before we get started, because I’m sick of these lies.

I dont know how to draw - Drawing is not something to “know” it is something you do. We are not looking for museum quality sketches, we are just slowly but surely training our hands and our eyes to work in tandem with one another. You have a eraser. Make a mark, if it isn’t right, erase it and try again. Stop expecting it to be perfect, and just try it out for freak’s sake.

I’m bad at math - Do not allow your resistance to math affect your ability to create. I got a D in algebra, a C- in geometry, and haven’t taken a math class since 11th grade. We are only working with addition and subtraction, think of it as brushing up on your math skills that will help you out in other areas of life.

You are free to use a calculator, I will not judge (though I suggest using a calculator not on your phone, unless you are highly skilled at not getting sucked into every other app on your phone, in which case teach me your ways sensei). Occasionally, we will use fractions. Don’t get scared! I find keeping a notebook nearby to record details on measurements, additions, etc. make it way easier, which brings us into our next topic…


As a person who regularly has 5-10 notebooks currently being written it, I need very little motivation to designate a new sketchbook for new projects! I recognize that most people don’t share this obsession, so I’ve presented some ideas of what your notebook can be.

Spiral bound sketchbook - I love spiral bound because I can flip the pages back and take up less room on my desk as I work out new designs and patterns. Lines are fine, you may want to cut out plain paper and tape it on to do drawings on. I personally love the dot grid, because I can draw freely, symmetrically even, and also keep my writing in order.

Three ring binder - you’ll need a hole punch for this, but it’s great because you can organize by garment style or by date, and print out or cut inspiration out of magazines, hole punch and stick it in. You can also switch between lined and unlined paper, use those neat little dividers to get hyper organized, and change the order as you wish.

D-I-Y notebook - take a stack of paper. Fold it in half. Staple on the fold. Voila - the most affordable option that requires nothing but a trip to the copier at your nearest office building.

What to Keep in your Notebook

First page should be your own measurements (see downloadable worksheet: My Measurements)

You can add pages with measurements of some of your favorite garments for quick reference (draw a sketch and then write the measurements right on it YES YOU CAN DRAW)

Each new style gets its own page, with a drawing of the style, the pattern pieces that are needed, a scrap of the fabric you’re using taped in, recording any measurements you may need later (do not be tempted by the voice in the back of your head saying “eh, I’ll remember it later” trust me, you will NOT remember it later). Include any trims, elastic, zippers, and the sizes of these trims as well. (see downloadable worksheet: My Creations)

Ok! Now lets step into the not-emotionally-sensitive-at-all territory of measuring our own bodies!


While it’s super helpful to create clothes based on garments in my closet that already fit you, it is incredibly supportive to know how to measure directly from your body, and recognize how your body differs from the “standard.” 

Do this with kindness and appreciation for what makes you different!!

It can be easy to look at our bodies and assume all the ways we are different are all the ways we are wrong, but really, it’s just different. Some part of you may stick out more, like your shoulders or your belly or your upper thighs, and some areas may be flatter than average - like your bust or your hips or your calves.

This is not a time to think about FIXING these parts, this is a time to think about FITTING these parts!! The whole point of making your own clothes is so that you can feel beautiful and well dressed in the body you have right now, and throw out all the societal expectations and shame around your shape.  

Go ahead and download the MY MEASUREMENTS worksheet and get out your measuring tape!

USING YOUR MEASURING TAPE: To measure, keep the tape nice and horizontal, but do not pull it tight. It should sit on the skin without cutting in.

If your measuring tape is all bent and wonky from being in a junk drawer for years and won’t lie flat on the body, it can be easier to use a ribbon, pinning and marking the beginning and end of where it wraps the form, then measuring this ribbon with the tape pulled taught.

BASIC BODY MEASUREMENTS: If you’ve ever been fitted for a bra or a suit, you’ll notice the measurement is taken at the fullest part of your chest, usually around the nipple, to get the bust measurement you’ll be doing the same. This ensures you’re making the top part of the garment big enough to fit over the most ample parts of your top.

Now take the waist measurement at the narrowest part between your bust and your hip. If your body does not narrow at the waist, that is totes OK, just record the measurement around your bellybutton. If this waistline is higher or lower than average (you’ll know this because of how clothes don’t fit right in this area) make note of how you’d like the garments you make to be different than the ones you find in stores. Viva La Resistance!

Next take your measurement at the fullest point of the hip. You can find this fullness by looking in a mirror straight on. Where does your hip stick out the furthest at the side? Ok, now measure around this part. Just to be sure… turn to the side. Where does your butt stick out the furthest? Measure this as well. Choose the larger of these two measurements.


Before cutting or sewing or even getting out paper to make a pattern, you’ll want to draw the garment you want to make. You can draw this as a flat garment, what it would look like laying on the ground, but it can also help to draw what it would look like on the body. This sketch is known in the industry as a “Croquis” There are programs like My Body Model (not sponsored I just like what they’ve done) that take your measurements and create a lifelike sketch of your actual body.

Hooray to forgoing the unrealistically tall shapes of traditional fashion sketches!!

Hooray to celebrating our different bodies!!

Hooray to fitting the shapes we have!!

Okay, now on to some basic concepts to be considered when creating garments…

#1 beginner mistake - sewing something you can’t get on the body. When designing a new garment, think about how you’ll get the garment on - are all parts of it wide enough to fit over your shoulders or waist? this is especially important in the waistline, where in slimmer garments you may have the urge make the garment narrower in the waist - before you do this think, do i want to sew a zipper in this, or add buttons? Or could I achieve this waist nipping appearance with details such as a tie, or an elastic tunnel, which are both way simpler and less time consuming than zippers or buttons?


CENTER FRONT - guess where this is located?

EASE - Another important point of making your own clothes is being comfortable! No one likes feeling like they’re stuffed into a piece of clothing, and that is where the concept of EASE comes in.

In patternmaking, ease refers to the extra inches added on to a pattern to make room for movement. We are well past the age of the corset, and we need to MOVE in our garments, so add ease!

What this means is, even if your bust and waist are at a certain measurement, even if you are making a super fitted garment you still want to add at least a 1/4 inch extra to the pattern width. Think of it as room to breathe.

High Point Shoulder - or HPS. this is an 

christi johnson