In sewing, we do a lot of measuring! Measuring bodies, pattern pieces, fabric, and more. So you’ll need the right tools for the job.
If you’re new to sewing, the only measuring tools you need are a flexible 60″ (150cm) tape measure, a 6″ seam/sewing gauge, and a 12″ (30cm) straight ruler that’s ideally clear. If you want to quilt, you’ll also need a 6″ x 24″ quilting ruler and cutting mat that’s at least 21″ big. If you want to explore pattern making, you’ll need a pattern master or fashion ruler too.
1. Flexible Tape Measure
What is it? And what’s it used for? A tape measure is a flexible, usually plastic or vinyl tape that has metric and / or imperial markings on both sides of it. It’s great for taking measurements of your body, as well as measuring curved areas on your pattern, sewing project, or completed garment. The standard versions you’ll find are 150 cm / 60” long, but there are also extra-long models that go up to 240 cm / 96”. There are also retractable ones where you push a button and the tape gets neatly rolled up inside a plastic casing.
Which tape measure do you recommend? I’ve owned a few tape measures over the years, but my favorite one by far is my current Hoechstmass Rollfix. It’s durable, it doesn’t stretch out or rub out easily, and the retractable mechanism makes life so much easier. It comes in metric only or metric / imperial combination versions.
Tip: Tape measures can stretch out with use, so measure your tape measure with a hard ruler a few times a year. Using a stretched out measuring tape will give you inaccurate measurements, causing a lot of potential heartbreak at the end of your sewing project!
2. Flexible Ruler
What is it? And what’s it used for? A flexible ruler is a measuring tool that’s normally made from pliable plastic that can be bent and shaped over and over. It’s great for measuring curved areas, as it will easily conform to their shape and retain the bends you put in. You can also use it to see if different curves on your pattern match up with each other, like the length of a neckline and collar that should fit together. It’s also commonly used to record your crotch length and shape when patternmaking.
Which flexible ruler do you recommend? This 20” / 50 cm flexible ruler from Prym has metric measurements on one side and imperial measurements on the other. It’s flexible and it keeps its shape until you change or straighten it. This version from Goldstar comes in 4 different lengths from 12” to 24”.
3. Measuring Gauge
What is it? And what’s it used for? A measuring gauge is a metal, wooden, or plastic tool with a unique shape that allows you to easily reference common measurements like ⅜” (1 cm) or ⅝” (1.6 cm). It’s essentially shaped like a rectangle with other rectangular shaped branches coming out of it, with each of the straight sides measuring the marked amounts. The most common version has 14 measurements in one tool, ranging from ⅛” to 2”. It’s really handy for quickly measuring seam allowances and marking the placement of hems, buttons, and stitching lines.
Which measuring gauge do you recommend? This Dritz one is a popular one made from metal. I recommend getting a metal or wood one so you can safely use it around your iron. Plastic ones may melt. This wooden one from Arrow Mountain is an alternative version that has a rectangular shape, metric and imperial measurements, and two different versions for left and right handed users.
4. Seam / Sewing Gauge
What is it? And what’s it used for? A seam gauge is a metal or plastic measuring tool with a sliding marker attached to it. It’s marked in inches on one side, and centimeters on the other. You can slide the marker to your desired measurement and easily mark it on multiple points on your pattern or fabric. It’s great for marking seam allowances, hem allowances, button placements, and for quickly converting small measurements between metric and imperial systems.
Which seam / sewing gauge do you recommend? I recommend getting the classic 6” metal one so you can use it alongside your iron. Many brands manufacture this exact design, but the Dritz one is a good, reliable, and affordable option.
5. Quilting Rulers
What is it? And what’s it used for? Quilting rulers are clear plastic measuring tools that come in a variety of shapes like rectangles, squares, or triangles. They have a metric or imperial grid printed on them, allowing you to measure and mark different points on your pattern or fabric with ease. They also have a few commonly used angles marked on them, like 30, 45, and 60 degrees. They’re great for making quilts as their name suggests, but I also love using them for pattern making.
Quilting rulers are also commonly used with a rotary cutter to slice fabric in straight lines. Size 6″ x 24″ is great for making long cuts. It’s big enough to cut 44″ (110cm) wide quilting fabric (folded in half) in one go.
Which quilting rulers do you recommend? I have two that I use all the time, both from the brand OmniGrid. One is a 45 x 10 cm rectangular one (18″ x 4″), and the other is a 15 x 3 cm rectangular one (6″ x 1″). The larger one is perfect for drafting and modifying patterns, and the smaller one is really handy for quickly measuring and marking hem allowances, seam allowances, and stitching lines on my sewing projects.
6. Hem Gauge
What is it? And what’s it used for? A hem gauge is a metal measuring tool with common hemming allowances marked onto it. To use it, you fold your hem allowance up to the desired mark and press it into place. It allows you to quickly mark and press an accurate hem line. You can also use it to turn in and press the seam allowances on patch pockets, collar stands, cuffs, waistbands, and so on.
Which hem gauge do you recommend? The Dritz EZY-Hem Gauge is the classic example of this tool. It has a curved side, making it easier to hem curved lines in skirts, dresses, or shirts.
7. Heat Resistant Rulers
What is it? And what’s it used for? Heat resistant rulers are measuring tools made from heat-safe felt material with measurements printed on them. They look like a cross between a measuring gauge and a hem gauge, and you can use them in the same ways: simply fold your hem or seam allowance up over the tool and press with your iron.
Which heat resistant ruler do you recommend? Clover’s heat resistant ruler is 5” x 6”, resistant to heat up to 428F / 220C, and it’s made from a non-slip material that prevents your fabric from shifting around during use.
8. Expanding Sewing Gauge
What is it? And what’s it used for? An expanding sewing gauge is a metal measuring tool that lets you mark evenly spaced increments between two points of your choosing. It’s most commonly used to mark button / buttonhole placements, pleats, smocking, and shirring guidelines.
Which expanding sewing gauge do you recommend? The Simflex expanding sewing gauge is a classic, well-reviewed model that can expand up to 24”. It has 8 arms, making it perfect for marking button placements on shirts.
9. Cutting Mat
What is it? And what’s it used for? A cutting mat is a cutting surface used to protect your furniture from getting damaged by cutting tools like rotary cutters, craft knives, and Xacto blades. It also has a metric, imperial, or combination grid printed on it, so you can use it to quickly measure your fabric. It’s especially handy for quilting purposes.
Which cutting mat do you recommend? I bought a relatively inexpensive one when I suddenly found myself in need of a cutting mat last year, and while it serves its purpose in protecting my table from scratches, it started losing chunks of its supposedly self-healing coating. I’d recommend getting the biggest one you can get, as having a large continuous surface is really helpful when measuring and cutting. If you’re interested in quilting, 21” is as small as you want to go. Quilting fabric is normally 42” wide, so you’ll have enough room for it as long as you fold the fabric in half.
For Pattern Making:
10. Fashion Ruler or Pattern Master
What is it? And what’s it used for? A fashion ruler is a measuring tool that’s specially designed for pattern making. It’s straight on one side and curved on the other, with measurements marked on either side. The curved side can be used to draft or alter hip curves, vertical shaping seams (like princess seams), crotch curves, necklines, armholes, and other curved areas on patterns. The pattern master is a similar tool with a slightly different shape.
Which fashion ruler / pattern master do you recommend? The Dritz Styling Design Ruler is a popular pick among pattern makers due to its versatility. It also comes with instructions on how to perform common adjustments using this ruler.
11. French Curve Ruler / Armhole Ruler
What is it? And what’s it used for? An armhole ruler or French curve ruler is a medium-sized, really curvy ruler that contains a few different curves in one. It’s used for drawing the curves on armholes and sleeve caps.
Which french curve / armhole ruler do you recommend? I have a basic wooden armhole curve and it does its job very well.
12. French Curves
What is it? And what’s it used for? French curves are a set of (usually) three rulers that have lots of different curved sections in them. Unlike an armhole curve or a hip curve, they’re not specifically designed for pattern making, but they can be useful in achieving a smooth curve in the armholes, necklines, or other small, curved areas and shapes.
13. Hip Curve
What is it? And what’s it used for? A hip curve is a long, gently curved ruler. It’s used to draw the side seams on trousers and skirts, and draw curved hems on shirts, skirts, dresses, or coats. They can be made out of wood, plastic, or metal, and come with or without measurements printed on them.
Which hip curve do you recommend? I have a basic wooden one that doesn’t have measurements printed on it, and it serves me well. I find that I don’t need measurements on my hip curve, because I exclusively use it to create a consistent curve on my pattern drafts.
14. Curve Runner
What is it? And what’s it used for? A curve runner is a measuring tool with a clear plastic wheel attached to a handle. There are measurements marked on the wheel, allowing you to measure the length of irregular shapes and curves. It’s a great tool for making sure two curved seams that are going to be sewn together match in length, like a neckline and a collar stand, or an armhole and the sleeve that should fit into it.
Which curve runner do you recommend? The Curve Runner from Crafty Gemini is a good option. It has a 12” clear acrylic wheel.
15. Normal Ruler
What is it? And what’s it used for? A normal straight ruler can be made from plastic, metal, or wood, and come in a variety of lengths. They’re great for measuring straight lines on patterns, as well as marking short to medium sized lengths on fabric.
Which ruler do you recommend? I recommend getting a 12” / 30 cm long metal ruler with both metric and imperial measurements marked on it for everyday use.
16. Clear Ruler
What is it? And what’s it used for? A clear ruler with a grid of metric or imperial measurements is really helpful for pattern drafting. It can be used to draw parallel lines, add or remove seam allowances, and accurately get right angles. Quilting rulers are examples of clear rulers, and they can be used in a pattern drafting context as well.
17. Yard Stick
What is it? And what’s it used for? A yard stick is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a yard-long (36”) ruler made from wood, plastic, or metal. It’s used to measure fabric and draw long straight lines onto paper or fabric. The metric version of this tool is called a meter stick, and it’s 1 m / 100 cm long.
Which yard stick do you recommend? I have a wooden meter stick that was passed down to me from my grandmother, and it’s great at doing its job. If you’re looking to buy one new, I recommend getting a sturdy, thin, metal one as it’s easier to take accurate measurements using metal ones.
18. L-Square Ruler
What is it? And what’s it used for? An L-Square ruler is an L-shaped ruler with a perfect right angle and measurements marked on both ‘legs’. It’s used in pattern making to get an exact right angle when constructing the frame of a draft, so that the finished pattern will be well balanced and won’t twist on your body. It can also be used to make sure your fabric hasn’t warped in storage, or to see if you have successfully blocked your warped fabric back into shape. Another use for it is to get your crotch measurements more easily.
Which L-square ruler do you recommend? I recommend getting a metal one that’s medium-sized, like this 12”-20” one from Fairgate.
19. Triangle Quilting Ruler
What is it? And what’s it used for? A triangle ruler is a clear ruler that’s shaped like a triangle. It’s used for getting 45 and 90 degree angles when drafting patterns. It can also be used to mark fabric when making bias tape, thanks to its 45 degree angled side. It’s often used in quilting to trim triangle blocks to the right size.
What to read next:
- Quilting Supplies for Beginners & Beyond (Tested)
- Cutting Tools for Sewing Explained (Names, Pics, Uses)
- Types of Sewing Thread & When to Use Them
This article was written by Nisan Aktürk and edited by Sara Maker.
Nisan Aktürk (author)
Nisan started her sewing journey in December 2019 and already has a fully handmade wardrobe. She’s made 50+ trousers, 20+ buttoned shirts, and a wide array of coats, jackets, t-shirts, and jeans. She’s currently studying for her Sociology Master’s degree and is writing a thesis about sewing. So she spends a lot of her time either sewing or thinking/writing about sewing! Read more…