For anyone who constructs items where accuracy is key, whether houses, furniture or silk suits, the old proverb, “measure twice, cut once,” rings true. New and improved measuring tools are constantly being invented, but all sewers should have a few basic, classic implements close to hand. Most of these have withstood the test of time and are available in any fabric shop.
Made of flexible cloth or plastic, these 60-inch measuring ribbons are marked with inches on one side and centimeters on the other. The standard width is 5/8-inch, but they can be found in longer lengths. They come with metal tips on each end to keep them from fraying, and are useful for measuring the human figure as well as lengths of cloth. While specialized measuring tools are available for the sewer, this one item can cover most of the bases, measuring everything from windows to hems.
Second only to the tape measure in the amount of use it will get, the sewing gauge, or seam gauge, is a short, 6-inch ruler with a sliding marker and notches on one side. Made of plastic or metal, the sewer can set the marker at the desired width of a seam and ensure that the seam stays an even width. Most useful where short distances are involved, such as seam allowances, buttonholes, pleats and hems, it is marked in inches on one edge and centimeters on the opposite edge.
An ordinary clear plastic or acrylic ruler, either 12 or 18 inches long, is a very useful item to have in your sewing basket. Use it for drawing straight lines to mark seams or cutting lines. It is easier to use a hard-edge ruler to check that your pattern pieces are on the straight grain of the fabric than it is to use the flexible tape measure. A ruler is helpful for sewing garments, but is essential if you do any quilting.
For those who frequently make skirts and dresses, a hem marker is a wise investment. This device has an upright post and slider, with a base that sits on the floor. The model, wearing shoes and the garment to be hemmed, stands next to it while the seamstress adjusts the slider to the hem's correct distance from the floor. A bulb squeeze shoots a puff of chalk, marking the hem line. Another version of a hem marker is a yardstick on a stand with a movable slot allowing pins to be placed to mark the hemline.