Measuring accurately is very important to achieve the best fitting pattern or corset from the start. Even if you have never taken your measurements before, all that is required is a little time and care and a friend who is willing to help. When in doubt double-check, or even triple-check. Take the extra time, because if the measurements are not accurate you can spend all the time you want on a pattern and your corset won’t fit when you’re done, or will require a lot of modifications from the mock-up stage.
Most custom corset makers will use their own set of measurements, so if you are purchasing a corset look for the directions provided by the maker or retailer. I am providing these instructions to show which measurements I use for my own sewing and why, in case they will be helpful to others, and as a reference for anyone drafting or modifying patterns based upon my tutorials.
Wear clothing that is skin-tight so the measurements will match your body, not your clothes. Also wear a comfortable brassier. When you are taking the measurements stand with your feet square to your body and in a straight, relaxed posture. Your posture does change your measurements, as does twisting the torso. This is why it is critical that a second person take your measurements.
You will need a measuring tape for sewing or tailoring, available at any fabric or craft store, and most drug stores. If you wish to mark the locations where you take the measurements, masking tape usually works best. You’ll also need a pen and paper to write down the measurements.
For all measurements the tape should be held barely snug, not tight. Vertical measurements are taken relative to the underbust because it is usually an easier level to keep track of than the exact position of the waist.
- Bust Circumference – This measurement should be taken at the fullest part of the bust, which is usually across the nipples. This measurement is only used on overbust style corsets.
- Underbust Circumference – This measurement should be taken directly under the bust. If your bra has an underwire, you may want to remove the bra for this measurement.
- Lowest Rib Circumference – This measurement should be taken at the height of the lowest part of your rib cage. To find the bottom of your rib cage, run your hand down your side and follow your ribs down towards your kidneys. If you are plus-sized it might be difficult to find, so take the measurement roughly where you think it is or ignore it altogether. This measurement is important on thinner individuals, because it helps prevent uncomfortable pinching of the rib cage.
- Smallest Waist Circumference – This is the place where your torso is smallest in circumference. Depending upon your body type and weight, it is possible that the smallest waist will be anywhere from just below the underbust to a bit below the lowest rib measure. If you have no visually definable waist ignore this measurement and just use your Natural Waist instead.
*) Natural Waist Circumference (not on diagrams) – To find your natural waistline stand straight up with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lean to the side and put your finger where your torso bends. Do the same to the other side, and repeat until you are certain of the location. Take the circumference and distance measurements at this height on your torso.
- Point of Hip Circumference – This is the circumference of the torso at the top of the pelvis. If you feel along the top of your pelvis at your side, as you move your hand forward you’ll find a bit of a higher spot at the forward edge, called the iliac crest. This is important because the pelvis is solid, so on thinner individuals the hip spring must be sufficient to allow room for the bones without pinching. It is not as important on more ample individuals who have significant padding over this area. Take the circumference and distance measurements at this height.
- Hip Circumference – This is not necessarily your full hip measurement. When standing, lift your leg and place your finger where the leg articulates into the pelvis. Take the hip measurement at this height.
- Bust-to-Underbust Distance – This is the vertical distance from the bust to underbust, taken to the side of the bust or under the armpit. This measurement is only used for overbust style corsets.
- Underbust-to-Rib Distance – This is the vertical distance from the underbust to where the lowest rib measurement was taken. Along the side is usually the easiest place to take an accurate measurement, but on some people the front of the torso will work better.
- Underbust-to-Smallest-Waist Distance – This is the vertical distance from the underbust to smallest waist.
*) Underbust-to-Natural-Waist Distance (not on diagrams) – This is the vertical distance from the underbust to natural waist.
- Underbust-to-Point-of-Hip Distance – This is the vertical distance from the underbust to the highest part of the pelvis.
- Underbust-to-Hip Distance – This is the vertical distance from the underbust to the articulation point of the hip joint. Some makers refer to this as the lap length. Your corset needs to be slightly shorter than this from under the center of the bust or you won’t be able to sit down.
You want your finished corset to be barely snug at the top and bottom, thereby avoiding muffin-top or looking like an overstuffed sausage. You will want some waist reduction or the corset will shift and chafe when worn, but exactly how much is comfortable will vary from person to person. 10% is typical for a light-lace corset, and usually a safe number for a first-time corset. I also strongly advise leaving a 2”-3” gap in the back for fit adjustments when wearing, but some people prefer no gap. This is entirely personal preference.
The waist of your corset should fall somewhere between your natural waist and smallest waist. If you place the waist of the corset lower than your natural waist, as you move around the corset will have a tendency to try and travel to your natural waist. However, if the waist of the corset is at your natural waist and your smallest waist is significantly smaller, the uneven compression can cause discomfort and the corset may travel towards the smallest waist. In general, I favor the natural waist unless the smallest waist is much smaller. If you can’t decide, put it half-way between and reduce the waist measurement based on the larger waist.
If you are making your own corset, after wearing your creation a couple times you will have a better feeling for how your body wears a corset and what might help your next corset be more comfortable.