Clothing Construction: Terms, Basics & Methods

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll introduce some important terms and basic methods for sewing your own clothing. We'll discuss taking measurements, tips for an easier sewing process, and finishing touches for a professional look.

Wearable D.I.Y.

Have you ever loved an article of clothing but not its price tag? Looking at the garment, maybe you wished you could just make your own clothes, guaranteeing the exact fit and style you want. Well, the good news is that clothing construction is not as hard as you might think. Let's get familiar with some of the terms and basic processes involved. We'll also discuss a few tips to give your clothing a professional-looking finish.


The first step in any clothing construction process is taking measurements. Here are some of the most common measurements along the front of the torso. You can look up other parts of the body for yourself.

Measurement numbers match the numbered descriptions.

  1. Shoulder Length - measured from neckline to the end of the shoulder
  2. Neck - measured around the base of the neck
  3. Top Bust - measured around the torso, above the bust line, at the level of the armpit
  4. Bust - measured around the torso at the widest point of the bust, usually at the nipple
  5. Under Bust - measured around the torso just under the breast
  6. Waist - measured around the torso at the narrowest part of the waist
  7. High Hip - measured around the abdomen about 3-4 inches below the waistline
  8. Wrist - measure around the wrist joint
  9. Front Length - measured from the point where the neckline and shoulder line meet, across the front of the body to the waistline, positioned to cross over the top of the nipple
  10. Bicep - measured around the upper arm
  11. Arm Length - measured from the end of the shoulder to the wrist; elbow is slightly bent to allow movement in your garment
  12. Elbow - measured around the elbow joint
  13. Hips - measured around the body at the widest point of the hips
  14. Waist to Hip - measured along the side of the body from the waistline to the fullest part of the hip

Measurement numbers match the numbered descriptions.

Patterns, Fabrics, and Basic Construction

The measurements can either be used to create your own pattern, a template that guides the assembly of the garment's various fabric pieces, or to tailor a pre-made pattern from the store. Next, you need the right fabric. Often, store-bought patterns will recommend specific types of fabrics. You should follow these directions until you are familiar enough to start experimenting. However, you should always wash your fabric before you start sewing. This prevents color bleeding from the excess dye, removes chemicals that can irritate the skin, and reduces the risk of the garment shrinking after construction.

Notched Curve

Once you pin the pattern to the fabric, place your pins perpendicular to the seam to make it easier to remove them as you sew. You also might want to invest in a rotary cutter and a cutting mat. These tools make the cutting process much faster and easier. For curved pieces of fabric, try sewing a staystitch as soon as you cut to prevent unraveling and distortion. These stitches are placed about 1/8 inch from the line you will sew for a seam.

Finally, once you join two pieces, you should press the seams. You do this with an iron, pressing down but not moving it from side to side. Pressing will help set the seam and make the piece easier to work with, while moving the iron around could distort the fabric.

Press seams but don

Seam Finishes and Final Touches

On the outside, your clothing project might look fantastic, but if you really want to have a garment that looks professionally tailored, you need to do some finishing touches. The primary finishes you want will be seam finishes, where are a way to neatly stitch your seams so you don't have jagged, frayed edges on the inside of your clothing. Today, many garment makers use a serger to bind your seams with a series of loops and stitches. This makes the seams strong, but you also get a raised line on the inside of your clothes.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account