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Essential Tools for the Garment Sewer: How to Use Curved Rulers

Anyone who makes clothing knows garment alterations are a normal part of the sewing process. As such, rulers are used to make adjustments wherever they may be.

But, since our bodies are built with an abundance of curves, typical straight rulers often can’t get the job done right.

Curved rule

Curved rulers can be used for both pattern drafting and fitting adjustments around the curvy parts of our bodies. But if you’ve never used one before they can be a bit intimidating.

There three main types of curved rulers for sewing garments.

Some are essential for pattern drafting while others are useful tools for pattern or fitting adjustments. Read on to know what type to use for all your alterations.

1. French curve ruler

The French curve is the most common curved ruler used for fashion design (it’s the translucent ruler shown above). It’s especially handy for making common fitting or pattern adjustments.

2. The hip curve

The hip curve is an essential tool for making pattern as well as fitting adjustments at, you guessed it, the hip line. The tool is also great for making adjustments at the hemline, for lapels and at the elbow. Anywhere a slight curve is needed, this is a good ruler to use.

This type of ruler is especially useful for making side-seam adjustments. Once a side seam is pinned to fit, use a hip curve to draw in the new seam line that the pin line has created. The ruler is unlikely to conform exactly to the curve of the pinned line, so it will likely require drawing in the new seam line in phases.

Using a hip curve ruler for side-seam adjustments:

  • Starting at the waist or underarm (for skirt/pant or dress) slide the ruler up and down along the pinned line until the curve of the ruler conforms to the pinned seam.
  • Make note of the numbered measurements at the beginning and end.
  • Move the ruler again to conform to the rest of the pinned seam, again noting the measurements. This is done to ensure both the left and right sides seams are drawn exactly the same.
Hip Curve & Styling Design Ruler

3. The fashion or styling-design curve

This is one of the most common curved rulers used by the home sewer. While it can be can be used to draft patterns, it’s more commonly used to make neckline, collar and sleeve cap adjustments. In addition, it’s a great tool to use for convert darts into princess seams and it too can be used for making side seam adjustments.

Converting Darts to Princess Seams

This is a great tool to use to record fitting standards. I record my favorite necklines. I use the ruler to measure the curve of necklines I like from either my commercially made garments or the ones I have made for myself.

This ensures your necklines fall right where you want them — not too low or too high or wide.

Recording Neckline Measurements

When it comes to altering sleeves this tool is essential. Once a garment armhole has been altered, adjusting the sleeve cap follows. Use this ruler to record the adjusted armhole measurement and then transfer those measurements to the sleeve cap to ensure a great fit.

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Hello, I have been looking high and low for the French Curved Ruler but the stores only carry 4 piece set which does not have anything like the one pictured above. Would you be kind enough to let me know where I can purchase the French Curve Ruler?
Thank you!!

Linda Reynolds

You can get any number of them along with all kinds of curved rulers from Amazon. Another source is – a fashion design supply site.


I got one at JoAnn Fabric


I have also been looking for the styling design ruler and hip curve ruler as shown in the pictures above. I have looked in your tools page and am very disappointed that you do not supply them. I live in Scotland UK and would like to obtain the rulers from a trusted site . Any help would be appreciated
Thank you


this is interesting, but it doesn’t show me where to place the arrow marked front arm hole and will this mark be my new cutting line or my stitching line? I’m using a commercial pattern that I need to make the shoulder and upper chest smaller


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