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Quick Tip: Deciphering The Marks on a Measuring Tape

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A few weeks back, we got an interesting email that kind of knocked us for a loop. It was someone needing help figuring out what all those tiny marks are on a standard tape measure. What?!?! We deal in fractions every day and are forever measuring quarters and eighths and sixteenths and whatnot. It's completely second nature to me, but when I stepped back and looked at my trusty tape with the eyes of someone brand new to sewing, I saw she was right... there are a lot of marks with no identification. So, we came up with a handy chart to help decipher those little black lines, and thought it would be a good tip to share with everyone.

Remember how scary it was to raise your hand in school and ask what you feared to be a 'stupid' question? Hopefully we've moved beyond that fear. Questions are great because they lead to answers, and answers are meant to be shared.

Be aware that some measuring tapes are divided all the way down to sixteenths, just like the chart below, but others are only divided down to eighths.

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Pass along this little chart to your new sewing friends, and remind them to always measure twice (or three or four times), then cut once.

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Comments (40)

AuntieSam said:
AuntieSam's picture

Thank you for posting this! I normally convert all my patterns into cm which is what I am used to. Now I can use this chart for help! Thanks a bunch!

Patricia Bertucci said:
Patricia Bertucci's picture

What a great idea to publish this tape measure explained clearly, I was flunked by the 7/8 of an inch until I saw this chart but I will have to redo some quilting squares again.

Good in all subjects but math said:
Good in all subjects but math's picture

I saved this picture guide awhile back and it really helped me learn it. The way the bubbles line up clarified what never sunk in in school. 

Tammy Jo Tanner said:
Tammy Jo Tanner's picture

Thank yo so much for this. I am not a sewer but I do make cards and sometime it calls for a cut of a 16th or 8th. I have to wait until my husband come's home to show me. He has been going to make me something like this for a little while now, well I can now tell him he don't have to because someone very nice asked the same question and you came up to the plate. Thank you again. Blessing on you all

Melanie Wayman said:
Melanie Wayman's picture

Now, for the other side of the tape, for centimetres? Is there one like it for this? I need this also! Thanks ahead of time. If you get one up, please email me,

Teni said:
Teni's picture

Centimetres are easy! I'm guessing you're somewhere that uses inches etc.? 

One centimetre (cm) = 10 millimetres (mm) so the ten notches are a mm each, middle one is 5mm, and so on and so forth. A hundred cm is one metre (m). It's all in tens, much easier than remembering all this nonsense with inches and feet and whatnot haha

Melanie Wayman said:
Melanie Wayman's picture

I've known for quite a while what most of the major marks are, but sometimes I've ran into funky instructions calling for these odd measurements. I usually have to get my dh or our son, or even sil to figure out the measurement I need.
Not anymore, thank you! I've copied it, and going to hang it in my sewing room, now there will never be another question abt it!!!

cpcstamper said:
cpcstamper's picture
Thank you Thank you I need this so very much. I bearly got thru frictions in school and thought I would never use them in my life time. However I have discover my love for sewing and work on many of your Tutorals which I love. Now with this great measuring tip I want have to ask and fill dumb for doing so. I love your site and am in the process of teaching my 8& 10yr old grandchildren sewing. And they can learn this right along with me. Thanks to whom ever asked this question because I would never been brave enough.
Maxine Belcher said:
Maxine Belcher's picture
I am so thankful you. I always said "next little mark past". lol This will be so helpful.
AngelicaSews said:
AngelicaSews's picture
This is a really handy chart. It helps when I'm having a "duh" moment... and would be forced to count the lines and do the old high school "smallest common denominator" trick. ex: I've counted 10 ticks, there are 16 ticks for an inch, divide by two gives me 5/8". My son hates it when I start mumbling nonsensical numbers! He will be thanking you without even knowing it.
Cee said:
Cee's picture
Thank u so much for making things so clear with the picture when iread all the othr comments I don't feel so dum for not knowing at my age and for sewing and just really getting into quilting now thank u
Noel said:
Noel's picture
OMG this is sooo helpful!!! I know this sounds bad but I have my degree in fashion marketing and never paid attention to the design part and now I work with specs everyday and tech packs and this helps me not get my butt chewed out by my boss!!! hehe. Thanks so much!!!smilies/cheesy.gif
Monica Ramos said:
Monica Ramos's picture
OMG!!! This is awesome just the other day I was asking my husband about the dreaded ruler. He tried to be helpful, but I was more confused when I walked away. This is going to be pinned up forever. Thankssmilies/cheesy.gif
GailB said:
GailB's picture
Thanks so much for the demo. Maybe we could get one of those Companies to add these measurements to their rulers..it wouldn't take up much space, and would really be helpful for beginners or for those who use glow tape on rulerssmilies/cheesy.gif
missy d. said:
missy d.'s picture
thank you so much for posting the measurements along the tape measure i can now comprehend where to find 1/16, 5/8 without bothering my husband to teach me. smilies/grin.gif
jonimarie said:
jonimarie's picture
There was a time I might have scoffed at the idea that some explanation would be needed for a measuring tape. But I have grown! There is a great deal of variation among us in terms of what is self-evident to our brains, and a person who is brilliant in one way might have trouble in another. Furthermore, believing that you know everything there is to know about something is the greatest obstacle to learning; when you have an open mind, it is rarely a waste of time to see and hear how another person explains even the simplest concepts.
quilter1 said:
quilter1's picture
you do not know how helpful this is to me. I did not ask the question here but have asked it many times to myself and never got the right answer. Thanks so much I love all of your tips.
Alejandra said:
Alejandra's picture
This post is beyond helpful. I have always have trouble with the little marks on the rulers, even at zookeeping school when we would be tested on it! Haha. You always have great, super helpful posts.

Tascha said:
Tascha's picture
I think this is really great! I actually just taught myself how to read a measuring tape by counting but it is very time consuming so this will help out immensely!
Kadysmom said:
Kadysmom's picture
I laughed at first, but then saw how metric users and new sewers would need this. Then I thought about my son, who can't figure it out when measuring for jobs, etc. We're both ADD, but I grasp things faster, he has study then still might not get it. Thanks, I saved the picture and will print it out for both of us. Karensmilies/cheesy.gif
andriko said:
andriko's picture
Thank you so much for this clear chart. Living in Europe I'm used to the metric. But 90% of my patchwork and sewing are based on your system. So, your little chart will be printed a few times, sticked to every sewing place after laminating the print out and I will glue it on every inch ruler!
A big thank you as well for the person asking this!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Momo -- the two trusty yellow tape measures I currently have in my work room actually measure 3/4" and 7/8" and the retractable ones I have are 3/4" -- so although it would be totally handy if tapes really were always 5/8" wide, I don't think that always holds true. Maybe we need to design and market one that is... and make a million dollars smilies/cool.gif
Momo said:
Momo's picture
It is also worth pointing out that tape measures are 5/8" wide - the exact width of a seam on American patterns!
Frankie said:
Frankie's picture
Love the chart. Now if you could only help me SEE the little 16th marks on my measuring tape!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
We're so glad so many of you are finding this little chart helpful.

LCO -- maybe it's time for a Janome machine -- their new models have great plate markings -- 1/4, 1/2, plus angles. Check out the Horizon or the 3160DC

LCO said:
LCO's picture
I am a a brand-new sewer, and math and I never got along, so this chart is fantastic! I am going to print it out for future reference. Now, if only sewing machines came with markings on the face plate for 1/4 inch, 1/2, etc, instead of just markings in eights! smilies/cry.gif
Stacy H. said:
Stacy H.'s picture
Thank you so much for posting this. I am OK at measuring but it is nice to have it all spelled out. I am going to send this to my mother in law who can't read a measuring tape and both of my daughters. I think it is good to have as a quick reference and it is wonderful for those who just never "got it" in school. Your site is my favorite and I check it often. Everything is quality and I have yet to make a project that didn't have the BEST directions and it is not assumed I know how to sew perfectly. I am self taught so having things spelled out is great for me and if I know how to do something already I can easily move forward.

Thank you again!
Lynette Brown said:
Lynette Brown's picture
I was so glad to see this! I have no problem with the usual 1/2,1/4 and even 1/8 but for some reason couldn't get 3/8, 5/8 & 7/8 to stick. I will be printing this out for myself as well as for my daughter in law who is a beginner at sewing. Thanks alot to whoever asked this question!
Wendy Crafter's Apprentice said:
Wendy Crafter's Apprentice's picture
I always call the marks "little line" and "big line" as I could never be bothered to work out how much they are worth! Coming from a country which uses units of ten (i.e. metric!) inches seem just crazy to me!
(I am now on my 9th go at typing the words on the verifier - I'm pretty sure I'm typing the correct words - it often makes me give up on leaving a comment when they are so hard to read...)
Runa said:
Runa's picture
Fantastic post guys! Every book/blog has so many different ways of measuring gosh this makes it so much easier now for me! Thanks a ton
Silvia "OrkaLoca" Dell'Aere said:
Silvia "OrkaLoca" Dell'Aere's picture
In my country we use metrical system, but when I sew I largely prefer to use imperial measures, yards and inches. I think inches are much more versatile than centimeters smilies/smiley.gif
I think your chart will be very useful to whom doesn't have confidence with inches smilies/smiley.gif

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