The Nape to Waist Length measurement is, basically, the length of material needed to cover the front of the body from the bottom of the neck down to the waist. It is a crucial to take this measurement correctly if one has any hope of drafting a bodice that fits correctly over the bust without riding up at the waist. Nape to Bustline Length tells us where the bust line is situated on the torso, and is also crucial to drafting patterns.
I’ve seen several different theories on how best to take the Nape to Waist Length. Some books suggest taking the measurement over a shirt, others suggest taking it with the tape running tight over the sternum (breastbone) and between the breasts. (And, amazingly, I even found that one in a book that was not about patterning knitwear. I’m aghast.) Most patterning methods in books are actually based on a specific figure type: trim, relatively straight and a B-cup. If you look closely at the pattern diagrams in most pattern books for non-stretch drafting, you’ll notice that the basic skirt and pant slopers rise slightly to the front and dip slightly in the back, and show high and full hip lines that are relatively close together. The bodice sloper has fairly narrow darts and the side seam is at a relatively slight slant. That pattern fits a figure with a small bust, a slight pooch to the lower abdomen and a flat butt with no significant saddle baggage. If you’re a fashion student trying to understand why you can’t get your sloper draft to work, well, it might not be you. Your directions might be taking some short cuts that only work on a specific body type. My slopers rise higher in back and slant significantly on the bodice side seam. They couldn’t look less like the nice, pretty and obvious patterns in the books if I tried! It’s legit if it fits your body. All of this is a rather wordy way of saying that the information in patterning books makes some assumptions about figure type, the same as how clothing manufacturers make assumptions about figure type. Those assumptions aren’t right as often as they used to be, and I think it’s time we start re-examining the way we make patterns…. And that includes examining the way we take measurements.
I advocate taking the Nape to Waist length measurement in a way that fully takes the size of the bust into account. (I spent rather a few years as a DD-cup, and I can absolutely assure you that the “flat against the body” and “over a loose shirt” methods of taking this measurement just aren’t designed for chesty girls.) There are several ways to do this. You can hold the tape to the nape of your neck while an assistant pulls the tape away from the body and equal to the bust at the level of the bust point (ie, the part of the bust farthest from the rib cage, which in theory is the nipple) with one hand and pulls the tape in to the waist to get the full measure with the other. If you’re not completely opposed (and, frankly, I am), you can run a piece of adhesive tape from bust point to bust point, and then you only need two hands to run the measuring tape from the nape of your neck, down over the bust point tape, and in to your waist. Ideally, those two hands should be on someone else, as looking down will distort this measurement. In either of these cases, note where the tape intersects the level of the bust point: this is the Nape to Bust Line Length. I find both of these methods to be slightly inaccurate, as the bust is a curve rather than a point. I prefer the “I shouldn’t own a Tshirt this shamefully clingy, but I still do” method. You’ll need a tshirt – the kind that’s stretched tight over the boobs, and creates that slightly questionable uni-boob effect by not dipping in at all between them. (At the same time, this shirt should not be so tight that it’s squishing you in.) Take the Nape to Waist Length measurement over this shirt, allowing the tape to ride smoothly over the shirt between the breasts (without pulling the tape so tight it pulls in towards the body), then pull it in towards the body at the waist. In this case, you’ll take the Nape to Bust Line Length in the middle of the stretched area of Tshirt – you want to mark the center of the curve of the bust at it’s farthest point from the body.
No matter how you are taking this measurement, you will want to be standing in a normal, relaxed posture with your weight spread evenly over both feet, and looking straight forward. Do not look down AT ALL while this measurement is being taken, as breasts are prone to wanting to point in the same direction the head takes. You should be wearing all your normal underthings, which ideally include a well fitted, supportive bra. If you are making a fitted garment that goes over a very specific under-thing (say, a doublet to go over a corset you bought), you should be wearing that under-thing.
Caution: You should not attempt to pull the measuring tape in close to the body below the bust point. In almost all cases, the tape will stand away from the body as the bust curves back in to the ribs. The tape will not rejoin the body until somewhere around or slightly before the waist. (It depends on how far out past your tum your bust reaches.) This is all right and good – if you force the tape in to the body right under the bust, your measurement will be too long and patterns you draft off of it will not fit. Figures with a smaller bust and more prominent tum (including pregnant women) may find that the tape will keep moving out from the bust point as it gets to the waist. That’s just fine – the goal is to make a fitted garment, not to pass judgement. If you have a particularly large chest and either a very high waist or a rather poor bra, you might find that your bust point is extremely close to your waist and the tape must follow the curve of the bust closely in towards the body to make it in to the waist line. (If you’re less than a E-cup, this may be a sign that you need a professional bra fitting. Trust me, here, you’ll look like you just lost 30lbs off your middle.) If you are a man, the standard practice is to always take this measurement along the center line of the body, tightly to the body and without particular attention to the form of the chest. Men who have very defined pectoral/chest musculature may find that they can achieve a better fit, and the appearance of a trimmer middle, by taking their build into account using the directions given here. (Women’s tailoring is, after all, designed to accommodate a larger top without adding unnecessary bulk to the middle.) There is also the phenomenon referred to as the “man boob”, but I’ve not seen too many guys interested in fitting and enhancing them outside of drag acts. If that’s your goal, then pop on your favorite push-up bra and follow the drafting directions above.