Tales Of The Measuring Tape


Did you know that tape measures and measuring tapes are the same but different?  They have different histories and originally had different uses.

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Tales Of The Measuring Tape

A friend of mine has a sewing paraphernalia collection. Part of her collection is devoted to measuring tapes – many from the 1930s. This egg with the fly on the end of the tape is her favorite.

Tales Of The Measuring Tape


She also has several others that are animals such as pigs, deer, and cats that were made from celluloid. These were the promotional items of their day.



A measuring tape is any piece of paper, cloth, leather, etc. which has markings for size. In the 1700's, a tailor might have a paper strip for each of his customers with markings for his size such as waist, arm length, etc. Although each tailor had his own methods, often he used a half measure to make the long tape easier to manipulate when making a pattern


The measuring tapes that we know and love, came into use in the 1820s. The use of standard methods and proportions helped tailoring become more of a science.


The first tape measure was patented in 1829. It used a spring loaded flat metal with markings for measurements. James Chesterman, a British metalworker, came up with this as the metal strips were no longer used for holding out huge hoop skirts. His tape measure was carried in a leather case and sold in the US for $17. (equal to about $300 today!!)


A locking tape measure was created in New Haven, CT with an 1868 patent. It wasn't popular in construction, where workers still used an inexpensive folding wooden ruler. Just in case you want to celebrate, July 14 is National Tape Measure Day. 2021 will be the 153rd anniversary.



The parts of a measuring tape include the hook or blade, which is the metal piece on the end of the tape. In modern tapes, this is designed to flex 1/16 of an inch to give an accurate measure. If the metal is missing, such as in this photo, it isn't possible to get a completely accurate measurement. For quilters who are using 1/4 seams and are matching points of stars, etc., a mistake of even 1/16 can lead to many issues.



This photo was taken of one of my husband's tape measures and my favorite quilting ruler. Notice that the markings don't line up perfectly. The hook on this tape doesn't flex, so I think that may account for the error.



This is the promotional measuring tape of today. It lives in my purse because I never know when a leftover fabric scrap at a quilt shop will need to be measured. Yes, I have tried it against my favorite ruler, and it is amazingly accurate.



The moral of my tale? Measure twice, cut once – just don't use different devices!


  1. A History of Measuring - Mood Sewciety (moodfabrics.com). https://www.moodfabrics.com/blo0g/a-history-of-measuring
  2. Tale of the Tool: A History of the Tape Measure - Build Your Future (byf.org) https://byf.org/tale-of-the-tool-a-history-of-the-tape-measure/


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A small circular or oval apparatus that is used to hold the layers of a quilt together during quilting.
Matching points
Piecing so as to make sure that the corners of blocks or the points of stars match in piecing at the seam line so that the points are not cut off by the seam.
A heavy plastic measuring guide that can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
A construction technique in which long, narrow pieces of cloth are joined lengthwise, sometimes with long rows of quilt blocks, to form a quilt top. The term "strip" can be used to describe the long pieces of fabric between blocks (see Sashing) or to describe the small, narrow remnants used in string patchwork.

See Also: Sashing
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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