A tape measure is an essential tool for both dressmakers and woodworkers. It's important to know how to read a tape measure. A tape measure can be calibrated either in inches, feet and yards or in metric units, or both. If it's in inches, there are big marks for inches and smaller marks for parts of an inch. Sometimes the inches can be divided into 16 or even 32 parts, as quite precise measurements are often necessary. A tape that uses metric measure will show centimeters, with ten divisions (millimeters) for each centimeter, as well as meters (100 centimeters) [source: Sutherlands]. Here's how to read a tape measure in both units.

Materials needed:

  • A tape measure with inches
  • A tape measure with metric measure
  • Pencil
  • Paper

Here's how to read a tape measure in inches:

  1. Make a straight horizontal line on the sheet of paper.
  2. Pull out the tape measure along the line. The start of the tape should be on the left end of the line. The tape runs along the entire length of the line. The line will end near to one of the marks on the tape.
  3. Look at the nearest longer mark to the left of the end of the line. That will give you a number in whole inches.
  4. Now count how many smaller marks there are between the longer mark to the left and the end of your line. If there is one mark, and the tape divides each inch into 16 parts, then that length is 1/16 of an inch. If your line ends after the 11 inch mark it measures 11 1/16 inches [source: Everyday Guide].

Here's how to read a tape measure in metric units:

  1. Repeat steps 1 and 2 above
  2. Look at the big mark nearest to the left of the end of the line. That will give you a number in whole centimeters.
  3. Count how many smaller marks there are between the big mark to the left and the end of your line. Each small mark is one millimeter. If your line ends after the 9 centimeter mark, by the third small mark, it will measure 9 centimeters and 3 millimeters, or 9.3 centimeters.