The Mighty Dart ~ The Role of Darts in your Fitted Clothing

on June 14 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 140 Comments

We’re in awe over every new pattern released by Sarai Mitnick from Colette Patterns. Colette Patterns have a modern vintage look, and impeccable instruction. Our pattern reviewers are always so impressed with the company, the patterns and with their finished results. We’re thrilled Sarai is joining us today for our Make It, Wear It! series to teach us all a little more about the role of darts in fitted clothing.

Colette Patterns has two newly released patterns for you to practice your new Make It, Wear It! skills on. The beautiful Nutmeg and Cinnamon patterns feature a bralette, short french knickers, longer tap pants and a bias-cut slip dress that can also be made as a camisole. Sarai’s also working on two new patterns for a summer release so look for details on those coming soon!

From Sarai: Darts are deceptively simple things. Those little sewn triangles of fabric may seem like just one small feature of a sewing pattern, but they are actually responsible for the basic structure of almost any garment. Knowing just a little bit about them will help you better understand your sewing patterns and give you more confidence to make alterations.

Let’s start by thinking about the female body. Imagine an average female body in your mind, but instead of thinking about it as a body, think about it as a geometric shape. What can we say about it? Well first, like any object in space, it has three dimensions: height, depth, and width. But it’s a rather complex three dimensional shape, isn’t it?  It’s not a simple shape like a cylinder; it curves in and out all over the place. The challenge of making a fitted garment is sculpting a piece of fabric around all of these curves, and darts are the tool to do just that.

MIWISarai1.jpg title=

Curves to be aware of when making a garment.

Take a look at this dress form and notice where it curves.  The biggest curves are obviously the bust and the derriere.  Then there are the more subtle curves of the upper back and the lower belly.  All of these need to be accommodated in a fitted garment.

MIWISarai2.jpg title=

A difference of 6 inches between the bust and waist.

The high point of each of these curves is known as the apex.  Let’s say the measurement at the apex of the bust here is 36 inches, and the waist is 30 inches.  Now imagine a very simple shapeless top on this dress form.  It’s basically a cylinder of fabric that hangs straight down from the bust like a sack, with some holes for the arms and head, right?

MIWISarai3.jpg title=

A plain, shapeless bodice.

But when you add a dart, you can remove some of that extra fabric at the waist.  In this case, we’ve added two 3 inch wide darts, removing a total of 6 inches from the waist. Once the dart is stitched, the waist would be 30 inches and the bust would be 36 inches.  The top would be fitted exactly to the waist and bust: in fact, it would be pretty much skin tight!

MIWISarai4.jpg title=

Darts control fullness at the waist while keeping the fullness at the bust.

This method of removing fullness using darts is called dart control, and it is the foundation of clothing design.  In a very basic fitted dress, the most common darts are shown below.  Notice how the tips of each dart point to the apex of each of the curves we noted earlier.  The designer can add darts, remove darts, or rotate them around the apex in numerous ways to achieve different designs.

The wider the dart is, the more fullness you will get at the apex.  So a big, wide dart here would accommodate a large, full bust, while a smaller dart would fit a smaller, less full bust.  You can use these principles to make adjustments to your patterns in order to get a better fit if you have a large or small bust.  If you look at the typical darts shown here, you will notice that the larger curves we talked about (the bust and the butt) have wider darts.

MIWISarai5.jpg title=

Some typical darts on a dress.

You may be wondering about all those sewing patterns you’ve used that have no darts whatsoever.  But they too were most likely designed using the principles of dart control.  There are lots of ways to control fullness in a design, such as gathering, tucks, pintucks, or pleats.  They work in much the same way, by removing a certain amount of fabric when they’re stitched.  So once a pattern is created using darts, the darts can be converted into one of these other design details very easily.

MIWISarai6.jpg title=

Darts can be turned into gathers.

A dart can also be converted into a seam!  Take a look at this version.  It starts out with a dart at the waistline.  But if we draw a line from the apex of the dart up to the shoulder, then cut along that line, we now have two separate pattern pieces.  If we sewed them back together along the seam we’ve just created, the effect would be the same as the dart.  This is how we get a princess seamed bodice, for example.

SummerSkirtPocket3.jpg title=

Darts can be turned into seams.

This is just a crash course in the principles of designing with dart control!  If you’re interested in learning more about the subject, I highly recommend the accessible yet comprehensive book Make Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis.  It’s a really delightful look into the multitudes of things you can do with darts.


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140 Responses to The Mighty Dart ~ The Role of Darts in your Fitted Clothing

  1. Kellg says:

    Thanks for the awesome tutorial. I now have a better understanding of how darts work and why we need them. Can’t wait to try it. Keep up the good tips.

  2. Jessica Bright says:

    I am just getting into the basics of darts, and this really helped! I need some visuals, I will refer to this on my next project. Thanks!

  3. sharmie says:

    this is awesome! i’m actually in the process of reconstructing a dress out of this shirt i have, and i’ve been thinking of how to go about reproducing the darts when i’m not exactly sure how they’re made… now i know!

    this is great help to a rather novice seamstress. cheers!

  4. Germania says:

    Just getting into sewing. Happy to read about darts. I think I’ll look into the suggested book. Right now, I’m trying to make a blouse (with a collar and sleeves and buttons). I will never look at a sleeve the same way again. Evil. Evil things. But thanks for the post.

  5. Cat says:

    Very informative and helpful.

  6. Such a cool post and great explanation! I don’t think I’m ready to make my own patterns yet but this helps me think about modifying for fit!

  7. hannah says:

    Very useful! The explanation is so clear I suddenly can’t understand how I didn’t already understand this!

  8. Abbie Wood says:

    Great tidbit of information!

  9. DebbieB says:

    Thank you for the help. The few darts I’ve done are always off just a bit. This should really help.

  10. Dayna says:

    I’m sharing this with my daughter. She was asking me about darts a few days ago. I thought I should send her to the experts. 🙂

  11. Kim says:

    Oh now I know a bit about how darts work. How fascinating.

  12. DeannaMarie says:

    i love darts!

  13. Kelli says:

    So helpful! Thanks for posting this!

  14. Alicia says:

    Thank you for this information! I really am a huge fit-freak and I really appreciate what darts do to clothes.

  15. Liz Hartman says:

    Wow, I’ve sewn enough to appreciate the genius of darts but never really thought about exactly how they work. Thanks for a great eye-opening tutorial!

  16. little grubs says:

    What a great article – really made me appreciate what a dart is for and therefore demystified it! Thanks x

  17. Kelli says:

    Reading darts described like this make them seem manageable and necessary to good sewing practices. Thanks for this–it’s always easier to do something once you see why you need it and how to do it! Great post!

  18. Lark says:

    What perfect timing for me! I’ve just been researching darts to figure out how to add some shaping to a blouse made from a Japanese pattern. Very clear explanation! Please continue!

  19. Lina says:

    Maybe this info can help me turn the spring ruffle top I toiled over all weekend into something I’ll actually wear. Right now it’s a shapeless mess that I know I won’t wear and I’ve already tried about ten different things and re-sewn the side seams that many times trying to get it to look right.

  20. maryanne says:

    excellent basic information on darts – thank you!

  21. Abigail says:

    I really appreciated this explanation…I am a novice sewer and it was neat to learn that gathers and certain cuts are also darts in a way. Really helpful info. I am sure to be referring back to this in the future!

  22. Trish B. says:

    I think I knew some of what you said, but not in those words! Your instruction is right-on.

  23. Amanda DR says:

    thanks for the beautifully written explanation. Now I understand the principle behind princess seams, which I’ve long wondered about. Seems like the better one understands these basics, the better we are able to ensure we can get what we want.

  24. MissMary says:

    Thanks for the intro! Feels like a music theory class, except with dressmaking instead of songwriting 🙂

  25. Erin says:

    The drawings really help it make more sense! Thanks!

  26. Janine says:

    What a fabulous and necessary tutorial, thank you 🙂

  27. Mindy says:

    Thanks for this article. I have a much clearer understanding now.

  28. Sarah S says:

    That was incredibly helpful!! I am a full-busted gal and I always have a hard time getting patterns to fit just right. This is great info!

  29. Jen L says:

    great info on the pricess seams – they always seemed so magical before, now I understand where they can come from

  30. Katie says:

    Thank you for the book recommendation. I’ve been wanting to draft my own patterns so maybe I’ll finally start learning about it!

  31. duff says:

    thanks for this tutorial–patterns have to be made one-size-fits-all so now I can make my tops perfect for me!

  32. Branka says:

    This is the best post on darts I have ever read, short but so well written and the pics are so helpful, too. Thank you so much!!

  33. Rochelle says:

    So easy to understand now! Thanks for clarifying the dart.

  34. Rebekah says:

    This is super helpful for me – a late beginning seamstress who wants to be able to tailor patterns to fit perfectly! Thank you for the tutorial and the patterns are gorgeous! As soon as I can get my pregnant body back down to size, I’m making a list for patterns to order!

  35. Ramona says:

    really enjoyed this tutorial. Answered many questions for me.

  36. Carolyne says:

    Wonderful tutorial~ I sure wish my seventh grade Home Ec. teacher had been as succinct and understandable as you are with words.
    …..and I would love to be your intern…..I just live at the wrong end of the state!

  37. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for this great article–it helps make so much more sense on how to do the darts. I didn’t know they were supposed to be pointed in a certain direction–I think that will help with my learning to sew my own clothes. Great article!

  38. Meri says:

    Great post! I’d kind of forgotten about the “dart replacement” idea!

  39. Lola says:

    I now understand the way to better fit my projects! Great illustrations and clear explanations. I love Colette:)

  40. Kristin says:

    Very helpful. The diagrams were especially useful.

  41. julie says:

    Thanks for this explanation. I may be ready to try out some darts!

  42. miktha says:

    This is a great tutorial and very clear too,
    Thank you..

  43. Valerie says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for those pictures. Darts make so much more sense to me. Now, maybe I’ll have the guts to make shirt!

  44. Tiina says:

    This is a very useful article. Thank you so much!

  45. Alice says:

    This has actually really helped me understand darts, maybe I’ll be brave enough to try some in my next sew project. Thank you!

  46. Vanessa says:

    That explanation was so useful! Now will the patterns be a bit less mysterious!

  47. carli spielman says:

    Awesome tutorial! I was just reading about darts and feeling very confused – till now!

  48. Stacy says:

    Thank you – I had never thought of a princess seam as a dart replacement before. It makes so much sense, though.

  49. annie says:

    that was super useful! i just made a dress, which turned out not awesome, by winging it. this article helps me to wing it more intelligently next time 🙂

  50. ~Helena~ says:

    Ahh, great info, thanks.

  51. Tracy says:

    Very helpful info. Thanks!

  52. I prefer gathers to darts. They are easier for one thing, but I also just love the look better. I love ruffles! This is new to me this year, being a tomboy for the better part of my life. Yay! Ruffles and gathers!

  53. Kristin says:

    Cool, thanks!

  54. Lisa says:

    Fantastic! For some reason I never realized why I needed darts on the skirt area, I tried it today for altering an old dress and va va voom its fantabulous!

  55. KTseams says:

    Such a simple concept, I guess I just never took the time to stop and think about it! Thanks.

  56. Sara says:

    very useful info!

  57. 4vs1 says:

    Great info. 🙂

  58. elizabeth says:

    very informative!

  59. Keilah says:

    Great post. I have done darts many times, but now I feel more confident sewing them. Thank you.

  60. Lisa Blansett says:

    Great info and explained very well.

  61. Beth says:

    This is super helpful!

  62. elana says:

    such a great lesson…now i just need to learn how to sew darts!

  63. Ginger says:

    Great tutorial!

  64. Lauren says:

    I love SMS for this type of useful info, all condensed into one quick post! Thanks to Sarai for your very simplified explanation 🙂

  65. kerri says:

    How awesome that you posted this! There were some things I’ve always wanted to know. So well explained that I am going to go check out your patterns now. Thanks, Colette!

  66. Jenny says:

    Ooh yay! Thank you!

  67. Java Jane says:

    Having just made a dress with darts (which I posted on the forum) as well as a princess seamed dress the previous month, I have been testing the principles outlined in this article.

    Well down! Thank you.


  68. Ky says:

    Great info, thanks

  69. --ginger. says:

    I could cry this was so helpful. Thank you thank you! High five to Sarai at Colette. Seriouls high five.

  70. seamstresskim says:

    oooh I love the busy tingle the braincells get when the ‘designing’ switch gets flipped. thanks!

  71. all8garden says:

    I love posts like this. Now if you could post one on pattern drafting…

    Thanks again.

  72. Natacha says:

    Thank you! I could see the need for darts, but hadn’t quite realized the ‘maths’ behind them. It will definitely help me out when I need to alter patterns due to different body measurements.

  73. Laura says:

    Wow, it seems so simple now. I really want to look into getting that book.

  74. kat says:

    This is something I *know* I need to master to get the most out of sewing my own garments. Thanks for demystifying it a bit!

  75. sy says:

    fascinating *_* i have never sewn a dart, have only used elastics.

  76. Valerie says:

    That makes sense!!! Thanks so much for explaining that in detail!

  77. Tilia says:

    Probably you said this only to keep it simple, but taking the 6 inches away with two 3 inch darts, means you take it away, all at the front or at the back and none at the other side, that can’t be how you mean it. 😉 Don’t forget 36 inch is the full circumference and that pattern is only half of it.

    Interesting post otherwise. 🙂

    A good guide about shaping your darts would be good too. I’m always disappointed with the darts of commercial patterns. I don’t know about Colette Patterns since I don’t have any of those yet (but they are in the mail -yay!-). Shaping of your darts is quite important and should follow your body.

  78. Sara says:

    What a wonderful and simple explanation with excellent supporting illustrations. Thank you.

  79. chichi says:

    I feel like this tutorial was written just for me! Thank you so much for taking the time to clearly explain a process that to some (like me) seemed beyond comprehension.

  80. lane says:

    this is very helpful – thanks

  81. Sandra says:

    Now I understand so much better but don’t know if I have the confidence to go ahead and alter a commercial pattern!

  82. Mary says:

    It all makes sense now!

  83. Sara says:

    I love the explanation of princess seams. Terrific!

  84. Lise says:

    Great info…thanks!

  85. Kristy says:

    What a great, useful and clearnly explained article. Thank you so much SMS and Sarai.

  86. Kimberly says:

    Colette patterns are so great.

  87. Andi says:

    Fascinating! This makes a lot of sense – and explains why the clothes I make never fit me properly. I actually own that book, I’m going to move it to the top of the “to read” pile. Thanks for the explanation!

  88. Vicki says:

    This is like a happy flashback to my college flat pattern design class. I’ve been thinking about making a t-shirt with princess seams… maybe I’ll give it a try.

  89. kate C. says:

    Very interesting! I haven’t really thought about it like that before!

  90. Reader says:

    Good, clear, basic discussion.

  91. Sara says:

    thank you so much for sharing!! I love the challenge of taking a flat piece of paper and making a 3 dimensional shape. Thanks to my high school geometry teacher and folks like Sarai being willing to share their knowledge and experience, I think I may get this pattern drafting after all!

  92. claire says:

    Wow…Alot of good info here!

  93. Amber F. says:

    Thanks so much for the great information. It really helps to have an understanding of how such simple things work, and make a big difference too!

  94. qsogirl says:

    This really is a great introduction to darts. Thank you so much! I’ve requested the Adele Margolis books from the library so that I can have a look at them!

  95. JJ says:

    Thanks for the great info!

  96. Judi B says:

    Thanks for the crash course. I’ve been contemplating altering some things that have been hanging in the hard to reach places in my closet. I am better armed for the process now.

  97. Kirsten says:

    really informative!!! Thanks!!

  98. Trish says:

    A great explaination, thank you. I bookmarked this page! I don’t use darts much-probably because I didn’t understand them properly i’ll be using them more frequently now though 😉 x

  99. Aparna Mulgund says:

    Great post. This makes it much clearer.

  100. kathyh says:

    Thanks for keeping it simple.

  101. Rebecca says:

    I already understood the principle behind darts, but you truely explain it well!

  102. Vida says:

    great mini lesson on darts, thanks1

  103. Mama Lusco says:

    Wonderful insights! Thanks for the great examples and crash course. I can definitely use this instruction!

  104. Shayla says:

    Thank you for the tutorial! I’ve been steering clear of things with darts but now I see that they’re not that hard!

  105. Ginal T says:

    This was a VERY helpful post. I have put darts in garments when a pattern calls for it, with success and failure. Now I understand better why I had the successes and failures!

  106. Doris says:

    This is a great explanation. Thanks!

  107. Clare says:

    Such a clear explanation, and thanks for the book recommendation

  108. Christy says:

    This is such a nice explanation. Please share more.
    Thank you.

  109. Marcia W. says:

    Nice description of basics of construction of darts

  110. Heather says:

    Thank you for that awesome tutorial! I have a few books on pattern drafting for women but the whole dart issue has always confused me (I know how to do them but the why was always confusing). I think that lightbulb just went off – aha! Now I get it!

  111. Serena says:

    Wow, this is great! It makes everything so clear!

  112. MsCleaver says:

    I’ve just started using the Adele P. Margolis book myself and would highly recommend it!

  113. Unity says:

    This actually comes in handy for a historical costume I am working on. Thank you!:)

  114. alisha says:

    This is so helpful! Thanks!

  115. Fawn says:

    Seriously awesome tutorial, thanks so much! For those of us wonderfully curvy ladies, darts are known to be important but can definitely be intimidating!

  116. Great info, thank you!

  117. Jennifer S. says:

    Egads! I had no idea…

  118. Yohandy says:

    Oh, this was a wonderful way of explaning it. Darts are a bit intimidating for me. Thanks for giving the different versions of a dart, like changing it to a gather or pleat. It gives me some ideas on how I can change a pattern by the style of dart. Thanks again.

  119. Lindsey says:

    This was so incredibly helpful! Sewing bust darts is one of my least favorite things to do. Though I knew in principle what they did, my understanding is so much greater now. Thank you!!!!

  120. Lynnette says:

    This is awesome! Thank you!

  121. Jackie H says:

    Still a bit intimidated by clothes making but this gives me a good sense about darts and at least where to begin! LOL!

  122. Joke says:

    Thanks for the information, I like the “darts can be turned into seams / gathers” bit, so stupid I never thought about that, it would be a nice way to alter a pattern 🙂

  123. Sade says:

    This is a very interesting post now that I am making my own patterns. I’ll make sure I put other darts and rotating them into action.

  124. Lauree Myler says:

    wow…this is amazing information. thank you so much. i have a dress that i want to make but have been intimidated by the darts. i feel confident now.

  125. Tong says:

    Great info, so helpful, thank you so much!

  126. Tammy says:

    Great post with lots of info!

  127. susan hwang says:

    thanks for the explanations.. very helpful

  128. Amanda says:

    Great explanation! I too have been hesitant to make garments for myself because of the darts. I’m about to embark on a dress for a wedding we have to attend and bookmarking this page for future use.

  129. Jo says:

    Great info — thanks! I would love to see a similar post with information on basics of using a serger — I just got one and I’m SOO intimidated by it 🙂

  130. DebbieKL says:

    I’ve only used darts a couple times. It’s always great to have a nice reference when working on them!

  131. Desiree says:

    thank you for the dart help 🙂

  132. Beth says:

    I love seeing the word derierre in print!! Helpful tips, thanks.

  133. i’m scared of darts too… maybe i should practice them on something i’m not worried about ruining lol.

  134. Fabulous! This really helps make sense of how/why to use darts. Thanks for such an informative post. Happy Sewing! 🙂

  135. This is such a great explanation. I’m working on making clothes for myself and fitting is such a mystery to me.

  136. Sheri K says:

    Holy cow, I love this. I have always been confused by darts, but this makes total sense! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  137. Jen says:

    Wow. Great tutorial! I understood everything you said. Great use of images as well.:) THANKS!

  138. Heather says:

    Great visual explanation–I sew for my children but I haven’t made a single garment for myself because I’ve been so terrified of darts! Gonna have to give it a go…

  139. Amy Hodge says:

    This post is great — I’m going to have to get myself this book!

  140. Charity says:

    This is such a great little tutorial. Thank you!

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