Updated: Jul 13, 2018
If you are new to sewing or patterns then it’s important to understand Darts and Seams at the basic level because we will be using them in a number of ways and you really can’t get away with not using them if you want to have a really good fit to your garments.
Here is a simple explanation. If you place a piece of fabric over a ball then you are going to see folds appearing as the fabric falls from the top of the ball to the ground. This is because the fabric is square and two dimensional and the ball is round, obvious right! If you pinch one of the folds you can start to see how the fabric could be manipulated around the ball to make it fit more snuggly around the ball, and you can pinch at any point really.
So back to the body situation. Garments are just fabric that is sitting on the body and if on the torso it rests on the shoulders cascading down the body resting on all the mounds that stick out. Darts and Seams are used to pinch out the excess fabric to make it fit snuggly against the mounds and the body shapes. If you pinched out some fabric around a prominent mound like a breast and sewed (on the inside of the pinched line) along the pinched out triangle then you would be sewing a Dart which would be fat at the edges of the fabric and become a point as it got closer to the mound. Darts will always point to the mound (unless changed by design on purpose). If you were to cut along and to the side of a pinched out fold you would cut it off and you would end up with a triangular like shape and would need to sew the fabric together along the cut edge to join the fabric back up and then let it drop to be closer to the ball/mound – this would be a Seam, in this particular case a Dart that has a seam. Seams are used to join cut sides of fabric together to help the fabric to join around the body and typically there are usual places where we use them and there are typical places where we use Darts. But in fact we can actually place them anywhere we want to and that would be determined by our design and style lines and construction requirements.
When making clothes we create a two dimensional pattern for a three dimensional body so the straighter the body curves the less fabric needs to be pinched out therefore fewer Darts or less fabric needs to be removed, the more shapely the body the more fabric we will need and the more the fabric will need to be removed therefore potentially more Seams and Darts may be needed. But it is all part of the design process and the amount to be removed depends on the viewpoint of the creator. Sometimes you will want a very snug fit and sometimes you need to release more fabric if you want more movement in the garment and fabric for a more relaxed or casual design.
There are many types of Darts that can be used and we will be defining how we size and position them during the process of drafting any pattern.
Shoulder Darts for the Front of the Body – The reason for these is to allow for the fabric to mould around the bust mound but also to assist with the dip of the collar bone and to bring the fabric in closer to the body at chest just under the shoulder. This Dart would start in the Front shoulder and point to the breast. The Shoulder Dart for the Back and the Front would meet in the shoulder seam usually which looks good aesthetically unless there is no Shoulder Seam required or of course if one or other of the Darts are not being used in the design.
Armhole Dart – This Dart is for the front of the bodice and assists with the moulding around the breast. It is especially important for larger breasts as more moulding is going to be needed, the Dart will start from the armhole and point towards the breast.
Side Seam Dart – Again this Dart is for the front bodice and assists with the moulding around the breast. It is usually the largest Dart in width and starts at the side seam and points towards the breast.
There is a special kind of Dart called a French dart which starts low down on the side seam and usually curves up pointing in the direction of the breast but finishes at least an inch or so lower than the actual Bust Point which is called the Lower Bust Point. It is not good design practice to have more than a couple of Darts going to the same point so the Lower Bust Point gives a focus for Darts coming from the bottom part of the bodice.
Shoulder Darts for the Back of the Body – The reason for these is to allow the fabric to mould around the shoulder blade and also to accommodate the roundness of the back. These are placed on the Back pattern of the bodice and generally start at the shoulder and point down towards the shoulder blade, however with a very rounded back extra Darts may be required to mould around the extra mound and may end up being placed in the back neck area.
The Waist Dart at the Front and Back of the bodice is usually a double ended Dart, essentially a long diamond shape. The top part of the Dart on the Front of the bodice assists with shaping from the waist up to the breast so points to the breast, the bottom half assists with shaping from the waist over the abdomen pointing towards the belly mound. On the Back the Dart assists with shaping from the waist up to the shoulder blades with the most volume being removed from the centre at the waist and the top of the Dart pointing to the shoulder blade mound and the bottom half shaping from the waist to the backside pointing towards the backside cheek mound.
There are other Dart types like Elbow darts that assist with movement and fit and point to the elbow.
There are some Darts that are created for design effect like Tuck Darts but these can be discussed at the point of pattern design.
Having said all of this, Darts may or may not be visible in the garment that is designed and created even though they have been placed into the pattern as Darts can be manipulated out of a pattern so that the excess fabric is shifted along to another position and taken up i.e. Pinched out and sewn in a Dart or a Seam elsewhere.
Another point to note is that Darts that are sewn can be sewn straight or curved/contoured. Curved Darts are especially useful to pinch out just that little bit extra to widen the sides of a Dart to create a bowed effect on each side or the whole dart can be curved. Curved Darts are really useful to take out extra fabric on a very curvy body for example around a larger bust with a smaller waist as it tends to help with avoiding a pointy bust in the garment. As mentioned above a French Dart can often be curved.
When drafting any pattern we need to consider the following elements that basically rely on the measurements of the body;
How much fabric is going to be absorbed, the Dart width value – this is determined by the body shape.
How long will the Dart be, wider Darts need longer length to ensure the fabric is not distorted, so that there is a gradual uptake of the pinched up fabric.
Where is the position of the Dart going to go to gain best effectiveness from it, Darts point towards the mound they are moulding the fabric around.
At the stage of pattern making other decisions will need to be made to accommodate Darts such as;
How many Darts will be manipulated or sewn or used?
Are extra Darts going to be used to reduce the size of existing darts to reduce the load, an especially interesting logic problem to solve on a more curvier body. If a Dart ends up being very wide (larger than 1 ¼” for a final pattern) then you can share the Dart load by creating one or two more Darts in the vicinity of the first one and space the Darts out by 1 ½” to 2”. Ensure that when creating the Darts that the ends are pointing towards the mound or that their situation is aesthetically pleasing.
Can extra Darts be hidden by other design elements for example could collars be added.
Sometimes Darts in the wrong place can look unflattering for example if the client has a belly then darts on the front of the skirt can uncomplimentary.
The bigger the bust the better it is to draw the end of the Dart back from the Bust Apex even up to 2” away if, you want to avoid a pointy bust situation.
Curve a side Dart on a larger bust as this will create a more pleasing look and a less pointy result.
Some Darts are given extra fabric to balance out the bulk to both sides, however I have never done this as I work with lighter fabrics and don’t want the extra bulk but it is something to be aware of.
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