Monday, December 1, 2014

Subtleties of Drafting: Darts Part I - The Foundation

Helloooooo again, fellow drafting enthusiasts!

Some time ago, I wrote a post on sleeves in which I went on and on about the subtleties of drafting armscyes and sleeves. My aim was to give you a little more insight into making your sleeves work better for you. Many people read, linked and commented to, and thanked me for that post. The interest it garnered gave me hope that there is indeed an audience out there who are willing and excited to learn about the whys behind all the how-tos in drafting and garment making. 

Today, we're going to try to do the same with darts. As with sleeves, I've received quite a few email messages and blog comments filled with dart-related angst. Some of the writers don't even mention darts in particular and instead send photos of themselves in ill-fitting garments, pleading for help. Distilled to the bare bones, these correspondences have one message: "My clothes (particularly around the bust and waist) fit badly, and I don't even know why and where exactly, let alone how to even begin to guess at how to fix them." 

Now, I personally - for reasons unfathomable to me - have worn unfortunate clothes. It is worth sharing that while wearing those unfortunate clothes, I was completely aware of why and where they were unfitting PLUS how exactly to fix them. However, because I hadn't the time back then to make adjustments (blame the nursing infant, the potty-training toddler, the ridiculous daily race to put meals on the table -whatever is convenient), let alone sew anything better myself, I just lived with it. And pointedly avoided mirrors. I cannot even begin to imagine how unhappy and frustrated other people might be be with their unfortunate clothes, who can feel their ill-fittingness but who have no inkling of how to make it better.

So yes, friends, I commiserate.

And I also want to say that finding clothes that fit isn't a matter of having a perfect body, or even a body in a perfect industry-standard size. We women are hard on ourselves. That is a fact. Our bodies are never what we want them to be, even when we convince ourselves that they are. And the clothes we wear - whether store-bought or self-sewn from commercial patterns, mercilessly drive home that point: because our clothes almost invariably require some kind of adjustment or alteration in order to work for us, there must therefore -by our flawed logic- be something wrong with our bodies. 

Let me put this out there once and for all, fellow Unique Body Owners: your curves (or lack thereof) are your own. Nobody's curves and angles are like yours and, therefore, even if you and your best friend and her martial art instructor's daughter are all 36D with 45" hips, you will all three require differently-shaped garments to fit your individual contours. Translated to the language of drafting, it means you will have different darts, seams and, correspondingly, completely different garment patterns, even if your body dimensions are identical. 

This is why I do not blind-grade my sewing patterns and instead insist that I only sew for people whose bodies are physically present for me to observe and measure. Dimensions and measurements and numbers alone are useless; I must see how the curves of a body form against its hollows, how the waist and abdomen bulge (or not), how the shoulders and back curve and slouch, how firm or soft the muscle tone is. All this will enable me to draft a garment that falls and drapes in a way that flatters those contours. And I will draft darts and seams in different shaping combinations to achieve that.  

If, after reading my earlier sleeve post, you came away realizing how absolutely and utterly non-standard armholes and sleeves are, then you will probably feel the same about darts and seams. Except that darts and seams are a hundred times less structured than sleeves or armholes and, therefore, a hundred times harder to explain in just one post. Further, sleeve-fitting is a very localized area in which to diagnose and correct problems: if your arm, armpit or shoulder feels ghastly in your garment, it is easy to deduce that the sleeve cap and/or armhole are at fault. On the other hand, problems for which darts are responsible are much harder to analyze: because they are an anywhere-on-the-garment feature, it may not be as obvious what to fix, or where, or with which drafting technique. Often, people only have a vague sense that their clothes fit poorly, or make them look perpetually pregnant when they are in fact not, or have one part that needs to be looser while another part needs to be tighter and yet another part needs to be higher. The concept they are looking for is shaping, and it is accomplished by a combination of -among other things - darts, seams, drape and cut (or design). No wonder it is non-instinctive. No wonder there is no recipe. No wonder it has to be taught and practised until it becomes obvious and experience turns it into common sense. 

I fear that I am again waaaaaaaaay over my head on this one, but I am also excited by the challenge to deconstruct Dart and Seam Theory and explain the whys behind the hows of shaping garments. So let me drag you back into my classroom of expository discussion and start at the beginning. 

And let us begin by saying that good fit indeed has something to do with darts. 

I'm going to climb on my soapbox for a little while.

It is my opinion, based on extensive observation of those commonly found in crafty blogland, that quite a large proportion of handmade garments are seriously underdarted. Some RTW ones, too. By that, I mean that either there are no darts where there should be darts, or there are too-small darts where there need to be deeper ones, or there are darts in the wrong place (like french darts on well-endowed people who actually should have armhole darts). Please, pattern-designers and garment seamstresses: don't be afraid of darts. They make nice armholes and beautiful, comfortable sleeves. They make you look streamlined and curvy in the right spots. They make your clothes not pull in awkward places. Please give darts a chance, okay?

Climbing off my soapbox now.

Like with sleeve theory, which is my fancy made-up term for "the principles that guide sleeve visualizing and making", dart theory cannot be reduced to formulae, tables or charts. Or sloper shapes. Or particular fashion movements. Or individual designer's styles or preferences. In fact, dart theory is only one aspect of manipulating flat fabric to fit a 3-dimensional body. Before we even discuss darts-in-garments, we must talk about draping - and you will see that in the next post.   

To lay the context, here are two earth-shattering statements:

Earth-Shattering Statement #1:
Darts are not specific to garments. 

While they show up a lot in garments (i.e. you'll actually see some, if the garment is properly tailored, but let's get back to that later), they aren't specifically a garment element the way sleeves feature only in garments and not in any other field of sewing. Darts are a general technique used to take in ease in order to shape fabric. 

Here - let me show you some examples of non-garment darting:

Darted-bottom bags, with straight darts, trimmed;

or left intact,

to make perpendicular, 3-D corners.

Here are two curved darts, performing the same function as the straight corner darts in the earlier examples:

A cupcake nightlight 

has 2 curved darts intersecting at right angles to shape the cupcake top.

A hobby horse, whose neck
is just a big curved dart from ear to ear
to gently incline its head.

And concave darts

shape a flat piece of felt 

into the rounded ends of a hot dog bun.

Incidentally, darts are not limited to fabric. Origami - the Japanese art of paper folding - for instance, is full of them. And any dart made in fabric can be replicated in paper. 

Like the corners of this paper satchel 

which are then folded on themselves once more

to round them off.

Even cardboard, to an extent,

accommodates darts quite well, if they are cut away

and glued or taped shut 

in multiple positions

to shape a rigid material into a smooth curve.

I'm introducing darts to you this way so that you would better understand their role in sewing. Darts shape fabric, period. It's all they do. Okay? 

I say this because I know people who are afraid of darts. Or who know them by only two names: Waist Darts and Bust Darts. Let it be said that there are all kinds of darts, depending on what they shape: cupcake darts, bag darts, toy darts, chicken darts, horse darts, hot dog bun darts, cardboard horn darts . . . 

Earth-Shattering Statement #2: 
Darts are not the only way to shape fabric. 

You can shape fabric with drape and seams, too. Seams are the edges of fabric joined together. Drape is the movement and lay of the fabric. 

So, summary of context:
today's discussion is really about shaping fabric, of which one mechanism is darts. 

Now let's move on. 

Here follow some sketches of the anatomy of a dart. Mind you, I had to actually do research on the internet just to be sure the fancy names I'd been calling the parts of a dart were, indeed, the fancy names of the parts of a dart. You're welcome. 


On the RS of a finished garment, lines are usually all you see of darts:
a = dart length
D = dart apex (plural = apices)

On the WS, it gets more interesting. Here is a single-point dart.

a = dart length (excluding SA bit)
b = depth of dart 
c = width of dart
D = dart apex
E = dart leg
F = fold of dart

and the area underneath the dart is called the dart underlay.

Here is a double-point dart. This one is a straight dart (i.e. it is diamond-shaped with straight dart legs). All the annotations are the same as with the single-point dart.

Here is a curved dart - this one is convex, so it's bulgy like a blimp. It has curved dart legs.

This seems like a good place to stop. In the next three posts, we will discuss lots more stuff, including
  • Where to put darts on garments.
  • Why some garments have some kinds of darts and others have other kinds of darts.
  • Why some darts are preferable for certain bodies over other kinds of darts.
  • How big (wide/deep) to make darts.
  • How darts and seams are related.
  • What alternative design features to use instead of darts.

Find them here:


  1. I'm really excited to read the rest of this series. Thanks a lot for your explanations.

  2. Delighted to see you explaining darts- your sleeve/armhole posts were so informative. Thanks for taking the time:)

  3. Can't wait to see this series. I want to make a darted bodice block for myself, but have been putting it off. Thanks for pulling this together!

  4. Thank you very much for this post! I will most certainly read everything in this series.

  5. Definitely looking forward to reading more. BTW I have now finished two self-drafted sleeveless tops. They're really wearable toiles, as the pattern isn't exactly perfect yet, but I feel like I'm getting there. I keep putting on the last top I made and trying to analyse exactly how it's fitting and draping. It isn't quite right, and I couldn't see why until my Mum pointed out that the shoulder isn't cut quite right. God bless Mums!

  6. Absolutely brilliant! Your explanations and descriptions are excellent and make it so much easier to visualize how I could use darts myself. Looking forward to the next part. Thanks so much :)

  7. Great ! Thank you. I love your sewing articles, you are a very good teacher.

  8. Thank you!!! I cannot wait for the rest of this series! I've got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for later this morning that links to your post:

  9. Very informative! What an excellent series, this actually not just explains the darts but demonstrates the difference. much appreciated, thank you!

  10. Thank you so much! I love your instructive posts, just for that "Ahaaaa!"-effect. Also, I now keep imaging a crowd of bloggers, holding hands and chanting "all we are saying is give darts a chance..." :D

  11. Hurrah! I've been very much looking forward to this series. Darts are things that I could probably figure out if I took some time and looked at them logically... but it is truly helpful to see them applied. I don't know how I didn't realize that boxed totes use darts!

  12. Thank you, LiEr! I am very excited for this series!

  13. Extremely interesting! So much time must have went into laying all that out for us...very appreciated!!


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.