Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Subtleties of Drafting: Darts Part IV - A Dart by Any Other Name


So let's skip the preamble and plunge right in, shall we?

Okay, this last post addresses this question:

What if we don't want to use darts but we still want shaping in our garments?

Sometimes, a designer will want to shape a garment but will deliberately avoid using darts. There are many reasons: the fabric print looks hideous interrupted by a dart, the fabric is too thick for darts, the presence of darts ruins the lines of the garment or interferes with the seam structure, and so on. In such cases, there are other garment features that perform the equivalent function of darts.

Darts serve their function of shaping fabric by taking in ease non-uniformly along their length. This allows them to, in a single "pinch" of the fabric, take in a lot of ease where the body is hollower, and less ease where the body is fuller, thus giving "shape". See diagram below of single-point dart (left) and double-point dart (right):

When other garment elements are substituted, they have to mimic this non-uniform-ease-reducing magic of darts i.e. they must somehow take in more ease in some areas and less in others.

Here follow some common design features that can be used in place of darts.


Seams are the joining edges of pieces of fabrics. They can easily be made to shape a body unhomogenously by simply cutting these fabric edges in non-straight lines, flaring for more fullness, and narrowing for less. 

Some seams are part of the natural process of assembling a garment e.g. side seams and center back seams that incorporate a zipper. We've discussed how these seams shape fullness in this earlier post

Sometimes, additional seams are specially drafted into a garment to shape particular areas that are not natural edges in the assembly process. Some very common examples off the top of my head:

(i) Panel seams in skirts

Incidentally, the converse is also true: it is possible to shape a garment entirely with darts and no seams. An example is a wrap skirt made from a single rectangle of fabric  

with (in this case) eight darts to shape the waist and hip area.

(ii) Princess Seams / Princess Lines
You've probably read about princess seams here on ikatbag about a million times because I can't say enough about them. You can get familiar with them yourself here and here.

The important concept to take away is this: a princess seam is a shaping seamline that combines the effect of a bust dart and a waist dart. 

The simpler - and more commonly-occurring- princess seam fully merges a bust dart and waist dart 

into a single seamline. 

Below are some sketches I've adapted from Dorothy Moore's book, Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking (pg. 108). These are some lesser-seen examples of princess seams. In each case, I've color-split the princess seams into their bust dart components (orange) and waist dart components (blue)

Sometimes, a princess seam can be used in combination with additional dartage. This could be for alternative shaping purposes, interesting design effects, or both.

Here are two examples - both starting with an underarm bust dart and the usual waist dart.

In Example 1, the princess seam originates from the armhole (where it could also incorporate an armhole dart if need be)  and passes over the bust apex, leaving the bust dart as is.

The pattern pieces are separated around the waist dart. In fabric, the bust dart is sewn closed, and the princess seam is completed. The resulting garment has a princess seams plus an underarm dart. 

Example 2 is a variation of Example 1. The same princess seam originates from the armhole but passes partway through the underarm bust dart, dividing it into two parts. 

The pattern pieces are separated, 

and the portion of the bust dart in the side panel is drafted shut - either simply taped up or, if necessary, rotated to the armscye and incorporated in that portion of the princess seam. Eventually, only the pointy apex portion of the bust dart remains in the fabric layout.

The resulting design lines look like this. 

I have learned that this is called a Dior dart, which was quite popular in the '60s.

So - two variations of the same design lines.

Tucks are like darts in that they are pinches of fabric that are sewn shut. However, unlike darts, they are uniformly pinched along their length, and therefore take in ease uniformly along that length. This makes them, as is, somewhat useless for shaping. 

However, when positioned only where the dart legs usually lie i.e. where a dart would usually take in the most ease, 

they have the same effect as an entire dart.

In the picture above, pintucks (very narrow tucks) are sewn directly above and below the swell of the bust, to pinch the fabric in those areas. They approximate a shoulder-and-waist dart combination, taking in ease in the same places that the widest part of traditional darts would.

Pleats, like tucks, are also uniform along their length, but they are sewn shut only at one or both ends, allowing the rest of the pleat free to unfold and accommodate movement or bulk. 

The box pleats in the example above span the chest to accommodate the bulk of the bust in the absence of traditional darts. They are sewn shut at either end - which imitates the narrow dart apices, and left free to spread in the center where the bust is fullest. 


Gathers are the more casual cousins of pleats; where pleats are sharp, precisely-spaced folds, gathers are bunches of fabric held together by threads pulled to the desired width. Often used to create decorative fullness in a garment, they can also shape fabric in the same as darts. Like pintucks and pleats, gathers pinch (or bunch) the fabric in places where the widest part of a dart would usually be located, to reduce ease in those areas. 

Underbust gathers sewn into an empire-line seam 
take in ease in the hollow underbust area, 
leaving the fabric free to drape the rounded bust.

Gathers sewn into the armhole take in ease 
at the side of the bust, 
approximating an armhole dart.

Gathers shape a bikini top by taking in ease 
on either side of each breast, leaving remaining fabric 
free to drape the fullest part of the breasts.

Gathers shape the entire front of the body - 
armhole gathers approximate armhole darts 
and gathers along the sides of the waist 
approximate french darts, 
shaping both the bust and waist.


Shirring is gathers with elastic - rather than taut - thread. It approximates a dart the same way that gathers do, with the added comfort of being all-around stretchy.

Another variation of shirring is gathering-with-elastic, or an elasticized panel, very common in the small-of-the-backs of blouses and dresses, in lieu of the back waist dart.

Smocking is the decorative stitching on pleats and gathers.

In principle, it takes in ease and shapes fabric in exactly the same way that pleats and gathers do, except that
  1. it's pretty
  2. the resulting pleats and darts are held in place solely by the smocking stitches, not hidden rows of taut or elastic thread.
A smocked panel of pleats 
(or gathers) spanning the chest.

Hellooooooo, corsets. And corset-style garments.
Lacing is a handy -if uncomfortable- way to take in ease under the bust. Usually, the laced portion of the garment (it may be part of the garment or a separate piece) is pulled tight, over loose underlayers, in the region of the body where we want ease taken in. In the diagram below, an underbust corset is laced in the hollow underbust-and-waist area, acting like a all-around, tight dart. 

Here, we must ask the question: 
how do we know when to use which (or any) of these in place of darts?

The short answer is, "it's up to you."

It truly is preference and choice. Just like in Part III, in which assigning shaping to darts vs. seams was a fit decision, substituting darts with any of these alternatives is a design decision. If you only sew with commercial patterns, you probably won't need to make this choice; it's been made for you by the designer. However, understanding the role these dart substitutes play in shaping a garment can help you make informed decisions when you adjust your commercial patterns to fit. 

Imagine a pattern that has no darts because the designer has used princess seams, gathers, pintucks, or a broad panel of elastic, which doesn't fit you well.

Old You
assumes those princess seams, gathers, pintucks etc. were merely decorative, and alters the fit by either introducing new, random darts and/or conspicuously taking in/letting out the side seams. Or just surrenders and wears her new, ill-fitting as is. 

New You
recognizes those princess seams, gathers, pintucks etc. as having shaping functions and tweaks them to fit her body. Need more ease here? Unpick a few gathers and pintucks. Need it more snug there? Add more pintucks or gathers.

Hurrah! We're finally done unpacking darts and their subtleties. It took four posts! I hope it was all helpful in demystifying darts and making them feel more like your friends than your nemeses. If you'd like all four posts in a single place, go here for the very first post, at the end of which are links to the other three. 

Here's to making and wearing better-fitting garments! 


  1. Wheeew! Thanks so much for your comprehensive series on darts! I really enjoyed reading it and will save it for future reference :-)
    Please keep up your great work!

  2. LiEr, you rock. So much. Thank you for this great series, which I will come back to again and again.

  3. I've really enjoyed this series on darts. I'm sure you've invested quite a bit of time in writing all of this, and I was wondering if you'd be willing to create a post with links to all the posts of this series so I could pin it? It would make it so much easier for me to find in the future when I really need this information. Normally, I would never think of asking for something like this, but it would be helpful to so many people and not just me. Thanks for all the great information on your site. It says a lot about you that you share so generously of yourself.

    1. Nadine: all the links are already in Part I (scroll to the bottom).

  4. This is so so fantastic. Thank you!!!!!

  5. Ah, thank you so much for this series! There were so many things that I had an inkling of, but didn't really KNOW.

  6. Absolutely wonderful information which will be filed for future use. Thank you so much!! Sue

  7. Rosemary here:
    Well done. My mom taught me all of this when I was a kid, but it was the basics and it certainly is nice to enjoy your expertise and inspriation
    LiEr you are brilliant

  8. Your illustrations make this so easy to understand. Thank you, LiEr!!!

  9. Thank you so much for an amazing series! I have a degree in fashion design and still learned a lot. Also your series on sleeves and armholes really blew my mind. You explained stuff we didn't even touch upon in class, and in such a simple and logical way. I really hope you continue to do these series.

  10. Thank you, thank you! Such a great series! Please plan a big complicated project, so you can procrastinate on that by coming up with more series :)

    On drafting a female sloper, I found this during random surfing:

    (there are 7 pages, clickable numbers at the bottom)
    No measurements, no pen and paper (at least initially) and you get a perfect 3-D cage of your own measurements. I'm going to try this as soon as I find some double-sided velcro!

    Your thoughts on whether it would work, please?

    1. limescented: Thank you for the link- what a fascinating post! I loved it - so ingenious, and so wonderfully visual. Re: your question - "will it work?" My answer: surely it will. It is, after all, a close-fit form reflecting the dimensions of the body. Whether it will result in the actual product you want (i.e. a block {what kind?} for your OWN body) or not is another issue altogether and depends entirely on whether you have a sewing buddy to either take your measurements (if doing blocks the traditional way) or to velcro your measurements. And how precise that sewing buddy is. And after that, you still will be preparing your muslin and drafting in darts and such to transfer that 3D velcro grid (or, if doing it the more traditional way, the 3D body measurements) onto flat fabric (or flat paper patterns).

      This velcro method produces a princess-seam block, rather than a darted (french dart or armhole dart or shoulder dart) block. Which I cheer for, because I will advocate for princess seams at every chance I get, but if you were looking for a standard sloper for, say, eventually drafting a Tshirt or a button-down shirt, you will still need to convert it back to a darted block.

      That said, if you try this out, link back and share your drafting adventure! I'm sure we'd all be excited to see how it turned out. I know I will!

  11. You typed "sldo" when you meant to type "also". Your left hand must have shifted over a key when typing.

  12. You are a true legend LiEr, this series has totally changed the way I see fabric and design. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge with us.


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