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Thursday, 6 February 2014

Sewing a dart

I was talking to someone the other day about sewing darts and how to avoid them ending in points that introduce a wrinkle or even worse the dreaded “cone shaped” look.
Dart location can be important: your bust dart should stop short of the bust point by about an inch,

I was attempting to explain how I do mine in about five seconds flat and I’m not sure how well I did. I'd have been confused to be honest.  So I thought I might as well write it up on our new blog. The more contributions the merrier after all, right?

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Here goes, the really looong-winded way (you might want to fetch a fortifying cuppa first, honestly):

Your dressmaking pattern will show a dart as a triangular shape: you sew along the two dart legs to pinch out the fabric between them.  When I talk about the point or end of the dart I mean the spot where the two dart legs meet.


I like to mark the dart legs with a Frixion pen (on the wrong side of the fabric).  Advantage: it irons off (markings will disappear when heat or friction is applied, on most fabrics. So check on a scrap of your fabric; my pink satin was left with a clear/white line. The ink also reappears in extreme cold), Disadvantage: it irons off, sometimes at the most inconvenient times. Still.

Use a ruler for lines that are nice and crisp.

Stick in a pin to mark the point of the dart in the right place while folding the fabric so the dart legs are roughly on top of each other (1). Your pin should stick out a bit beyond the fold for easy removal when you get ready to sew.

I put my next pin thro one of the two marked lines (2) in about the place where the stitching line crosses the dart line (the seam allowance width from the cut fabric edge) and then push it through the other dart line in roughly the corresponding spot at the stitching line (3). Make sure the folded fabric lies nice and flat - then bring the tip of the pin back through both fabric layers towards you so that this second insertion point is also on the marked line (4).

With this second pin safely in, turn the fabric over and take a look if your pin went through the dart line on that side too (5). Re-adjust if needed.

Depending on how long your dart is you may want to insert more pins - your aim is to have the fabric lie flat enough so your sewing machine won't push things out of place while sewing.  So very big gaps between pins aren't great but you won't need loads of pins. Maybe three for an average length dart (6+7).

Now the fun sewing part begins!

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I sew my darts from the dart tip towards the cut edge. Place your fabric carefully so you can lower the needle to pierce the fabric just inside the fold (8): the fewer threads from the fold edge that you can catch the better. Try and stay inside a millimetre. You will have lowered your sewing foot at a suitable point in the proceedings (this is roughly the point when you want to remove that first pin (9): if it sticks out it’s easier to pull from where it's squashed under the sewing foot) - your fabric should lie straight so that when you sew straight ahead you won't run off the fabric (10).

Keep hold of your thread ends (to avoid the sewing machine sucking them in) and take some three stitches, or so, very slowly and straight ahead, parallel to the fabric fold edge (10). Don't do any back stitching: their bulkiness would show. Then begin to curve in towards the marked dart line (11a). Keep your stitching in a smooth line. The slower the better! You have time and this isn’t a race. You might as well dawdle a bit over the important bits.

When you sew slowly you should be able to sew directly on your marked line (11b). Such a satisfying feeling to get a dart as precise as possible. It can make quite a difference in how your garment will look and drape.


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Other things to look out for before you start marking the darts: if you use something like a Frixion pen that comes off easily, then mark as late in the process as possible: just before you pin and sew.  That way you can be more certain that the marks are in the right place, and they will still be nice and sharp.  Chalk lines can also get rather vague the longer ago they were made, and tailor tacks are great but very time consuming.

When I cut out fabric I like to put a pin with a big coloured head into the right side (RS) of the fabric.  I don’t remember how often I got confused.  Sometimes it matters, other times it doesn’t.

Check your pinned fabric to make sure that the darts stick out towards the wrong side (WS) of your fabric – nothing more annoying than having to rip and re-stitch because you didn’t check for right and wrong sides.

Before you put the fabric under the sewing foot for machine stitching: just take one more look at the piece in your hands to see if it makes it through a common sense check.  Does it all look sensible?  Is anything off?  If you have a nagging feeling (I trust those!) then listen.  Go make another cup of tea, or something, and look at it again with fresh eyes.  So satisfying to get something right first time.  And very soothing for the nerves too, ask me how I know...

You can either knot your thread ends at the dart point (as above), or hand sew them with a couple of stitches where they can't be seen on the right side (pics 1-3, pink plaid dart below).
Then cut (4).

I don't ususally bother to backstitch the thread at the outer edge (see lilac dart 12 and 13 above). The stitching line across the darts will secure it and back-stitching would only make the seam allowance more bulky near the pleat bulk of the dart. If you prefer you can take a back stitch or two.

Once your darts are sewn use your iron to press them into place: press vertical darts towards the centre and horizontal darts down.  You may want to place your piece on the ironing board so that the dart point is very close to the board’s edge – or use a tailor ham, those are great as well.

You also want to make sure that the material lies flat at the cut fabric edge so you can easily sew over it when you assemble your garment.  Your iron is your best sewing friend, it will make such a difference to how easy it is to sew pieces together and how well the garment will look at the end.  It is vital for quilting, and it is also very important in dressmaking: press down rather than moving the iron from side to side.

Then hold up to admire and congratulate yourself on a job well done! That’s my favourite bit.

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Did I forget anything, muddle anything up?  Do you know another way of sewing darts that you find useful?  I would love lots of comments so we get a lively exchange of ideas by as many members as possible. Don't be shy, chip in!

Apologies for the very long descriptions. I felt it was better to explain too much than leave something out that would be useful. Much easier to ignore extreme wordage than try to guess at what's missing.

I didn't intend to take quite so many pictures either.  I can't quite see myself going as overboard as this again.  At least we all hope I won't...

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But, just in case, don't hold your breath...


  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post - am bookmarking for later reference (I haven't done a dart in 15 years!)

    I also wanted to mention that a book I recently borrowed from the library (to get started on my sewing!) mentioned different shape darts according to one's body shape. Have you heard of these? I'm interested because it seems I'd need a curved dart for my curvylicious pear shaped body! LMK.

    1. Hi LMK, thanks so much for your comment. I very much hope you will find this post useful, I did go on rather long.

      Stitching a dart on a more curved line than the straight line is a good idea. Keep in mind the shape of your body underneath the dart and go with as much of a curve as you want and need. The lilac dart pics without numbers (where I tie off the thread) do show that I deviated a little from my straight line but more so near the dart point and then I follow the straight line nearer the fabric edge.

      There is also a type of curved dart where both dart legs curve in the same direction, these behave a bit different because the stitching line will look curved on the right side of fabric. I will write about those at some point as well. But the kind of curved dart in your book is more likely to be similar to a straight dart where you stitch a curved line and the dart shows up as a straight line on the RS. I hope that helps!


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