Learn how to sew accurate darts and take your sewing to the next level with a professional finish. In this tutorial we are going to be working with standard darts. When we refer to standard darts we mean darts that start in a seam (such as the waist, or side seam). Why not watch our corresponding YouTube tutorial: How To: Sewing Darts for a detailed view.
What are darts?
Darts are areas of a garment (generally shaped like a V) that will sewn and therefore exempt from the finished product. They provide the shaping require to make a garment three dimensional.
Why are darts needed?
Darts are required in fitted garments (material with no stretch), to shape the garment around the 3D contours of the body. Predominately the bust, stomach and hips. However they can also be found in the shoulder and sleeve.
Generally a dart will point to a fuller part of the figure. The larger the area on the body, the larger the dart. This is common with cup size in the bust area. The larger the cup size the larger the dart required; this can be seen on commercial patterns that offer different cup sizes.
The anatomy of a dart.
A dart is generally shaped like a V. The dart will have two lines that start further apart and move to a point. These are referred to as the dart legs. The interior of the dart that will be exempt from a garment when it is sewn is called the dart bulk. The point of the V shape is referred to as the dart point or apex.
Examples of a standard dart.
Example of a waist dart on a skirt. The dart starts at the waist seam and moves to the fullest area at the hip. This is the back of the skirt (found by the 2 notches on the waist seam).
Example of a dart starting in the waist seam and finishing at the bust.
Example of a dart starting in the side seam and finishing at the bust. This dart is slightly different to the other examples featured above, you will be required to choose the dart size based on the size of the garment you are making.
Start by cutting out your pattern in the required fabric (in the suitable size). Work by pinning the fabric RIGHT sides together and position the pattern onto the fabric, checking the grainline. Cut out the fabric.
How to mark darts
You will need to mark the darts onto the fabric, so that you know where to sew them. We prefer to work with carbon paper and a tracing wheel where possible. This is an accurate and quick way of marking darts that makes the sewing process easy. However I would recommend testing the fabric you are working with to check that the tracing wheel does not damage or mark the fabric, and that the carbon residue can be removed.
If you are working with white fabric, be sure to choose white tracing paper (as black and other colours may leave permanent marks).
Should the tracing wheel or carbon paper mark or damage the fabric you will need to work with thread tracing and/or tailor’s tacks.
Position the carbon paper underneath the fabric. The carbon paper must sit with the marking side facing up (this side would make your fingers dirty if touched) and the fabric facing the carbon paper should be the WRONG side (you should have two layers of fabric and the RIGHT sides should be together).
Use the tracing wheel to mark along the lines of the dart, both of the dart legs. You may need to press harder than you think to mark the fabric clearly (depending on your fabric and the colour of the carbon paper you are using). Position a piece of cardboard or a self-healing mat under your work if you are worried about marking your table.
Optional: Mark a horizontal line across the apex (point) of the dart, this will be a stopping guide when you are sewing.
Your markings should look something like this.
Now you have marked one side of the fabric, you will need to mark the other. Remove the pattern from the fabric but leave the two layers of fabric pinned together.
Mark the other side of the fabric using the markings completed on the initial side.
If you are working with one layer of fabric then you will only need to complete this once.
Be cautious with carbon paper, new sheets can be messy and distribute carbon across the fabric (as seen on the images). Be careful not to move the fabric on the paper and don’t press too hard with your supporting hands. I would recommend washing your hands after use to make sure that you don’t take carbon residue onto other areas of the fabric.
How to pin darts
Place the fabric with the WRONG side facing up and the markings visible. Position a finger behind the dart and pinch the bottom of the dart. It is easier to start pinning at the bottom of the dart, once this is correct the rest of the dart should fall into place.
Position a pin through the marked carbon line, make sure that it is accurately in the carbon line on both sides of the folded edge of the fabric.
Work your way towards the top of the dart (the larger area of dart bulk). Position pins through the carbon markings, checking that they are sitting along the drawn line on both sides.
When pinning darts, I always place the pins with the point facing away from the apex of the dart. This is because darts MUST be sewn from the seam to the apex. Think about the way your fabric will travel through the sewing machine, the bulk of the fabric should be on the LEFT. Therefore the pin head should be facing you so that they are easy to remove, you will be able to sew closer to the pin prior to removing it, which will create an accurate dart.
You would complete the same method if you had used thread tracing or tailor’s tacks to mark the dart.
If you are new to sewing darts I would recommend positioning a pin along the horizontal line at the bottom of the dart. This is your stopping pin and will be a guide when sewing, so that you accurately know where to stop.
Be cautious using this on delicate fabric, you don’t want the tip of the pin to snag the fabric.
Once the dart is pinned and ready to sew, I would recommend checking the dart against the opposite corresponding dart. Generally you will have two darts the same, one for either side of the body. Check that the darts are symmetrical and that the stopping pin is in the same place on both darts, so that you will create two darts the same length.
Start sewing at the top edge of the dart, the opening to the dart on the seam. Notice the pins are placed in the correct direction so that they are easy to remove (pin head towards you) and the bulk of the fabric is on the LEFT of the sewing machine.
Back stitch at the start to secure the seam.
Stitch along the drawn carbon line, removing the pins as you sew. Use a straight stitch with a standard stitch length of 2.5mm.
When you near the apex of the dart you will be sewing closer and closer to the folded edge of the fabric.
Remove the stopper pin as you near the end of the dart. You will need to sew OFF the fabric and you must NOT back stitch. A back stitch will add too much bulk to the dart if it not accurate and may create a point on the exterior of the garment.
Ideally you want to sew the last two stitches parallel to the folded edge of the fabric, as close to the folded edge of the fabric as possible. Sewing off the fabric after the last two stitches. This will come with practise, so don’t worry if you don’t get this on your first go!
Once you have sewn the first dart, check this against the corresponding dart on the body. As mentioned previously you will generally have two darts the same on the figure.
Check that you finished sewing the dart at the correct point, where the stopping pin was. If you stitched one or two stitches past the stopping pin you can get away with this by moving the stopping pin on the next dart. So that the length of the two darts will still be the same.
You will need to fasten the end of the stitching at the apex of the dart. Simply knot the two thread together and either cut off the threads approximately 3/8″ (1cm) away from the knot or use a needle to hand sew the threads back into the stitching.
How to press darts
Press the stitching on the dart flat first to meld the stitches into the fabric and get a better finish.
Use a tailors ham to shape the dart and achieve a perfect press. A tailor’s ham is shaped like the 3D contours of the body and will allow you to press a perfect dart without pleats and puckers.
Do not try to press a dart flat, you will find that you get a pleat at the apex of the dart. If you don’t have a tailor’s ham try rolling up a towel to get a similar shape.
Press using heat and steam.
What direction should you press darts?
Darts that are horizontal on the body should generally be pressed DOWN with gravity. However you can have a play, by pressing these flat or up towards the top of the garment you will achieve a different look.
Darts that are vertical on the body should be pressed towards the SIDE of the body. However most commercial patterns will ask you to press your vertical darts towards the centre of the body, there are mixed views in the sewing world. Our preferred method is to press the darts to the side of the body, because most people hold more bulk in the centre of their figure (stomach, bottom), therefore we believe that you do not want to add to this and the darts should be pressed towards the SIDE.