Monday, February 24, 2014

SSDA 5: What are (perfect) darts? Assessing dart intake, zzzz...

Back to nuclear pattern-making, readers! Aren't we all happy to delve into a world of high mathematics, technical drawings and nerdy formulas? After two Valentine's Day celebrations at school and one parent-teacher conference after another, I am really happy to be back to this! Oh, well, this post is actually short and sweet, and painless. You just need to stay awake!


Our fellow sewers, Liz and Kate!

If you remember, they both have the same waist and hip circumference. Their shapes are, however, very different. Liz has stronger buttocks, and Kate has strong hips. Both of them have protruding tummies.

The next thing we discussed earlier is that (almost) any garment, and in our case, a skirt, starts with a cylinder, which is then shaped with the help of darts, just like a soccer/foot- ball. But while a football is a sphere with equal dart intake, our body require different intake depending on the area being shaped. This very basic concept is essential for understanding the fit and custom patternmaking or draping.

Let me give you a brief list of areas that need shaping for our straight skirt:

  • front: usually two darts, from waist to the most protruding part of the tummy
  • back:  usually two to six darts, from waist to most protruding part of the buttocks
  • side:  usually two darts, from the waist to the most protruding part of your hip/thigh
As you see, there are pairs of darts in each area. If you have a symmetric figure, each pair will have two equal darts. For asymmetric figure they will be slightly different. 

Now, since both, Liz and Kate have the same waist and hip measurements, most patternmaking books would give you same values for darts. One system that approaches it differently is Mueller & Sohn, but the disadvantage there is that you have to do different calculations for different types of bodies, and learn to identify them in a first place. Finally, Mueller & Sohn only gives you a very few body variations, and as we know, each body is unique. Whatever the system, most of them often require a considerable fitting effort after the drafting. 

Let's look at our picture above again and try to identify where will Liz and Kate require shaping and how will it differ for each of the girls. I drew a gray cylinder/rectangle (our future skirt) for both of them, and shaded the areas that need darts in blue. It is just as simple - shade the area between the body contour and the (excess) rectangle outline! 

What do we see? Let's draft a simple checklist, that you can use for yourself as well:
  • Liz needs the biggest dart intake in the back
  • Her front darts are the smallest
  • Her side darts are the longest
  • Kate needs most dart intake on the sides
  • Her back darts are the longest
  • Her front darts are the smallest.
  • Liz has longer side darts than Kate
  • Both have almost the same front darts
  • Kate has longer back darts
  • Liz has deeper back darts than Kate
  • ...
Are we on the same page, readers? If yes, the next step is to realize what fitting issues can arise with wrong intake. here is a very short...

  • Liz/Kate: What will happen with the side seam if we take in more in the front? The rest needs to be distributed so the waist circumference won't change
  • Liz: How will less intake in the back affect the side seam? The waist circumference should remain the same, that is the excess fabric will need to be somehow redistributed.
  • ... continue thinking of possible scenarios, or even try to drape a muslin around a dress form a watch how its behaving while you are pinching out darts. 


Are you actually doing your homework? If you made your photographs, as I asked you in one of previous posts you can draw the same rectangle shape for your body and shade areas that need intake. Analyze intakes and, if you want, contact me with questions here, or by mail at mvk(dot)fashion(at)gmail(dot)com. 

Previous Straight Skirt Draft Along (SSDA) posts:

Coming up:

SSDA 6: Measuring and Calculating Darts
SSDA 7: The Measuring Session
SSDA 8: Drafting the Skirt
SSDA 9: Making a Toile and Analyzing the Fit

Please do comment here and let me know if anyone needs help or feedback. In that case I will set up a discussion group on a different platform - it all depends on the number of people participating and your involvement. 


  1. This is really mind-bending (for me, anyway) but I'm so interested! Thanks for taking the time to write up these great posts!

  2. yay, the first comment. I was already worried :) please tell me what's unclear - maybe I am just putting it in a complicated way ???

  3. Great level of information. I love drafting and see how people work...

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hello Marina, Thanks for these explanations, they are really interesting! I currently have fitting issue with my skirt block: strange wrinkle under front darts. Looks like an excess of fabric, only at dart end. Back is ok. Side seems are not pulling, they are straight. If I make my dart longer (15cm), situation improves, but I've never seen so deep darts! So I'm reading your posts, hoping I will understand what's wrong with my shaping.

    1. Hi Cecile, thanks for commenting. I cannot say what's causing the wrinkle under your dart without seeing the skirt on you, but I'd recommend that you analyze at your body shape from the side. Look at your front profile in the mirror, from the waist to the most protruding part of your tummy. Than imagine the same cylinder as in my post, with shaded areas for dart intakes. How long would that shaded wedge in front be? It may be much shorter than your initial dart, or longer. What about the depth? It may be just about 1cm?.. Sometimes, you need to change the dart intake/depth, not the dart length, to solve the problem. If a dart follows your body curve at a wrong angle, it will create puckers, or wrinkles. In other words, it seems that longer dart corrects the angle, but the same effect can be achieved by reducing the front dart depth.If you reduce the depth of the front dart, you will need to take in this extra fabric elsewhere, but you'll need to watch the side seam... In the next post, I will talk about measuring the dart... It will be much easier to understand.

    2. The angle, that's it. I'll think about it. And now that I look at your scheme again, I think it's normal my darts are so long. My "hip line" (widest part of body) is low in my case because of (athletic ;-)?) protruding thigh , almost more protruding than tummy... So the "blue shade" in front is quite big.

  6. Love this stuff! I think you are being very clear. Of course I love a good formula! Looking forward to more!

  7. I love your posts and clear figures. As soon as my crazy semester-feels-like-a-homework-tsunami is done, I will come back to do those homework! Thank you so much for your time! :D

  8. Hi Marina

    Thank you for taking time to approach pattern making in such a clear , simple ,creative way? I already have understood dart intake much better than any book.Your method is really COOL!
    I hope you continue this series to include other parts of garment construction like bodice, pants,dresses and sleeves.

    I really am enjoying this series with the wonderful information that comes with it and would like to know how you learnt what you are sharing with us ?

    Since you like lots of hand sewing and couture techniques , i thought i would send you a name of an ebook i found interesting called "modern sewing techniques for historical sewing clothing construction" on this website but the author of the ebook has this site, her name is Jennifer

    The Ebook has really nice stuff - from my humble sewing experience , it shows you how you can adapt vintage sewing techniques and use them in your modern sewing . The author has done many researches and has a lot of experience and she is also a very nice person too.

    I hope it is something everyone who likes hand sewing can benefit from.

    Happy Sewing

    1. Thank you for commenting! I will try to post more on pattern drafting - glad you find it useful. As for learning it, I started with a course at a well-known design school and was very disappointed with the fit. Then I took series of classes with Kenneth D. King. It was much much better, but drafting still depended a lot on standard body shapes. Study of other pattern-making methods followed, but it was impossible to find one which would explain each step and their relation to the final fit.

      Then tried to learn fitting, read many books, but soon realized that many fitting methods deal more with symptoms but not with the cause. So, I tried to look at the drafting problems from where they originate, the measurements. I took more classes, did some research, mixed it all with geometry and math and distilled it into these posts. I haven't invented anything new, I am just trying to make available knowledge more accessible.

      Thanks as well for sharing these great resources - corsetry is something I wanted to learn for long time. And hand-sewing technique resources are always a treat!

  9. Like some of your other readers, I too am neck deep in pattern drafting via on-line study. All I can say is Frabjous Couture has been a great (aka vital) supplement to my course. I am a firm believer that we don't find all our information in one shot, or at one site. Thank you so much for sharing your skirt drafting techniques through a series of easy to understand lessons. And for using sample figures that mimic real fit issues. Looking forward to your next posts!

  10. Yesterday I wore a paper tube, just like your virtual Liz and Kate. ;)

    By pressing on the paper I could determine where my "protruding parts" where. Very enlightening. These are also the places where my darts will end, I think.
    My front darts are just 6 cm short but at the back 20 cm long. And the back craves a 12 cm reduction while the front only needs a few cm.

    Today I made a skirt, using the tube as a pattern. The fit is excellent!
    You are right that no extra ease is needed when 'the tube' is used to determine circumference. Thank you.

    One strange thing I'd like to ask: is it possible my back panel is 53 cm at hip while my front panel is 44 cm at that same height? This would make the back panel wider than the front, at hip height. (They both decrease to 40 at my waist.)
    My side seam is perfectly vertical (on one side at least)

    On my blog I have one picture of that straight seam, if you care to see it. I must warn though, I didn't iron my fabric or take tidy pictures and I made some screeching beginner mistakes...

    1. Thanks for posting! I looked at your pictures, and judging by the last image of the side seam, it looks quite good! However, I think side seam shifts toward the back slightly - I just checked the seam with a ruler. I believe your front and back darts are good, so the side seam correction can be done by adjusting side dart. Adding a cm at the waist to the back, and subtracting a cm at the waist in the front. Not being able to measure you or see you in person I am only guessing, of course.

      As for the width of panels, it depends on (a) your body shape, and (b) side seam placement. My back skirt panel is wider too, by 4 cm. More tummy, or less buttocks - more fabric in the front.

      However, the large difference you got may be explained by your hip circumference measurement. You may want to increase your hip circumference a bit. If you look at the skirt profile in the front, it is hugging your tummy, instead of falling from where the darts end (or the most protruding part of your tummy). Once you do it, your front panel will end up being somewhat wider.

      another thing is the back length. Are you sure it is measured right. I have the feeling it is somewhat long in the center back, at the waist. Or, maybe you have stretched the fabric when inserting a zipper. Just wondering :)

      Hopes this help! Stay along - there are just a couple of posts left. And thanks for sharing your progress and experience.

  11. Hi Marina, you did a great job with these posts, I've been reading them with great interest. I love the illustrations and the clear descriptions of cause-solution examples. It demistifies the drafting process to all who want to learn it. It's also inspiring to all of us who tend to teach sewing - it gave me some great ideas on how to write my tutorials in the future. Well done!

    1. I am really glad to hear it! Please keep me posted about your new patterns and teaching plans. I love the dress you released, by the way.

  12. Thank you so much for these posts! I'm trying to figure out how to fit people since I work in theater and there are a lot of different bodies to work with.
    These posts are very helpful to understand fitting issues!

  13. I'm doing my homework (well in fact I had already drawn my body shape from pictures) and my excess is the same as example-Kate, only deeper in the back and less deep on the sides, so far so good. I will continue my reading now ;)



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