Friday, March 14, 2014

SSDA 6: Why common patternmaking methods won't work for you, or, more about fit

Another week flew by while I've been working, snapping pictures for tutorials and writing up draft posts. It's frightening how little time is left after a busy day - you just want to extend it by another couple of hours... Today I could finally to upload this one.

Well, before we get over to our last measurement post, let us look at another case study of darts. Darts are a key for correct fit, so we can't talk enough about them. After all, we shape our garment using darts. In this post I wanted to demonstrate how common patternmaking methods calculate darts, and why it cannot work for individual bodies.

Let's look at Kate's body shape again: her buttocks need less shaping (dart intake) than her hips. If you remember Liz, she had same waist and hip measurements as Kate, but needed more shaping for her buttocks, while her hips were less curvy. In this post, however, we will just look at Kate.

Blue outlines indicate dart intake calculated using one of the popular patternmaking handbooks. The blue-filled areas are the actual intakes. I tried to illustrate as precisely as possible, however, calculations give you a more accurate comparison.

According to common pattern-making methods, in order to calculate darts we need two measurements, waist and hip circumference.  Those are 72 and 110 accordingly. To demonstrate my point, I am using Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong ( let's shorten it to PFD) to calculate darts:

The total dart intake is calculated by subtracting waist circumference from hip circumference:

110cm – 75cm = 35cm

We are drafting one side only, therefore we will work with half of the total intake:

35cm : 2 = 17,5cm


According to PFD, in the front, we need two darts, 5/8” intake each, with 1 ¼” (3,2cm) total intake for one half in the front. Dart length, according to the book, is 3 ½” (9cm)

If we look at Kate’s body shape we will see that 3,2cm intake would be too deep, while the length is too long. In fact what Kate needs is dart that is about 2cm deep. I will explain how you can measure dart intake in the next post.

Her dart is also too long. It needs to be approximately 5cm to follow the shape of her tummy.

So, what happens if we draft darts using PFD method? The answer is, too much fabric will be taken out in the front, and not only at the waist, but also further down. As a result, side seam may shift  as far as 1cm toward the front in the top 9cm section of the skirt.


In the back, PFD recommends 2 darts, 1 3/8” each, or 2 ¾” (7cm) total intake for one half in the back.

Back dart length, according to the book, is 5 ½” (14cm)

Again, if we look at Kate's body. the dart intake is calculated too deep, we need about 6,5 cm. The difference is not too big, you may think, but now the side seam is also pulled toward the back. This will result in small unsightly drag lines, both in the front and in the back. This happens because the fabric is off grain in the side seam area, between the front and the back dart.

As for the side seam, because both, the back and the front darts, have wrong intake, the side seam may just get out of control. Generally, what we need to remember as a conclusion here is that it is useless to fix side seam before we get the front and back darts right. I am saying it because I've seen an article on Threads blog, where side seam is reshaped to make it appear straight when it is sewn. This is like treating symptoms, not the cause.

Now, the length. Kate has low buttocks, and she needs appr. 18cm darts. But if we followed the standard method, the dart ended 4cm higher. The result: a bulge.


The remaining intake is used for the side seam, or side dart:

17,5cm – 3,2cm – 7cm = 7,3cm

What we need, however, is

17,5cm – 2cm – 6,5cm = 9cm

Doesn’t 9cm make more sense? Kate’s hips require most shaping after all. 

As for side dart length ( = side hip length), it is measured in the book, so at least this part can be customized. Kate's measurement is about 20cm


In the next post I am going to explain how to measure darts. But whether you will do it for your pattern-drafting or not, it is more important to understand how garment is shaped.  Once you develop an observant eye, you will easily correct fit mistakes. Analyze your body shape, compare the distance to most protruding areas from one reference line (waist line, for example). Check if your pattern reflects your observation. Correct if needed. Even better, measure the darts to eliminate most of the fitting work.

Previous Straight Skirt Draft Along (SSDA) posts:

Coming up:

SSDA 7: Measuring and Calculating Darts
SSDA 8: Side Seam Placement
SSDA 9: The Measuring Session
SSDA 10: Drafting the Skirt
SSDA 11: Making a Toile and Analyzing the Fit


  1. I am following this with great interest Marina. Thank you so much!

  2. I am really enjoying these posts too. This is why I often get a better fit on people with non standard figures by draping directly on the person. I've been doing it intuitively so it's wonderful to see the reasons written out so clearly .

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this information. It make perfect sense the way you have explained it. Looking forward to the next posts. Thanks again!

  4. I love how you explain this. It is so easy to understand. I try to think of PFD as just a starting point. I've been more than frustrated on a couple of projects--especially for those who are not shaped perfectly. Thank you for going through this with such detail.

  5. I've tried drafting skirts and always ends up with an imperfect fit. My shape is similar to "Liz" but with less stomach pouch. Waist -71 cm, hips - 43 cm. Im following your blog to help me get the perfect fit.

  6. Hi Marina

    It is strange how very well known people in the field of drafting , sewing and fashion design have NOT been able to demystify and talk about important things that make a HUGE difference ?!

    Next time DON'T go to them , they should come to YOU... they have a gap in their information !

    I cannot thank you enough for explaining those important, less talked about things in simple , logical language explaining WHY they happen and HOW TO fix them before they even happen.

    Hope you'll talk about other aspects of the garment like this.

    Happy Unique Sewing!

  7. This is just brilliant, Marina. Thank you so much for giving us the eyes to see fit differently and the science behind it. You bring so much to the sewing world and it is greatly appreciated.

  8. Hi Marina

    I have been trying to email you at and my emails won't reach .Have you changed your email address /

    Thank You.

    1. Hi, the second dot, after should be replaced with an @ symbol. It should work

  9. Hi Marina

    Thanks for your reply , i had tried many times but its not working . it seems i have some kind of problem ...shall dig into it to see what the problem is.

    I shall be short , i read that Kenneth D King is great but there are some people who say his patterns only work for standard ladies and models , they don't work that well for REAL PEOPLE who are the majority of women.
    I thought if that is the case then maybe i can learn other things that would be good to know , what do you advise?


  10. I found you yesterday (via Pinterest ~ one of your SSDA posts :-) and spent waayy too much time reading through a few months of posts. You have got some fabulous info here and I am just as tickled as can be that I happened upon your blog.
    I just wanted to say 'hello' :-) I won't comment often, but I will be reading and gleaning from your wealth of knowledge. Thanks so much for sharing!!
    ~ Tracy

  11. I love seeing the WHY! These posts are so great, Marina. Thank you for all your hard work! Looking forward to more!

  12. I feel as though I've come full circle to where I was, standing in a mirror and pinching, pinning, and marking with chalk, on the dress, where my widest bits are. I feel as I though I could make the best paper pattern, now, by starting off with muslin, rather than the other way around. Many thanks.

  13. Hi thank you for your articles I have read them with great interest and now I can see where some of my problems on fitting lay. I have just recently finished a skirt and although it appears to fit I can see that the volume of the skirt is wrong and the back if pulling from the front in the hip area and the front pulling from the back in the tummy area- lovely curved side seams! I cannot wait for the following articles in this series.

  14. I am so glad you addresses the issue of the side seam wave, that article really bothered me. Now I finally have a decent mental picture, two cylinders stacked on a top the other slightly off centered, to work with. I am working on a narrow skirt for a dress and anticipating your next post to figure out how to make the darts read true with the side seam. Thank you.



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