Saturday, July 9, 2011



The other night I bravely set out to really start my dress.  Pretty much in disbelief, I gathered the super-large pattern-drafting paper, the tools, the book, my measurements and dove right in.  It almost seemed possible until the darts...

the dress in mind.

This is the dress I have in mind, from "Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Patternmaking Simplified" by Cal Patch. Since I was having a hard time finding a prepared pattern that I actually might look decent in and doesn't involve knits, I settled on drafting my own pattern based on my measurements with the help of this book.

The dress is an empire waist and I am a 32C. That's a lot of shape in the bust area.

After some basic drafting of the bodice, the book had me cut out a muslin and pin it on a tight-fitting top. Then, "form one or two darts around the bust, ending at either the neckline or side seam. Pinch the darts where you see the fullness naturally forming at the edges of the pattern, and pin them until you are satisfied (pg. 93)." 


So, um, help!  I don't think I'm "satisfied".  I've redone the darts a million times and I can only seam to get anything ressembling normal when I do two at the side like this.  Is that weird?  I'm afraid to just go ahead and make the pattern (yeah, I've never sewn darts, but let's cross that bridge later), because I hate to waste time and fabric if this is just complete, ridiculously wrong.

Please give it to me straight.  I can take it!  What the heck and I doing wrong? 

And, really, is it smart to make this dress on my body shape in home decorator's weight fabric?  I thought the home decor would be fine because it's kind of like quilting cotton + lining, with the lining already built in.  But I'm worried that if I can't make the darts look halfway decent in the muslin that problems could be amplified in the heavier weight home decor? I don't know.

If I look like I'm ready to give up in that picture, it's because I am.


  1. As a full-chested girl myself, that's the worst part of garment sewing! You might want to look into doing a full-bust adjustment (I know Sew Mama Sew did an article on it awhile back). I'm not sure how much your book goes into that, but it might help. Also, I'm not sure about the home-dec weight...never used it for clothing, so I'm not sure on that one...
    Good luck!!!

  2. Rachel~ Did you try one deeper dart from the seam line to the fullness? It will be easier for you to make one dart on each side (since you are new at dressmaking BUT awesome at quilt making)
    Try starting the dart about a half inch (or a bit more: so you keep the bottom edge straight, to join the skirt part) above the bottom edge bringing the fabric from the top dart you created in the pic.
    It is difficult to describe, hope this helps a bit :0)

  3. If your dress will be home decor weight, then you should draft your muslin with a similar weight fabric to ensure you account for the fabric weight and drape. There's a significant difference between muslin and home decor fabric. I have used home decor fabric (Amy Butler) for tops and find they provide support and coverage for wear without a bra.

    In home decor weight, I'd recommend only one dart...and would try splitting the difference between the two you have shown here on it's location. But I have to admit I'm not as busty as you....

  4. I'm more of a hands on kind of girl, so its hard for me to give you a definite answer here. (oh and the hands on was in reference to how I learn, etc).

    I think the bottom of the band is too big for your frame. If you reduce the width around your ribcage, that should free up the wrinkle under your bust and the bottom dart. So your pattern piece should be more trapezoid.

    Then, re-do the dart on the side into one larger dart. It is helpful to drape in something similar to the fabric you are using, but if you are using decor weight from a quilting company, its not the same as true decor fabrics. I wouldn't worry too much about it, but I would add extra for seam allowances so that you can alter later, if necessary.

  5. I'll second both the "one dart" suggestion and full bust adjustment!
    I'm considerably larger than you (32F!) and find a tuck in the armhole area is sometimes necessary, but you can move the darts around - once you transfer the toile back to paper you can slash and pivot the darts to suit.
    The darts you've pinned are very flattering to your assets though!

  6. It has been a long time since I sewed darts, so I checked the two fitted dresses I still have. The each have two darts. One comes up from the side seam, and one comes up from the bottom in about the middle. They are both heavier cotton, but not home decor weight. One of the things I noticed in you muslin piece is that it doesn't reach far enough around to the side seam. I think that will be important in the final pattern. I don't think you should give up. I am a firm believer in the "I can do this if I keep at it" method. I have every confidence in you.

  7. Oh, you are a brave woman. I tried drafting a loose costume for my daughter and totally messed it up.

    The home dec weight makes me nervous though. Is it light enough to hang like the picture? Or will the gathers be too bulky and stiff?

    There is a whole series on drafting at Ikat Bag (mostly drafting for children)

    But she does have on post on princess seams and darts which might help.

  8. You should really stitch the darts before giving up. It's hard to tell where they will actually end and what they'll look like with only pinning them. Also I agree with an above commenter that the front doesn't seem to go far enough to the side to meet the side seam. Perhaps you should cut the back as well and sew together a full mock up of the front. Also I would pull back the point of the dart just a little so that it doesn't go all the way to the fullest part of your bust. If the dart goes to far it draws the wrong kind of attention and gives you pointy bust a la Madonna circa the 80s. Home dec fabric should be fine, we use it a lot in theater as it is usually more visually appealing than quilting fabrics for apparel. Be careful that it's not too bulky. Also if you find that you are nervous about the fit cut the pattern with additional seam allowance so you can let it out. You can always cut out the extra but you can't add on half an inch. Hope this helps! Apparel sewing is much different than quilting but I find they require the same kind of patience.

  9. Just make one dart on each side... the dart seam should be horizontal to your waist or the floor. Press the fabric in the dart down.

    You're awfully brave to make your own pattern if you've never done darts before... one thing I've learned in 50 yrs of dressmaking is that fitting in the bust area is the hardest part of altering patterns.

  10. you have a lot of comments, but here's where I'll weigh in:
    I've got a big bust, too, and I've found that doing the side dart along with a bit of a gather under each breast makes for the best fit with a true empire waist. Since your inspiration pic has a longer bodice than usual, you might want to do a dart straight from the bottom up to wherever looks good when you pin it.

    That's what I'd do anyway.

  11. First of all ' Hei, Nina, nice bust' :))). Sorry, I couldn't help :D

    Secondly, I prefer everything but one dart on the side. You can put one dart starting from your underarm, or 2 darts, one from the bottom up and one from the side, or one from the underarm (sleeve) and one from the bottom.

    As for the home-decor weight, I think the upper part of the dress would look great, but I would use quilting weight for the lower side, it drapes nicer.

    Hmm.. I'm already seeing some gorgeous Amy Butler combos here <3

  12. You might consider putting a bit of gathering on the side rather than the dart. It won't do away with any fabric the way the dart will but might help to make a better cut shape.

  13. I agree that trying a muslin using a similar weight fabric, with a middle of the road larger dart. I am also blessed with curves, and this is the most difficult part to fit...hang in there!

  14. I vote you cheat and copy darts that fit you from an existing pattern. :)

  15. I think you you have had enough help with the darts but I'm also concerned about the weight of the home dec and the draping of the shirt. That little bit of gather with look poofy in home dec

  16. You're a braver woman than I....Sewing clothes scares me!

  17. Yeah, I love you all. Love you, love you, love you! If there's any reason to blog, it's this - so that real nice, generous people can give you advice when you feel like giving up. There's a lot of great ideas here. I'll definitely start working with home decor rather than muslin. And, I'm going to dig out the one pattern I have to see if I can gain any experience from it. One of the problems is that ALL of my (few) dresses are made of knit fabrics, thus I don't know what I prefer on my body (and also why I worry that non-knit could be a loss cause). Thank-you SOOOOO much!

  18. Rachel~
    I haven't read the other posts so I don't know if this solution was already offered. In light of that, here is what I would do. I'd do two darts on each side, one on the side (make this a large one) and one coming up from the bottom of the garment piece. (If you drew 2 imaginary lines, they should intersect right at the center of your breast.) This way, the fullness is distributed at the side and at the bottom. Of course, if the dress is all one piece, you would have to put the dart just at the side. Good luck! I'm sure you will figure it out!

  19. Make one dart on the side and one on the bottom of the bodice. That will take in the fullness on the empire waist and help make a nice shaping for the bust. I think home dec weight is fine.

  20. I'd third or fourth the comments about the width of the bodice, it looks like it needs at least another 5 cm or so either side.

    I always have problems with the bust in patterns too, and I could never figure it out until I realised that commercial patterns (and I'm assuming Cal Patch's book too) all work off a B-cup, so if you're bigger than that you'll have to make adjustments. I drafted up the tshirt from that book and had to make major adjustments for my bust and broad back. There are lots of good tutorials around on how to make a full bust adjustment (FBA) which is what I think you need here, but I highly highly recommend a book called 'Fit for Real People' by Palmer and Alto. I didn't really understand patterns and how to adjust them for various figures until I read this book. It's designed around commercial patterns, but I think would be equally applicable to patterns you are drafting yourself.

  21. I would think one dart on the side of the boob and one underneath the boob might work better. If the top is one piece and the bottom is another, maybe try different fabrics that coordinate? I would think that home dec wouldnt drape as well with the cut of this pattern. Unless it's a not too stiff kind.

    I'd love to try garment sewing with knits but I haven't gotten brave enough to try yet. Quilting seems so much easier :)

  22. Lots of people have already suggested an FBA and one dart...I also think it's the way to go. If sewing clothing for yourself is something you'd like to do frequently, I can't say enough good things about a video called Full Busted: sew clothes that fit! It's made all the difference in how I approach my chesty-ness.

  23. I am not much help but I do think one dart is best.

    Colette Patterns did a post on Sew Mama Sew about darts. I wonder if reading that might give you some direction.
    Here is her site which has awesome instruction.

    and her post at SMS is here

    Hopefully that might help.

  24. CloTex Major here:
    your darts are fine--you need more fabric width under your arm (add at least another inch to that side seam). Fabric needs more ease than knits (should be able to pinch out at least an inch on each side, otherwise you'll look like you're wearing a corset).

    It doesn't really matter where you place your darts: two on a side, one on a side, one side and one from waist seam, but others have noted to keep the ending tips off of the bust point by at least about an inch. Very true.

    I did a web search--not much there--but maybe hit your library for sewing how-to books? I subscribe to Threads and love it for their reference articles, but they seem to keep it off the web.

    Most of all--be fearless. No one in the world likes the dress they are making until it is all done and the hem is in. So go easy on yourself and enjoy the process. If all else fails, buy a commercial pattern and adapt it; no one says you have to do your first dress from scratch (in spite of what I read on the blogs--it is no more noble than using a pattern, believe me!)

    Have fun!

    Elizabeth E.

  25. I'm afraid I cannot offer any help, as I've never sewn a garment (yet) but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you. I'm sure you'll make a lovely dress.

  26. I think everyone has given you great feedback - I just wanted to one important thing.

    Don't be afraid! You rock and have amazing quilting talents and a passion for sewing! Think of it this way, darts are no more than a little pinch of fabric in the shape of triangle used to shape the fabric to your curves. After all, unlike a flat quilt you are 3 dimensional. All you are trying to do is make the right pinch, sew it into place, and voila you have a curve to fit your body best!

    Look at the underside of some of your clothes, dresses, empire waisted shirts, and even form fitting pants at the waist and you'll see darts where you didn't even know they existed. As a trained clothing/costume designer turned to a self-taught quilter believe me when I say you can do it!

  27. I actually think you might try letting those darts out first. Then, reattach the piece under your arm higher up, it looks low to me and will end up showing too much there. Then, the change will probably make you want to add a dart along the armhole. I'm larger chested and I've had to do this a couple times after adding fabric to the sides. After that's all in place, add the one on the side again. I'm not sure if this will work, but it's worth a try while it's all with pins.

    Overall, just make sure your pinning really well to the shirt you're already wearing. If your placement is off, the darts will be off. Hope this helps!

  28. Hi,

    I don't have a problem with the two darts. I have a problem with the fabric. My advice it to follow the suggestions on the pattern, if your fabric is listed then fine, and one dart.
    Also, for full busts there are a number of options, one is to slash the pattern and spread the bust area, piecing in the opening with paper. You should be able to go to one dart.
    Someone suggested that the bottom part of the bodice was too large. I am sure you know that the purpose of the muslin is to fit it to you. This is the time. Then you either use the muslin to cut out the pattern or transfer to the paper.
    Hang in there!


  29. Do you have a dress that you wear, that fits, that has darts? You might want to refer to the well fitting clothing already in your wardrobe for a clue as to where your particular darts should go. Also, darts can come from the waist as well as the side or the arm area...look to your closet for clues. If you have a fitted waist on this then a dart from the waist area up would not be inappropriate and might help take up some of that fullness and further accentuate your "assets". One dart on the side should be plenty. Remember to stitch your dart from the seam to the point and remember to tie it off at the tips. Anxious to see how it turns out.

  30. You need a good friend to help pin the darts :}

  31. Rachel, I know you've already been given some great advice here, so I have no doubt you'll work through this! Just wanted to give my encouragement. :) I have only made one dress, so I cannot offer much advice. Crossing my fingers for you!

  32. hi rachel! i finally heard your cry for help! you are on the right track, and it's fine to have two darts. i would suggest moving one up into the armhole section of the bodice piece. or you can have them both angle into the side seam as they do, but i would move the lower one up just a bit so it doesn't meet where the side and waist seams will intersect. also the home dec fabric might be a bit heavy and adding to the problem... feel free to e-mail me if you need more advice! i want to see a picture of you with a smile on your face ;n)

  33. You have the right idea with two darts but....I would place them differently. You have two options. The at the side (like the top one that you have in the photo) and the second in the waistline OR the one in the side and one in the underarm seam. I prefer the second option as it keeps the armhole from gaping and gives you a really nice fit around a fuller breast (trust me! I use this method alot for a d cup!!)

    Also, I would recommend staying away from a decorator weight fabric for a sundress as it does not provide as much drape and flow as a sundress should have.

    Good luck with the dress. Eager to see some pics of the final product!!


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