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How To Sew Darts In A Bodice: A Step By Step Tutorial

Womenswear sewing patterns often have darts to suppress the fabric around the bust and create a better fit but sewing beginners don’t always know how to sew darts in a bodice – so I created this tutorial to help!

You’ll find that most close-fit sewing patterns for women require some kind of shaping. For closer fit tops and dresses, the darts will be longer to bring the fabric closer to the body, while on looser fit garments – tops, dresses, blouses and shirts – the darts may be quiet small and wide, adding just a little shaping to prevent them being boxy.

And if the bodice is attached to a skirt to create a dress, then the darts are extended down from the waist towards the hip to further supporess the fabric.

The number of darts may vary as well, with one dart frequently seen for standard sizing, and multiple darts being added to a bodice for bigger / more plus sized sewing patterns.

The key to sewing darts in a bodice neatly is to do the prep work and sew slow and steady.

A dart constructed in white floral fabric bodice.

What Are The Bodice Darts Called?

I wrote a very in-depth article on the different types of darts and dart manipulation, so I’ll provide a very basic overview here:

  1. Standard waist dart – this is the most common basic dart, starting at the waistline and up towards the bust point
  2. French dart – another common dart, the French dart starts at the side seam and ends just below the bust point
  3. Armhole dart – sewn from the armhole pitch point down towards the apex
  4. Mid shoulder dart – when drafting a female bodice block, this is the usual position for the dart, coming from the princess seam at the should down towards the bust point
  5. Centre front bust dart – often used to create an interesting styleline on the front bodice
  6. Centre front neck dart – this is a good dart for adding in volume around the neckline to gather in
  7. Straight side seam dart – less frequently used, the dart leg starts at the side seam coming in at a 90º angle from the centre front when sewn
  8. Shoulder tip dart – a hard one to sew, the shoulder tip dart only makes sense on bodice patterns that have extended the shoulder line
  9. Mid neck dart – another good option if you want to increase the amount of volume around the neckline to then gather or pleat
  10. Centre front waist dart – another dart that is used more in style-lines

These are the commonly recognised bodice darts, with each one starting from the respective location on the bodice, and ending 1″ / 2.5cm away from the bust apex.

Dart Shapes

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Darts that are used on the bodice or skirt can of course be sewn straight, or with a curve, which are referred to as contour darts.

It is standard for commercially created sewing patterns to have darts with straight dart legs, but in reality this is not always the best dart shape for us.

If you feel confident doing so, you can shape the darts on your bodice patterns:

  • Up to 3mm on dart shaping
  • Up to 5mm on seam shaping

This will have the effect of shaping the bodice for a better fit – but do create a toile or muslin to test before sewing in your fashion fabric!

Quite often, draping a bodice on the dress form will result in a slightly curved dart, which is not only more natural, but also a more flattering shape than a straight dart.

How To Mark Darts On Fabric

Using orange thread for tailors tacks to mark in bodice darts

A basic bodice block or sewing pattern will have at least one single dart drafted in to provide a little shaping – but how do you transfer this to to your fashion fabric?

You have several options for transferring dart markings from pattern to fabric:

  • Carbon paper / tracing wheel
  • Fabric marker
  • Tailors chalk
  • Tailors tacks
  • Wing it method

Carbon Paper & Tracing Wheel

This is an old school method, still loved by many, though I myself have never been one for it. I find it significantly more fussy, and I prefer to spend that extra time on sewing my darts beautifully.

Fabric Marker

This is a popular choice for transferring darts to fabric. Make sure to test the fabric marker you choose to go with on a scrap of your fashion fabric so that you don’t inadvertently damage the fabric.

Tailor’s Chalk

This is usually my go to method when I’m not in the ‘wing it method’ mood. A tailors chalk is a triangular shaped piece of chalk with each of the three sides having a sharp edge for mark making on fabric.

Tailor’s Tacks

This is a traditional tailoring trick. You would use a hand sewing needle to sew in small tacks along both dart legs. These tacks are then ‘snipped’ to provide symmetrical markings

Wing It Method

This is often how I mark darts in on fabric. I use a pin which I push through from the paper pattern side at the bust apex point and then I make a small mark with a fabric marker.

Once this mark is in place, pins and pattern are removed, a new pin is pushed through the marked spot and the fabric manipulated to create a dart. This is then pinned in place.

With any of the above marking methods you’ll have a successfully transferred dart from pattern to fabric – just use the method that works best for you!

Manipulating Darts

Dart manipulation basics - positions of darts!

If you find that a dart is in a position that you’re not fond of, you can manipulate it to a new location.

I cover the dart manipulation methods previously, so you might find it useful to read this guide to pivoting darts and this one on slashing and spreading darts, which provide the step by step process for both dart manipulation techniques.

Truing Darts

Once you have modified a dart, you’ll need to ‘true’ it, which just means to make sure it is accurate.

You start by folding along one dart leg, and then working from the dart point towards the end of the dart leg, you bring the folded edge over to meet it’s partner.

If there is a difference in dart leg length, it needs to be fixed. You also need to ensure that you are folding the darts in the right direction as this will need to make the way to sew the darts too, which we’ll now get onto below!

I have this tutorial on how to true darts that you may also find helpful.

Sewing Bodice Darts

Womens cargo pants sewing pattern - the back darts from right side!

Sewing bodice darts is much like sewing any dart – you start sewing from the seam allowance end, and come in to a point at the dart point. Some home sewers like to sew in reverse, starting at the dart point and sewing along the dart leg towards the edge of the fabric.

The first technique is the standard method of sewing darts, but as I always say, choose the method that works best for you.

Darts usually only occur in woven fabric types – this is because knit fabrics are generally either drapey with no shaping required or stretchy and require no darting to fit snugly.

Let’s run through the process of sewing darts, step by step.

Step 1: Mark In Your Bodice Darts

How to sew darts in a bodice - the tailor's tacks method!

I’ve used tailors tacks to mark in my dart – you can use the method that suits you best!

How to sew darts in a bodice - the tailor's tacks method!

Step 2: Pin Your Dart In Place

How to sew darts in a bodice - the wing-it method!

If you used tailors tacks, make sure to remove the tacks once your pins are in place.

I like to start by placing one pin at the point where my dart will end and then I add further dart along the length of the dart leg.

Pinned dart on a pink floral bodice

Others will tell you that these pins should be pinned across the dart leg – I prefer to place mine in line, with the tip pointing towards the fabric edge, as it makes their removal much faster when I am sewing.

You must do what works best for you!

Step 3: Sewing Your Darts Without Puckering

Place the edge of your fabric under the presser foot. I like to lower the needle by hand into the fabric with my right hand and hold the thread tails with my left to prevent the feed dog of my sewing machine eating the fabric.

Back stitch to start and secure the stitches, then sew slowly towards the dart point.

How to sew darts in a bodice using a sewing machine

I sew with a medium length stitch and remove pins as I go, until I have about 1.5″ away. At this point, I shorten my stitch length slightly vefore continuing.

I repeat this until I am 1/4″ / 7mm away from the point at which point I make my stitch length as short as possible – it needs to be just long enough to move the fabric under the presser foot!

How to sew darts in a bodice using a sewing machine

Continue sewing so that you run off the fabric and snip the thread, leaving enough of a tail to tie a knot.

You can now either tie a knot straight away, ot tease one tail through to meet it’s partner on the ‘same side’ of the fabric and then tie the knot – just remember not to tie the knot too tightly. We don’t want any puckering at the dart point!

Another option it to backstitch a little in the seam allowance of your dart, as shown in the photo below.

Photo showing how to sew darts in a bodice without puckering!

You can test the different methods to see which works best for your fabric choice.

Step 4: Clipping The Dart

Not all darts will need clipping. Vary rarely do I need to clip my darts. But if you’re sewing heavy weight fabrics, you will end up with a bulky area where your dart exists – that’s three layers of fabric right there before attaching it to another pattern piece!

In this case, you’ll want to clip the dart, and even consider cutting back very wide darts, to help them lay flatter and have less bulk.

Note that if you do trim away the dart you will need to finish the fabric edge to prevent fraying, which can itslef cuase more bulk.

Step 5: Press The Dart

Now that your’ve finished sewing darts and they’re clipped where required, they now need pressing; twice!

The first press is to set the stitches. Lay your iron on top of the stitching and give it a little press. Be careful not to scorch your fabric! I use a wool pressing mat to press small details such as darts.

The bodice dart has been pressed on the wrong side!

Now you have options:

  • Press to one side
  • Press open

In the fashion industry, we typically press to one side, but home sewers often prefer to press open.

Note that this is generally not how darts on sewing patterns are designed to be pressed – the dart direction is actually factored into the pattern piece, so do be wary of pressing darts open if it isn’t a self drafted patten!

Now, push the dart to the side it will live, and press into place.

The finished pressed bodice dart

Your sewing pattern should give proper instructions on which direction your darts need to be pressed, but it is srandard to press a horizontal dart down towards the ground and press a vertical dart towards the centre front and centre back. 

Be careful not to create visible ‘press lines’ on the right side of the fabric! This can be easily avoided if you place a small pressing cloth between the main fabric and the dart before pressing.

Other Dart Placement Locations

Close up of the finished women's cargo pants sewing pattern!

As well as using darts to develop the basic bodice pattern, designers will often include darts in other areas to get a better fit. Here are some other common dart placements:

  • Elbow dart – used to acheive a better fit on a sleeve
  • Sleeve cap – darts are sometimes added to a sleeve cap for more shaping
  • Fisheye dart – these are more common running from the back hip to above the back waist, and from the front hip to front bust
  • Knee darts – provide shaping on close fitting trouser legs
  • Neck darts – creates a closer fit around the neck area

Final Thoughts On Sewing Darts

Sewing darts in a bodice is not much different to sewing darts in jeans, shirts or other garment types.

Darts all have the same features:

  • Dart Legs
  • Dart width
  • Dart point

And they are all sewn in the same way as a bodice dart.

If you’re not sure that the dart in a sewing pattern is in the right location or the right dart width for you, then use some old fabric of the same weight to sew up a toile / muslin and see how the dart sits.

It’s common for many of us to have to adjust darts – full bust adjustments (FBA) and small bust adjustments (SBA) are very common because of our varied body shapes but the key is always to sew up a test version and then make changes.

With this tutorial on sewing darts, you’re now in a much better position to do so with confidence! Enjoy!

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