Balancing Darts and Refining a Full Bust Adjustment

This afternoon I pulled out my much-loved and altered Vogue 8872 pattern from storage to refine the darts and seams.

The fit is fine, but I always hated the super-chunky under bust dart and wanted to fix it. I feared separating the dart or moving it, because I knew I “didn’t know enough” to mess around with darts.  So I left it.

I made a quick tracing of the “original” pattern and marked my bust apex.  I held the pattern piece up to my body in the appropriate area and marked my nipple.  It’s helpful.

When you have a very curved area to cover, the more darts the better.  This shirt has several “control” areas- the underbust dart, the side dart, and a little bit of gathering around the neck.  The side dart looks fine, and I don’t want to add to the neck gathers.  Instead, I’m going to introduce a shoulder dart.  This is something I learned I like through sewing vintage patterns, and it’s only recently been pointed out to me that it’s a helpful dart for a busty lady (duh!).  I drew a line from roughly the middle of the shoulder seam, to the bust apex, down through the offending dart.  Then I cut that line.

Using the bust apex as my “hinge,” I opened up a dart in the shoulder.  Notice the bottom of the dart- rather than being open as before, it is now pointed at the bottom.  Just like a “real” dart.  That was how I judged how far to pivot the pattern piece.

I laid another piece of polytrace on top of the pattern to make a “clean” copy.  Notice the dart is crooked.  Generally, that kind of dart should be parallel to the CF.  I marked a guideline from the tip of the dart straight down to the hem.

Then I remarked the dart, using the straight guideline to help.  I marked the dots in the same place vertically, just shifted it over.  There’s several ways to do this, I take the simplest route.

I pinned out the side dart.

I laid the front onto the back to make sure the seams aligned.  I took this shot before I pinned out the dart, much head-scratching followed by head-smacking.

The front arm curve is slightly higher than the back.  I shaved off the front, smoothly blending it to the curve of the arm hole.  This is common with an FBA.  Double check that your sleeve will line up with your new arm curve.

I pinned out the shoulder dart and “pressed” it to the neck.  Then I cut along the shoulder line, so the shape of my dart would be correct.

Now I have a refined version of my favorite blouse- I can’t wait to try it out!  Notice none of my darts are terribly large.  Darts make flat fabric conform to a curved body- several gentle darts do this more easily than one or two chunky, abrupt darts.

Next time I do a “refining” post, I can show how to make a large FBA into princess seams.  In the meantime, do I hear any other pattern alteration requests?

I saw the Real Girl Belly Project over at xoJane and can’t resist sharing.  I love projects like this- slowly changing perceptions of women’s bodies and the media.  I figure the joke is on the fashion mags et al- we’re women AND we’re social media. Prepare for an eyeful.

I have most of the day to work on the Bladvass Dress tomorrow!  I made the pattern today.  The Sew Weekly challenge this week is to make a garment out of a piece of household fabric.  Does Bladvass count?  I bought the duvet cover specifically to make a dress.  If I sleep under it tonight, does that count?


  1. Ooh, can’t wait to see how this turns out!

    Love the Real Girl Belly project. I remember a few years back finding something similar for breasts—that was a real eye-opener. :)

    As for the Sew Weekly challenge, several of the “household items” were bought specifically for the challenge (like Mena’s tablecloth skirt), so I think you’re cool with your duvet.

    • Funny, I just pulled this out because I’ve been meaning to refine it for some time and wanted to post about it. I’d just as soon leave it at that, but I suppose I could whack a blouse together. It feels a little decadent, since I already have so many blouses and right now I’m doing the “creative person working from home” kind of dressing rather than the “creative professional bossing everyone around” wardrobe… ;)

      I’ll dig around and see if I have a piece of fabric I want to make into a blouse and post it. Soonish. :)

    • Let me know how your experiments turn out. If you’re ever working on it and get stuck, take a picture and send it to me. I might be able to sort you out, I know trying new pattern stuff is like jumping down a rabbit hole sometimes…

  2. Your blog is helping me gain courage to go back to garment sewing. Thank you for soliciting alteration question: I am considering buying a lightweight coat at my local thrift store. It’s lined, raglan style with a peter pan collar and is several inches too big. But I love the fabric and thought it could be (fairly) easily altered down because the sleeves aren’t set in. I’m prepared to be bold; please advise.

    Thanks. I love your blog.

    • Well, it really depends on what you mean by “too big.” If you snap a few shots of it on you and just you wearing body-skimming clothing and send them to me, I’ll give you my opinion. stephc (at) 3hourspast (dot) com.

      I’m glad this is useful to you. :) I’m trying to post the kind of stuff I was looking for a few years ago and couldn’t find so had to learn by trial and error.. Keep on sewing!

  3. SQUEEEEEEEEE! I can’t wait to see how this turns out… I need “permission” to do more darting I think.

    I just re-did an older blouse pattern with a bazillion pintucks instead of darts, and it worked well. Excepting the extra day spent making pintucks, lol.

    • Nice. Pintucks are awesome, and since it’s a whole lot of tiny little controls, it would give a good shape to a garment for a curvy lady like yourself.

      Permission granted… ;)

  4. Man, I never thought I would be so grateful for being so small in the chestal area.

    Kudos to everyone who deals with these issues everytime they sew, and so creatively too!

    • When I first started really working on these issues, my boss at the sewing shop found my fixation on “fixing boobs” a little odd… ;) I need to do a pattern adjustment that doesn’t involve them next.

  5. Do you have a ballpark measurement at which you decide the darts are too big? Or is it more to do with the shape of them? My last dress had darts bigger than 3inches – both waist and bust darts – and seemed to work fine surprisingly, but I’ve made smaller ones that just would not work no matter what I did.

    • It has to do with the shape and the type of fabric, I think. It probably also has to do with the shape of the breast in question. The under-bust darts above were 1 3/4″ wide, which I find is too wide for a soft, lightweight cotton or silk such as I might use for a blouse like that.

      Sometimes in a heavier fabric, I’ll serge off the extra dart. I just don’t like the semi-awkward shape that is caused by taking up too much fabric in a dart- sometimes it’s like having a curved neckline facing seam and not notching it. Very fat darts often result in the dreaded pointy “Madonna Boob” effect which I try to avoid.

      So there it is… I find that sometimes it works just fine to leave the dart fat, but when it doesn’t work, it’s good to have a few backup strategies. I think balancing the darts, spreading it around so to speak, helps to minimize “extremities” of body shape.

      I can be pretty sensitive and irritable about my bust, so for me I like to “camouflage” the size of it through proportion and styling. Otherwise, I find that sometimes people make assumptions about me that are rather far from the truth, if you know what I mean. :)

      (Big boobs= “fluffy headed moron” or big boobs = “hit on me, please” or well covered big boobs= “matronly” or “prudish” or “prim”… There’s a taboo about whining about big boobs, but I can say I would gladly fit and wear and style A-cups on a regular basis rather than the mommy sacks I’m carrying around… But I work with what I’ve got. Sounds like a rant for another post.. ;))

      • My breasts are a bother but I love them. I wear 35G and I have been up to 38J while nursing. I have put a lot of weight on over the years. My breasts while large, are one of the few things I still feel good about myself. I carry weight in my belly, not my hips, so if I did not have these breasts to counter it, I would be all belly. I am fanatical about good fitting bras. They are expensive but once you let your breasts stretch out from lack of support, they don’t come back. Support counts! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a properly fitting bra. You look better and feel better. Now if I were to lose the weight, I would be back into 32D-34DD like I was at your age. Some women pay good money for what God blessed me with so I will embrace it. As for being treated as stupid, tell me about it. I am also a natural, blue eyed, blonde with a 140 IQ. They better not mess with me.

      • Interesting, the dress I made was a fairly light cotton and the darts looks ridiculously huge but are sitting fine, with no madonna boob in evidence. Thankfully. But I had to divide the much smaller darts on a skirt I made because they were making my butt decidedly pointy. Which is an even worse look than madonna.

        Having friends who insist they belong to ‘titless anonymous’ I think the under-endowed may have almost as many problems.. almost.

        • Sorry, the thought of pointy bottoms kind of makes me smile. :) I would have divided it out, too… And hey, if it works, if it fits and if it stays sewn together then it is “right.”

          Yeah. Almost. I had a college roommate who had no boobs. She wore the cutest stuff, really rocked the gamine look. Bandeau swimsuits, adorable strapless dresses… I guess we always long for what we don’t have…. ;)

  6. Is the dart outlined in black (versus blue) the “old” dart or the newly adjusted one? I can’t tell.

    Thanks and great post!

    • How silly of me not to clarify! The black is the old one, the green is the whole finished pattern piece. I like my darts to point to the bustpoint, and I like the horizontal ones to be parallel to the grain as much as possible, because I often work with stripes and it’s quite charming to have a striped dart on the straight of grain… Nice chevron effects. And I think it’s tidier that way. Probably.

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  9. i love darts. LOVE darts. i recently made a blouse whose darts began at the center front hem and ran over the bust apex to finish at the center front jewel neckline. they allowed for FBA and some shaping under the bust as well. it’s really nothing more than an off-center princess seam. i always liked the darts that started at the front side seam at the hem and went up diagonally to end where a normal dart would end. that also allowed some shaping under the bust. but for people who change bra shapes nothing beats gathers from the neckline or dropped shoulder seam as dart replacements. if you’re unsure of dart fitting or a person who changes sizes, gathers or pleats is a wonderful alternative.

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