Tuesday, June 29, 2010

French Darts: A Cautionary Tale


So, as you probably gathered from my post yesterday, I am quite pleased with the results of my first draping project. However, there were a couple, ahem, bumps in the road on the way to success. Can you spot the problems in the above picture? Because, seriously, they're about to poke your eyes out.

Please allow me to share the entire story.

French darts, as you may know, are diagonal darts side seam darts that start a couple inches above the waist and end near the apex of the bust. (Update: as some commenters have pointed out, my darts probably end too close to my apex, causing part of the problem. You can also shorten yours to a couple inches away if you're busty.) I chose them for this dress because they're very 50s, and they provided an interesting challenge as a beginning draper. Well, I had the darndest time trying to get the tip of the dart - at the apex of the bust - to lay smooth. My teacher Sharon eventually suggested that I do two French darts, one on top of each other to divide the dart excess. Did I listen, readers? Well, I did at first. But then when I was sewing the muslin up, I decided to go with just one dart. I tested it, and it seemed to be a-okay.

Fast forward to last Friday evening. I finished sewing the dress, pressed it neatly, and hung it up in anticipation to wearing it on a date with Jeff on Saturday. We had made plans to go to the delicious, fancy new burger joint in the neighborhood, and I thought I would kill two birds with one stone by wearing my new dress and asking Jeff to photograph me in it on the way out to dinner. Sounds like a plan, right?

Well. I got all dolled up, and we headed outside, where Jeff prepared to take a few shots of me. But he paused ominously, stared at my chest, and got a distinctly confused expression on his face.

"What is it?" I asked.

Jeff paused once again, as though weighing his words carefully.

"What?!" I shrieked, sweetly.

"Well, it's your dress. It looks . . . a bit . . .um," he lowered his voice to a stage whisper," . . . nipple-y."

Oh the horror! I felt so exposed out on the street! Jeff took the above shot and showed it to me on the screen. My French darts were, indeed, decidedly nipple-y.

It is at this point that I must explain my state of mind on this particular day. You see, there were (how shall I put it delicately?) certain monthly hormonal challenges I was facing. I did the only rational thing: I burst into tears and ran back upstairs to change my dress. You see, I was afraid that I'd ruined the dress completely by using one French dart instead of two. I did not really regain my composure until I was mid-chow through the most fantastic burger ever and realized I could at least try to fix the situation with some serious steam pressing.

And then, later, the real solution hit me: I had pressed the darts down. But the best way to press a bulky dart like a French dart is to slash it, trim the seam allowances, and press it open. I took this one step further and pressed the apex of the dart flat over one side of my tailor's ham with a lot of steam.

Hallelujah, the nipple-y dart problem was fixed. Here's a test shot from the next morning. (Seriously, I had just rolled out of bed. Hence, the whole . . . look.) But no dart-nipples! Yay!


So, the moral of the story is thus: French darts can be tricky. Always slash and trim them, press the bejesus out of them on a ham, and take some test shots to gauge your bosom situation.

Go forth, dear friends. And may your French darts always behave.


48 comments:

  1. The other issue with darts, is that this one looks like it's just a bit too long. That will give the pointy problem you experienced.

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  2. Oh, and the double darts your teacher suggested? I'm sure that she told you that too large a dart take up is hard to sew and avoid your problems.

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  3. I had no idea you could snip and press seams open on French darts! I am in the middle of making a new dress and have a new ham that I am yet to use. Thank you SO much for this wonderful tip. I'm only sorry that tears were involved so that you could pass on this lesson. Great rescue! And well done to your boyfriend for being brave enough to tell you the truth about a dress you had slaved over. We all need someone to give us honest feedback.

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  4. Ahh. That just made me laugh out loud like a plump and jolly old man. so funny!!! Darts can be tricky little things... thanks for amusing me again!

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  5. You can snip darts? I always have a problem with pointy darts even with decreasing the stitch length. I'll have to try to snip next time. Thanks!

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  6. As a French, I don't see where the problem is if your dress is a bit nipplely :-)
    And the dress is gorgeous.
    Anyway, I must say that the whole post made me laugh out loud, although I can understand you were not happy with the dress, especially at this trickly moment of your life.
    Glad you found a solution you liked.

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  7. Had to laugh - poor Jeff having to explain the nippley problem!
    It looks great now anyway and another tip for us.
    I need to find a way of collecting all your tips in a tipplet (?) file.

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  8. Ohhh, that's a great story! A bit nipply! fantastic! But after the moment of panic, you have worked it out nicely and the dress darts look fantastic!
    I love that you dress up, wear a dress and look lovely to go and eat hamburgers!

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  9. Your dress turned out beautifully! I find that a good way to avoid the nippley problem is to have the dart points end 1-2 inches short of the bust apex. It still takes care of the topological issues, but it avoids the "Hi-I'm-Gertie-and-these-are-my-breasts" problem.

    From the land of Been There, Done That. :)

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  10. didn't comment yesterday but the dress is gorgeous! congratulations on your first drafting / draping success! this post had me chuckling too - I've had similar experiences and will never, ever finish a dart on the 'apex' of anything. Your fix seems to have worked well though!

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  11. ~bejesus~
    One of my favourite words...
    Great work and story!
    xo
    Andrea

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  12. Thank goodness there was no lining to grapple with!

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  13. Oh poor Gertie! I am so glad you managed to resolve the dart problem.

    I had something similar happen with darts on a dress that I made for my brother's wedding. I have to do a full bust adjustment on everything I make. The pattern only had a bottom dart. The bottom dart just wasn't taking enough fabric out after the adjustment so I added some small side ones.

    It took a lot of playing around to make sure I didn't have a Madonna style bodice! But it was so worth it in the end!

    Kudos to Geoff for being honest with you. My fiance is just as honest. Sometimes I appreciate it, sometimes I run off and cry too. I would always rather he say that something is not quite right than go out in public with a visible mistake, especially if the mistake is on my rather abundant chest!

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  14. Thanks for the sympathy and tips, all! Yes, you can slash open a large dart - and you should! Especially when a fabric is thick and bulky.

    Thanks, Nancy and GorgeousThings for the dart length advice. I went by my draping and patternmaking books which said a French dart by definition ends about 1/2 shy of the apex. But I now say screw that direction and I will be listening to you two!

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  15. I has a similar situation with darts last week. I was making a dress for my daughter. We didn't notice the pointy dart problem in the muslin but once the dress was completed she was mortified. (she is 17) I re-made the top using princess seams instead of the darts. It turned out great.
    Your dress looks wonderful and so twirlly.

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  16. Actually, that has nothing to do with the Frenchness of darts. The real problem is that you should of course keep track of where the nipple is, but you need to draft your darts to some distance from it. At least half an inch, more like an inch for a substantial breast, as much as 2" for a large woman. Then you have no trouble.
    You can re-sew these ones to be shorter, you'll see the difference.

    Although of course you should press French darts down, that's a separate issue.

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  17. Definitely don't end darts (of any nationality) too close to the bust apex or you can press, split and monkey around with the stitch length as much as you like and still have faux nipples. Or, y'know, space for your own nipples if you want to go full headlights.

    The dress is gorgeous, though, and looks amazing on you.

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  18. Marie-Christine: yep, a couple people brought that up too.

    But why is it a requirement to press French darts down?

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  19. You had me snorting my coffee this morning, Gertie! I was laughing with you, not at you. Monthly emotional scenes have been my specialty of late. I know just what that's like.

    I had the same experience with French darts, and ended up just never wearing the dress. It never ever occurred to me to snip them open.

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  20. One thing that helps make a smooth dart is instead of backstiching to secure it, leave the threads long and double tie them. But, everyone probably already knows that.

    I really enjoy your blog, thanks!

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  21. OMG, that story had me on edge! Now not to be critical, but don't you think a dress like that deserves more than hamburger -- albeit the very best hamburgers to be found? I do! ;)

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  22. this is hilarious! i know exactly the feeling when your guys gives your new creation that look... and i have the same response, usually, hormones or no.

    thank you so much for that great info on french darts. i have a few pieces banished to the Back Of The Closet that are about to get a makeover!

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  23. Oh golly... I've had the "too nipple-y" dart problem before too! Usually with darts that are a bit more complicated/tricky than the usual waist-to-bust dart. Thanks for the reminder and tips (and good chuckle! ;)!

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

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  24. Excellent solution!! I'll def. have to use your tale of victory for future french dart follies!

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  25. Nice save! I was reading in the current issue of Threads Magazine (which I was overjoyed to find stocked in the London branch of Selfridges on the weekend yay!) an article by Louise Cutting on "Better Basics" (not that that I'm saying that you need to brush up on your basics, just that's the title of the article), in it Louise has some top tips on darts, one of which involves not cutting them open - but using a strip of bias cut fabric seem along the dart to balance out the pressed-fold of the dart :). I cannot remember all the details of the technique (I'm at work now it's 4.16pm in the UK LOL! & my magazine is at home) but it's worth a look IMO if you can take a peak at the magazine in a store - the article starts on page 44. (It's the June/July 2010 issue no. 149.)

    P.S. I'm so glad that you "nipped" the little problem in the bud ;) LOL!

    Best wishes,
    Seemane :)

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  26. LOL! Darts are so tricky sometimes. I'm glad you were able to solve the problem without resorting to scrapping the project. The dress turned out lovely. :)

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  27. Bursting into tears over sewing problems is normal behavior ANY time of month in my book! Your fix worked beautifully!

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  28. Hey Gertie,
    I'm so glad you were able to solve the problem with a good steaming. It's so discouraging to have a finished project and realize there's something wrong with it.
    I just happened to read Sherry's tutorial on French Seam Darts on her blog a couple days ago : http://buzzybeesworld.blogspot.com/2010/04/tricks-of-trade-french-seam-dart.html
    I don't know if she does anything different than what you did but in any case, if people are looking for a tutorial this one seems quite helpful...

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  29. My solution has always been just to make floaty, "unconstructed" garments without darts. Yours is a much more responsible approach, Gertie. I admire your willingness to redo until you got it right.

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  30. I am so glad you posted this, lady. I saw photos of myself in a darted dress the other day and nearly fell over! Not sure I can press mine as you did, but at least I know a solution exists.

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  31. That was very funny (and not because I'm laughing at your expense, but because you write a very amusing account of it)!. And full marks to Jeff for trying to be so tactful. My beloved would have had just blurted it out gleefully...

    And nice to see how you dealt with it.

    P.S. And since Tina put up that 40s?/ 50s? advert on What-I-Found, I now know to call them "female functional monthly disturbances"...

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  32. hallelujah... u fix the darts beautifully. the dress is lovely. thank goodness your man told you the problem, my husband would have just went along with it thinking he's seeing nipples...lol. good job

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  33. This has totally happened to me before! Thanks so much for sharing your tips and fixes. It's always nice to read stories I can relate to about sewing frustrations that happen along the way instead of just looking at pretty finished garments.

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  34. THANK YOU! I have the pointy problem every time I put a dart in something, be it French or not. I'll definitely have to try the snipping & pressing

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  35. Hi Gertie, I have a question that has been bugging me. When you trim darts, do you need to finish the edges? It seems to me that you might not, because they are usually on an angle, but since I have never done it I don't really know.

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  36. That did make me laugh, and at least you managed to fix it and end up with a lovely dress. I'm just about to start making my first ever dress, I'm going to go very slowly and I have to say your blog is very inspiring.

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  37. Sometimes you just need to stop and have a good cry in order to clear your head. I'm glad you stopped to refocus and fix rather than chucking your beautiful dress in a hormone induced flurry. It looks much improved!

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  38. I have a dress I bought -years- ago with this problem and wasn't sure how to get round it.

    Thanks for bringing the topic up... and flattening it down!

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  39. Although you drafted this yourself, vintage patterns tend to have the dart point closer to the bust point than modern patterns. I suppose this makes sense when you look at the shape of vintage bras!
    I often shape the dart - rather than sew a straight line direct to the dart point, I make a very slight curve towards the end that mirrors the bust. I did this on my recent 60's grey tweed dress because it was a bit nipply too!

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  40. Hilarious and informative. What else can I blog reader want? I am still laughing over, "...I shrieked, sweetly." Love it!

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  41. I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for publishing it. Try curving your french darts as well as making them shorter. Try to sew a very very gradual point and then off the edge at the point. Then slash throught center and press open over your ham. This should solve the problem and it won't make a lot of difference whether you are darting an a cup or a dd cup. Happy Sewing!

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  42. This post certainly made me laugh, but it also made me think - why am I not ok with my nipples being slightly visible through clothing? As a small-busted lady, I often eschew a bra in the winter months, as layers protect me from potential 'exposure'. But in the summer, when the heat means I feel least like having underwiring digging into me, I myself resorting to a bra to avoid revealing myself through flimsy cotton and see-through silk. It makes me wonder how bra-less women dealt with this problem in the 60s and 70s - were their clothes just less transparent?! I rather resent having my bust manipulated by lingerie to resemble Barbie's - smooth, rounded, nipple-less - and yet I feel uncomfortable letting the world see its natural outline. Anyway, thanks for sharing pictures of your beautiful dress, and for all your thought-provoking posts!

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  43. I hate those type of darts!! At least, ever since last fall.... my brother got married, and while I wasn't in the wedding party, I was asked to do the music (I'm a musician by trade). So I made what was supposed to be a simple sheath dress that turned out to be anything but, and those darts were a HUGE part of the problem. It had both those and a longer vertical dart, and two muslins and a switch of fabric weren't enough to get it looking good in the bust area! I ended up going out to the thrift store and getting something to cover up the top of the dress with last-minute. I'm still strongly considering chopping the top off and turning it into a skirt, because that is the only way I am ever going to be able to wear that dress again.

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  44. LOL LOL I have so been there. I totally get where you're coming from with this and of course your reaction is priceless. Thanks for posting the simple and quick fix!

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  45. This made me laugh...thanks for sharing your sewing wisdom and lessons.

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  46. Thank you for this story. It is adorable and as informative as it is entertaining.

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  47. Gertie Dearest,

    I am inspired.

    I am making a dress for my DG (that's Dear Girl) and alas the muslin's bust was too decidedly nipple-y. I was depressed, dejected, and defeated.

    I was lamented the much-beloved curves, but I am no longer!

    Your words have spurred me on, to adjust, adjust, adjust, and make just one more muslin.

    Thank you, Gertie, Thank you.

    -Wolfgang

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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