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Threads eLetter

From the pages of Threads magazine

Hit Your Mark with Darts

For a custom skirt, start with two fabric rectangles; then pinch out triangles to fit them around your waist and hips

by Mary Travis

becoming a skirt
Same skirt, different lengths. The navy cashmere version (left) and the brocade version (right) are both custom-fitted with darts.

For me, darts are sewing magic. They let me take a flat piece of fabric and shape it around my body's curves. Here, I'll show you my quick, easy skirt design. It requires only a couple of dart types and their cousins—tucks and pleats—to build a flattering, custom skirt that can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion.

The process of making this dart-fitted skirt is really a simple lesson in draping. To learn more about this designer technique, read Kathleen Cheetham's article Drape a Skirt Sloper.

First, pick your fabric
Many fabrics work in this skirt style, from the navy cashmere blend at left to a crisp, stiff brocade. Just be sure that the fabric is nonstretch, that pinning won't damage it, and it will hold a pressed fold. When browsing the fabric store, gather potential fabrics in your hand and see whether they shape easily into folds.

I've made my dart-fitted skirt in quilting cottons and in satin. The only fabrics that I avoid are light, airy confections such as chiffon and organza. They won't work with the darts and pleats.

I prefer to make the skirt in solid colors and soft prints or textures because they make the lines and angles of the darts more dramatic. In bold prints, the darts virtually disappear.

Then calculate yardage requirements
In terms of yardage, I've come up with a handy formula. To figure out fabric width required, measure your lower body at its widest part (that could be at waist, hip or thigh level). If that measurement is 41 inches or less, you can use 45-inch-wide fabric. If it's greater than 41 inches, you'll need 54-inch-wide fabric. To calculate how many yards of that fabric you’ll need, simply take your desired skirt length (its hem can fall anywhere from above the knee to floor length), add the hem allowance, and double the total.

becoming a skirt
Pleated and wrapped for ease of movement. With the extra-wide front pleat, you can dance the night away.

Decide dart placement
As you'll see in Anatomy of a Dart-Fitted Skirt, I use darts and pleats for two purposes: to fit the skirt over my hips and waist and to create visual interest. The measurements and where you place the darts are your call. You are the designer, so have fun with the pinning process. See Fitting tips for design and fitting suggestions.

Start with two rectangles
To begin, fold your fabric in half along its length, aligning the selvages (tightly woven factory edges). Make sure that the fabric's cut edges are straight and aligned 90 degrees to the lengthwise grain. From the cut edge, measure the desired length of your skirt plus the hem allowance. Use a ruler and chalk to mark a straight line across the fabric, again making sure that it is at a 90-degree angle to the grain. Cut along that line. You'll now have two rectangles. Mark the top edge and the wrong side of each before you go any further.

Next, with right sides together, sew the two rectangles together along the selvages using a 5/8-inch seam allowance to create a tube of fabric. Press the seam allowances to one side, and turn it right-side out.

Use a dress form or find a fitting buddy
Now you're ready to custom-fit the tube to your body. Because it's nearly impossible to pin darts and pleats on your own body, you'll need a fitting buddy. Or, if you own a dress form that mimics your body, dart-fit the skirt on it. Either way, you're sure to finish with a skirt that you'll love to wear—and show off.

Anatomy of a dart -fitted skirt
Designate one seam of your sewn tube as center front. You'll measure your darts and pleat out from this point. The measurements noted below are just guidelines. Position the darts and pleats so that they flatter your specific figure.

Start front and center
As you pin and sew the darts, the top edge of the skirt will become uneven. Not to worry: this will be trimmed off later.

1. Wrap at center front. Fold a large pleat about 5 inches wide at center front. Hide the seam inside the pleat fold. Pin the pleat in place.

Pin the darts in placeConstruction tip: After you've sewn the pleat, press it to one side. But don't press the pleat all the way to the hem. Let it release naturally.

2. Pin the darts in place. Position your first darts about 6 to 7 inches to the left and right of center front. Pin out about 1 inch for each. The darts should be about 7 inches long.

Construction tip: To sew a nice, sharp dart, sew from the waist edge to the dart point. Don't backstitch at the point. Instead, pull the fabric out a little, reposition the presser foot along the fold of the dart, and stitch for about an inch, as shown above. Press to one side.

front and center

Turn to the back
Here's your opportunity to create the flattering, comfortable fit you've always desired.

Pin the darts in place1. Make stitched-down side pleats. On each side, about 4 inches from the front dart, create a 3- to 4-inch pleat. About an inch behind the pleat, fold, and pin another dart.

Construction tip: Stitch down the side pleats about 6 inches to ensure a smooth fit over the hips.

2. Build a slot dart. About an inch from the dart in step 3, form V-shaped slot darts that are about 4 to 5 inches long.

Construction tip: Mark the dart point and four points on the waist edge. Match the waist markings on one side; pin them to secure. Repeat on the other side, and topstitch.

3. Form a large back pleat. Fold a large pleat (about 5 inches wide). Hide the seam inside the pleat fold. Pin the pleat in place.

Construction tip: Stitch down the pleat for 12 to 15 inches to ensure a smooth, comfortable fit.

becoming a skirt
Finishing touches
These last few steps ensure professional-quality results.

Stabilize the waist edge. Trim the waist edge as needed. Open the front fold. Sew grosgrain ribbon to the raw edge, press it under 3/8 inch, and stitch through all layers as shown.

waist edge
Secure the front pleat with snaps. Sew snaps on the inside folds of the front pleat. Or, use squares of hookand- loop tape.

decorative closures
Add decorative closures. On the outside edge of the front pleat, sew button loops, and sew corresponding buttons onto the skirt. Or sew on ribbon ties.

Go with a simple hem. At the bottom of the skirt, turn up a 3/4-inch double hem. Hand-sew or topstitch it in place.

Mary Travis sews in State Line, Mississippi.

Model photos: Jack Deutsch, hair and makeup: Christie McCabe using tarte cosmetics, stylist: Jessica Saal; all other photos, Sloan Howard. Styling credits: model with blue skirt —DKNY (, necklace —RJ Graziano (; model with gold skirt and bracelet —RJ Graziano (, earrings —Erika Pena (, shoes —Nina (

Excerpted from Threads #134, pp. 38-43
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