How to Fit and Sew Contour Darts

by Elise
1 Hour

Sewing level: Intermediate

A skill you will want to master if you are interested in altering your own clothing is pinning and sewing darts. I like to have my clothes darted in the back, and this tutorial goes over how to put darts in the back of a dress, but this could be used for waist darts in the front or for a button down shirt as well. I found the below dress a bit too boxy on me, so I threw it on my dressform and tailored the back.

Back view of untailored dress


  • Pins
  • Measuring tape
  • Sewing machine
  • Tailor’s chalk

I find it easiest to have the garment on inside out during the pinning process, so that you don’t have to transfer the markings to the inside of the fabric after the fitting.

Pinning darts

To begin, you will need to think about how much ease (or in other words, how tightly) you would like the finished product to be. Pinch the fabric where you would like the darts to go, starting where the darts would be the deepest (the most taken in). Typically this is at the smallest part of the waist. Pin here, trying your best to pin the two darts the same (but don’t stress over perfection between the darts too much here – we will measure and even them out later). The darts need to taper out to nothing at the top and bottom. Keep pinching and pinning your dart until you get to the top and bottom of the dart.

Start pinning the deepest part of the dart on each side of the garment.
From the deepest point of the dart, keep moving up, making it narrower until it tapers out to nothing. Then do the same for the bottom of the dart.

Your darts may now look something like this. They might also be much shorter – do what fits best here! Mine are curved, with the darts being closer to the side seam at the top, in at the waist, and back out again at the bottom. Again, yours might have a different curve. There is no one right way here.

Since writing this blog post, I did a quick video on Instagram of pinning darts. To check it out, click here.

Pinned in darts on dress.

Check your darts

Now it is time to check that our darts are even. Place the two darts next to each other and check that they are the same length, shape and depth. You may have to change them slightly so they match, just do this by gently adjusting the fabric and pins to make the two darts equal.

Compare the two darts to ensure they are equal.

Then check the dart placement in a few spots. I measure from the pin of the deepest point out to the side seam, then the top of the dart to the shoulder seam. Even the darts out if required.

Checking placement of the deepest part of the dart out to the side seam.

Mark the stitching line with tailor’s chalk. Keep a few of the pins in. At the top and bottom, I like to mark the end of the dart with a horiziontal pin.

Sewing darts

Now it’s time for the sewing machine! You are going to start sewing in the seam allowance of the deepest part of the dart, pivot when you get to the stitching line of the dart and taper to nothing at the end where you have your horizontal pin. Then sew the other end of the dart the same way.

Start sewing in the seam allowance, backstitch, sew towards dart, pivot on stitch line and sew towards end of dart
Approaching stitching the end of the dart

When you get to the end of the dart, you can finish it by either carefully backstitching in the seam allowance, or sew off the edge of the fabric, double knot the thread and take a handsewing needle and secure the thread by weaving it back through the stitches. The latter is considered a couture finishing technique, and best for lightweight fabrics.

Handsew the thread back through the dart stitches.

Press the darts

Now for the final step! Pressing the darts. Press the dart flat to meld the stitches together. Then place over a tailor’s ham and press to the side. Take extra care over the end of the dart to press it well. Otherwise the dart could pucker at the end. If you don’t have a ham, you could improvise with a rolled up towel. (For more on tailor’s hams and pressing, read my post Pressing and Ironing Tools).

Press dart flat.
Tailor’s ham
Press dart over ham

Lastly, clip the seam allowance of the dart near where you started the stitching to allow the dart to relax, being careful not to get too close to the seam. Your darts are now complete! If you have any questions, leave a comment on this post. Happy sewing!

Clip dart
Finished darted, tailored dress!

If you liked this tutorial, I have created a PDF download which includes this tutorial plus How to sew a corset back dress and How to sew in a skirt over the hip. If you would like the download of these 3 tutorials to learn about how to alter dresses, click here

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