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Large Bust dart problem

FitnessNut | Posted in Fitting on

I’m looking for help with fitting a vest on a client with a very large bustline (123.5m/48 3/4″). The vest has vertical darts from the hemline. When fitting a muslin, it was obvious that an armhole dart was needed in addition to the vertical dart. We also decided to contour the vertical dart (a la the article in Threads on S-shaped darts) and lower the bust point by 2 cm (3/4″). The armhole dart was to be pivoted into the waistline dart. I have done this many times before without a problem, so I was surprised to see a very pointed (and unflattering) dart tip on the finished garment. I was able to round it a bit by steaming the tip over the end of a ham, but it doesn’t completely solve the problem. I should mention that the garment is made in a silk/rayon chinese brocade with a lightweight fusible for the front pieces.

So what should I have done differently? In retrospect, perhaps this style is not best for this body type and she should have a design with the dart excess divided between several darts, or a princess seam. Since the dart tip points out beyond the body, should it be shortened more? The muslin didn’t indicate this, but…..Anyone have any ideas?


  1. kayl | | #1

    Try shortening the dart if it hasn't been clipped to oblivion. The

    larger the cup size, the farther the dart point needs to be backed

    off from the apex.

    1. FitnessNut | | #2

      Thanks, Kay. That's my instinct, too. It has been clipped, but hopefully not too much. Do you know if there is a general rule regarding the distance the dart point should be from the apex for each cup size? I don't seem to see anything in my resources.

      1. SewNancy | | #4

        The only thing that I could find said that it should be an inch from the apex, clearly that  doesn't always work!


        1. FitnessNut | | #6

          ITA....the dart in question is sewn 1 3/8" from the apex. Obviously not far enough! And the dart itself is 6 3/8" wide at the waistline, which complicates things, as you said. Unfortunately, I don't think I can lower the tip any further....naturally the excess fabric from this huge dart has been trimmed away and I clipped near the tip to facilitate pressing. I think there's maybe 1/8" or 3/16" to play with....is it really worth opening up the lining to lower it by that much?

      2. kayl | | #5

        My "rule", which is only my experience, is at least 1/2" from bust apex for a B cup, and an additional 3/16 - 3/8" for each size. However, I've not fitted anyone with a very large bust... my experience extends only to about a DD or so. It also varies with the fabric and desired fit of the garment... I back off more for heavy fabrics than very drapey ones, more for a less fitted garment than a more closely fitted one.

        It also depends on the desired contour in profile... if the undergarment underneath produces "1950 rocket cone" contour, you'd probably keep the dart point nearer the apex, than if you're looking for the more rounded contours common today. There's an interesting balancing act at times, though... too rounded winds up looking more "Mrs. Santa Claus matronly" than shapely.

        Princess seams tend to work well for major contouring challenges because 1) you're dividing the dart uptake and 2) you're going to be putting each section on grain. One large dart can pull a side grainline (for instance) well out of what's expected, so you can wind up with something like the side seam of the back section nearly on grain, while the side seam of the front bodice is much closer to bias. This can produce some interesting hang problems at times.

        Sometimes, too, when plain ol' princess lines might be boring, you can play with dividing the dart uptake into different curved shapes going to "non usual" edge locations and come up with something with more "designer-ish" seaming (if that's a word!) <g>

        On some fabrics, and with some contours, sewing the last bit (inch or so) of the dart by hand with a smallish backstitch can help, because

        hand stitching is a little more fluid and molds better in pressing than machine stitching.


        Edited 9/16/2004 1:43 pm ET by kay

        1. FitnessNut | | #7

          The client in question is 17 or 18 years old, so the pointy boob contour is not at all to her taste! Its a real guessing game, isn't it? I thought that the 1 3/8" away from the apex was far enough, but evidently not. (I'm unsure of her cup size, but it has to be larger than DD, I think.) I would have thought that a problem in this area would have been apparent in the muslin. And since the fabric is fairly stiff and the garment quite fitted, the whole thing is accentuated. It didn't look too bad with the steaming and she took the garment home, but her mother called this morning, hoping that there was something I could do to fix it. I'm not sure that I can. With clipping, there isn't much room to manoever.

          You are absolutely right about the grain issue. This huge dart threw the front side seam off grain and created stretch problems, especially with the lining. My gut instinct was that one dart wasn't a good idea, but this is a show vest for riding and they have fairly strict design rules. I've told the mother that for future reference it would be wise to have the large dart divided into several or a princess seam style.

          Thanks for your insights.

          1. kayl | | #8

            Thinking out loud here... would turning the current dart into a mock-princess seaming make the current dart less of an advertisement

            and more of a quiet statement? What would happen if you opened the

            lining (yeah, a pain!) and did what amounted to an edgestitching on the inside to make it look more like a princess panel?

            (You may be able to get to the bust of the vest fairly easily by

            opening the back hem and turning the front panels inside out through

            the shoulders, sort of a reverse-bagging. <g>)

            The other thing I'd suggest is to put it away (have the client put it

            away) for a week, and then try it on again. Often what seemed at first to be a flashing neon arrow magically mellows when hanging in a closet for a while. Very strange, that. <g>

            I'm more of a draper than a patternmaker, so I usually work my problems out in fabric rather than by "rules". I know that I tend to drape curved dart shapes rather than the standard straight darts,

            with the last bit of a dart tending to look more like edgestitching

            than as a dart is typically drawn on a flat pattern. I also have

            to mentally slap my own hands sometimes, as I have a tendency to overfit, and I wonder if that's what happened to you this time?

            Another issue to check: does she wear a different bra when riding?

            That can influence the current dart dilemma...

          2. kayl | | #9

            More thinking out loud... if it remains unacceptable after hanging

            in the closet for a while, is there enough left of the fashion fabric

            to cut a princess panel and do a bit of reshaping?


          3. FitnessNut | | #11

            Unfortunately not....but I don't think that they would be adverse to picking up a bit more. We'll see.

          4. FitnessNut | | #10

            That's an idea worth thinking about...I used a lining side seam opening to bag the lining, so I can get back in easily enough.

            Yes, I do have to resist the urge to overfit sometimes and have to step back on occasion and leave things alone. On the larger women I've had as clients lately, I've noticed that curved dart shapes are much more flattering. I usually start with straight darts and pin fit the curves. I don't know what happened on this one.....maybe I did overfit. And maybe the last few stitches should have been at a less dramatic angle. As for the bra issue....we've already had to make alterations based on a different bra that changed her bust measurement by 1". I'm wondering if she had on yet another one last night that lowered her bust point (which isn't uncommon with larger bustlines). <bg>

            I don't really think that it is as bad as everyone is making it out to be.....but they are the customers and I want to make them happy. I think you are absolutely right about the mellowing out effect LOL! Not to mention the fitting disasters that we will buy ready-made that we would never wear if we had made it ourselves.

          5. SewNancy | | #12

            If there is room the idea of  running a narrow princess like seam and edge stitching this might work you would be able to flatten out the tip.   How wide is she under the bust, 48" is huge if she is a thin girl!  A very difficult fitting problem. 


          6. FitnessNut | | #13

            That might work, thanks. I didn't take an empire measurement, but she isn't a small girl by any means.....her waist is 43 3/4", hips 48 1/2". I've gone over the two muslins I made, and the pattern as well, and I suspect the culprit here is a bra with a bit more "lift" during fittings. (I remember being amazed at the first fitting when the vest with 4" ease wouldn't do up at centre front.....her bust had increased over 1" when I measured her!) I've suggested this to the client, so hopefully she will at least try the garment on with different bras. Otherwise your suggestion to use edgestitching and flatten out the tip may solve our problem.

          7. ShannonG4d | | #14

            I'm thinking there are probably two problems at work here, the dart AND the fabric.  The fabric has some substance on its own, from your description.

            As for a general rule about dart length....I have a "mash" test that seems to help.  Have the "owner" of the large bust gently "mash" the apex with a piece of cardboard held in two hands.  (This is to keep from "mashing" it too much)  Where the cardboard meets the bust at the side, top and bottom is approximately where the bust point should end. 

            Those "general rules" don't take into consideration the different shapes of bustlines.  Some have a very round, symmetrical bust, and some are more conical in shape.  The "mash" test works, no matter what the shape.


          8. FitnessNut | | #15

            You're right....the fabric definitely has lots of body and is contributing to the pointy effect. Its gorgeous, the vest is gorgeous too, except for this one problem.

            I think I understand your ingenious "mash" test. Is the cardboard to be held vertically in front of the body, bringing it towards the chest wall? Sounds like it would definitely work to help pinpoint dart ends. Unless I'm not understanding you correctly.

            I seem to be having more and more plus-sized clients these days, presenting me with fitting challenges I've never encountered before. Most reference books simply don't address this area, especially pattern-drafting books. Any recommendations?

          9. ShannonG4d | | #16

            Yes, you have the concept.  What I do is make several dots on the muslin sloper where the cardboard touches, making a circle.  It helps when you rotate darts to know where the best position will be.  Mind you, this isn't perfect, as there will be differences due to (as you have noted) fabrics, interfacings, posture.  But the "mash" will be a very good starting point.

            The book "Sewing for Plus Sizes" is about the best I've seen on the subject.  I'd supplement it with a basic fitting manual ("Fast Fit" comes to mind), as fitting issues with shoulders, neck, waist, can be resolved in pretty much the same manner no matter the body size.  And keep doing muslins, especially until you are familiar with the contours of the person you are working with.


          10. SewNancy | | #17

            How big is the piece of cardboard and what shape?  Also, I just purchased some Peggy Sager fitting videos, and in the pattern making one she mentions that all fitting darts need to at leasst touch the circle around the breast and she increases the circle by dress size, not bust size.  If you are interested I'll replay the relevant section and relay the radius she uses.


          11. ShannonG4d | | #18

            I just use a big square, and note where the radius of the bust ends and the cardboard begins.  I know there are formulas that can be used, which can be helpful, but this is what works for me.  Incidentally, Peggy's materials are first-class!


          12. FitnessNut | | #19

            Thanks, I'll try the "mash" on the next body I have to fit. It does sound like a great starting point, especially when formulas don't quite do it.

            I'll check out "Sewing for Plus Sizes".....I think my local library might have a copy. I have a number of other fitting books, some better than others. And some have their strengths in fitting specific body challenges, just skimming over others. I always do muslins and frequently have to insist on it with new clients who want me to skip this step. I have several repeat clients for whom I don't do muslins, but these are only for garments that I've repeatedly made or drafted from well-used blocks.

          13. SewNancy | | #20

            Dear Sandy,

            I used to be a plus size and the Sewing for Plus size is a great reference.  But, bottom line it is far harder to sew for a plus size than a thinner person having personal experience.  I don't sew professionally, but I do sew for myself and my size 2 18 year old and boy is it easier to fit her body than my 54 year old one.  She just comes to the fitting model than a lot of people.  I used to be lazy about making muslins for a new pattern, but it really is easier in the long run. 


          14. FitnessNut | | #21

            Thanks for the input on the reference book.

            I totally agree that muslins make things easier. So does the time involved to make a good fitting sloper, however much a client doesn't want to fit a basic pattern. So I skip that part and go straight to the design, knowing that I will have fitting issues. Although on my largest plus sized client, we took the time to do a great pant sloper....it took two muslins and multiple fittings, but we ended up with gorgeous pants. She has returned to me now for several pairs of jeans.....she has not had a pair of jeans since adulthood and is really looking forward to them!

          15. SewNancy | | #22

            Wow, I am really impressed.  Jeans are my ultimate goal.  Did you do a sloper from measurements or an existing pattern?    I am in the midst of drafting a pant sloper from a straight skirt that fits me well.  I am using Peggy Sagers video as well as the article in Threads.  The article on drafting a pants sloper from a few years ago was just too confusing and Sager's method seems simple enough. 


          16. FitnessNut | | #23

            I do a sloper from measurements, although I have to admit that in this case the finished sloper doesn't look much like the one we started with. The client in question has disproportionately large hips compared to the size of her waist (46" waist, 62 1/2" hips), and a shorter rise compared with the crotch length measurement. There was a lot of trial and error with the muslin fittings and I draped the darts directly on her body using a method from an old issue of Threads. I probably could have used my computer drafting programme to do the pants, but I'm not as proficient at it as I'd like to be, so I opted for pencil and paper. I imagine that we may want to fit the jeans a bit differently than the dress trousers, but with the fitted sloper, we are already half way there.

            Good luck with your pant sloper!

          17. Marion6422 | | #25

            Since you're speaking of pants and jeans here (maybe I should be putting this in another category) I've been watching fitting discussions for a long time and have never seen the problem of ease of leg movement in pants and jeans addressed to my satisfaction, such as fitting for comfort in raising the legs to go up steep steps or in sitting down. Every pair of purchased jeans that I have seen on someone that look good and seem to provide the needed ease of movement, have a fold almost like a pleat directly under the buttocks that goes to nothing at the side seam. This fold seems to provide the added length across the back of the top of the leg that is needed for raising the legs and does not detract from the looks as far as I'm concerned.  Every instruction I have seen for how to make your own pants and jeans have said to have them go straight down from the buttocks to the calves -- no fold is mentioned or apparently desired.  I have made pants like that and they all catch on my knee as soon as I raise my leg enough to even step forward. There seems to be no stress at all on the inseams, but only from the front of the knee to the back of the buttocks, like more length is needed right below the buttocks. Does anybody know why this fold found in purchased jeans is not included in fitting instructions, or how to incorporate it when making your own pattern? Do you put in extra length there in your slopers, Sandy, or do other people not have this problem? -- Marion

          18. FitnessNut | | #26

            Hmmmm.....interesting observation and question. For the pair of jeans I'm currently making, I'm using a sloper for a dress pant. I'm fitting it on Tuesday....I'll be sure to see if leg movement is an issue. Normally, I draft a different sloper for jeans, one that has the shorter crotch extensions to give a "jeans" fit. In this case, however, the original sloper was such a trial that we're basting the inseams and outseams and fitting without the waistband in case we want to hike them up in the crotch. We're also using a stretch denim for comfort, which will affect how they fit.

            I've never seen this issue addressed either. You're right about the little fold....its there on the jeans I'm wearing. But I don't think I've ever seen any of my pattern drafting books mention it.

          19. TheSloperLady | | #24

            This is an interesting problem.  I work with computer patterns that require a height as well as B,W,and H measurements.  Just out of interest, I'd like to see how our program (CADTERNS) would deal with this.  For starters, there would be only 1 dart from shoulder and 1 from waist that could be moved, of course.  I'd like to try it in 1/4 scale and see if it comes to a similarly disagreeable shape.  Though all pattern shapes are relative to height, bust, waist and hip, I'm not at all sure how it would deal with this one.

            If you can give me a height to include, I'd like to see what results.


          20. FitnessNut | | #27

            Hi, Sloper Lady!

            The client for whom I made the vest is 6 ft. tall. Other measurements were B = 123.5 cm, W = 111 cm, H = 134 cm. The sloper had two darts originally, in the same places that you mention, but were moved to the waist position in the drafting of the vest pattern. I'd be interested in seeing your results, too. Thanks.

          21. TheSloperLady | | #28

            Hi Sandy, I wondered if that was you.  Thanks for the height measurement.  In adding it to the large circumference measurements, the proportions sound less drastic.

            I'll pass along what I find out. 


  2. SewNancy | | #3

    I am a D cup, not as big as your client but still a problem sometimes.  I found that one a princess seam is easier to fit so maybe in future you should use this instead.  But, I also have learned that any dart larger than 2" will create this problem so adding enough darts to keep them less than 2" should work.  Also, I agree that moving the tip of the dart further from the point also helps.  I had this problem in fitted dress for my daughter who is a 32 D, the fitted bodice was darted from the center front seam and I shortened the dart but it was in a silk jersey and the dress was less of a problem than the muslin, kind of opposite from your fabric situation.


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