Shirt Darts

I used to have shirts I really liked that didn’t fit properly around the waist. Usually, I’d find that the neck, shoulders and sleeves were okay but the cut was just a bit too full from the chest southwards.

The option I had then was to either return it or give it out – frustrations I had to manage. I visited a few tailors in Birmingham to get this sorted out, what I usually got back was long seam stitches at the underarm of the shirt stretching from the bottom at the sides all the way up to the sleeves. It looked untidy and created a situation where I now had tight sleeves that were okay initially. Other tailors would offer a slightly different variation to this by only narrowing the waist of the shirt by seam stitching the sides and stop just short of the sleeves. It almost solved the problem but the armpit section of the shirt now had an unpleasant fold that made it look obviously altered from the inside. It didn’t look good.

I did a bit of research on shirt alterations. A ‘dart’ was the answer. What is a dart I hear you asking – well, they are the stitches added to a shirt (or blouse, jacket, etc) to give it shape by taking in part of the fabric. A sort of tapered tuck made in dressmaking. Darts only take in one part of the shirt at a time, and while they add a great taper, they can take in at most about 4 inches before they start warping. You can use darts in conjunction with other methods to finish the shirt off with a great tapered look that gives a closer, refined fitting. A dart gives a shirt more personality, which in my opinion adds aesthetic, just as an ornament. They are, in some cases, the difference between a “slim fit” and a “classic fit” shirt you get from brands or shopping outlets.

I found a company in Birmingham called stitches that did this really well. They also have branches in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. I’m yet to discover one in Port Harcourt but I’m sure I will.

I told them the problem via email and sent pictures taken by the remarkable camera on the Blackberry Passport. I brought in the shirts and the problem varnished. The lady was kind enough to provide me with the steps for darting when I came to collect them the next day; this article is to learn how to dart anyway so let’s get to it already.

The steps are not that hard; it’s something you can try at home as a DIY. If you’re a practical person, mastering a skill such as this is pretty satisfying. Please note that your first attempt might not go so well so don’t be disheartened.

Non-Iron shirt with darts taken out

Step 1: Lay out your shirt on a flat hard surface such as a table or an ironing board. Using two fingers, pinch the material in two places, roughly where your waist would be and a few inches in from the seam on each side. Start by folding a couple of centimeters, folded out towards the seam. Place a heated iron on that patch to flatten it out and then fold the material above and below, pulling the material away gradually so it forms a crescent (a crescent is a shape resembling the curved shape of the moon in it’s first or last quarters).

Step 2: Pin the two folds created with three pins or needles each to hold them in place.

Step 3: Ensure none of the pins or needles point inwards, and then try the shirt on. Asses how stifled the waist is by pulling sides away from your skin, try to sit down, stretch, anything to asses the level of its suppression.

Long darts

Step 4: Check if the fold needs adjusting, if it does, take it back to the hard flat surface and fold the material. In addition, if you feel the dart should be longer, narrowing more of the shirts body, all you have to do is extend the crescent above and below.

Step 5: Sew the fold in its place, starting with a few stitches in one place (preferably on the inside of the shirt so it doesn’t show) and then sew smallish stitches, in and out up the fold, and finishing it in the same way.

Step 6: Unless the shirt is one block colour, it’s a good idea to use a white thread; it blends in better with colours of shirts – and look closely, most colours are a mix of a darker colour and white.

Step 7: Don’t be bothered too much if the stitches look to be wide apart. They will hold up well – and they don’t have to be as tight as the ones that construct the shirt itself. Please also note that you could do this on a sewing machine if you have one and know how to use it. Some of us do and some of us don’t. Do you?

There are a few things you should be aware of as you carry this out, try a couple of variations on the shape and size of the darts before sewing them. Be a little less cautious on the length of the darts. Sew as tight stitches as possible so they hold up well when you stretch and wash.

The above system is a pretty good system and will withstand wearing and washing with pleasing effect.

Darted Made in Italy Shirt from Giovanni Rosmini

In any case, it can be tricky ironing the crescents, if you struggle with this, you can always start the fold halfway down the back of the shirt and just carry it on off the bottom of the tail. This will likely create a flap on the bottom, but if you have your shirt tucked in most of the time, this won’t be a problem. You might find this article particularly useful to be applied on a Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirt. I had one, although slim fit, was still far too broad at the waist. You might also find that the thicker material makes it harder to fold accurately. On the other hand, shirts Made in Italy are usually heavily darted, take note of this when buying one, as it may be a bit too tight if you think you’re buying your size. Sizes vary from brand to brand and from continent to continent.

Some of you could be proficient sewers and find this elementary information. Others that have never tried tailoring or sewing will find this a bit more daunting. I found it a useful and satisfying experience learning something new from a willing teacher and I recommend you have a go. It’d save you some hard-earned money and you’ll learn a handy new skill in the process. When I find a local reputable tailor to get this sort of alteration done neatly, I’ll let you know. Till then, stay fresh.

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