The pointy tips problem

Do you ever find that your bust darts are a bit too, well, pointed and obvious? Darts that stick out and draw attention in an inappropriate way?

Pointy bust darts
Anne Hathaway in Prada 2013

Of course body shapes change and so do the silhouettes that underpin them. The position and ideal dimension of the bust has moved around over the years and size, position, outline and proximity to other body parts plays out in many aspects of fashion. And many of my older readers will know from personal experience how bra styles change to help achieve the desired bodice shape.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s women could buy pointed bras that emphasised the “bullet” shape of the bust. By the 1970s bras were closer to the natural shape, achieved by using much lighter fabrics that allowed a “visible nipple” (this post is not going to get through your firewall, I fear). If you remember wearing the 1970s bra (or even no-bra) you may also recall men staring at the impact of colder weather on your nipples. Last century bras got most of their shape from the stitching together of sections – you can see the seam lines on both these bras. Today’s brassieres are often constructed with a thin layer of padding inside a seamless cup to create a very natural curve but also obliterate the part that has the most erotic potential – shown in the T shirt bra below.

This is a roundabout way of suggesting that modern dressmakers want the bust area to be flattered and enhanced without drawing too much attention to their “tips”. We strive to create the rounded shape of a natural breast rather than sport pokey points on our hand made garments.

Recently I have experienced this problem. Twice in two weeks! My empire line dress had pointy tips. So did Esme’s dress. In fact if you ever have a man in the room when you are trying on something you have made you can be sure this is the first fault he will notice. If he is a gentleman he may not comment, but you can be sure he will have clocked your error.

Now I have researched and tested, I have some useful advice.

Why do we end up with pointy darts?

  • The take up of material compared to the length of the dart is excessive (ie short fat darts tend to create points)
  • The point of the dart is too close to the bust point/apex/nipple
  • The seamstress finishes the dart by back stitching which creates too much stress at the tip
  • The fabric is heavy or difficult to press

How can we prevent pointy bust darts?

  1. Short, fat, darts are created if you have a relatively large cup size and create a relatively short dart. This is what happened on my Empire line dress. The style line cuts across the underbust line, and the dart comes off this line. In my pattern all the bust shaping was in this area. In retrospect I should have created a second dart to the side (underarm), or divided the underbust dart into two or three darts so that the angle improved. As it was I was left with a dart that was almost an isosceles triangle – the base was the same length as the sides. It is virtually impossible to create a nice dart under these circumstances. This is why I gathered the fullness.
  2. Too big on the bust is when there is just a bit too much fabric in front of the bust point and there is not enough mound for it to be shaped by. The solution here is to reduce the fullness and size of the dart.
  3. Dart position is crucial. Commercial patterns will assume the bust point is about 1.5″ down from the underarm (tuck a chop stick on pencil under you arm and measure when wearing a bra). If the fullest part of your bust is somewhere else change the dart position. Then make sure that the dart finishes at least one inch from the apex. The idea of a dart is to get the fullness of the cloth to the area where it is needed.
  4. How to sew a curved dart: when we make patterns there is a great emphasis on squaring everything up and down and across. This is basically to provide symmetry and balance and to ensure that the garment is made on the correct grain. However the human body is curved and many of the lines we create need to be curved rather than straight. The bust and buttock “protuberances” as my old teacher used to describe them are especially curved and need to be taken into account. For this reason, while a bust dart will normally be drawn with a straight ruler, to avoid a very pokey look hollow out the stitching line a little as you come to the point and make sure you run the stitching a little parallel to the edge as you finish it off. This was the technique I used on Esme’s dress.
  5. Construction technique is important too. A technique I learned from Bunny is to decrease the stitch length as you get to the point, giving a nice smooth finish. Don’t back stitch or tie off the ends tightly.
  6. Fabric issues A short, fat, dart in a heavy fabric will need to be cut open, trimmed and treated more like a seam. Some fabrics that don’t press well may create a poke at the end that cannot be rectified with pressing.
  7. Press on a curved surface eg. pressing ham, balled up towel etc.

I hope this is helpful; any other suggestions out there?

20 Responses

  1. Speaking personally, it doesn’t take cold weather to make mine protrude. What can I say, blessing and curse lol I don’t actually like those modern rounded, padded bra shapes, I prefer a natural cup, and as I can’t hide my nips unless I wear about an inch of padding, I let them have their wicked way! Good tips [unavoidable pun there]
    Mathematical point [see what I did?]…all darts that aren’t curved, are in fact isosceles triangles. You meant equilateral. Teacher hat off.
    I think wotsername looks cute in that pink dress, nippy points notwithstanding [oops I did it again]

    • Oh Demented Fairy – thank you for the correction. How sloppy of me! How my brain has addled over the years! Yes I meant an Equilateral triangle. I bet it is such fun to (re)learn maths with you – I wish I was nearer.

  2. I don’t have this problem… I have no bust!

  3. Love this post! When I first started sewing, I kept lengthening the dart to extend riiiiiight to the tip of the bust apex. Because obviously, the fabric point should lie on the human point of my nipple. Like an arrow, or a neon sign.

  4. I have the same issue as DF. Only shoving de-make-up pads down the fronts will mask nature. Your list covers most of what I do. The short fat darts in places like empire dress bodices sometimes work well split into three darts.These little darts can be quite unobtrusive.

  5. Stephanie

    Call me childish but I always giggle at the phrase “breast mound” in sewing – like baseball.

    I remember that Gertie had a post on this a frw years ago re. French darts and sewing vintage patterns.

    • Interesting observation because many of Gertie’s patterns have just this design flaw. It can be seen on the made garments or patterns themselves.

  6. Hélène

    On modern patterns, bust darts seem mostly designed the same way, but I have observed a variety of bust dart placements in vintage patterns, for example, on the lower part of the armscye pointing towards the apex, or angled from the waist to the apex (I think this one is called French dart). I don’t know why pattern designers do not take advantage of these different darts nowadays. Personally, I love when a pattern calls for tiny patch pockets to avoid the pointy tips problem (like Grainline Studio’s Alder dress).

  7. Joan from Texas

    So if one chooses to replace a single dart with three smaller ones, should they be parallel or they angle slightly to point to the apex (while still stopping short of apex, of course)?

    • I usually make them angle towards BP, but from the seam in an empire line dress they can be quite short, so not looking like they’re formation flying towards the bullseye. I think I used the same 3 dart technique from the front band in a silk wrap over blouse recently, and I’ve often put them from a neckline band. If they are placed carefully they can look like a design feature in plain fabric, and disappear in most patterns.

  8. @Joan They should point toward the apex, but .5-1″short of it.

    In softer fabrics, you can make a series of 2-3 tucks in the side seam. You may not need a dart if you add the tucks, or you may need a smaller dart.

  9. Joyce Latham

    Those pointy bras scare me. ( so dies the top photo)
    Thanks again for such an informative post Kate.
    I find if I think about darts too much, I end up with one that doesn’t pass approval, but if I relax,and just sew the dart…somehow it seems to turn out better, I don’t know why. Some materials are easier then others, that’s for sure and placement is so very important. It’s the lucky seamstress that can get a handle on them, and really make them work for her ( or him as the case may be).
    You will be that seamstress…your learning so much about pattern making and fit. Looking forward to what you discover next.
    Till the next time
    Joyce

  10. Somewhere along the way in my seeing education I learned about padding out bust dart tips with small squares of bias cut fabric – either self fabric if the fabric is light enough or in a lighter sympathetically coloured fabric if you are sewing a bulkier fabric. Once you sew your dart, you fold your little squares in half on the diagonal, place them over the end of the dart and sew over the dart stitching line. I’ve used this method many times and found it does a good job of padding out the dart points (provided your dart is in the right place).

  11. When I was making Helen’s wedding dress I had this issue, even though she is an A cup, because of the extra in the dart from no waist dart and from ensuring no gape in neckline and armscye. The things that helped:
    1. Making my dart into 3. They started as 3 parallel French darts (design choice) but fitting slightly altered that as the bottom dart became curved.
    2. My fabric was underlined and it is important to keep the layers together right to the dart tip. My tutor advised stitching through both layers of fabric just inside the dart legs. This was very helpful. Prior to doing that my dart tips had a tendency to pucker.

  12. Just remembered another dart trick if you have a large width to dart away. You can get extra bust room in the front piece by shaping out the side seam at bust level slightly. This has to be eased in to the back seam. This is similar to the way you ease in the front panel in an armhole princess line which is set to the side of the bust point.

  13. I would love to take this post and blare it on to the many blogs I have seen where nip tips are ignored by those who consider themselves experts in sewing. It’s proof they arent’ and have much to learn. Your great post could teach them a lot and I thank you for that. Off my soapbox!

    I so have visions of my mom in her bullet bras and girdles when I was a little girl. I doubt that she weighed a hundred pounds yet had all that engineering going on under her clothes!

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