Double French Darts: How to create them

Naomi is getting into the flattering effects French darts create.  She recently made a top using single French darts at the side seams.  Encouraged by the results, she asked me how double French darts are created.

The pattern transformations that follow are from “The Custom Touch” by Mary J. Wadlington, published in 1981 by Gem Publications.

I recommend practicing on 1/2 or 1/4 scale pattern diagrams first.




Note:  In some of the diagrams Mary leaves the vertical bodice dart and the skirt dart open.  I have not used her system so I’m not in a position to say if this is good practice or not.  My own experience has taught me that if a dart intake is not closed and integrated into the style line there will be a bubble or excess fabric looking awkward when the toile is created.

In the patternmaking system I learned, the vertical waist dart is closed and integrated into the bodice style line.  The skirt dart is closed first and the flare created.  Then the skirt is taped to the bodice with the vertical dart closed.  The style line is created and then the paper pattern is cut.






Pattern Diagram: Hooded Robe

Norma and I had exchanged comments about hooded robes and cloaks.  I offered to upload a pattern diagram for a hooded robe that does not require advanced skills in drafting.  The instructions call for about 3 yards of terry cloth or cotton flannel but I think if you can locate very large bath or beach towels you might be able to use those for the robe.

The pattern is from “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Sewing” published in 1978.













1930s Sew-along with Norma: Variations of the sleeve with vertical dart


Further information about the sleeve that is part of the dress I’m making for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

The photos in this posting complete the details of my previous posting.  Here I explained how I finally traced the reasons why previous versions of the sleeve with vertical dart failed.  I hope that the photos in this posting show the inspiration that kept me going.  This sleeve is the basis of so many pretty and elegant variations.  No further text from me is needed.  I’ll let the photos do the talking!

Modern versions:  Photos of illustrations from the third edition of “Patternmaking for Fashion Design” by Helen Joseph Armstrong


Vintage Version:  Used as a blouse sleeve and described as a ‘bishop’s sleeve’ in “Precision Draping” by Nellie Weymouth Link


Photos of my patterns:  Basic Elbow Dart Sleeve and Sleeve with Vertical Dart

I used the French Fashion Academy to draft the basic sleeve.  Any system can be used to create the basic sleeve and work it up to the sleeve with vertical dart.

The sleeve with elbow dart was created from the basic unfitted sleeve.  The darker lengthwise line is the new grainline after making the alteration to split the cap ease evenly between front and back.  It looks a little odd that the back of the cap is more than the front but the fit worked out.  I notice different pattern drafting systems result in different armhole and sleeve cap shapes.  A lot also has to do with the measurements and figure type the pattern is drafted for.

Notice how the shape of the back sleeve seam and wrist change when the vertical dart is opened.  This sleeve is now the starting points for the variations shown in the photos above.  I think I can create the variations Helen Joseph Armstrong shows even though hers is a different drafting system.  It’s the transformation itself that I have to get into.  Once the principles are clear I’ll experiment with muslin.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Success! We have a sleeve with a vertical dart at last!


Thank you to Norma, Carol, Naomi and my other blog readers for your ongoing support.  Thanks to all the encouragement through my flops with drafting this sleeve.  You gave me the drive to keep going.  I’m am so happy to say that not only has the latest version of this sleeve succeeded but I also know where I went wrong.  What follows is the process of evaluation I went through.  At the end is a brief tutorial on how to create this sleeve from an existing pattern for a sleeve with an elbow dart.  I did not take photos of the process but I will upload a photo of what my finished pattern piece looks like as soon as I can.

Special Shout-Out

Norma, for getting this project going.

Carol, for the many scans of vintage pattern drafting instructions at the start of this project.

Every bit of info has helped from you and the readers.

Photos of the Half-muslin of the successfully completed sleeve

I used a half-toile since the bodice, neckline and flares have worked out in earlier versions of the toile.  The sleeve was all I needed to focus on now.




This ongoing loop of working with fitted sleeves raised my awareness of many points I had forgotten about.  This is because we tend to use unfitted sleeves so much more in modern sewing.  Points I realized are:

1.  Sleeves with vertical and horizontal darts will run straight on the lengthwise grain until the point at which the dart is placed.

2.  From the dart and downward, the lengthwise grain line shifts slightly towards the front.

3.  Above the elbow, the horizontal grain lines at elbow and cap level will run round the sleeve and remain parallel to the floor.

4.  This sleeve keeps the sleeve seam at the same point as the bodice side seam.

Why a sleeve with a vertical elbow dart?

Such a sleeve was used in some of the 1930s dresses I studied prior to drafting my pattern.  I was especially attracted to the contouring of this sleeve in Margaret Ralston’s book “Dress Cutting by the Block Pattern System”.  She recommends placing the seam of the sleeve 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam.  I took note of that.

This sleeve has a very old fashioned look to it.  But the main reason why I have wanted to persevere with this patternmaking exercise is because this sleeve is the basis for two variations I think are very elegant.

One variation is the sleeve that comes to a point over the wrist and right above the middle finger.  This is such a romantic and 1940-ish kind of sleeve.  I think with a few other details it could be the focal point of an elegant evening gown or day dress.

The second variation I really love is one where the dart is changed into an opening consisting of numerous ball buttons on one side and fabric loops for closure on the other side.  The possibilities to make the buttons a statement are endless.  Rhinestones, crystals, vintage Czech glass buttons, Lucite, pearl and so many more.

So with these visions dancing in my mind I continued to deal with several versions of the sleeve that did not work out.

Analyzing the problems and failures

Ralston’s recommendation to shift the sleeve seam 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam threw everything off.  The vertical grain at biceps and elbow level were not parallel to the floor.  The sleeve looked like it had swung around the armscye a few times and randomly settled into a position I’ve never seen on a sleeve before!

Another version of the sleeve with the sleeve seam matching the bodice side seam fared no better.  This time the cap had too much ease to deal with as well.  The vertical grain lines were not as off but the sleeve cap itself was a mess.

Alterations to reduce the cap width made for complications elsewhere in the sleeve.  As many of you know a big alteration in one part of a pattern piece always affects other parts of that piece and often other pattern pieces as well.

So I knew something was wrong with the pattern all the way from the start.  The starting point and origination is the basic sleeve draft.  That works up to the fitted sleeve with elbow dart.  From the elbow dart is derived the sleeve with vertical dart.

So I started going back to the beginning of the project.

The source of all the problems:  Too much style ease resulting in too much cap ease

The original dress I based my pattern on was a chemise with set-in sleeves, a low neckline and no closure.  Based on the illustrations only I assumed the dress was a pull-over.  Even the pattern instructions in the book the illustration came from “Paris Frocks at Home”, did not show any side snap closure.

I thought 4″ of style ease would create a roomy dress.  It did but the width was too much around the biceps level.  This resulted in a very wide sleeve cap that had almost 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ inches.  The alteration to reduce the cap width did not help.  It threw the sleeve off an resulted in the strange hang once it was in the armhole.

Things improved when I realized that a pull-over dress in a woven fabric is difficult to achieve when there are set in sleeves.  I think short kimono sleeves and a roomier kind of shape is better and more comfortable.  I’m thinking of the blouson type of dress with an elastic waistline, low U-shape neckline and short kimono or short dolman sleeves.

I decided to make an adaptation of the dress instead of sticking to a purely 1930s approach by foregoing the center back zipper. Changing the dress to one with a center back zipper meant I didn’t have to add so much style ease.   This freed me up to use the standard 3″ of style ease which always provides a good fit and comfort for smaller Misses sizes and Junior sizes.

With just three inches of ease at the biceps level the excess cap ease was just 5/8″.  I made the adjustments to the sleeve by moving the lengthwise grain line where needed.  This resulted in the balanced sleeve you see in the photos of this posting.

Tutorial:  How to create your own fitted sleeve with vertical dart

It is essential to have as the basis a fitted sleeve with horizontal elbow dart that fits you very well and is comfortable.  The bodice is best from the same pattern that uses this sleeve.  If you’re going to use pieces of different patterns do a good review of the measurements of the arm holes and the sleeve cap to make sure things will balance and the ease will be correct.

Once you have such a fitted sleeve with horizontal elbow dart proceed as described.

  1.  Trace your pattern without any seam lines.  You can add these later.  I find it makes for easier cutting.
  2.  Transfer all grain lines and markings and the dart.
  3.  Measure the curve of the wrist from back to front side seam.
  4.  Divide this measurement by 3.  Note the amount.
  5.  From the side seam of the back of the sleeve measure along the wrist the amount derived in Step 4.  Mark with a dot.
  6. Draw a line from the apex point of the elbow dart down to this dot.  It might be slanted.  That is ok.
  7. Cut open the vertical line.
  8. Cut the lower dart leg and close the horizontal dart.  The vertical dart will open.  Fill the space with paper and mark the dart legs.
  9. Lower the apex of the vertical dart about 1″.  Redraw the dart legs.
  10. The seam of the back part of the sleeve will need to be evened out above, below and at the point of the pattern where the horizontal elbow dart was.  The shape will be slightly curved.  This part of the sleeve will be eased into the front part that is straighter.
  11. You can use a curved ruler if you want to make the dart legs slightly curved if you want.  The outward curves can make the dart look like a wishbone.  The curve should just be slightly outward midway at the dart leg but end right where it should at the wrist.  Do not make the dart wider.
  12. After stitching the dart, run a second line of straight stitches 1/4″ above the dart leg.  Then trim and steam press towards the center.
  13. A tailor’s ham is very helpful when pressing the dart.


The One Hour Dress: Drafting Instructions

The 1930s Sew-along with Norma brought up a discussion of the straight lines of some dresses in the late 1920s and early 1930s. At Norma’s request I’m posting scans of drafting instructions for one version of the One Hour Dress. The first scan contains instructions for taking your measurements.

I have not made a garment using this system developed by Mary Brooks Picken during the late 1910s through 1920s. I have seen different versions online of this dress. Some came out very well and others did not look flattering. Since it is a very boxy shape I think making a muslin is a good precaution. The width is based on the hip circumference. Those who have a larger abdomen or smaller bustline may need to make some adjustment.

There are vertical or horizontal darts to give some shaping at the hipline. Walking pleats in the side seams are another unusual feature in some styles. I’d love to see photos of any readers who use these instructions to create a dress, tunic or top.

This pattern came from “The One Hour Dress-21 New Designs with Complete Instructions for Making”

1930s Sew-Along: Trumpet Skirts and 6 Gore Skirts

As promised here are the drafting instructions for a gored skirt using the method I spoke about in previous postings. The patternmaking system was created at some time in the 1950s. This pattern represents some simplifications I made to the process as well as some additions. The original did not include any allowances for style ease. My first attempt at drafting a gored skirt turned out too tight.

Please, Please, Please make a muslin. You must test the method and adjust it to suit your own unique figure. Spending time to ensure a good fit will save you money and worry later. Nothing ever hides a poor fit so consider time spent on a muslin an educational process that will ensure a wonderful garment once your fashion fabric is cut.

Permissions to re-use

This pattern can be freely circulated and reused for whatever purpose you want. I’d love to see any photos of finished skirts you make.

Six Gore Skirt Drafting Instructions

Before drafting this skirt pattern please see How to Take Measurements.

The measurements used in this pattern are for a Misses Size 4. They are used to provide an example. You will substitute your own measurements to draft your custom pattern.

The Flattering Qualities of a Gored Skirt

Gored skirts are flattering to all figure types, especially when the pattern is drafted to your own measurements. This is because the pattern is drafted with a slight curve from waist to abdomen or waist to hipline. After the slight curve, the line becomes straight and ends however many inches from the center of the skirt that you want. The greater the width of the hemline the more flare and movement the gores will have.

The point at which the curve stops is best determined by your own hip and abdomen measurements. In general these are the guidelines:

—If your hips are larger than your abdomen let the flare start at the hipline. If this is your body type, then you will use the measurement Waist to Hip line for points A-C.

—If your abdomen is larger than your hip let the flare start at the abdomen. In this case you will use the measurement Waist to Abdomen for Point A-C.

The Front Skirt Length used is completely up to you. A length of 27-30” will give you a retro looking skirt reminiscent of the 1930s. To achieve such an effect use the diagram for creating a Trumpet Skirt with flare starting at the hip line.

Style Ease to add to measurements

For a gored skirt add 1-2” of ease for the abdomen or hipline. To the waist add about 1/2″ of ease.

Misses Size 4 Measurements (used for an example) for a Gored Skirt Pattern

Waist 24”+ 1/2″ ease=24 ½”

Abdomen Circumference 35”+1” ease=36”
Hip Circumference 36”+ 1” ease=37”

Waist to Abdomen 4”
Waist to Hip 8”

Front Skirt Length 28”

Continue reading

1930s Sew-Along with Norma: Patternmaking methods

I think another educational aspect from this project is evolving.  Carol has been so kind and helpful providing me with many scans of patternmaking instructions for skirts and slips.  I always find a review of material like this helpful in learning how the finished shapes of the pattern should look.

I have to admit, though, that I will not be using an authentic 1930s pattern because the system I draft from was created in the 1950s.  It would be a great experience to use older patternmaking systems but to effectively do so requires more time than I have to invest.  I believe that to really know the basics of another system well it takes about 6 months to a year just working on the most basic patterns and sewing up their toiles.  The confidence gained from this is priceless and so is the ability to knowledgably discuss what one did in the process of transformation and fitting.

Since I don’t have the necessary time to delve into vintage patternmaking systems I’ll stick with the system I know.  The challenge comes in creating a pattern that will be close to a 1930s one. If the readers are interested I’ll share photos of my completed patterns so we can compare them to ones from the 1930s.  This would be a continuation of the learning experience.