THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design, fashion

June 27, 2009

Use Darts to Create Sheath Dress Drama

Making a sheath or shift dress like the one Georgene is doing now see the previous post can become a staple wardrobe piece. A sheath dress is a timeless design and if you have a good pattern it is a waste to not use it again and again.

But we woman want some more variations and making the same dress over and over is hardly an option we use without any design changes, except for some knit tops where we use a different fabric like prints or plain fabrics.

So if you have a good sheath dress pattern (vintage or new one) you can change the bust dart placement and have a new dress with the same good fit.

Playing with darts is a trick to use the same  pattern again. 

There are less sheath/shift dress patterns available these days but I found an example New Look 6643 which I used as an example to show you how to replace the bust dart into a new design feature.

New Look 6643 patternNew Look 6643

I do not have this pattern but I think it mimics my self drafted example with a side bust dart and waist darts.

I made a black sheath dress in a silk cotton fabric about 10 years ago but I have no picture of the finished dress to show you. See an example of the dress I made with a diagonal bust dart.

 I drafted a pattern to show you what to do if you have a sheath dress with a side bust dart and waist dart and want a new placement for the darts like this one,

new dart

My pattern draft example has no seam allowances added so if you want to change your pattern remove the seam allowances first, you can add them on later.

Step 1: Start with tracing your 1/2 front pattern on a double piece of paper since this new dress can not be cut on the fabric fold. 

Step 2 : make the pattern as a one piece and mark the center front line .

Step 3: draw a diagonal line from the shoulder towards the bust point, I measured 2 inches (5 cm) from the end of the shoulder, draw another diagonal line from the other shoulder crossing the line at center front.

Step 4 : Cut  the right side new diagonal line open towards the bust point and fold the original side bust darts closed. Voila a new bust dart placement.

 Step 1                        Step 2                         Step 3                                 Step 4 

sheath dress 1  sheath dress 2sheath dress 3 xsheath dress 4 x

 Step 5: Since the bust side darts are now closed you can true the side seams in a smooth line , the waist darts do not get used in this dress so you can remove the wide of the waist darts from the waistline of the side seams from the original bust dart towards the hip line.

You can peg the side seams for a more slimming look, but please remember that your dress needs enough wide for a sanitary stop ( use of bathroom)

To sew the new dart start with sewing the bust dart maked with 1 and then sew the diagonal shoulder seam marked as 2

The best way to mark the new bust dart in your fabric is thread tracing.

I would suggest to use a  a plain fabric for this new bust dart design.

If you want to use a print or plaid fabric just remember that the upper right bodice is not on grain.

sheath dress 5  x

If you want to make this pattern in a print or stripe fabric I would suggest cutting off the upper bodice by cutting the left shoulder line towards the bust and voila another pattern design.

Using a stripe fabric and placing the upper part at the bias or cross grain ( crosswise) will give your dress another view. The possibilities are endless, you also can cut the center front line from the upper bodice and put both sides at the bias which will result in a chevron if you use a stripe fabric.


sheath dress 6  x

Enjoy sewing a new sheath /shift dress design.

You can of course use this new bust dart placement for any blouse or top too.


  1. What a great tutorial. Like I mentioned in my previous comment, I have been working on “dart-filled” sheath. I love knowing how to alter it! Thank you.

    Comment by Cindy — June 27, 2009 @ 7:34 pm

  2. Wow, Els, what a wonderful post. Thanks so much for this.

    Comment by Mary Beth — June 27, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

  3. Great tutorial! I posted a link on Craft Gossip Sewing:

    Comment by Anne — June 27, 2009 @ 9:52 pm

  4. A great post! I love your paper drafting model photos. This is a great concept, and show the work in such a lovely graphic manner, as opposed to using flat drawings.

    Comment by georgene — June 27, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

  5. […] Els from The Sewing Divas shows how you can play with dart placement to create variations of a basic sheath dress.  The resulting new lines create a dramatic new look!  Go to the tutorial. […]

    Pingback by Tutorial: Use darts to vary a basic sheath dress · Sewing @ CraftGossip — June 27, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

  6. Awesome tutorial. Thank you, Els!

    Comment by Adriana — June 28, 2009 @ 12:22 am

  7. Inspiring…

    Comment by Judith in Umbria — June 28, 2009 @ 2:35 am

  8. Thank you for this inpsiring tutorial! Only I was wondering why do you eliminate the waist darts?

    Sinje Lübbke I did not used the waist darts to just focus on the bust design lines. But of course you can use them if you prefer.

    Comment by Sinje Lübbke — June 28, 2009 @ 4:09 am

  9. A wonderful example of dart manipulation, Els. Thank-you!

    Comment by Pam ~Off The Cuff ~ — June 28, 2009 @ 5:45 am

  10. Thank you so much! This is so exciting. I had never heard of changing dart placement before to make a new design. Your tutorial is very clear. Thanks so much for taking the time to share this with us. I can’t wait to try it.

    Comment by Trudy Callan — June 28, 2009 @ 6:39 am

  11. What a wonderful tutorial and reminder of how easy it is to manipulate favorite patterns to new designs.

    Comment by Mardel — June 28, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

  12. You made a very clear tutorial and it’s a great idea. Darts can really help you adjust things for your particular figure.

    Comment by Sewmarm — June 28, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

  13. Great post! Really easy to understand.

    Comment by dana — June 28, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  14. Super tutorial. Dart manipulation is fun.

    Comment by Gwen — June 28, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

  15. Great piece on darts. I really like the look of the diagonal dart placement. Great design element.

    Comment by Mpressive Threadz — June 29, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  16. Cool! What a great design. Thanks for giving us the tools to create something interesting.

    Comment by Summerset — June 29, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  17. You are fantastic! Thank you…

    Comment by Susannah — June 29, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  18. I was searching for a while on how to obtain different darts on a top or dress… you’ve opened my mind to a new way of thinking and I know now how to have the darts I want. THANK YOU !!

    Comment by wildmary — July 2, 2009 @ 10:09 am

  19. Great job on illustrating how to use dart manipulation to turn a simple sheath dress pattern into a fabulous and original dress with beautiful seaming details. Very inspiring and useful information!

    Comment by Tany — July 2, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  20. Wonderful idea! In my case, I’d have to do an FBA first…

    Comment by Annika — July 7, 2009 @ 10:45 pm

  21. Did you make these into working darts before alteration?

    Reply by Els
    Magenta, if your pattern need some alterations to get the right fit, you need to do it first.

    Comment by magenta — October 20, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

  22. Please advise how best to do this or similar pattern to be cut on the bias?

    Comment by Alexandra Congard — October 30, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

  23. the back of my shift dress has ‘waist darts’ if i remove the front waist darts (as in your design) what do i do with the back waist darts?
    also does this ‘shift of darts’ give the dress a better shape under the bust?



    Comment by frances — March 20, 2010 @ 2:59 am

  24. Great idea…but I don’t think theres any room for seam allowance at the bust darts because they get really narrow…what do you feel?

    Comment by Rohit — May 12, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    • Rohit: I feel you are not understanding Els’ examples. The bust darts are moved (rotated) and sewn angled from the neck area. There are no seams and bust darts together. Does that help?

      Comment by Mary Beth — May 13, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  25. Hello

    How do you sew lining to a shift dress (lined shift dress)?

    Do you have any pictures/diagrams with step by step instructions?


    Comment by Pauline Lewis — July 9, 2010 @ 11:10 am

  26. I think it’s wonder how clear and concise your drafting is.

    Comment by andrea s — September 27, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

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