How to Put Darts in Your Shirts

I used to have a few shirts that I really liked but which did not fit especially well around the waist. They were bought in the days when I knew a lot less about fit and cloth (hard to imagine, isn’t it?), and while the neck, shoulders and sleeve were fine, the cut was simply too full from the chest downwards.

Such were my frustrations, I may have thrown them out. So instead I decided to try and sew my own darts into them, to narrow the waist. If I messed it up, I could just throw them away anyway.

My first attempt went surprisingly well, but there were a few lessons learned. I should have tried a couple of variations on the shape and size of the darts before I sewed them in. I should have been a little less cautious on their length. And while they held up very well in the wash, I learned it was worth sewing as tight stitches as possible.

I think I’ve now got a pretty good system, and all those shirts have been darted, worn and washed several times, to pleasing effect. I could have had it done at a tailor, but not being in essence a practical person, it is very satisfying to master a skill such as this. And it probably saved me £100. Here is my step-by-step guide to putting darts in your shirts. It is not that hard, and very satisfying when completed.

1. Lay out your shirt on an ironing board. Pinch the material in two places, roughly where your waist would be and a couple of inches in from the seam on either side. Start with a fold of a couple of centimetres, folded out towards the seam. Iron that patch flat and then fold the material above and below, pulling the material away gradually so it forms a crescent.
2. Pin both folds with three pins or needles each, to keep them in place.
3. Try the shirt on, being careful that none of the pins point inwards. Assess how suppressed the waist is by pulling the sides away from your skin, and try sitting down, stretching etc.
4. If the fold needs adjusting, take it back to the ironing board and fold the material more or less. Also, if you feel the dart could or should be longer, narrowing more of the shirt’s body, then extend the crescent above and below.
5. Sew the fold in place, starting with a few stitches in one place (on the inside of the shirt so it doesn’t show) and then sew smallish stitches, in and out up the fold, and finishing in the same way.
6. Use white thread unless the shirt is one block colour – and look closely, most colours are a mix of a darker colour and white.
7. Don’t worry if the stitches seem far apart. They will hold up well – and they don’t have to be as tight as the ones that construct the shirt itself. (You could of course do this on a sewing machine as well if you have one. I don’t.)

If you find it hard to iron the crescents (I found it the trickiest part) 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 create a flap on the bottom, but if you have your shirt tucked in most of the time, this won’t be a problem. I found this particularly useful on a Ralph Lauren blue oxford, which although “custom fit” was still far too broad. The thicker material made it hard to fold accurately.

I’m sure some of you are proficient sewers, and all this is the equivalent of teaching your grandma to suck eggs. I’m sure others are horrified at the idea of amateur tailoring. But I found it very satisfying (a step up from hemming my trousers) and I encourage you to have a go.


  1. Philipp said:

    Oh finally someone who has the sense to give things a try.

    I have had similar problems with items of clothing of mine. Shirt sleeves that were a bit to long, shit cuffs that were a bit to wide for my wrist, shirts whose second button is way too low to wear the shirt with the neck button open, …

    All things that can easily be remedied. However I do admit that I would not try these “operations” without a sewing machine, though luckily I do own one of those.

    So I can only “second that motion”. Give it a try. You might well be surprised by the excellent results that you achieve.

    Now as to “amateur tailoring”:
    Don’t think just because you are quite capable at making a few minor alterations, that you would be equally as capable of making major changes or creating well fit clothes from scratch. I have tried taking in a sports coat myself after loosing some weight. Let it be said: “This was a mistake”.

    Well: you win some and you lose some 😉


    May 20, 2008
  2. B-rad said:

    I would like to see some pictures here. I can verbally follow this process.

    May 20, 2008
  3. Dejvid said:

    I second that motion, how about some pics…….

    May 21, 2008
  4. Simon Crompton said:

    Philipp, thank for your comments. I have always had problems shortening shirt sleeves effectively, and in fact making cuffs narrower. Any recommendations on how to do this? I’m sure readers would be interested.

    B-rad and Dejvid, I will try and come up with some form of illustration, but it may have to be a dodgy sketch of my own as I have not seen anything effective published on this. If anyone has, please tell me.

    Many thanks

    May 23, 2008
  5. Gus said:

    Great article on something I want to try, but trying to visualize “Iron that patch flat and then fold the material above and below, pulling the material away gradually so it forms a crescent.” is as tough for me as I’m sure trying to figure out how to describe that in text was for you.
    Please do a video, put it on Youtube and post the link here!

    May 30, 2008
  6. Clinton said:

    Glad to see someone else is exploring the possibilities of the sewing machine. I had several very bad experiences with different tailors/seamstresses and finally decided that I’d had enough of them. I rationalized, if they were skilled and did a terrible job, presumably from lack of attention to detail, then I could produce at least the same results, being unskilled but maintaining great attention to detail. And indeed, my hypothesis was correct.

    However, I don’t like darting. I like the simplicity of the men’s shirt; for me, darts at best add clutter, like cuffs and pleats, and at worst can seem to be drawing too much from women’s style, where darted blouses are the norm. Determined to find a solution, I haphazardly ripped out the side seams from one of my shirts, leaving myself no choice but to figure it out or throw the shirt away.

    For my first attempt, I actually tried to reproduce the commercial folded over seam that you can see on most shirts. A frustrating and painful process. After that, I discovered the wondrous flat-felled seam, which from the right side looks indistinguishable from the commercial seam, but is infinitely easier to produce at home. And now, in possession of a felling foot, a presser foot expressly designed to assist in producing these seams, I’ve gone mad with power. No poorly fitted shirt in my wardrobe is safe. That baggy pair of chinos is next on the chopping block.

    As you mentioned, some would probably scoff at the idea of tailoring your own clothes at home, but I find it quite practical. There already being a sewing machine at my disposal, it has saved me quite a bit of change in tailor’s bills. And, to return to my comment at the start, when you’re tailoring your own clothes, your attention to detail is quite high, so the results are likely to be, at the very least, wearable.

    July 24, 2008

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