Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Couture techniques: converting darts to ease

If you have a chance to compare couture garments with their ready-to-wear counterparts, or commercial sewing patterns, you will notice absence of many darts in the former, as if the fabric was shaped around body curves by some subtle magic.

Those who sew from commercial patterns know the inevitable bust or waist darts, for example. Those darts are inserted to ensure proper fitting for a variety of materials.

After some research on the subject, I found out that in Haute Couture, the darts are often converted to ease. This technique is especially effective with plaids and prints, because it helps preserve the uninterrupted pattern of a fashion fabric.

To use this technique you need to know fabric qualities as well as some construction basics.  Here, I am trying to summarize what I have learned from books, magazines and couture patterns.

When to use this technique?
  • On skirts or pants to eliminate some or all darts.
  •  On darts shaping bust.
  •  On darts shaping the back shoulder.
In addition, you may want to use the same technique to:

  •  Shape the back armscye.
  • Prevent gaping décolleté neckline
Do not try to use this technique to eliminate large, long-curved or cut-out darts. It is only suitable for relatively short and narrow darts, which usually run from the edge or the seamline.

What fabrics are suitable?

Most fabrics that shrink easily are suitable for this technique: soft woollen, crepe, jersey, or any pliant fabric.

I recently tried recently to convert a dart to easy on a loosely woven linen skirt but in vain. The patch I used for a trial was over pressed and, even though some fullness disappeared, the result was not good enough. I ended up using single-thread dart technique, which I described here.

I would recommend trying this technique on a practice scrap to see how your fabric responds to easing.

Step-by-step instructions:
  1. Mark the location of the dart.
  2. Measure the width of the dart and measure and mark the same amount on both sides of the dart along the seamline. This is the section that will be eased. (This width may vary, you may want to increase the length of the section if your fabric doesn’t shrink so well).
  3.  Machine-baste the easing section using 6 to 8 stitches per inch, or, if you want to have a true couture experience, make two rows of very tiny running stitches (by hand, of course). If your stitches will be too long, you might end up with pleats where you pressed.
TIP: use a hand-basting needle and a single ply of silk basting thread

Here is the skirt section I gathered for shrinking. I gathered entire front waist,  but I would recommend easing 3 x dart width for each eliminated dart.
4. Easing
Here the instructions may vary depending on the type of construction. If the easing section will be joined with another section where no ease is required (shoulder darts, bust darts) do the following:
a.     Baste the two sections together, leaving out the easing section.
b.     Adjust the fullness allowed by the dart to fit the other section by pulling up the gathering thread.

If you are easing darts on a skirt, or pants section with underlining, stitch the dart on the underlining:
a.     Stitch the dart on the underling.

b.     Baste the two sections together, leaving out the easing section on the fashion fabric.
c.      Draw up the gathering thread to adjust the fullness to fit underling section.

If you are easing on a garment section without any underlining or a section that
a.     Pull up the ease basting to the final length of the easing section: it will be the original length (3 x dart width) minus the dart width.

TIP: when pulling the gathering thread, place a pin at each end of the easing section within seam allowance and wrap the basting thread around each pin to avoid any further gathering or shifting of the fabric.

5. Finishing
a.     Distribute the ease evenly
b.     Shrink the ease with steam iron over a tailor’s ham or pressing mit with the wrong side up. When the excess fabric was shrunk and the section is smooth press without steam until the fabric is dry. Remove the fabric only after the section has dried and cooled down.
TIP: if the fabric is rather difficult to shrink, try gathering less at first and shrinking, than gathering more and shrinking again, until all excess fullness has been removed.

Be careful with crepe! Crepe should be pressed with a dry pressing cloth under the steam iron, or it will lose its characteristic texture! 

The skirt after all the excess fullness has been removed
I recommend trying this technique on a practice scrap first (right after cutting your pattern pieces) to see how it works. If you apply it on loosely woven wools, it is fast and fun!

P.S.: Log on next week to see the finished plaid boucle skirt, where I used this technique.


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