Putting Darts in a Tank Top or Dress

Do you have a tank top or sleeveless dress that doesn’t fit well on top?

Is there extra fabric hanging loose between the shoulder and armpit?

Alot of loose fitting tops and dresses are made without alot of tight fit to them in that area.

But you can do a simple alteration to make it fit better.

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Most darts lay somewhat horozontally on a top or dress. If you were making a garment from scratch you, would have a nice fitting horozontal dart. If you tried to do that on this top, the edges along the armhole would not line up evenly. Try pinching it up horozontally and you’ll see what I mean. 

Since we aren’t constructing a garment from scratch, we need to have an alternate plan. So, when you are pinning your darts, pin them so the outer edges are even.

Just pinch the fabric together and pin the excess fabric all the way to the full part of the bust sticking in as many pins as you need until it fits well. 

Now, press the folded edge of the new dart with the tip of an iron or a mini iron.

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Be careful not to press the heads of the pins as they might melt.

Now, before you take out the pins, measure the distance down from the outer edge of the shirt and write down how far in the pin is placed.

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So, for this dart, you can see that at the outer edge (or “top” of the dart), we are going to take in 5/8″.  At 1 3/4″ down from the edge, we’ll take in 3/8″. At 3 inches down from the edge, you won’t take any amount in. This means, you’ll be finished sewing the dart at this point.

You’ll understand it better in the next few steps.

Now, take the pins out and turn the shirt or dress  inside out. You’ll notice the pressed line you made with the iron.

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With the right sides of the fabric facing each other, you’re going to pinch the shirt along that foldline you made with the iron. It will seem weird at first since you are pinching the foldline in the opposite direction that you pressed it in:

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Referring to the measurements you took earlier, pin the dart from the inside of the shirt.

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For the first pin, start at the outer edge of the shirt and put a pin in 5/8″ away from the folded edge of the new dart as shown below. Then, move down the shirt 1 3/4″. At that spot, put a pin in 3/8″ from the folded edge. At the 3″ mark, I just put a pin right on the fold. That tells me where to finish the dart.

I like to push my pin in at the exact spot of that marking. It gives me a sewing line to go by. You can also pencil that line in with a washable marker, but I don’t like to take the chance of it staying permamantly on the fabric. I like to just “eyeball” where I should sew, using the pin placement as my guide..

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Normally, you want to take the pins out and not sew over them, but I wanted to show you (by leaving the pins in this time) where my sewing line goes in relation to my pins. As I mentioned before, I stick the pins in in the exact spot where I am going to sew the seam or the dart:

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Now, just press the dart down toward the hem of the top or dress

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If the dart doesn’t want to lay flat, you can stitch it down with matching threads as in the photo below. (Just stitch the area between the two pins.)

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When you are finished, you won’t have that gap like you did before. This time it will fit perfectly!

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Tailor Tacks…Instead of Pins

Have you heard of a tailor tack? If you’re 50 years old or older, you probably have.

If you’re a young whipper snapper or you’re new to sewing in the last 25 years, you may not have any idea what I’m talking about.

So, let me first tell you what one is and what it does and then I’ll show you how to make one.

They are super simple.

This is what one looks like. I know they look weird, but stick with me here. They are worth knowing how to make.

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A tailor tack is a way to “mark” fabric without using pins or a marker. You use thread instead.

There are several reasons why you would use a tailor tack:

1. You might have very slippery fabric and the pins might come out easily.

2. You might have expensive fabric like a satin or a silk or any other fabric where the pins could leave a big pinhole.

3. You might not have any pins available.

4. You need to mark two layers (or more) at the same time and be accurate about it.

5. They are a good way to “mark” darts without using carbon paper and a tracing wheel which may leave permanent marks on your garment.

I’m sure there are many more purposes, but those came to mind quickly.

I use them alot when I am pinning up a train to a wedding dress and I pin where I want the bustle to be. Then, right after the customer leaves, I put in tailor tacks to mark the spots. That way, I don’t get big pin holes by leaving pins in a long time and I don’t have to worry about the pins falling out as I’m working on the dress.

Ok, let’s make a tailor tack.

I am using a scrap of metallic fabric here to illustrate, but I most often use tailor tacks on satiny type fabrics.

First, take a small stitch into the fabric. If you have more than one layer, stitch into all layers. You don’t need to knot your thread, but you do need to keep the ends of your threads the same length.

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Now, take another stitch right into the same spot as your first stitch:

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Don’t pull it tight…leave a loop above the surface of the fabric like this:

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Cut the thread leaving a tail about three inches long.

Now, peek underneath the first layer of fabric. You’ll see if you pull the two layers slightly and gently apart, that there are threads in between the layers:

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If you pull too hard, you’ll pull out most of the threads and you’ll have to do the process again.

Once you get them pulled a little apart, cut the threads like this:

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As you can see, you have some threads marking the spot on the top layer and some marking the spot on the bottom layer.

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Leave these threads in the fabric while you do your sewing.

When you are finished sewing, you can easily pull these threads out. Sometimes, I need to use tweezers to pull the threads out.

Whatever color fabric you are sewing on, you’ll want to use a matching thread so that if you can’t pull the threads out for some reason, you won’t have a contrasting color stuck in there.

I used a contrasting thread here so that it would show up in the photos and be easier to see what I had done.

Try some tailor tacks. I think you’ll find them very useful!

Rolled Hems

This is a close up of a rolled hem:

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You’ll find them on prom dresses, wedding dresses, casual dresses, skirts and men’s shirt tails. In fact, they are found on all sorts of garments made from all sorts of fabrics.

You can make a rolled hem “by hand”. You simply press up 1/8″ along your hemline with a mini iron (or a regular iron)  and then press up another 1/8″ and stitch it all the way around.

However, I can’t seem to do this well. My pressing job doesn’t look quite professional enough and I tend to stitch a crooked line.

You may have better success than I do at it.

Since I am usually sewing these for a customer, I want it to look professional, like they just bought it off the rack.

So, I prefer to use a rolled hem foot to do the work for me:

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(Don’t put the rolled hem foot on your machine just yet.)

First, I have the customer try the dress on and I mark the hemline with pins.

Then, I press the dress along  the fold that I just made with the pins.

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Once you press the hem on the fold, cut the fabric 3/8″ outside the fold (toward the original hemline).

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The amount may vary from the 3/8″ depending on your rolled hem foot.

I have tried cutting it 1/2″ and it is too much fabric for the rolled hem foot to handle and the frayed edges stick out and the hem looks awful.

Cutting less than 3/8″ means you won’t have enough fabric to successfully roll  it.

Experiment on a scrap piece of fabric until you have the amount that works best for you.

You don’t need to finish the raw edge.

Since you cut off the hem edge, you cut off seams. Go back and reinforce each seam edge using your regular all purpose foot.

Just sew a few stitches into the seam and then backstitch and trim your threads.

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Now, put the rolled hem foot on your machine.

To sew the new hem, I start at a seam.

You’ll need to take the cut edge of the hem and turn it up to meet the fold. Then, turn it up one more time on the fold. In other words, you are going to turn up the raw edge twice and place a pin in it to hold it until you can sew it.

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Put this pinned section under the presser foot, put your needle down into the fabric and then drop the presser foot.

Now, carefully, take a few stitches making sure you don’t run over the pin.

Once you have taken about 4 or 5 stitches, put the needle down into the fabric and lift the presser foot.

Take a pair of long tweezers (short ones will do if that’s all you have) and work the raw edge carefully around the curve part of the foot like this:

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Once you have it in the correct spot, make sure the pressed fold is laying flat as you see on the right side of the photo.

(I didn’t take enough photos with the green satin fabric, so here I have a cream colored crepe fabric).

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As you sew around the hem, your job is to make sure the pressed fold of the fabric is laying flat. You don’t want it to get pulled down under the presser foot or the rolled hem will turn into a mess and you’ll have to rip it out and do that part again.

If you have a full skirt that is wide at the bottom, you’ll need to pull the fabric a little to the left while you sew. This helps to keep the hem from turning on you and helps you keep that original curve.

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When you come up to a seam, you’ll notice that you have extra fabric from the seam allowances that you need to feed into the foot.

To aid with that problem, I cut little triangles off of the seam allowances like this:

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Then, I use a glue stick to hold the diagonal edge down. Sometimes, that glue stick won’t hold it together, and in that case, you’ll just need to work slowly with the tweezers to get it onto the curve of the foot.

So, use those tweezers like you did before in getting the fabric around the curve like this:

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Sometimes, the fabric is much too heavy to make it through that foot. In those rare cases, I take the fabric out of the foot and hand roll it like you did at the beginning and pin it. Then, just sew until you get past the seam.

Once you are past the seam, take the tweezers and again, pull the fabric over the curve and continue sewing until you get to the next seam.

You may think that that’s too much trouble, but I don’t mind. I like the way it turns out much better than if I were to do it “by hand” as I mentioned before.

If you do have to start and stop alot, just make sure you pull your thread ends to the wrong side of the dress and then clip them off. That way you won’t have threads showing on the right side.

If you didn’t have any trouble at the seams, then continue stitching until you get to about an inch from the end of the hem.

Backstitch a few stitches.

Take the hem off of the rolled hem foot:

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Hand roll the hem at the end like you’ve done before and pin it.

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Swing the pinned section under the presser foot and put the presser foot down.

Carefully, stitch without running over the pin.

Backstitch again.

There’s a rolled hem anyone would be proud of.

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Get Yourself a Mini Iron

My friend Sharon has a special knack for getting me the perfect gifts for my birthday and Christmas. She seems to know exactly what I need. Maybe it’s because she’s a seamstress too.

Mostly, it’s because she is thoughtful and generous.

One of these great gifts was this mini iron:

Clover Mini-Iron



They are perfect for those tasks where you need to press something, but the regular iron is too big, or the steam eminating from it burns your fingers.

They are easy to operate.

Just plug in the cord and turn this clamp to “on”.

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Then, turn the dial anywhere from low to high, depending on what fabric you are working with. The temperature will be similar to a big iron.

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It takes a few minutes for it to heat up.

Test it on a scrap piece of fabric first.

If you don’t have a scrap, test it in a hidden area of the dress, like an inside seam:

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Adjust the temperature if needed.

When you’re finished, just turn it off and unplug it.

You can get this particular one (Clover Brand) at JoAnn Fabrics.

Clover also touts a newer, more versatile one, with 5 different interchangeable tips, on their website.

It might seem a little silly to have a tiny iron like this, but it really saves alot of hardship.

I remember scorching some lining fabric once because I tried to get into a tiny space with a big iron. The main fabric of the dress was polyester, which was what my iron was set for. But the lining fabric was made of acrylic, so it just melted like the witch in The Wizard of Oz.

So do yourself a favor and get a mini iron.

Your fingers and fabric will thank you.

Let’s Serge a Hem

This is what a serged hem looks like up close:

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Maybe you have a dress, skirt, shirt or even a scarf that really needs this type of hem.

You can duplicate this look with your serger (and I’ll give some pointers for how to do this on your sewing machine at the end of this post).

This is a dress that belongs to a 16 year old customer.

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Her mom tried to duplicate the hem with her new sewing machine, but found that none of the stitches that come with the machine were close to what she wanted.

Here’s two of those stitches she tried:

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She knew I had a serger and asked if I would hem it with that.

It’s an easy process.

First look at the manual that came with your serger. Since my serger is about 9 years old, I don’t have the up to date abilities that yours probably has.

On mine, I take out the left needle, which leaves only the right needle for this process.

That means I only need three spools of thread.

My customer provided one of the spools. I had one other that matched really well. Because I didn’t have 3 spools of thread and I didn’t have time to run to the store,  I wound some thread onto an empty bobbin:

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By the way, I don’t own every color ever made in serger thread. Partly because it would be expensive to do so and partly because there are some colors I would only use once and that would be a waste. But, I do have alot of regular thread and even if I have to use three that don’t match, they will look just great if they are “close enough”.

So, even though you hear it is a “no no” to use regular thread when serging, I do. 

This is a quick hem and it’s not like I will be serging for months straight with the regular thread. 

Back to the serger. I also switch the throat plate to one that is made for the serged edge. Some people may even call it a rolled edge.

The tensions need to be drastically changed. On mine, I move the dials (reading them left to right) 4 -7 -7. (Disregard the number 3 in the photo at the far left. that is the number that correlates with the left needle. Since we took the left needle out for this hem, you can leave the dial whereever you want. It won’t affect the outcome.)

To see how I figured out where my tension dials should be set, read this post.

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You need to move the stitches closer together (stitch length) and narrower (stitch width).

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Once this is in place, I move to the ironing board.

Of course, you can do the ironing work first, before you set up the serger. There’s no rule as to which should come first.

My customer had already pinned the dress where it needed to be hemmed.

So, I pressed on that line all around the skirt.

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Since this is “bubbly” fabric, I just pressed on the very edge so that it wouldn’t lose the “bubbliness” of the fabric. It would not look good to have some of the skirt be bubbly and the rest flat.

Once I press the hemline, I begin by cutting off a small swatch area to practice my tension on.

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Even though I think the tension dials should be set at 4, 7, and 7, I want to make sure of this before I begin stitching. If I don’t, there’s no going back. If I make a mistake, I’ll just have to go around the hem again and the next time it will have to be shorter. So, I want to eliminate as much possibilty for error as I can.

So, begin stitching on the scrap of fabric. Make your adjustments if you need to.

Sometimes, with this light and airy type fabric, the fabric may tear away at the needle on the left side of the stitching. In that case, reset the stitch width and make your stitches wider than they are now.

You may also need to adjust your differential feed. This keeps the fabric from getting either too bunched up or too wavy looking. You want it to lie flat.

Begin serging the scrap taking all of these things into consideration.

When you are pretty confident that you have the stitches just how you like them, then you can work on the garment itself.

This photo shows the original hem on the top piece and my serging on the bottom piece.

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Stitch along the foldline you made with the iron.

Begin stiching right on that fold. In other words, feed the fabric through by keeping the knife of the serger on the foldline. That way, as you serge, it will cut off the fabric at just the right spot for the hem.

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Continue serging all the way around the hem.

When you finish the hem,  serge off of the fabric for about 6 inches. Cut off the thread “tail” about 3 inches from the fabric.

Thread this serger “tail” onto a needle and work the tail back into the serged hem edge, thereby hiding it. Clip your threads off.

You’re finished.

Wasn’t that a breeze?

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Ok, now if you’re using a sewing machine, you can duplicate this hem quite satisfactorily.

Just use the width of zig zag stitch you prefer. Then, tighten up the stitch length to zero (or just a smigde higher than zero if your machine doesn’t move forward and just keeps stitching over the same area.)

This will give you a tight satin stitch. It may use alot of thread, so start with a full bobbin.

With this technique, you’ll get the same effect.

If your machine is a newer model, it may have a “serge” stitch on it. Try that stitch. You may like it better.