Editor's Note: This series of posts became a book!
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction was published by Lark Crafts in 2013.
Right up there with gussets, darts are one of the most important aspects of creating a truly three-dimensional toy. A dart is a fold sewn into the fabric to create a three-dimensional shape. In soft toy design there are two kinds of darts: oval and triangular.
Oval darts play an essential role in well-designed underbody gussets by pulling the legs in toward the body, preventing them from splaying out. Something important to notice about oval darts is that they taper to zero on either end. This taper means that an oval dart does not subtract any length from the overall outline of the pattern piece.
Triangular darts are used to create roundness. Add a triangular dart where you want a chubby cheek, a rounded forehead, a fleshed-out backside. The wide base of the triangle in a triangular dart shortens the length of the pattern piece. If you add a triangular dart you'll need to take this shortening into account.
Triangular darts are used for shaping. Let's see how they work.
I am going to sew polar bears – one with no darts and one with three triangular darts.
I begin with an outline of the polar bear's profile.
For the first bear, I will simply use this outline as the side body. For the second bear, I will add three traingular darts: one at the top of the head close to the ears to create a rounded forehead, one where the head meets the neck to create rounded cheeks, and one on the back near the tail to create a rounded backside.
Each dart is a small triangle. The base of the triangle aligns with the edge of the side body.
The dart near the top of the head will decrease the total length of the pattern up there. I need to take that into account and shorten the head gusset accordingly. Here you can see the head gusset for the bear with darts (the one on top) and the head gusset for the plain bear (the one on the bottom).
Next, I cut out the side bodies from fabric. On the bear with darts I transferred the triangles to the fabric with a disappearing pen. Then I pinched the fabric inward down the middle of each traingle, and sewed along the pen lines. Here is how it looks on the wrong side of the fabric once all the darts are sewn.
And here is how the right side of the fabric looks.
If you'd like to see dart sewing demonstrated, I found this video especially clear.
Here are the two bears, all sewn up, side by side so that you can see the effect of the darts.
I think three darts was a little much for that bear on the left. He's a bit rotund.
No fear, his friend still loves him.
The difference a dart makes is subtle, but up close the beauty and complexity of the design is more apparent.
Don't be afraid to experiment. Take a softie pattern you've sewn before and add some darts where you think the animal needs more shaping. As always, sew up the new version of your pattern in muslin first to see if you need to make any other adjustments. In the end you will have a pattern for a more three-dimensional animal and I think you will be pleased with the result.
Anyone have other tips for sewing darts? Where do you like to put them? What effects have you achieved with darts? Please leave a comment and add to the discussion! Thank you, everyone!
Another great lesson with great photos! Thank you!
Beth Grim says
One thing I like about using darts on the head and rear is that sometimes it can be a perfect place to insert an ear or a tail (or something else….!).
I like to make darts to help the shape of a plush, like in order to shape an apple.
That’s a great point, Beth Grim! Any opening that will be closed with machine stitching is an opportunity to insert a part like an ear or a tail. Thank you!
Do you sell the pattern to the polar bear anywhere?
Abby Glassenberg says
No, I don’t, but my friend Betz White has a terrific polar bear pattern that I highly recommend: http://www.etsy.com/listing/112228737/flurry-and-fluff-stuffed-felt-polar?ref=shop_home_active
Thank you so much for this tutorial! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while. I’m attempting to add a more sit-worthy bum to a cloth doll I’m making for my daughter’s birthday. It’s my first time making a doll and I’m making my own pattern… it’s daunting and maybe a little naive of me! Here’s hoping the darts work for this project!
Thank you I bought a pattern and got hung up with what a dart was for the ears and couldn’t find anything. This is very similar. I’m hoping that I have the right idea now lol
I’m so glad, Jackie.
Silvia Canelon says
Abby, this is so helpful, thank you! I’m about to sew my first softie as a gift for a little one and the “pattern” I found came with the template only but no instructions. Having sewn only a couple of garments in the past, I thought the strange looking triangles kind of resembled darts, but I was convinced they had to be something else. As the big fan of your podcast that I am, I asked myself “what would Abby do?” and came to your website to find the answer within minutes. You provide so many wonderful resources, thank you for your thoughtfulness and generosity!
That’s great to hear, Silvia!