Top Tip: Foolproof notches…

I see alot of instructions out there that state “snip notches”. My dressmaking tutor however, always drummed it into us to cut our notches outward rather than inward, and as a result this is how I have always notched my pattern pieces. For two reasons really. Firstly, an outward notch like this is a more visible guide for lining things up than little snips in fabric that can sometimes be barely visible. Secondly, as someone who invariably has to adjust my seams to fit, notching outwards means I retain all of the seam allowance to play with. Whereas if I were to make a snip into the seam allowance to the depth of that little triangle, I’m reducing the “play” I have in my seam allowances by almost half. Here’s how…

Before cutting out each pattern piece, I use another pattern piece to trace the exact mirror image of my notches to create little diamond shapes…

On double notches like this, I’ll join the tips of the two diamonds to create a tab shape. The resulting pattern piece, once cut, has a completely accurate and very visible outward notch. Which makes the pattern pieces much easier to line up when assembling the garment AND, leaves me all of my seam allowance to play with when inevitable fitting issues arise!

Cutting these notches out can require some patient scissor skills! I employ the method below, making my cuts in the numerical order shown, to keep them nice and accurate and neat…

When I first started sewing I was always in a rush to get those pattern pieces cut out and get started! Fiddly preparations like this were an annoyance! I’ve learnt to my cost though, that the quality of my finished garments starts from the moment I crack open that pattern and start cutting. And actually, now, this meticulous prep has kind of become a bit of a therapeutic, zoning out, zen kind of relaxation! You’ll note also, that hole reinforcers have become my friends when marking and reinforcing my dots on pattern pieces!

How about you? Do you notch in or out? Or do you have any genius ways of marking your pattern pieces?
Please feel free to share!

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  1. meggameuf June 26, 2013

    Notching out might also help if your material is fray-ey. I’ve only just started notching (after several years of sewing, ahem…), and I notch in. I just sewed a top where my notches disappeared due to fraying.

  2. Tamsin June 26, 2013

    I always notch outwards. My pattern cutting teacher tried to get me to snip inwards, but I felt the same as you – that you are reducing the amount you can safely play with and they are soo much easier to see

  3. MrsC (Maryanne) June 26, 2013

    I always notched out, as I started sewing when notches were already marked out as well as in. Then I started notching in. Now I snip sometimes and notch out others. I like to live dangerously, me 😉
    Yours is a most excellent point about retaining maximum seam allowance. Those SAs can be a project saver!

  4. Judith June 26, 2013

    I’m a ‘outie’ as well! Clipping inwards could be dangerous – imagine slipping with a little sharp pair of scissors…..J

  5. Charlotte June 26, 2013

    I always notched out…until I started reading sewing blogs! Now I’m a snipper but I wonder whether I should return to little triangles. I never used to draw them out so they would always be wonky but you’re method looks foolproof.

  6. Fabric Tragic June 26, 2013

    Definite outward notcher too! It’s how my mum taught me! Love the sticky dot markers! You’re an ideas woman!

  7. June 26, 2013

    That is so clever! Will definitely do that next time! Thank you.

  8. Sarah June 26, 2013

    Great visuals and explanations here thank you. I have always notched as an inny not any outy 🙂 having trained with a notcher but I actually think that your way makes sense giving us more room to move/adjust/play with the seam allowances. I too am find it a joy working with the papers before the fabric…nice to not rush and get into the zen sewing zone.

  9. Lori June 26, 2013

    I always notch outward, for the same reasons you mentioned. I like the dot idea, going to pick up some of those. Thanks

  10. Ali June 26, 2013

    I was taught to notch out and do the double notch tab thingy too. Fab tip with the hole reinforcers for, will def steal that idea!!


  11. Alison Esther June 26, 2013

    I notch out. To me, it goes against every fiber of my being to snip into my pattern piece. Best care scenario, you’ve reduced your seam allowance by half. Worst case, you cut too far and you end up snipping into your garment. In my opinion, no good comes from notching inwards. Although I don’t do the first prep step that you do. I just sort of do my thing when I’m cutting out my pattern pieces. Haven’t had any problems so far, but maybe I should take your advice when using an expensive or hard-to-work with fabric.

    Some older patterns I’ve used have the notches going out instead of into your seam allowance. I wonder why they would change that.

  12. Shelly June 26, 2013

    Me, I’ve always been an inward notcher. That’s how I was taught even though patterns have an outward notch on them to cut around. Your explanation is definitely food for thought. Thanks

  13. Faye Lewis June 26, 2013

    I hardly agree agree with all your reasons for notching – I’m a notcher too. I love not having to search for match points. I detest sniping into my seam allowance, like you said, suppose you need it later. Besides, some fabrics are extra ravely, and sniping delicate fabrics could cause a mess. I like your way of reinforcing dots and other markings.

  14. ette June 26, 2013

    I never notch, but mark the notch with the same pen I am tracing the pattern onto the fabric. And when I match the lines on the cut-pieces to sew them together, I match the notches/marks as well.
    Maybe it is because of the patterns. Continental-European patterns come without the seam allowance, so when tracing the pattern you mark the seams and not the outer edge of the seam allowance. Place a mark on the sewing-allowance-to-be is easier than to pay attention how to cut the seam allowance after removing the paper pattern.
    But thank you for your thoughts, I will remember them when sewing a pattern with included seam allowances the next time.

  15. Jo H. June 26, 2013

    Funny, I always notched out until reading somewhere last year that it was less accurate. I’ve been notching inwards ever since, and find it much simpler and indeed more precise (probably because I was nowhere near as meticulous as you in cutting out those little triangles!) That said, I don’t do it on necklines or anywhere the seam allowance is less than 1.5cm – then I just draw it on the with one of the kids’ (washable) felt tips.

  16. Juliette June 26, 2013

    I actually don’t notch anymore, neither inwards nor outwards, I just try to reproduce the markings as accurately as possible (this way I have little triangles on my fabric instead of notches). All you have to do is find a way to mark your fabric that holds on long enough while you sew your garment…and does not stay afterwards.
    However, I have to admit that I didn’t know the “notching outwards” technique, and it does sound quite clever!

  17. Jean Miller June 26, 2013

    My mom was an outward notcher, and so have I been. Returning to sewing after many years I have tried to get with the clipping bit, but I don’t like it much. And… with wanting to serge edges before seaming, both notches and clips get obliterated. How do I solve this problem? Or is it not the usual thing to serge edges before actual construction?

  18. Sam June 26, 2013

    I always notch outwards too, and join the double (and sometimes treble) notches as you do.

  19. Sabs June 26, 2013

    Out! It’s what I thought was the norm as that’s how I’ve been taught…

  20. In the 50 + years that I have been sewing, I always notch out. I always felt that it marked better and it would weaken the material to notch in. I also take my time to pin on the patterns carefully in the best material saving way. I also carefully cut out the pattern as it is my guide to straight stitching. It has served me well over all those years.

  21. This is exactly how patterns used to be. This was before there were multiple sizes on one pattern. I think that it is too confusing to show it this way. I always use a colored pencil to draw on the correct size and color OUT the notches.

  22. Amy Drayson June 26, 2013

    Not notching related, but hole reinforcer related. I recently came across a pattern where the student had backed all of her paper pattern with light weight fusible interfacing so that it would last as she intended to use the pattern many times. It looked very neat and made the pattern much less fragile whilst keeping it thin enough to easily get pins through. This technique could also make cutting out slippery fabrics slightly easier too.

  23. CTpat June 26, 2013

    I notch inward, but I’m going to try your way. The big four pattern companies always show the notches out. I run into problems with the inward notching when you have to stay stitch. The thread runs through the notched hole.

  24. MaciNic June 27, 2013

    Thank you for raising the question! I love hearing how we all have different techniques that work for us.
    I’ve always notched outwards as that’s how I was taught (mind you, I was also taught to always use tailors tacks and now I’ve been known to use washable markers – shhh…)
    But overlocking/serging doesn’t work with outwards notches, so i’ve taken to tacking a short, contrast thread if it’s an important notch. I do like your use of hole reinforcers – they will be so useful as even though I trace on interfacing, holes do need a little extra care 😉

  25. Madalynne June 27, 2013

    I posted this same question on my blog and the concensus was to notch outward. It was awesome to hear everyone’s feedback and tips. A good discussion!

  26. Fiber Babble June 27, 2013

    I was taught to notch outward, but somewhere along the way got lazy and started snipping. Thanks for the reminder of why I did it (and should start doing it again!).

  27. Renée Boyd June 28, 2013

    I notch outward. But instead of doing the extra drawing on paper, I simply draw my notches outward with the tailor chalk or a fabric marker onto my fabric. That seems to be less time consuming than finding extra pattern pieces to draw a simple triangle. The notches are simply a guide to let you know which pieces to match together and where, they don’t have to be perfect. When I’m working on a project, I’m ready to get down to business. I’m more concerned with my stitches, seam finishes, and overall the construction of the garment than creating a notch on paper.

  28. Josie and May June 29, 2013

    I always try to notch out, but generally when I’m cutting I miss one so that inevitably gets notched inwards. Love your tip of using another pattern piece to mirror it though – I’ve always felt I’m not matching as best as I could by just blagging it with drawing on the outward notch.

    Great tip with the hole reinforcements too. Thanks!

  29. Patricia Wilson January 15, 2014

    I am a theatrical costume designer so I use a LOT of patterns over and over. I usually trace them onto pattern paper so that I can keep the original in good shape. I always cut my notches outward. I agree with you it makes them more accurate when lining up the pieces. I love your blog by the way. It is very informative.


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