Notches – Sewing Basics

When learning how to sew, you’ll probably hear a lot of different terms and not understand what they mean. The term notch is used in relation to patterns but also used in garment and project construction. Let’s look at the way it’s used in patterns first. On a pattern this is a notch and you can have a single, double or even triple notches. These areas usually mark a major point on the pattern such as the hipline or bottom placement of a zipper. And you can usually find them all over a pattern. Pattern makers add them to make assembly easier because a notch will be matched with another notch, sort of like putting a puzzle together. So a single notch will go with a single notch and double notch will go with another double.

Even so, you’ll still need to be careful because there may be several single notches on your pattern pieces so you still need to find the correct sides to match. I wouldn’t want to pin a shoulder seam with a side seam just because they both have single notches. Instead, you find the correct sides to pin together and want to make sure the notches are matched with each other, because it’s an important marker on the pattern. So for this side seam, I would pin the top of the seam, the bottom of the seam and then any notches. I would pin the rest in between after these areas are pinned. Notches may also provide additional hints in construction.

Typically, a single notch indicates the front of the garment and a double notch indicates the back of the garment. This is why when looking at an armhole or sleeve cap, you’ll always see both a single and double notch, because this is indicating the front and back of the sleeve. This will ensure you put your sleeve in correctly because the back of the arm usually needs a little more wiggle room than the front and will result in a more comfortable fit. There are different ways to mark a notch onto your fabric. You can cut an outward triangle Mark with fabric chalk or marker Cut an inward triangle Cut a simple slit Or use tailor’s tacks.

The most important thing is having a specific mark which makes it easy for you to identify and match. If you’re cutting inward, make sure it doesn’t exceed past the seam line. Next, let’s talk about the term notches that would come up during a project construction. This would be a notch. At first glance it would seem to be referring to the same thing but in this case it’s serving a different purpose. It has nothing to do with the notches on the pattern. In your pattern directions you may see a step which will tell you to trim and cut notches into your seam allowance. So you wouldn’t have a single notch but rather a series of notches in an area after a seam is created.

I normally cut my notches about a half inch to an inch apart. The purpose of these notches to cut back on bulk to ensure a flatter seam or area. It’s standard to cut notches into the seam allowances of curved seams, corners and inverted V’s. Some examples would be: princess seams, facings and collars, waistbands, and necklines. Here’s an example of a collar where I did not trim or cut notches. The collar looks bulky and not smooth. The second example should look much better. The notches remove excess fabric so it’s not bunching and fighting for room inside the collar and therefore able to lie flatter. In this case, you’ll cut into the seam allowance to create an inverted triangle and then put another one a half inch or so away from it.

The most important thing here is to make sure you’re not cutting into the seam allowance passed your stitches. Use sharp fabric scissors or trimmers so you can cut with the tip of scissors. If you accidentally cut into the seam line, you’ll create a hole which will then need to be repaired. If you’re unsure if an area needs notches cut, it doesn’t hurt anything to go ahead and do it. Again, you just want to be careful not to cut the stitches at the seam line. Hopefully, this makes the topic of notches much less complicated. Remember, notches are important, whether it has to do with patterns or construction, and should not be skipped over.

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