Custom Style

Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic

Sewing Tip: The Easy Way to Cut Notches

I’ve been busy experimenting with some of my vintage patterns*, and I’ve been reminded of how I was first taught to cut pattern notches in fabric, but how I’ve since learned to cut them differently as a professional.

Notches are those little triangles (sometimes diamonds on older patterns) on the edges of sewing patterns to help match the seam allowances on separate pieces.

Triangle to indicate the location of a notch on a pattern.

Often vintage sewing patterns have been used by the previous owner, so you can see how other sewists have decided to cut their notches. I have two copies of one pattern (in different sizes) that were once owned by different people. Both cut the notches on the pattern differently.

One pattern’s notches were cut as points out from the seam allowance while the other was cut with little V’s into the seam allowance.

While many people choose to mark notches in this manner, cutting inward V’s works but can cause unwanted weak points in the seams of the finished garment. I, personally, just find it a little more time-consuming to be so precise when following the little triangle lines.

Commonly, pattern instructions show the notches as points in their illustrations because it’s easier to understand in construction sketches. Most sewing books also recommend cutting notches using outward points (even my older copy of the book Vogue Sewing gives directions for cutting notches outward).

And while cutting notches as outward points is probably safest & easiest to match, it’s a major slow-down when cutting your fabric. It’s also really easy to accidentally cut past a notch without remembering to stop and create a point. (Grr, I remember doing that a lot as a kid.)

Cutting & marking notches is done in a simpler way by the professional draper/cutters I’ve worked with.  And a few of my really old sewing books mention it, but it’s usually a very brief “alternative way” that can easily be overlooked as an option.  Learn more after the jump.

Notches punched in pattern.

Remember me talking about using a pattern notching hole-punch tool? It cuts a tiny little gap or narrow rectangle from the pattern edge about a quarter-inch into the seam allowance.

And guess what? You use that little gap in the pattern to cut a tiny snip line right at the edge (or simply mark that line if your fabric is too delicate to cut into the seam allowance).

You don’t have to use a pattern notcher on your pattern (you can just put a little snip in the middle of each triangle), but I find it easy to forget to mark a notch on my fabric without the little gap in the pattern to remind me. And when I’m tracing or drafting a pattern from scratch, I indicate notches with lines instead of triangles before I cut the pattern out.

Traced pattern with line notch marks.

So there it is, an easy way to cut & mark your notches. Cut your fabric pattern pieces and then go back and mark all your notches (and other things like darts) at the same time – it will save you time…and frustration!

By the way, a tiny snip in the seam allowance at the end of a dart or pleat is also a helpful guide when you are trying to fold & pin!

If you ever have a sewing dilemma, feel free to leave a comment or ask me by email – I’d love to help out if I can!

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* a personal project that’s currently on hold for a month while I make some custom cheer uniforms.

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14 responses to “Sewing Tip: The Easy Way to Cut Notches

  1. thevintagetraveler January 31, 2013 at 7:46 am

    When I was in Home Ec in the early 70s, my teacher made us cut outward notches, something my grandmother rolled her eyes at. She was a notch snipper and I quickly learned she was right!

    • Brooke January 31, 2013 at 7:54 am

      I wish someone had shown me this trick when I was a kid! Sounds like you had a wonderful sewing teacher in your grandmother! =)

      (btw, I think I was the only kid who already knew how to sew in my 6th grade Home Ec. class.)

  2. Athene February 1, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Do you have a new theme for your blog? Or have you figured out how to tweak the current one? I don’t remember the shadowing behind the letters in the title and such before.

    Sent from my iPad

    • Brooke February 1, 2013 at 8:43 am

      You win! First person to notice the font change! =)

      I finally got my last paycheck from the movie and decided it was time to pay for the “custom design” upgrade. The font of my template has always been one of the things that bugged me most about it. Still might switch to a different theme later (now that I can fix fonts and font size!) but I’m doing little changes one at a time for now.

  3. Shayla Sharp February 1, 2013 at 1:04 am

    Well that’s it, I’m sold on the pattern notcher…adding that to the next purchase list!

  4. Ms Keisha August 13, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Thank you so much! For some reason when I cut my notches outward, they are always messed up. I’m going to try the slit method.

  5. Carole February 17, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I haven’t sewn much since the early 80s when I was in junior high school, and this is the kind of reminder I needed!

  6. Jenny Gray May 31, 2015 at 10:39 am

    I have tiny self adhesive paper dots I place on he pattern and the fabric…bright orange…

  7. Sarah October 6, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    So you use the pattern notching tool to cut the pattern, and make a small snip in the fabric (as opposed to cutting out a triangular shape pointing in or out)? I must try this!

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