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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!


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

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