In or OUT… That’s the Question


I’ve received a couple of complaints comments of late concerning the notches on our patterns… you know, those little triangles (sometimes diamonds on older patterns) placed along the edges of sewing patterns to help align pattern pieces correctly along the seams (circled in red at left). Here’s the latest one received by email a week or so ago…

“The notches on your patterns are larger than the 1/4″seam allowance provided (on ALL 3 of the patterns I purchased). So… after I cut all the pieces with your marked notches and tried to assemble it, the notches presented as holes in the outside of the purse.” She also applied several expletives to our “dumb” patterns, said it was all my fault her project came out so badly and demanded a complete refund.

And you know what? The first time I got an email like this I was totally mystified. I honestly didn’t understand what the writer was asking? But… after asking a few questions, I found the answer to be completely mind-boggling because it turns out that… not everyone cuts their notches the way my Mom taught me to do it!  I don’t know which of these scenarios shocked me more,

  1. there might actually be a way of cutting out notches that differed from the way my Mom taught me, or that
  2. I never thought to question my Mom’s expertise in this area, since there was a time when I questioned my Mom’s expertise on virtually EVERTHING (other than this, obviously)!

So here’s the deal…

To my utter surprise, it turns out that there are actually FOUR ways that folks use to notate notch placement on their pattern pieces.

A. Cut OUT the notch shape.   I make my notches the way my Mom taught me, which is logical I guess. Most of us do things the way we do because that’s how we learned to do them, right? My Mom cuts out from the seam line to make the notch, leaving a little tag of extra fabric along the edge, and so do I!
The advantage of this cutting technique is that it leaves a margin for error (and let’s face it, we ALL make mistakes). The drawback is that it might require a little more time when cutting out your pieces in order to cut OUT your notches accurately.

notch5B. Cut INTO the notch shape.   But lo and behold, it turns out that some folks actually snip INTO the notch when cutting out their pattern piece. Who knew, right? Rather than cutting the notch OUT like Mom taught me, they snip INTO both sides of the V-shaped notch, leaving a cutout triangular shape IN the seam edge.
C. SNIP the notch.   Still others either make a single snip into the V-shape of the notch up to the point, or they use a notching tool to just pop a little snip into the seam allowance.  It turns out that a lot of fashion houses and design schools swear by this as “the correct way” to mark patterns, but  I think it’s important to point out that standard seam allowances in clothing are generally  normally 1/2 – 5/8″ in width… not 1/4″ as is the norm for small projects like bags and other small projects.

So… if the advantage to cutting or snipping “IN” is speed and convenience, the disadvantages are the problems associated with cutting INTO the seam allowance in any way shape or form. It not only weakens the seam, it introduces the possibility that your fabric may fray or rip into your exterior area. YIKES! It also leaves you a LOT less margin for error because the process of ripping out a sewn seam will be WAY more complicated for having snipped into the seam allowance.

notch8 And here’s one last suggestion…
If you dread the “tedium” of cutting “OUT” all of your notches, but fear the “danger factor” of cutting notches or slits “INTO” your seam edges then try…

D. Mark your notches.  The position of all of your notches can easily be notated with chalk.
The advantage is that cutting should be a breeze without having to worry about cutting in or around the notches. The disadvantage is that this actually seems MORE tedious than the cutting OUT and around the notches to me… but to each his own, right?

So… Which method do WE recommend?

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that by now that we do NOT recommend cutting into the seams in any way, shape, or form unless otherwise directed to do so within the pattern instructions. Cutting notches “OUT” from the seam edge makes for a stronger seam, the notches are more visible as you’re sewing, and the cutting process slows me down just enough that it’s less likely to go on auto-pilot and make cutting mistakes that are easily avoided. I can see how one might be tempted to use the cutting IN method when seams allowances of 1/2″ or greater are involved, but since that is almost never the case with small projects such as bags, it’s just too risky. So score one for Mom, huh?

And just in case you’re wondering how I responded to the young lady’s email I referenced at the top of this post… I didn’t respond at all. Since all of our seam allowances are clearly marked on all of our pattern pieces, and since I was at a loss as to why she would cut her notches “IN” beyond the marked seam allowance and then be surprised (or blame us) that these cutouts “presented” themselves on her bag exterior, and since I figure she was just “venting” anyway, I heeded another piece of advice from Mom and said nothing. But just now I’m thinkin’…

YIKES! that’s ANOTHER score for Mom, right?

Two in one day?

I sure wouldn’t want that to get back to her,
so now I guess I’m hoping YOU’LL not let her know!  heehee!

And now… it’s YOUR turn!

I would love to know how YOU were taught to cut your notches and if you cut them the same for clothing AND for small projects like bags?

And don’t forget, we actually LOVE questions and comments too, so if you’d like to share yours, please feel free to do so the section provided below! And if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it via FaceBook or Twitter!


69 Comments So Far, You're Next!

  1. I took home ec in school, back when it was still a course in school (telling my age, plus they would not allow me to take wood working like I wanted to) anyway when it came to sewing, we were taught to cut out. I remember so well as I thought it was such a pain then.
    Occasionally (with wide seam allowances) if I miss a notch I may do a slight snip, but never with small seam allowances.
    I recently purchased a colored chalk pencil with many colors so I will be using that mark the notches. I have fibromyalgia and all the cutting, especially the notches make my hands hurt which is making sewing a chore instead of fun. So now I will be marking the notches with colored chalk.

  2. I took home economics in the 40’s and cutting the notches OUT was how to do it.

  3. Norma Heaton UK

    I have always marked notches with tailors chalk, or a pencil, within the seam allowance. That is how I was taught at school.

  4. I took home ec in the mid 50’s and was taught to cut the notches out,also my mom taught me to do it the same way. She sometimes used tailors chalk to mark them.

    • Thanks Sandy– with 1/4 seams (as is generally the case for bag patterns, my recommendations as ALWAYS to either cut them OUT, or to mark them with chalk! Either of these options will work just fine.

      • I was also taught in school to cut the notches out. I have never cut them into the seam allowance. Today it is easier for me to mark them with chalk. I mark all areas ie snap placement, strap placement even some seam allowances with chalk so marking the notches is not an issue for me.

  5. I was taught by my mother, Home Ec. and 4-H Club to cut the notches out.

  6. My grandmother, who taught me to sew, snipped the seams in the notches. But I was taught in home ec to cut them out and I’ve done that when making bag patterns.

  7. I cut them out, it just seems logical and practical.

  8. Hi I cut them outwards as well, seems we had good teachers. Makes matching very easy as well.

  9. Home Ec taught me to cut out…….HOWEVER, years & years of sewing experience AND a general distaste for cutting have resulted in the snip in method. One 1/8″ snip for a single notch, two 1/8″ snips for a double and so on….

  10. My Mother taught me to cut the notches “out” when I started sewing, which was reinforced durin Home Ec in high school in the 60’s. Recently I told someone I would help them make one of your bags, but before we got together she should go ahead and cut all her pattern pieces out. I guess I gave her too much credit as far as sewing experience because when she came to me with all her pattern pieces, she had cut them all OFF! I had no words…. Lol needless to say, we resorted to chalk marks! Learned to be very specific after that experience!

    • It IS surprising to me how many people I talk to do not use the notches at all. Amazing, because the notches are there to help with the correct placement of the pieces! Do you think its a product of home ec not being taught in schools anymore?

  11. I am a product of Home Ec. as well. What a shame that that class is no longer offered. Out, was the way were taught to cut the notches. It never occurred to me to cut them in. Why would you cut into the seam for any reason, unless the pattern directions say to? Sometimes you just to use common sense.

    • I tend to agree with you Janie. I am most concerned about the integrity of the fabric and the resulting seam being compromised by this practice and like many of you, I simply had NO idea that people even did this as an alternative! 🙂

  12. Out! Mom, Home Ec, my sister AND the patterns! The clothing patterns I used had the full diamond so of course I cut out around them. Always thought it was a pain but realized the notch sure makes it easier to match pieces together!

  13. I have always cut the notches out. That seemed to me to be the obvious way to do it.

  14. My mom taught me to cut “out”. I also took home ec in the late 60’s and our teacher taught us the same way.

  15. Even though I know the rules about notches, we have lots of new sewists who may not have had Nana and Mom to guide them. I think since you sell the patterns they should be printed so that the notches don’t go through the sewing line and for good PR it might have been nice to reply to her. Just saying.

    • Hi Dot- Thanks for writing and I appreciate your comments, however what you don’t know is that what I left out is that this gal didn’t stop there, she also applied several expletives to our “dumb” patterns, said it was all my fault her project came out so badly and demanded a complete refund, in a really crude and profane form.
      I wont tell you what she said. I normally do respond to customer complaints, but I choose not to respond to profanity. But I’m glad you said something, because I’ve gone back and amended my post to reflect this additional info. 🙂
      Thanks again for writing. Believe me, not everyone who writes to me does so as nicely as you have!

      • There is always more to the story. Why do people think that kind of language will get them anywhere. I do still think you may want to fix those little notches on future patterns just incase someone else didn’t have Nana and Mom to teach them. I love your patterns and am waiting for the next one.

        • Well… I’m not really inclined to do that, because I really dont even want them clipping within an 1/8″ of the seam line and if I make the notch much smaller than that, folks will be complaining that they cant see it.

      • The commenter who complained that your patterns were ‘dumb’ should probably remember another old adage from mom: “Every time you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” My guess is that she feels pretty ‘dumb’ for making such a foolish mistake.

        • You could be right about that Mechele. And then again she just may have wanted to blow off steam. I have found (in similar interactions in the past), that most times these individuals are venting. For some reason they feel that in an email its OK to behave in a way that they never would have otherwise behaved over the phone or in person. Doesn’t excuse the behavior, but unfortunately its becoming all too common. I’ve always had the policy that I will not allow any customer to talk to me in an abusive, profane way. It REALLY upsets me so I made the choice a long, long time ago to just disengage. That’s what works best for me, right or wrong. 🙂

  16. I snip like Lori, above – 1/8 into the seam allowance. BUT I also do look forward to see how much room I have; on a few patterns with 1/4 or less seam allowance, (I look ahead to see how much room I actually have) I mark the notches. So far have never had trouble. But with all projects, you have to look ahead and see what’s going on and not blindly clip into the center of your fabric pieces. The “read all directions before starting” is VERY GOOD advice.

    • Thanks for commenting Barbara- especially for the endorsement of reading the directions before starting, especially the fabric and cutting advice. 🙂

  17. Mom and home ec taught me always cut out. It makes it easier to match and you have a little extra area to pin.

  18. My home ec teacher taught us to cut them out from the seam allowance. Can’t even fathom cutting them into the seam. It boggles my mind.

  19. I was taught to cut out my notches, but like Fran said, I have Fibromyalgia and cutting caused too much pain. Now I use marking tools. Love them!

  20. Sewing has never been one of my Mom’s “things”, so I learned in Home Ec. Mrs. Pade would have boxed my ears if she’d caught me snipping or cutting the notches in (yes, they were allowed to box ears back then). “Put a pin in near every notch to hold the fabric steady while you cut and, whenever possible, cut toward the pattern line for accuracy.” I hear her voice in my head every time I sew. She also reacted badly to hearing scissors click shut, except for notches.. “Snipping”, as she called it, “makes for choppy edges and inaccurate seams”. She taught us so many wonderfully practical things, like how to fill out an income tax form and what to look for when you’re buying a house (always flush each toilet and turn on every faucet, bring a small lamp and plug it into every socket).

    I will say that my grandchildren did have to take a basic sewing course. However, students would get detention for calling it Home Ec. So sad.

  21. I was taught by my Mom, as well as in Home Ec class in the 70’s to cut notches out. I remember there were different types of notches, with some being a single and others being double. Yet, they all were used to match pattern pieces. I have seen over the years that a pattern notcher tool is available and that’s what is taught at fashion houses to use. I never wanted to go that route myself for a few reasons. One reason I thought of is that the small amount of extra time it may take to cut out that way, I would think it might take as much, if not more time to try to locate a tiny snip in the fabric as you are trying to match pieces. I suppose it goes to how you were taught as to how much time it might take to do it either way.

    But, common sense would dictate me to know better than to cut inside the seam allowance. I don’t understand how someone wouldn’t know that cutting past the point in which you would be creating a seam is going to make a hole in the finished product.

    As far as not responding; while not the exact same thing since you are discussing sewing, but when learning to be a customer service person, I was always taught that when someone crosses the line of being civil in the way they are complaining to using profanity, it was perfectly allowable to simply explain you were hanging the phone up now and if they’d like to calm down and call back in a civil manner that you’d be more than happy to help them come to some resolution. I guess what I’m saying is that the way you chose to not respond was pretty much what I would have done in hanging up and not discussing with someone doing the same via telephone vs. in an email.

  22. I don’t do either. I cut the piece out and while unpinning the pattern from the fabric I simply place a pin where the notches are. Works for me and saves a lot of time.

  23. The ‘common sense’ thread runs thru these replies. Unfortunately a lot of people think they know better than the pattern maker/designer. I know people that cut right by the notches, saying they didn’t need them to sew the pattern. It is indeed a shame that simple things like following a pattern is no longer taught. Unfortunately, I think you may have to realize that non-sew-ers are going to have a problem because they refuse to read a pattern, follow directions or ask a question nicely.

    Equally bad is someone that responds like the person in question. No way to call her a lady. Ignoring profanity IS the thing to do IMO.

    Keep up the good work.

    Oh, and I was taught by mom. I cut out or snip depending on what type of pattern I’m making. Have been sewing since I could pick up a needle. Made all my clothes from grade school on. Have been quilting just as long.

  24. I was taught to cut notches leaving a tag just as you were but later I found that took way too long and sometimes I needed to set pattern pieces closer together than the tags would allow so I started making 1/8″ snips. That works most of the time but for the patterns with many notches on small pieces I find marking with a chalk pencil is better for accuracy and strength of seams when complete. I use many different methods depending on the application. For wedding dresses I often thread trace or use tailors tacks, for leather I place painter’s tape over the spot and write on that with a pen.

  25. Like others, Home Ec, Nana, Auntie and the other seasoned women in my world taught me notches out. When I got older, it was a pain to do it that way. So, I started marking them.

  26. My mom taught me to cut the notches outside of the cutting line. She explained that some people cut into the seam line but she preferred not to, so that the seam allowance would not be weakened. 4-H and Home Ec reinforced this idea.

    I agree that you should not have to respond to verbal abuse such as you received from that disgruntled person. When people are on a rant like hers, they are not usually willing to listen to reason anyway. Plus such a rude email does not deserve a response. The less said the better, and she obviously said more than enough already.

  27. I too am giving away my age, but Home Ec in school, and my mother taught me to cut OUT the notches. It never dawned on me to cut the other ways. I also know they may seam 🙂 to be a pain, but it is the only way to truly match up pieces of fabric. Also If anyone uses AccuQuilt, their notches are cut OUT also.

  28. Definitely cut them out! I was taught that way and taught my students the same in home economics, 4-H. And individual sewing students! I never have had a complaint about doing so!
    Sorry you had the problem!!

  29. I am in the cutting so the notches are tabs camp. Between being taught by my mom, home ec. and a fabulous seamstress I am not sure who taught me to do this. It was probably all three. I also want to say some of the first patterns I used told me to cut them as tabs. Over the years past 30 years I have tried:
    snips, marking tools of assorted varieties, sewing a little thread where the notch should be, and straight pins. The straight pins were an act of desperation. I thought I had the pattern put together so I had cut the notch tabs off. It is tedious but notch tabs have been the only method that has worked every time for every pattern.

  30. I have always cut my tabs as tags. My grandmother, mother, and home ec teacher all did it this way. It makes the most sense to me. I have been sewing for 61 years, and I have never had a problem with this. Also love your patterns, I have 3 I bought and a few of your freebies. They are clear and easy to use. Thank you.

  31. I was taught at school in the UK to cut notches out and to trim them off after you’ve sewn the seam to leave it level and neat before zigzaging the edge or if overlocking the overlocker then trims them off. However; my daughter has just taken her Alevel in fashion and they lost marks if they didn’t cut them inwards. Having now finished she prefers my method and uses that but UK schools teach otherwise!

  32. I was taught “old school”, home economics – to cut out the notch shape. It helps with adjustment, if one is to be made and accuracy. Sewing takes patience. To produce a quality produce it takes patience. I think people misunderstand and need more training, when it comes to reading a pattern. There are no shortcuts!
    I opt for “old school”. Keep up the great work. I always look forward to your newsletters in my inbox.

  33. I cut my notches out away from the cutting line (a tab). Unfortunately schools no longer offer sewing classes to show people how to make garments or other items. I can see how someone without a lot of experience would cut into the area between the cutting line and the seam line since that is how the notches are shown on the pattern.

    When I started making garments from commercial patterns (Simplicity, Butterick), the notches were shown as tabs (away from the cutting line). I don’t use those patterns any longer so I don’t know if they still do this.

    I not defending the person who ruined her project, but I think all notches should be printed with the notch facing away from the cutting line, not towards the seam line.

    Common sense SHOULD come into play and tell us not to cut the notches toward/over the stitching line. However, as you know, not everyone has that thing called common sense.

  34. For clothing: I was taught to extend into the seam allowance but when clothing patterns switched from single size per envelope to multiple sizes I changed to snipping into the seam allowance. However, for doll clothes and other small items I always MARK the pattern notes (dots, notches etc).

    I expect the person who cut into her seam allowances is an unexperienced sewer. It leads to the sad observation that without some sort of training, people are stuck learning the hard way.

    So, be a mentor to those poor folks who were deprived of 8th grade cooking and sewing class and add “about the pattern markings” to the “read me first” pattern notes.

  35. I too was taught to cut the marking notches to the outside of the project….back in the 60’s and 70’s patterns were made with a protruding notch. At some point pattern companies stopped printing that little exterior flag, but I continued to cut around the invisible flag. Now days I generally make a small snip at the edge of the pattern if the seam allowance is 5/8. I’ve been know to use a Taylor’s Tack to mark patterns with narrow seam allowances.

  36. I normally cut in using scissors or a notching tool, but with your patterns, I frequently use my wash away marking pen.—-Denise Stahl

  37. I have always cut my notches out! Seems the only logical way.

  38. I cut OUT the notches when sewing clothing with a 5/8″ seam allowance or purses and totes with a 1/4″ seam allowance. It was the way I was taught at home by my mother and in home economics class. I will occasionally mark the notch with chalk but I NEVER cut into the seam allowance. In defense of the complaining customer, your notches on your pattern are only shown facing inward and they do extend beyond the stitching line. Maybe your patterns should reflect the “correct” way with a tab extending outward. 😉 Just a thought…..

    • I could do that, you’re right. But,,, and this is a big but, it would reduce the number of pattern pieces I could squeeze onto a pattern sheet, and for every sheet of paper I add to a pattern package, it adds to my cost and eventually I’ll need to pass that cost along to the customer. I would rather keep the costs (and my price of my patterns) as low as possible for as long as possible, but if this is the will of the majority, I’ll consider it. 🙂

      • Perhaps you could first try making a statement at the beginning of the pattern in very large letters to the effect that the notches need to be cut outwards, not into the seam allowance. If that works, then you wouldn’t have to add expense to the pattern by drawing them. Just a thought.

  39. A very long time ago I would have cut out the notches as tabs. However, all these years later I’ve gotten lazy and much prefer to cut tiny straight snips into the seam allowance. Lots of folks like the tab as a visual but I don’t find it necessary. Perhaps the person writing in was a brand new sewist? Perhaps she didn’t know there were different ways of cutting the notches? I think I would have answered her in any case, it seems kind of rude not to answer someone with a legit question. Just my take.

    • I agree- If this person had presented her question/case in a rational, calm, open-minded way I certainly would have answered her, as we always try to do. But this individual didnt seem interested in finding out why, she didnt even seem interested in asking a question or presenting her case… she mostly wanted to tell us how X#%&*% stupid our patterns are, and therefore how &(_%@# stupid we are. When I get this kind of email, (and unfortunately this isn’t the first) I have found that the person is really only interested in fighting and any response from us, and I do mean ANY response from us, is just an invitation for the conversation to escalate.

  40. I have always cut notches OUT – with all projects whether clothing or crafts. Yes, it does take a little longer – so what?

  41. I also was taught to cut my notches out and occasionally I do that, but I usually just use a permanent marker and make a dot in the seam allowance, right next to the edge, I’m usually not too concerned about getting the notches lined up exactly on crafty projects as long as they turn up on the correct edges so a double notch has 2 dots and a single notch gets one dot. And I don’t make very many clothes any more but only when making clothes do I actually cut the notches to the outside and try to line them up exactly. I use the permanent markers because the chalk can be accidentally brushed off to early and I’m afraid anything not permanent might get wet and run. Thanks for all the tips!

  42. When my mum taught me to sew, it was always with the notches cut ‘out’ – even the patterns were printed that way. When they tried to re-teach me sewing at school, I was taught the same way. Even now I still cut them ‘out’. If I accidentally miss one I will mark it with a pin & chalk line. I usually mark dots on the pattern with chalk on the fabric – on the wrong side, of course.

  43. It appears that I am in the minority, but I snip into the notches. It was a technique taught in the Stretch & Sew classes I took in the 70’s. I do check to see that there is room in the seam allowance to do this. If the seam allowance is too shallow, I use a washable pencil to mark the notches. So far I haven’t suffered any ill effects from handling the notches this way.

  44. iI have always made a little (1/8″) nip into the seam allowance. After reading your blog I think I will start using chalk. Never thought about the nip making the seam weak. Sure don’t want my purse falling apart at the seams.

  45. Yes I always cut my notches OUT – score for Mom again!

  46. Mom taught me to cut them outwards.

  47. I was taught by Mom, 4-H, and Home Ec that notches were to be cut out from the pattern piece. I do cut notches into the seam allowance around curves, but I double stitch the seam first and only make shallow cuts. I’m also of the opinion that a general sewing and cooking class in schools would be beneficial for both girls and boys. I’m talking about sewing on buttons and stitching up simple repairs – something everyone should be able to do.

    I’m sorry that some feel it is their right to abuse verbally or otherwise and have no respect for anyone.

  48. Mom made me cut ALL notches out….that’s just the way it was done! I still do it that way and never ever thought there was other ways to do it.

  49. I don’t think it’s really important how I was taught to address the notches but what is important is a tiny bit of common sense and logic. HELLLOOO!!! New sewist, old sewist… could you not know that if you cut into your seam line you would have a problem????

    It is sad that some people feel justified to “vent” and on top of that use abusive language. No one has that right.

  50. I was taught in Home Ec. and 4H to cut my notches out. However, in a habit I think I picked up from quilting, I mark my notches by using pins. It works for me.
    And here, they still have Home Ec in our schools although it is broken in two and called Fashion Design (sewing) and Managing Family Resources (cooking) and are open to both sexes.

  51. Hi Kat! This subject is a funny one, isn’t it? You never think about it until someone asks! There are so many interesting traditions around notches. When I learned to sew from old sewing patterns (and my mom), I learned to cut away those big triangles out past the seam allowance, but as I gained more experience I started changing my habits for more accurate sewing.

    I personally dislike the big seam allowances in home garment patterns so I trim everything down to 3/8” or 1/4” both of which are more common in RTW clothes than 1/2” which students learn in design school or 5/8” which is typical in home patterns. I do this simply because it makes for more accurate sewing, just as one might do with bags or quilts. And even in those small seam allowances I snip! I specialize in bra-making which uses 1/4″ or sometimes 3/16″! The snips definitely don’t weaken the seam or cause fraying. Obviously bras are worn with a lot of, um, pressure. I promise, there is nothing compromising about snipping! I’ve never had a snip go fraying past the seam when having to rip a seam apart for whatever reason. (Even on delicate silk.) I think the trick is just to snip a tiny bit into the seam, enough to see that snip when you are lining up layers. It doesn’t have to be huge and it definitely shouldn’t go up to the seamline.

    I hope you had a wonderful time at the quilt market!

  52. You have no control over the people who buy your patterns. You have no idea of their level of competence or sewing experience, or their ability to read, understand and follow instructions. There are beginner sewers and Beginner Sewers! She could have queried it with you before she cut instead of afterwards as you so helpfully supply contact details!
    However, I think if you look at the number of your happy, satisfied customers versus the complainers (with or without profanity) and I think you will see you are doing a wonderful job, and long may you continue!

  53. I was taught to sew by my grandmother. Notches were to be cut IN but fairly shallow. I didn’t know anything about cutting them OUT until I was much older.

    But now I’m starting to use a serger so I will now learn to mark the notches with chalk.