How many notches are too many?

too_many_notches_smA recent question in the forum inspires this entry:

Is it okay to make a notches on a pattern to identify seam allowances or is that information only supposed to go on the spec sheet of the product? I was at the workshop of the designer who helps me with my production and I saw that one of his patterns had them, so I asked him about it and he told me I should do it because the seamstresses wouldn’t know the seam allowance size.

Members resolved the question so that’s not what this entry is about (yes, you notch allowances -sometimes; I’ll include useful links at close). However, it gave me the idea to post a photo of an old pattern I got from a customer 15 years ago (shown at right). The singular reason I have kept this pattern  is because it has too many notches and I use it as an educational tool of what not to do.

Perhaps now is a good time to open with this quote from On reviewing pattern books:

Some things -like notches- amount to pet peeves in the workplace. Beginning pattern makers put too many notches on things, breeding them like some kind of a communicable disease or something. Or maybe warts. Armstrong loves notches. If your pieces are made correctly, they don’t need that many notches. If the patterns are crappy, sure, you’ll need to ease them in from notch to notch.

I suppose the thing that stands out is the practice of double notching at each corner, this is shown in the red circles at left, below:


In the right side of the pane, there are green circles showing the remaining notches after that princess line is sewn. Problem is, those remaining notches are now useless. I completely understand these were intended to indicate seam allowance at the bottom of the piece but those notches are out of the running once that center seam is formed.

I suppose it is easier said that one should think a bit about sewing order before marking notches. Why place a notch that serves no purpose?

The same could be said of the notches that point down into the neckline and armhole. Reason being, the shoulder seam must be sewn before the collar and sleeve can be added so the superfluous notches will also “disappear”.  Am I mucking this up terribly? Perhaps this image will help: this is the maximum allowable notches one can use to get the intended effect of using them:


I suppose it would help to know there is a peplum sort of piece that joins to the bottom of the bodice.

This explanation isn’t as clear as I would like it. I think that tomorrow I will post photos of a sewn sample so you can see how the superfluous notches get lost once the primary seams are joined. Until then, I hope this will suffice. Also, it must be said that these are the maximum allowable notches. I would actually use less.


The rules on seam allowances
The rules on seam allowances pt.2
Designers must know seam allowances and specifications (HT Alison)
Notch maps: Suit sleeve & armhole
Notch maps: Suit sleeve & armhole pt.2
Pop Quiz: notching challenge pt.2 (very good to test yourself)
How do you cut notches?

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18 Comments on "How many notches are too many?"

2 years 12 days ago

Not all sleeves need notches in the back- I have a rain jacket pattern, the (raglan) sleeves are stitched flat. They have one notch in the front armhole seam where it matches with the side front seam. Thus, the back armhole seam does not need to be nothced. There is no ease in the raglan seam, there is no way to confuse the front and back. The seam allowance does not need nothces as the entire jacket has 1/4 inch seams –

Theresa Hall
2 years 13 days ago

Thanks for the reverse engineering thoughtfulness and discussion that follows. Design students need to get on board as well as college professors. An ongoing problem with many design schools are teachers who rely on old textbooks for their information and then the least practices are passed on again and again. All textbook authors should get a subscription to this website and read everything. Thank you Kathleen for your wealth of information from the field.

Clara Rico
2 years 17 days ago

Perhaps it is due to my machine or my sewing, but I can’t imagine that notching the seam allowances would be helpful enough to offset the annoyance. If I start sewing a seam where the machine isn’t grabbing the fabric well, it tends to cause problems with catching the bobbin thread and causing a tangled mess.

Would the stitchers start at the edge of the fabric and sew down the middle of the notch? With my machine, I would have to hold on to the threads until the machine was well into the fabric? Or would they have to spend extra time and effort to start at the end of the notch? Or, more likely, start to the side of the notch and purposely have incorrect seam allowance, just because it is easier?

If the seam allowance is standard, and the sewers sew the same item over and over again, I imagine that each seam allowance notch would seam like a slap in the face. As if the pattern maker is assuming the sewers are stupid.

At least that is what I imagine. Maybe their machines work better than mine, or it is different with an overlock.

2 years 18 days ago

“we have a state-of-the art computer aided software system fueled by Gerber Technology that is upgraded yearly. In addition we have a digitizer and nine foot plotters that are used in the garment industry”

Many community colleges have the same setup either through donations from the company or from grant money. Students get so little hands on time or basic instructor that it doesn’t equal competency. 2 years isn’t a lot of time to get things down when you have to factor in general education courses. I’m finally graduating with my AA after 10 years and most of what I learnt was outside of the classroom from sites like this and the author of this post.

Also looking at Sally’s bio it looks the same as many community college fashion directors. 30+ years teaching with their industry days far behind them.

2 years 18 days ago

Wow, my eyes hurt looking at that. Takes me back to my fur making days. I agree with Esther. That is for too many for standard knits, woven, or leather. Sally, as someone who uses Gerber every day, notches are optional depending on equipment and material you are working with. You the pattern maker will add them in the system as you go. In the fur industry (which I’ve worked in and my aunt was a designer for decades), it is much more common to notch everything like the example here because of how soft and pliable the material you are working with is instead of fixing your pattern or adjusting your machine which can be fussy on a Bonis, etc. because the fabric is held in the air for sewing instead of under feed dogs so the feed rate is not steady due to operator error (fur also does not fray and hides any blemishes if a seam notch is too deep). This does not carry over to the industry or sewing equipment as a whole, especially fabrics sewn on properly balanced machines with feed dogs, having clean patterns reduces work for your sewing line and makes your employees happy because they have to fight the fabric less and lowers your return rates. Our Gerber version 3.0 from 2008 has 7 difference types of notches it makes, all custom. Blaming the software is sloppy work instead of listening to what Kathleen is saying. Kathleen tends to pick industry norms instead of the exceptions.