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?

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Barb Taylorr says:

    I experienced the flip side of this issue about ten years ago. I was working at a slipper company and we were only permitted to put 2 notches on our patterns (heel and toe). They were having huge quality problems with the stitchers at the plant sewing left uppers on to right bottoms. An extra notch at the instep would have been an easy solution, but I met with huge resistance over this…for nearly a year. I kept pushing for it, as our styles became more complicated and the quality problems increased. Eventually I learned that the reason for the two notch rule was that a decade before they were cutting their patterns with dies, each notch meant more metal, therefore cost more. Also, a decade before they were making big shapeless fuzzy slippers with no difference to the left and right upper patterns. By the time I worked there they were lazer cutting the pieces, so there was no cost difference other than a fraction of a second of time. It took a push through 3 levels of boss hierarchy to discover this and get the rule over-turned and gain permission to notch my insteps. I never saw any of my styles in the store with this quality issue after that. Sadly, they did not implement this as standard procedure for all styles that had specific right and left uppers. Equally dissapointing, I never received any thanks or recognition for my diligence in showing them a solution to their quality problem. I still count it as a victory, of sorts, though.

  2. Hello,

    I agree that the featured pattern has too many notches, in particular in the front neckline seam. However, I do not agree with the writer of the post that the notches that indicate the stitching lines are useless. As the writer stated, those are sewing notches that indicate to the seamstress the depth of the stitching line. This is crucial information in production sewing. Removing the notches leaves the seamstress clueless as to the seam allowances allotted in the pattern. I always instruct my students to notch the seam allowances. This what I was taught when I worked in the fashion industry designing fur lined coats for the houses of Chanel and the Yves St Laurent

    In addition, I noticed that the armhole in the featured pattern does not have notches. All pattern armholes must have one notch indicating the front of the armhole and two notches indicating the back of the armhole. Armhole notches are crucial because the sleeve cap is always eased in to the armhole above the notches. The pattern of the sleeve should also have notches: one notch indicates the front of the sleeve and two notches indicate the back of the sleeve. The notches on the sleeve correspond to the notches on the armhole in both the front and the back of the pattern.

    By the way, the intention is that notches are not visible when a garment is sewn and becomes three dimensional.


    Sally Di Marco
    Fashion design Program Coordinator
    Stevenson University
    Author: “Draping Basics,” Fairchild Publishers

  3. Brina says:

    I did have to reread the first point but what you’re saying is clear to me. To paraphrase: Because of order of construction, an operator (machine stitcher) will be unable to use notches that indicate the seam allowance for some seams, making those notches useless.

    Some might argue that the operator can use the notch to eyeball the seam allowance but they could do that if they are told the amount or shown an example.

    Less notches saves labor costs.

  4. Kathleen says:

    This doesn’t surprise me in the least. It reminds me of something I’d published before:

    It reminds me of that story of three generations of women who always sliced off an end of a roast before cooking it. Three generations of women did it because the matriarch did it. When the matriarch was asked why she did it, she explained that the roast never fit in the pan but the daughters -who had no such pan-size problem- followed the practice mindlessly and traditionally. […]You shouldn’t expect customers to pay more for something when the maker’s practices haven’t improved and evolved.

    Sally: The writer’s name is Kathleen -me. It’s at the top of the post, bottom of the page, on the about page, everywhere really.

    I don’t doubt you teach these practices to your students but that it is correct because you do it -however unintentional- amounts to a logical fallacy -“it must be right because I do it”. Point of fact, if all we were taught in school represented best practices, there would be no need for this information -indeed this entire site. There is a vast chasm between what we are taught vs best practices among established firms. I likewise don’t doubt you placed a plethora of notches when you designed linings. A production pattern maker (like me, 30+ years experience in coats entire) would similarly be out of work if sample/first pattern makers got it right the first time. Our job is to clean those patterns up.

    Case in point, the pattern in question. Perhaps it would surprise you to learn that an excess of notches amounts to a cognitive shortcut; a contractor will take one look at this pattern and refuse to sew a test sample until it had been cleaned up. Indeed, that’s what happened in this case.

    Should you have the time, it may be useful to follow some of the links I left at the close of the post, particularly the one on notch maps. Another older entry on sleeve cap ease (Sleeve cap ease is bogus) is another to consider altho it is likely you would find it distressing. One last resource is the chapter on production patternmaking 101 on pp 176-180 of my book which was intended to correct the most egregious information we’re taught in school.

  5. Hello Kathleen,

    At the University where I teach, 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 and that we purchased in 2011. We teach technical design and therefore the equipment along with our teaching methods must be industry based. Please note that the patterns that are standard in the Gerber system include notches at the sewing lines, balance notches, and ease notches at the armhole/sleeve cap. In order for students to be able to operate the CAD system, in school and eventually in the industry, they must be taught the proper placement of notches and other manual patternmaking techniques. If pattern notching and ease were becoming obsolete, why would they be included in computer aided systems used currently in the industry?

    The shoddy ready-to-wear clothing, especially women’s clothing, produced by the industry, and hanging on racks at high-end retailers, is most likely the result of doing away with notching, ease technology, and other techniques in the garment manufacturing process.



  6. Sally, I don’t understand your complaint about the notches Kathleen identifies as useless.

    Sewing order. The princess line is sewn first. Note that Kathleen left in the notches at shoulder and waist that mark the seam allowance for the princess line, which is what you say you want. Once that seam is sewn, the notches circled in green are superfluous. The have no conceivable purpose. The stitcher will start at one side, see the seam allowance notch, and continue to the end of the seam with the same seam allowance. Notches in the princess line seam at the level of the waist and shoulder seam allowances do not add value but they do add costs.

    Kathleen never said that useless notches were becoming obsolete. She said that they have always been useless and have always been an indicator of thoughtless patternmaking. It’s possible that people who use CAD applications that include all possible notches without taking sewing order into account mean that people are more likely to add useless notches to a pattern today than they used to be when they added them manually. That doesn’t make them useful. It just makes them annoying.

    If notches that cannot be used by the stitcher serve a purpose, please explain what that purpose is so that we can understand. “Gerber’s defaults include it” and “ready-to-wear is shoddy” is not an explanation of the purpose of a notch that a stitcher cannot use.

  7. Avatar photo

    Sally, no one suggests notches are obsolete; to whit, my mention of the notch maps post. Again I reiterate that it may be useful were you to review the links that appear at the close of this post.

    I’m likewise familiar with CAD, own a digitizer and a 72″ plotter. As such, I can say with certainty that ease per se is not included with CAD systems. Or rather, perhaps it is in the same way that punctuation and letters are included with word processing programs. That your CAD program may include pre-made template patterns with given features is analogous to the templates provided with Microsoft Word -iow, not ideal but certainly ubiquitous. Word will not write a cogent book autonomously anymore than Gerber will make a pattern by itself. It is all in the user’s input.

    As far as ease is concerned, here are three more posts for your perusal:
    Lazy pattern making
    Where is ease permissible?
    Where is ease permissible? pt.2

    Being socially bereft, I’m not certain if you intended to intimate that I produce shoddy workmanship or espouse its practice but perhaps this discussion of crap vs quality would be illuminating -as well as devoid of judgement.

    I heartily welcome careful and respectful contradiction as it is useful, educational and ideal but I would argue it is incumbent to read the substantive body of work which analyzes given points of contention beforehand. One further may be: The cognitive dissonance of experts

  8. Bente says:

    Love this post! Notches are extra work and higher cost. Logic would then be; as little notches as possible. I am wondering if there is any logic to putting the seam allowance notch on fewer parts though?

  9. Lisa Blank says:

    Kathleen, I follow your points about which notches wind up useless. I was able to “see” how each seam would look if this pattern were sewn. I think a sewn sample would definitely be helpful for those who aren’t familiar with sewing or aren’t able to “see” the progression and results.

    I enjoy the discussion of notches, but then I was a participant in the pop quiz on them. ;-)

  10. Esther says:

    I was similarly trained in school to use notches to indicate seam width. Once I started work as a junior pattern maker I was amazed at how few notches were on the patterns. I’m not sure where the idea that notches are needed to indicate seam width came from, but it really is not necessary in most circumstances. This is because an operator should be using the machine set up for the seam in the first place. In application, the operator aligns the material with the edge of the foot or bed of the machine and zips it through. The operator doesn’t have to think about it.

    There are other problems that come with this many notches. Notches cost more money to cut. Notch depth can interfere with seam integrity, and cause seam blowouts (where the notch is not enclosed in the seam). Slit notches can cause runs in knits or fray out on certain fabrics. V-notches increase fabric usage. IMO, the fewer the notches the better.

  11. Patricia says:

    This reminds me my first patterns as a student. I notched them everywhere and of course, notched all seam allowances. Teacher told me that standard seam allowances (1cm) are never notched.

  12. Avatar photo

    I enjoy the discussion of notches, but then I was a participant in the pop quiz on them. ;-)

    Lisa, you were more than a participant, you were the winner! I use that post with your solution as an example for my pattern classes.

    I just showed this pattern to Martha (remember, she was my boss and the pattern room supervisor for 10 years) and she just laughed and rolled her eyes. I’m having her cut a sample of it for sewing but she had to clarify twice that yes, I do want her to cut it out exactly like this.

    This pattern has a lot of problems. I mean a lot. None of the seams line up, the markings are wrong (note the photo above, one piece is marked left front, the other right front), the allowances are wrong (1/2″ in the neckline? really?) which is why, again, that too many notches is a cognitive shortcut to a pattern not being production ready so it won’t be processed for a test sew until it is cleaned up.

  13. Dara says:

    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.

  14. Natasha E says:

    “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.

  15. Clara Rico says:

    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.

  16. Theresa Hall says:

    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.

  17. Judy says:

    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 –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.