Notch maps: suit sleeve & armhole pt.2

clock_notch_positioningPerhaps this entry should have come before the first one but as is so often the case, I don’t realize it until after the fact.

Since there can be an endless variety in armhole and sleeve notching (some better than others) we should clarify the four positions for notches and why we need them which is not as obvious as one would think. The four positions are:

  • Shoulder seam (12 o’clock)
  • Under arm seam (6 o’clock)
  • Front (4 o’clock)
  • Back (8 o’clock)

So why do we have them placed in these locations? If you say it is to provide guidance for sleeve setting on the basis of making segments evenly divisible, it would make more sense to put the back armhole notch at 9 o’clock and the front at 3 o’clock but instead, these are placed at 8 and 4 o’clock respectively. So why is that? It may not seem logical unless you’ve sewn a bit or analyzed sewing to some extent. Here is the explanation:

directional_sewingAn operator is given a bundle of sleeves to set. It is dependent on operator preference, but they usually have the body on top and the sleeve underneath for both sides. This means that the direction in which the operator sews each side will change. On one side, the operator will start sewing at the back part of the armhole and move in a continuous line to the front. On the opposite side of the garment, the operator will start sewing at the front of the armhole and sew toward the back (see image at right). So why does this matter?

When sewing a curvy shaped seam like an armhole, the operator will align the pieces for joining only as far as the first notch at their disposal (8 or 4’oclock) and then position the work at the seam start and then start sewing. They will not pre-walk the sleeve all around to make sure it matches (not their job), nor will it be pinned.

The notches for a seam like an armhole should lie fairly close to the side seam for a couple of reasons. First is that this is a curvy section of both pieces and they don’t align as smoothly as straight pieces typically will. Secondly, there is a length limit to how far from a cut edge a notch should be. If you didn’t know, don’t worry because most people don’t.

The depth into the work piece -along the edge of which the first notch should be placed- should be based on the bed and table depth of the machine. On your typical industrial, the distance between the needle and the edge of the table is 7 to 8 inches. Placing your first notch midway between those two points is visually optimal for a seam that is curvier or trickier to line up in whatever way -such as armholes and sleeves. In fact, it is ideal if notch placement is standardized. I’ve shown how I do mine on pg 180 of my book; also see pages 176-180 for notching rules. Standardizing the depth at which notches are placed make pattern checking go faster because you’re not having to always measure from the side seam to the notch and then from the notch to the shoulder etc. If it is standardized, you only need to check from the notch to the shoulder.

Notching long seams: Placing a notch midway through the optimal viewing window based on table depth (7″ to 8″) doesn’t apply if the seam is a short and or straight like a shoulder seam. [You really don’t need a notch there unless you have a bit of ease along the back shoulder instead of a dart.] On long seams, the depth of the first notch on either end (because you cannot know from which side the operator will start sewing) should be based on operator range of motion. Specifically, the notch placement on either end of a long seam should be about the length of one’s forearm from wrist to elbow (about 10″). The outside limit of distance between notches on long seams should be one arm length.

So the rule of thumb is, curvier seams need more notching and the first one should lie midway between the needle and the edge of the machine table. The placement for the first and last notch on straighter seams (last notch presumes there is no hem notch) should be the one forearm’s length from either end. The distance between notches on longer straighter seams should be no more than one arm length.

While I’m thinking of it (this is a topic in my production pattern making class), do not make your notches symmetrical in distance. Say, 10″ or however many inches from both ends. This is a recipe for disaster. Do this and you shouldn’t be surprised if the waist end of one piece is joined at the hem of another. Always offset your notches so they cannot line up!

In summary, it is the consideration of operator’s handling needs that can make all the difference in the world between a pattern that is easy to sew versus one that is (unnecessarily) harder.

Returning to what I opened with, we also have notches at 12 and 6 o’clock. These are mostly to ensure that the sleeve joining is evenly placed at the shoulder and side seam. This explains why the under sleeve of a two piece suit sleeve -its seam does not match the side seam- will have a notch to indicate where it aligns to the side seam. Again, this is illustrated in the first entry.

Okay, so what if you don’t have a shoulder seam but a yoke instead? This scenario was mentioned in comments to the first entry. One person said they would put a notch on the sleeve to indicate where the yoke lined up. I would never say this is wrong because it can depend on practices at your workplace so it becomes a matter of culture. If this is how it’s done at your place, then fine. However, if you’re the one setting up these sorts of things, you might want to do it a bit differently.

Consider: If you’re going to notch the sleeve to indicate yoke placement, then would you also create notches to indicate where a side panel at front or back lined up? If not, why not? Why is a yoke special that it would take a notch but a side panel would not? So maybe you think you’ll cover your bases by notching those seam placements, you’re going to have an awful lot of notches and like we’ve said so often before, if you have too many notches, it will annoy the cutters and they may either forget which they cut or bypass the drama altogether. That’s what too many notches are -drama. If your patterns are well designed, you don’t need all those notches.

The other reason to pass on notching yoke placement (or the line up of side panels) on sleeves is because it makes patterns less interchangeable. For example, you have several jackets that use the same body and sleeves, the only difference being a yoke or whatnot, you’ll have to make a separate sleeve for the styles without yokes because those won’t need the same notching. This isn’t much of an issue if you have CAD patterns because those points are easily deleted but if your patterns are oak tag, it amounts to quite a bit more work once you throw lining patterns into the mix.

Again, I reiterate that if you do things differently at your job and everyone is used to it then there is no reason to force a cultural change in the work process unless it is creating some kind of problem. I’m only speaking as someone who has made tons and tons of jackets with yokes. At one place I worked, it was rare that a jacket didn’t have a yoke and all the yoke designs varied -to the tune of 200+ new styles a year. So at that place it made more sense to pass on notching the line up positions of side panels and yokes because of the wide variety of them. This way we could stick almost any sleeve into any other body which saved time on digitizing, grading, calculating allocation etc.

What I really intended to do in this part two was to post alternative notching maps for armholes and sleeves so I guess I will do that next.

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  1. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Kathleen, thank you for the reasoning behind where and when to notch. As always, you are shedding light where it needs to be shed.

  2. Dennis says:

    In home sewing class, one would sew from the 6 to either the 8 or 4, then do ease stitching from the 8 (4) to the 12 and more ease stitching down to the 4 (8) and finally standard stitching to the 6. Of course, if the pattern does not require ease stitching, it would be easier sewing. I usually sew flat rather than in the round-more excitement!

  3. dosfashionistas says:

    Re notching at a yoke: I assume that a notch for placing a yoke would not be required, but a notch matching the top of the sleeve to the top of the shoulder would be i.e. a notch in the sleeve matching to a notch in the yoke at the shoulder point. Or how did you mark a yoked jacket if the yoke went over the shoulder?

  4. Matthew Pius says:

    Kathleen – thanks for posting the elaboration. I assume that the answer to dos-fashionistas question is that in a style with no shoulder seam there must be a notch at the top of shoulder because there will be a notch at the sleeve cap apex?
    @Dennis – that’s not how I sew my sleeves. I would first sew from front notch to back notch (or vice-versa depending on side) through the bottom of the armhole with the sleeve on top. Then I go back and separately sew the top half with the body on top. It’s something I saw in a book once and I find it works well for me. Then again, I’ve never put ease into my sleeve caps.

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