Notch maps: suit sleeve & armhole

Based on a recent experience, a client and I think this topic could use some airing. My client is not a beginning sewer by any means but she had no point of comparison never having worked with a suit sleeve industrial pattern before.

Before I start, you need to know something pivotal. With industrial patterns, it is absolutely critical that notches match where they are intended to. In industry, notches must match EXACTLY. Not near by, not there abouts, not in a given direction, not kind of sort of near by but EXACTLY. If a notch is off by a whole inch, it is on the order of the bank calling in a loan or the police showing up with a search warrant or something equally horrible. It is an automatic halt to anything going on, this is an emergency and you’re at the front of the line. A notch being off a whole inch is not something you just let slide by. So, if you’re sewing something and notches are off that much, you need to pick up the phone immediately. Phone. Not email. Not later. Now. Are we clear on this?

Anyway, my client has sleeve fitting issues to include length (she sewed the mock up). We still don’t know the final result but the sleeves need to be re-set to match notches. The other issue was sleeve length. She was not aware that notches are used to indicate sleeve hem fold lines. Again no problem unless -picture this horrible scenario- what would have happened if I had not inspected her mock up jacket? I would have shortened the sleeve to match the designer’s instructions and then the style would later have been sewn by a contractor who did turn the hem at the notch and then all of the sleeves would have been too short and the contractor would have been blamed. Or the contractor would have blamed me because they were following the pattern and me, I’d be absolutely baffled because I did what the client said. Somehow, half an inch of sleeve length would have evaporated into the ether. More notes on this further down.

So, below are images illustrating the notch placement on suit sleeves of an industrial pattern. This is also in my book on page 180. The color coding in the images is only for the purposes of clarity. In real life, those little lines are cut outs along the pattern’s edge.





A note on the image above. The double notch may not fall on the side panel or it may not fall on the under sleeve. However, one way or another, there should be a double notch at the back portion of the sleeve and the back portion of the armhole. Double notch =back. You’re looking for logic in the pattern notching, not an absolute.


Last but not least, here is your visual cheat sheet for all combined.


Feel free to ask questions on anything that isn’t clear.

Amended 11/2/11

Re: the sleeve hem difficulty mentioned in the opening. The sleeve hem fold line was notched at 1.5″ from the finished edge. [Meaning, there was another set of notches .375 from the cut edge to show where the sleeve lining was joined to the sleeve end but that’s beside the point.] The designer who made the mock up, turned up about an inch worth of hem rather than 1.5″. So, the sleeve was too long. The designer told me to shorten the sleeve x amount. Now, had I shortened the sleeve without having had the opportunity to examine the mock up to see the full hem allowance had not been taken, once the garment had been sewn by a contractor (who would know to turn the hem at the notches), the sleeves would have been too short. At this point there would be a problem. The designer would be upset with the contractor because (presumably) she would have sewn a new sample from the corrected pattern and it would have been good. The contractor would insist they followed the pattern and be upset with me. I would be dismayed since I did exactly what the designer said.

The problem may not have been discovered until or if I had a chance to measure the contractor’s sample, compare it to the pattern and then of course, I would say that the two matched so there was no problem. The conclusion of the parties involved at that point would have been utter confusion and much finger pointing. The pattern maker (me) and perhaps contractor would think that the designer had changed her mind (without telling anyone) about the sleeve length. And all because no one went back to the sample the designer sewed to see if she’d taken the full allowance.

As a practical matter, the sleeve is probably too long anyway. The point of debate is that we do not know how much too long it is because the full hem allowance was not taken.

An aside with respect to the depth of sleeve hem:  A hem allowance of 1.5″ is not a boiler plate amount. The depth of hem is often dictated by price points and whether it is lined. If the garment is lower cost (moderate or less), a hem allowance of 1″ to 1.25″ might be more typical. This particular jacket is contemporary to better so it should have a deeper hem allowance.

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  1. Theresa in Tucson says:

    I thought that was how home sewing patterns were supposed to be although they often are not. I confess that I didn’t know the back of a sleeve or armhole was marked by double notches until about twelve years ago but it was flat out stupidity on my part plus refusal to read and comprehend the literature out there. Sometimes we home sewers are our own worst enemies. Thank you for the enlightening pictures and the proverbial “one upside the head.”

  2. Matthew Pius says:

    Is it too confidential to ask what kind of miscommunication would result in the hem notches getting placed too high? I don’t understand how this would result. Unless maybe your client was using match notches on the sleeve seams?
    Also – if there is not a shoulder seam (with a yoke, for example), would you add a notch on the body to match the sleeve cap notch? Or would you move the notch off the very top of the sleeve cap so that it matched the nearest seam? I could see an argument in favor of either option, and I know which seems more logical to me, but I’m curious if there is a “standard”.

  3. ek says:

    Okay, I feel like this is a dumb-dumb question and I cringe to ask it but I will anyway: when I mark notch placement on a pattern when drafting, I mark it in pencil because I draft in pencil. Okay, what I want to know is in terms of industry standards, when you turn those marks into actual cut-in notches do you a) straddle the mark as nearly as possible to center the notch over the mark, or b) decide to align the notcher to the right or left of the mark. I really like my notches to match, and an eighth inch off to me is missing the mark. I wonder how you all decide to standardize it…

  4. Nora says:

    @Matthew Pius

    Yes, you would notch the yoke seam placement on the sleeve and omit the matching sleevecap and true shoulder notch.
    Every notch is an extra movement for the cutter which takes time = money. You should be as frugal as possible with notches, but still be cautious to include the important ones.

    I once worked for a company that insisted on double notching the front instead of the back. I had to pencil an F and a B on the sleeves and bodices to not confuse myself. Lucky, they had their own factory, who worked with their standards.

  5. Birgitte says:

    Ek – I think being consistent is the first rule; more than left or right. That said, I’d opt for dead center for the very simple reason that you wouldn’t have to account for right and wrong side of the pattern. Imagine drafting a sleeve, aligning the notch to the right for both bodice and sleeve, but then you flip the sleeve piece over to trace the companion piece, and all of a sudden your notch might not line up anymore.

    Using a center alignment just takes that little variable out of the equation.

  6. Ann Katzen says:

    I’m a little confused about the hem-fold notches and the designer’s instructions which would have caused you to shorten the sleeve. What were they? Did the designer propose a shorter sleeve but not communicate a change to the pattern drafter? or vice-versa?

  7. Sally says:

    I loved this article and the illustrations! With many years of pattern making under my belt I really appreciate this basic info that I have never seen described so well, not in any of my pattern books, or by any of my pattern maker friends or mentors. I’m passing this article on to many. Yeah, great!

  8. Kathleen says:

    Matt, Ann and whomever else: I amended the entry, hopefully I’ve clarified. The amendment falls at the close of the post so just scroll up.

    I’m wondering if I created some confusion when I mentioned that if notches are off by an inch, you need to call the pattern maker ASAP. This was separate and apart from the hem notching.

    The situation was that the designer did not match the armhole notches. She aligned the front seam of the undersleeve to match the side seam of the body because based on her experience, the sleeve seam matches the side seam. Again, she’d never sewn a suit sleeve before and did not know that the undersleeve portion straddles the side seam. The sleeve must be sewn into a tube before it can be joined to the body. The pattern we started with had a split seam (a psuedo suit sleeve) but it was your basic shirt sleeve for all intents and purposes because the sleeve side seam matched the side seam of the body. I took the split sleeve and made it into a real suit sleeve so it would have the nicer fitting attributes (if she’s going to do the work of piecing, she may as well get the benefit of it).

    So, when I said that if notches are off to call immediately, I did not intend to imply the pattern is at fault, only that clarification of where notch placement lies must be communicated to the customer so it is lined up properly.

    Any good pattern maker guarantees a given percentage of accuracy expressed in percentages of an inch. Someone mentioned an 1/8 as being acceptable. I don’t agree. To me, 1/8th amounts to a gross error. Or maybe I should qualify that. An isolated case amounts to an oversight. It happens, you feel chagrin, repair it and move on. However, if it is routine and habitual, it is a sign that someone does not care about the quality of their work or even incompetence if they do not understand why it matters.

    I guarantee accuracy to 1/32nd of an inch -but even that is fudged. I don’t send anything out that is less than 1/64th if not an exact match.

    We do this because deviations in accuracy are cumulative. 1/8th inaccuracy at the top is compounded by being off 1/8th at the bottom (or worse) making for a total error of 1/4″ which means there is no way (a collar for example) can be joined successfully. If one’s standard of accuracy is 1/64th, it can be off that much elsewhere but still sewable.

    The other thing is, pattern makers aren’t the only ones making mistakes. Errors occur in marking (the plotter calibration can be off) cutting (too much may be trimmed off), aligning pieces when sewing etc. So, if our pattern is perfect, others in the process can each make their own minute errors and the piece can still be sewn. However, if the pattern is off an 1/8 and each person who processes the work introduces their own error, it is an utter disaster…

  9. Deanna says:

    “The double notch may not fall on the side panel or it may not fall on the under sleeve”
    Do you mean should not, or doesn’t necessarily need to?

  10. As a quilter, I’ve experienced this first hand: “deviations in accuracy are cumulative. 1/8th inaccuracy at the top is compounded by being off “. It’s better to fix the error right away, don’t ignore it, it won’t go away.

  11. Colleen says:

    Kathleen: Thanks for the article. Can you guarantee 1/64″ accuracy because you are using a CAD system to draft the pattern? If you were making the pattern on a table (using pencil and pattern paper) what guarantee would you give?

  12. Kathleen says:

    Deanna: if I meant that the double notch should not fall on the side panel or undersleeve, I wouldn’t have illustrated it to show that placement.

    Colleen: this made me laugh (in a nice way). Making patterns manually, my guarantee is still 1/32nd but in actual practice, it must be perfect. Exact.

    What CAD brings to the table is a faster and more precise way to measure lengths and of course, to correct them if they are off.

  13. Quincunx says:

    ek, don’t be embarrassed, the question had been asked before, and it hadn’t been resolved then either. The more I look at the “marking & cutting” entry, the more I’m drifting away from the idea that the notch is an independent point to be straddled, instead thinking of it as an endpoint of a measurement to be defined and measured the way it is in “marking & cutting”.

    That being said, I have no notcher. When I point my scissors at a mark on the fabric, I’m aiming to remove a line not cleave between two sides of a defined notched space.

  14. ek says:

    Thanks Quincunx.

    I, too, don’t have a notcher. Yet. And, like Kathleen I want my pattern parts to match- match. I feel like every time I make a notch I have an internal dialogue about how to approach it.

    Indigorchid- Yes! But since I can not decide definitively L R or center, sometimes my fronts go one way and my backs the other. They don’t match…I re-do them…(grumble, grumble)

  15. Matthew Pius says:

    @Nora (or Kathleen) – I hope I understand: you say that if the shoulder seam doesn’t match the top of the sleeve cap, you’d move the sleeve notch, rather than add a notch on the body, because you’re conserving the number of notches. The goal being not to increase the number of notches unnecessarily because each notch is extra time = extra cost.
    But if the reason for the above is that there is a yoke (2 shoulder seams rather than 1), wouldn’t you have to put two notches on the sleeve? Otherwise you’d have 5 points on the body (3 seams plus front and back armscye notches) but only 4 notches on the sleeve. Wouldn’t that add confusion? So if you have to add a new notch to the sleeve anyway, it’s not less time for the pattern-maker or cutter than if you leave the sleeve notches alone and add a notch on the body.
    Or am I really, really, really just over-thinking this?

  16. Kathleen says:

    I don’t think you’re over-thinking this Matt. I wouldn’t do it as Nora does but if that is the modis operandi of where she works and they are accustomed to it or prefer it, so be it. What matters most is that practices are consistent and predictable.

    I plan to post other suggestions for armhole notching, maybe later today.

  17. Nora says:

    Matthew, I’m a little confused now.
    If I understand correctly, then you mean with 3 seams the front yoke, back yoke and sideseam? Does that mean your example doesn’t have a side panel, nor a 2piece sleeve like the above example? To me then, the side seam would match with the sleeve seam, so no notching necessary. That would mean you need 2 notches on the body (front and back armscye notches) and then 4 on the sleeve (the corresponding armscye notches and notches where the yoke seams are)
    In my opinion you don’t need the sleeve cap notch anymore since you don’t have a shoulder seam.

    But please listen to Kathleen, her experience and knowledge far surpasses mine.

  18. Dara says:

    Kathleen, I’ve worked on factory floors before where sleeves where not notched or had 1 notch in them (and the patternmaker thought people who needed notches for shirts where stupid). They were for dress shirts (traditional women’s cut). Is this a problem with the factory or has something to do with a larger operation? They also did not notch their suit sleeves…you’re probably rolling somewhere at reading this. The patternmaker had 40 yrs. experience and was very good. My grandfather used her successfully for decades before he retired.

  19. Kathleen says:

    The situation is unusual but tenable. If the patternmaker was awesome and the sewing pool was stable, there was high operator confidence (in the pattern/pattern maker), muscle memory and material handling experience to pick up the lack. That said, no one should go without notches because the goal is quality construction, not showing off by going without notches.

    When I was younger and “knew” so much more than I do now, I drafted in ink.

  20. Francois Burger says:

    Hi Kathleen

    I’ve been looking for an answer to the following question for a long time now without any luck. I am hoping you can shed some light on this matter.

    When drafting a basic sleeve block it gives you very clear indications of where the notches should be. In the case of lowering an armhole (for overgarments for example), they would give the measurements to alter the sleeve (dropping the crown and extending the underarm points for example). Then they would say something in the line of “Using the basic sleeve block head as a template, redraw the new sleeve head, indicating the lowered notches”
    So my question is, where do I place the new notches? Since the sleeve cap measurement is now longer, do I match the crown point to notch measurement or the notch to underarm point measurement with the old notches.

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