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.

B. 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.

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!



  1. Emilie on October 22, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    This is a very old post, but I just wanted to thank you for clearing up this question me,. As a self-taught seamstress with little means but lots of gumption, I was drafting and draping before I ever laid hands on a commercial pattern, and those notches threw me the first time I saw them. They continued to throw me, as I could find no consensus on how they were meant to be treated. I feel validated now to find that apparently that’s because there IS no consensus, and a mix of common sense and personal preference seems to be a perfectly valid answer.

    (Now I usually mark them with small inward snips or chalk lines, excepting projects where precision really matters, in which case I follow your mom’s expertise. 🙂 )

    • Kat on October 23, 2020 at 6:58 am

      Makes sense to me Emilie! 🙂

  2. Sue H on November 22, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    I have been sewing for over 60 years and I have always done the notches the way your Mom did them. To my way of thinking cutting into the seam allowance is just asking for problems down the road.

    • Kat on November 22, 2020 at 6:46 pm

      I’m with ya Sue! Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  3. Mary Snyder on January 31, 2022 at 7:38 am

    I always cut them the way your mom taught you. That’s how I was taught class in Home
    ec class. Took one look at the so called new way, and said, ” not for me” saw the dangers of their way.

    • Kat on January 31, 2022 at 9:28 am

      You and me BOTH! 🙂

  4. Karol on January 31, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    I’ve been sewing over 70 years. I learned the mom way for notches too when I was very young. I’d learned a lot prior to that. Mom was a great seamstress. She made all our clothes.

    At 10 the 4H leader had her way of doing things. In high school the Home Ec teacher also had her way and she and I disagreed on some things. LOL I mostly did it my way as long as it was neat, laid like it was supposed to etc.

    When I was really busy, sewing my own clothes back when I was still doing that, I’ve been known to clip 2 or 3 threads inward at the top of the dart legs etc. Just enough to find the clips to match them up.