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Different Methods of Marking Notches on Sewing Patterns

It occurred to me recently that there’s multiple methods of marking notches when transferring them from your sewing pattern to the pattern pieces you cut from your fabric. None of them is “right” or “wrong”, they all have their merits and disadvantages. But why might you choose to mark your notches a different way to your “usual” method, and what are some of the options?

Why you shouldn't skip your notches in the first place

Notches, like every other pattern instruction and feature, exist for a reason. They help you to align a pattern piece to another, or to a seam. As humans are inherently curvy and three dimensional, notches mostly fall on curved seams, helping you to ensure the pieces line up properly with one another. Sometimes they’re also used to indicate the beginning or end points of zippers, such as on a trouser fly or on a zippered jacket.

This is their key function, yet some people choose to skip marking their notches when cutting out their pattern pieces. If you skip marking your notches, you run the risk of mis-matching your pattern pieces – especially on more complicated patterns. It’s therefore a bad habit to get into.

If you accidentally miss a notch when you cut out your pattern, you can still go back and mark it using a different method, however.

Marking notches is especially important on curved seams
Marking notches is especially important on curved seams

How I mark my notches

The first sewing patterns I used were by Vogue and Butterick, and I made my very first garment under the supervision of my mother-in-law. I therefore picked up her way of marking notches: we cut small triangles on the outside of the seam allowance.

The “big four” pattern designers (Vogue, Butterick, Simplicity and McCall’s) being the same company, they use the same method of marking notches (generally speaking) – small triangles that point into the seam allowance. It wasn’t until I first used an indie designer’s pattern that I realised there isn’t a standard way to mark notches – on either the pattern or the pattern pieces.

I try to use my mother-in-law’s method still – mainly because I don’t like the idea of cutting into my seam allowance, in case I need to use it to adjust the fit of the pattern. But there are times that I’ve completely forgotten to mark my notches this way and have had to go back and mark them differently – plus there’s been both fabrics and patterns I’ve used which have made this method difficult to apply.

Some methods of marking notches

These aren’t the only ways to mark notches, I’m sure, so don’t take this as the authoritative list or send me an angry email to say you use a different method! However, they are commonly used methods.

  • Snip into the seam allowance – this is a quick and straightforward method, where you carefully snip straight into your seam allowance at the notch point. It’s nice and accurate, as your notch is exactly where it’s marked on the pattern. Some people use a pattern notcher for this, which is the tool pattern designers use to mark notches when creating sewing patterns in the first place, though many people simpy use their fabric scissors to carefully snip a short way into the seam allowance.
  • Sew a tailor’s mark – tailor’s marks (also known as tailor’s tacks) are a quick and simple method used for marking other pattern features, such as circles, buttons and buttonholes, but they can also be used to quickly mark your notches. If you haven’t heard of tailor’s marks before, all you do is use a hand needle and a thread which contrasts brightly with your fabric, so you can easily see where your marks are. There’s no need to tie knots or fasten off your thread, as the idea is you can easily pull the marks out without damaging the fabric – just put a simple stitch where the mark needs to be, ensuring you leave a good length of thread on both ends of the stitch.
  • Draw the notch on – another option you can use is to draw the mark on with chalk. Alternatively, you could draw your notches onto masking or washi tape and carefully align them where they need to be.
  • Snip a marker on the outer edge of the seam allowance – the method I described above, it’s perhaps better to do with a pair of scissors, rather than a rotary cutter. With this method, your seam allowance remains completely intact, though you might want to draw the triangle onto your paper pattern pieces before cutting them out, as otherwise it can be easy to forget to mark your notches.
There's many different ways of marking notches - this is how I try to do mine
There's many different ways of marking notches - this is how I try to do mine

Why might you choose to mark your notches differently?

There’s a lot of reasons you might need to use a different method for marking notches.

The first reason is likely to be your fabric choice. Some fabrics don’t really work well at all with notches which are physically cut into them, so you might need to mark them with chalk or a tailor’s mark. I found this with the Tea House Top I made using the fabric I bought in Peru – the fabric was relatively loosely woven and so my physical notches fell apart quite easily as the seam allowance tried to unravel itself. Other fabrics might not be easy to draw onto, or you might be using a fabric (such as finely woven silk, leather or a leather alternative) that you can’t risk putting pin holes into.

In some patterns, the seam allowances are just too small for snipping or sewing notches and you need to draw them on. I had this with the Iris T-shirt I made, which only has a 6mm seam allowance.

How you decide to mark your notches might also depend on how you choose to finish your seams. When sewing flat felled seams, for example, it’s best to keep your seam allowance intact as your seams are finished on the outside of your garment. I learned how to sew flat felled seams while making my husband a pair of jeans based on the Jutland Pants by Thread Theory – and to be honest, I love the way they look so much that I’m going to be flat felling a lot more of my seams!

So there you have it – different methods of marking your notches and why you might decide to use them over your “usual” method. It’s always worth trying out different techniques, as you might find one which you prefer to use – or a pattern or fabric which can’t be marked how you usually would. Just please don’t skip marking your notches!