New to sewing? Did you recently come across the term ‘notch’ and started wondering what are notches in sewing and pattern making? I feel you! Sewing pattern words and symbols can be rather obscure to the sewing beginner, which is why I’ve created this dictionary of sewing terms and their meanings and this guide on how to read a sewing pattern!
Both are wonderful resources for sewing beginners, but for the quick answer, let’s dig in to what notches are in sewing, and how they’re used!
Different Types Of Notches
When you’re looking at a commercial sewing pattern, you’ll notice that there are usually markings on the edge of each pattern piece. These pattern markings are called notches, but they often look different depending on who created the pattern.
Generally these are the types of notches that you’ll come across in sewing:
- Diamond notches
- Triangle notches
- T notches
And of course, notches can be single of double, but more on that shortly!
Diamond notches are shaped like diamonds, with each half forming a triangle either side of the seam allowance line. They will always be pointing out from the pattern piece.
Triangle notches are half the diamond, and can have the point pointing inwards towards the pattern piece, or outwards like the diamond notches.
T notches look like the letter ‘T’ with the longer line coming in from the pattern edge, and the short line squared off within the seam allowance.
My Preffered Notch Type
Personally, I have no time for diamonds or triangles. I simply square a line (or two) from the pattern edge in towards the seam line, like a half hearted ‘T’ notch I guess.
Where Are Notches Used?
Pattern notches are used as markers for:
- Balance points
- Centre back
- Centre front
- Dart legs
- Grain line
- Pleats and Tucks
- Pocket placement
- Stitching line
Lets have a look at how each is used!
Balance Point Notches
Balance point notches are used to help you line up the pattern pieces correctly. Fabric can ‘get longer’ when sewn, so by using notches to align the fabric pieces you’ll be sure to not have excess fabric at the hem where it has stetched out.
You’ll find these balance point notches on a:
- Centre back and centre front seams
- Side seam
Centre Back Notch
Notches are used to show where the centre back is on all back pattern pieces that extend over, or finish at, the centre back. Typically you’ll find CB notches on:
- Back bodices
- Back pant / shorts
Centre Front Notch
Like the CB notch, we also use one to show where the centre front is on those pattern pieces that go up to or beyond the centre front.
Pattern pieces that are cut as one will have a single notch to show the centre front:
- Front bodices
- Dress fronts
- Skirt fronts
- Front pant / shorts
Dart Leg Notches
Wherever there is a dart, there should be a notch. These notches are used to help you align the starting points of each dart leg. Simply fold the fabric at the dart leg notches, pin into place and sew towards the dart point.
Gathering on sewing patterns is shown with a squiggly line, but this line is placed between notches to indicate where the gathering should start and finish.
Although we do use a grainline arrow on patterns to show the direction of the grain and placement of the pattern on the fabric, we can also use grainline notches at the edges of patterns to help with the pattern placement too.
This is not as prevalent in the home sewing industry though, so it may be that you see this less frequently – just be sure to use the grainline arrow if there is no accompanying notch!
Pleats And Tucks
Notches are also used to mark in each position and fold line for pleats and tucks, which helps to keep any pleating and tucks evenly spaced and looking good.
Notches can be used to show where pockets should be placed, when they are sewn at the edge of pattern pieces. Examples of the types of pockets that you would use notches for are:
- Inseam pockets on pants, skirt and jackets
- Slash pocket on pants and skirts
Stitching Line Notch
The stitching line notch is used to indicate where the line of stitching should start and finish.
What’s The Difference Between Single Vs Double Notches?
You might notice that different pattern pieces will use either single or double notches, and there’s a very good reason for why!
When you see a single notch on a paper pattern, it will usually mean that it is a front pattern piece.
Double notches – two notches close together – are used for back pattern pieces.
The only time you’ll see single notches on back pattern pieces is on side seams when they connect to front pattern pieces.
Do You Cut Notches In Sewing Patterns?
I do cut the notches in my sewing patterns – I use pattern notchers (pictured above) which cut out a small snip of paper, and make it easier for me to snip my notches on fabric while the pattern piece is on the fabric.
Others prefer not to, as cutting the notches on your sewing patterns is destructive. It really is a personal choice.
Marking Notches On Fabric
Now that you know about the different types of notches and how they’re used, it’s time to learn how notches should be marked on fabric!
Cutting The Notches
The most obvious way to mark in your notches is to cut into the fabric – this is used for inwards facing triangle and ‘T’ type notches.
Personally, a simple snip using small scissors has worked for me since I started sewing many years ago. I find this is less faffy than cutting triangles or diamonds, is faster and causes less damage to fabric as I prefer a smaller seam allowance of 1cm while most sewing patterns have 5/8″ / 1.5cm.
Another method for marking notches on fabric is to use tailors chalk. The benefit of this method is that it is non-destructive and will mean your fabric is not cut into.
The downside is that the chalk is only temporary and any excessive handling can se ethe chalk disappear along with your notch markings.
Using Pattern Notches
Remember that notches are pattern symbols on dressmaking patterns to guide you in the construction process of your sewing project. They will help you to create a beautiful finished garment when used as intended, so do ensure that you are correctly marking them in, and using them during your sewing process!
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.