Monday, August 6, 2012

Notches Demystified.

I remember when I first started to sew. 

I'd make my stitch, let's say, on a sleeve seam, and be puzzled as to why it felt tight around the arm. I sewed it correctly, the sleeve fit, and I'd matched the appropriate notches for what the pattern called. That's just it. Often, people take the placement notches of matching a pattern piece with the actual notches that are used to help the drape of a garment. A lot of times, new sewers (and some of us seasoned ones, lets be honest) don't see the value in notching a seam that calls for it. A lot of us don't know what seams to notch and which ones not to notch. Some of us notch them all, and that is just a whole world of hurt. I figured it was time to talk about this simple and rather mis understood sewing technique, explain how I use it, and give you all some insights into why its a valuable simple tool in garment construction.

First off, lets define a notch.
In this post, I'll refer to a notch as a subtraction of the fabric from the seam allowance that allows for the stitched seam to lay unobstructed. Hey, what's unobstructed? I'll get to that later.

Lets start with pattern notches. Those markings we see on the pattern pieces themselves. Those are actually used as placeholders for where to match up pieces, not as a relief of a seam. The notches I'm taking about help the drape of the garment. Simple enough, right? The questions are where are the right places to use them, how often, and to what benefit.

For me, the goal of a notch is to relieve the tension around a seam. Sometimes you want that tension, sometimes you don't. The key is to define it. I define it as having a stitch lay straight in the seam allowance even if the stitch is curved or not.

Take a look at a collar stitch or a sleeve stitch. 

The arrow refers to the curve of the sleeve.
With the seam allowance facing up, gently pull on the seam and see how that allowance curves.

If it flops from side to side, there is tension in that seam, which will affect the drape of the seam. If it stays up, and follows the pull, there is not tension in the seam. Now, your autistic preference will be whether you want that tension or not.

Notching also helps curve a seam and decrease excess fabric. Take this curved seam for instance. 

Looking at the weave, you can see how the fabric is laying, that it was cut with bias, etc. This is how it lays before notching. This is an armhole seam. Now, do we want an armhole to be this rigid? No. So slightly stretching the seam to see where the tension is, we can determine where to notch the seam allowance.

I guess now would be the time to say do NOW notch all the way to the stitched line. That will cause fraying and eventually open the seam. That's the last thing you want. Notching is an art, so take at most, depending on the type of fabric 3/5 of the seam allowance away.

Notching is also a great way to cut the baste stitches for gathered seams too rather than going in and undoing them (which I never do), a notched gathered seam, say on the cap of a sleeve, will release those gathers to lay as flat as they can.

Here are some places I always notch:
At a joined seam.
Bookending gathers.
If the fabric is cut at an angle.
Points of collars.
Joints (to decrease fabric).

Places I don't notch:
Skirt panels or slight curves.

I don't notch here because I prefer the pressing of the seam allowance and the actual fabric to force the gore of a skirt to lay the way its supposed to. Often, if you notch a skirt, you take out some of the tension that helps it lay correctly. Any you don't want to do that.

Notching consistently.
There is really only one instance when you need to notch a seam consistently all the way around, and that is if its on a very dramatic curve. Slight curves, depending on how a garment is draping (as I said, one reason I don't notch skirt panels) can help drape. A notch will brake that tension, and sometimes create a point. So just be cautious when using notches.

Note the notch at the pivot at
 the lower right.

Neck lines and scallops are ideal for consistent notching.

I hope this has helped. For an exercise, I'd suggest doing some practice sewing and playing with notching so you can see and feel the difference when and when you don't notch. You'd be surprised how a simple cut away can effect the drape of a garment.

Happy sewing!!


Jenn said...

That was interesting and very helpful! Thanks!

SJ Kurtz said...

Ahhhh! It's the diagram for the DuBarry...5600? I have been dreaming about this since you put the cover up on the blog last....I dunno when. It's on the 'gonna make one from what I can tell' list for this fall!

Oh yes, notches are important!

Perty said...

Great to see you back on form shelley, I've been checking my google reader and noticed that you hadn't been blogging, I love your style, your personal way of blogging and dedication, wish I could make time for all the stuff you do xx

Wendy said...

Welcome back Shelley!

Haley said...

Great information! Helps the occasional, novice garment sewer like me. Thanks

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