Why are Pattern Notches Missing in PDF’s?

Why don’t (most) pdf patterns have notches?

I grew up sewing with “The Big Four” paper patterns, moved on to Burda and Kwik-Sew, and they always had notches to help you put together the pieces correctly.  In design school, every pattern was required to have notches, and a notch-puncher was part of the required toolkit:

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I spent several decades in the garment industry making and using professional patterns. They always  had notches:

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However, if you’ve been sewing apparel using only indie pdfs, you may never have seen notches. If you are self-taught, and haven’t read a basic “How to Sew” book, maybe you’re not even aware of them, or know what they’re for.  Maybe you’ve seem them in commercial home-sewing patterns and ignored them.  All things are possible!

What are notches for? The purpose of notches is for the designer to  communicate to the seamstress how to put the garment together. Notches are a very simple code for “what goes where”.

In a typical industrial factory pattern, the notches indicate:

  • seam allowance, hemlines
  • center front, center back
  • the ends, or “legs” of darts
  • where to ease and gather (example sleeve-caps, princess bodice seams)
  • inward curves (where to clip to relieve tension)
  • shoulder-point for drop-shoulder styles
  • waist location for sheath (no-waist) style dresses
  • identifying front (single notch) versus back (double notch)
  • identifying  seam joins (rises, outseams, shoulder-seams, armscyes, etc)

So for example on a basic pant, the notches on an industrial (factory) pattern would look like this:

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(Note: in factory patterns, the direction of the seam-allowance notches indicate which seam gets stitched first. In the illustration above, the crotch notches point to the inseam, indicating that the inseams are stitched before the rise, ie; that this is a dress pant.  If the crotch notches pointed towards the rise, that would indicate that the rises are stitched before the inseam, ie; that this is a jeans or activewear pant.)

In a typical “Big Four” paper pattern, the notches are simplified, and only indicate:

  • identifying front (single notch) versus back (double notch)
  • identifying  seam joins (rises, outseams, shoulder-seams, armscyes, etc)

So the notches on a commercial (home sewing) pants pattern might look like this:

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Both patterns clarify the same basic three things:

  • Front rises are stitched to themselves left-to-right, matching the single notch.
  • Back rises are stitched to themselves left-to-right, matching the double notch.
  • Inseams are stitched front-to-back, matching the triple notch.

And then there’s your basic pdf, which has….no notches:

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So the information that would otherwise be conveyed with notches, the seamstress must get through  the instructions on her computer screen, and translate the steps to the actual fabric cut out in front of her. If the instructions are written well, and the pattern pieces are carefully drafted, this is not a problem. However, there are cases where pattern pieces can get confused, and probably the most common is to mix up the inseam with the rise…especially if making pants for a child since the legs are short and the rise is long to accommodate a diaper, or making full-cut pants such as pajamas or athleisure:

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It’s easy to see which edges are the side-seams….but what about the inseams and the rises? You might say “Well the top edges are curved and the bottom edges are straight so the bottom is the pant leg hems and then those must be the inseams. ”  but plenty of pants patterns are poorly drafted with straight lines for the waist. You might say “The back rise is always longer than the front rise, so they could never be stitched to each other“..except that there are so many truly terrible pants pdfs out there with matching front and back rises!

Now look at the various sequence-of-stitching possibilities:

  • Dress pants: Inseam, then Outseams, then Rises
  • Jeans: Rises, then Inseams then Outseams
  • Active: Outseams, then Rises, then Inseams

No matter which you choose, it’s possible to end up with the garment “upside down”, with the rises stitched NOT to themselves (left-to-right) but rather front-to-back….with the result that the inseams get stitched not front-to-back but rather to themselves, left-to-right. The hems become the waist and the waist becomes the hem.  This would never happen if the pattern had notches, because you wouldn’t stitch the front rise (single notch) to the back rise (double notch).


I’m not sure why many indie patterns do not have notches.

  • Do the patternmakers not know how to use them?
  • Did they attend some design school where notches were not required?
  •  Do they think that notches are unecessary since the consumer is a home-seamstress and not a factory?
  • Or do they imagine that notches are some old-fashioned sewing relic that has no place in computer-drafting?

This has been in the back of my mind for awhile, but then yesterday I read a FB group post from a seamstress who had made the classic mistake of putting together pants by stitching the inseams as rises, and the rises as inseams.

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She wrote (and of course this is repeated with her permission): “I’m so upset now, I want to cry. Some time ago I posted a question about (an independent pattern). The pattern pieces seem to mismatch….I cut my very expensive fabric, sew, and of course soon I see that it’s just plain wrong.  I had to pull fabric very hard to match inseam, also outside seams and it looks absolutely ridiculous. the hem ended up so mismatched, I can’t hem them at all.  The crotch- omg no words….ruined fabric, wasted time.”

Several kind group members chimed in to show her where the problem was:

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  1. Instead of stitching the yellow line (inseam) of the Front piece to the yellow line of the Back piece, she had stitched the yellow line to themselves,  left-to-right (as you would a rise)
  2. Then she tried to match the red lines (rises) together front-to-back to create the inseam, but they didn’t match up in length, so she stretched them into shape.

(Note: I know this happens quite often in home-sewing, because I read FB posts about it over and over….mostly in fall/winter when lots of people make flannel pajama pants.  The rises end up being the inseams, the inseams don’t match up (because they aren’t really the inseams, they are the pattern’s rises which are longer in the back), and the waist ends up as the leg hem, while the hems have turned into the waist.)

I did the same thing when I first started sewing, so I understand her frustration.  But here’s the difference between our situations:

  • When I made this mistake of confusing the rises for the inseams, I was 7 years old and cutting my own patterns freehand for my dolls. I had never used any paid pattern before, I was  just winging it.
  • When she made this mistake, she was using a pdf that she paid for. And that pattern did not have notches. If it had, there’s about zero chance she would have stitched it wrong.

So what can you as a pattern customer do about the lack of notches?

  • Purchase from professional patternmakers who include notches
  • If you have a favorite designer who doesn’t use notches, ask them to include them
  • Add your own notches after cutting, and before stitching

If anyone has other solutions, please let me know!

Happy (usually) sewing…..Best, Janet

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17 Responses to Why are Pattern Notches Missing in PDF’s?

  1. Ruth says:

    What difference (if any) does the order of sewing make to the different styles of pants and what is the rationale for changing the stitching order?

  2. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    It makes a big difference in how the final garment hangs, and which seams have stress on them. Depending on the type of pant, and how/where it is worn, there will either be a greater value on how it looks or how it wears. Dress pants, which must look professional but don’t get much active wear-and-tear (eg pulling and tugging) need to hang well with a beautiful drape: they are sewn Inseam-Outseam-Rise. The final stitching step is to place one leg inside the other and stitch the rise. Active pants , such as jeans or yoga pants, are stitched Rise-before Inseam (jeans are sewn Rise-Inseam-Outseam, yoga pants are sewn Outseam-Rise-Inseam). The stitching of the inseam AFTER the rise adds strength to the crotch area, making the pants wear better in active situations. They don’t “hang” as well because that final crotch stitching keeps the legs from draping evenly.

  3. Susan says:

    Thank you for your explanation on notches and on sewing order. Illuminating.

  4. Shelley says:

    Maybe another reason to check the pattern maker’s credentials? I confess I am more secure with a purchase made from someone who has had some professional experience/ education vs. a completely self-taught.
    Thanks for pointing out the why for the different pant sewing orders. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that. ; )

  5. Julie says:

    Thank you for your blog! You are a wealth of information. Thank you for sharing it with us. Someday I’d love to go to design school, but for now I read your blog and lots of sewing books.

  6. happyamyamy says:

    I can’t understand the popularity of those Indie patternmakers. The pants example above is from a line of very poorly drafted patterns. But people go crazy for them! Another popular designer has top patterns that are the same piece for back and front, with only a different neckline. I only took basic pattern drafting in college, and I know better than that. Thanks for pointing out the issue with notches. Your blog continues to be my favorite to read. :)

  7. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    The popularity comes from exactly that: popularity. The online sewing community, and especially the indie pdf world, has become a popularity contest. Some of the most successful (in sales) designers have a lack of pattern-drafting skills, however they make up for it with superior e-marketing: recruiting “testers” who are eager to be chosen and very willing to spend time and money sewing and doing photography and blogging glowing “reviews”for free. The bonus is a strong sense of belonging…like a sorority….and it flows over to customers who want to feel part of the magic, posting their photos in FB groups with “Look what I made!”. It took me a while to figure out the appeal, but I do see how this is very attractive especially for women who possibly aren’t getting much positive feedback for their sewing efforts: my own husband thinks I’m wasting my time sewing things one at a time, when I used to be highly paid in the mass-manufacturing business! The downside, as you’ve discovered, is that there are A LOT of indie patterns out there, “designed” by talented marketers who don’t know much about pattern-making…and listening to the hype over each new release, there’s no way for the average consumer to know who has a quality product, until after the sale is made (and the purchase is non-returnable). (PS: thank you that’s sweet!)

  8. Jen in Oz says:

    On the other hand, it’s not just indie pattern makers at fault. I’ve recently been trying to make Butterick 6285 and it is so poorly drafted I am amazed it made it to print. The top (a knit lined crossover) is so short in the back it sits above my bra strap. The skirt (a full, double pleated woven) has WEIRD seam allowances (1″ side seams and 1-1/2″ centre back and no reason given and even with muslining and taking it down 2 sizes it’s still too big) and the waistband piece doesn’t match the waist of the skirt. So you think it’s only one pattern? The other “Gertie” pattern I tried was a disaster too and ended up in my bin. I love the woman’s style but her pattern drafting leaves a lot to be desired.

  9. Ruth says:

    Interesting, having difficulty understanding how the order of stitching affects the drape, is this the consequence of seam allowances? Maybe I’ll have to make up a sample to figure this one out! Thanks so much!

  10. auschick says:

    Ugh, I *hate* the lack of notches in so many pdf’s!!! Drives me bonkers. I always add my own if they are missing but curse myself if I forget! Whenever I test, I *always* point out when notches are missing!

  11. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Thank you for pointing that out when testing, it helps all of us!!

  12. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    I’m not aware of the seam allowance making a difference, however I do plan on writing up a post to explain further how the order of stitching makes a difference.

  13. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Definitely not only indie patterns, I’ve had some dreadful Big Four patterns as well! In particular, McCalls childrenswear is often terrible: necklines so wide they fall off of the shoulders, length grading that makes no sense at all. I’ve written letters to the companies, and generally receive back a form letter with a coupon for a free pattern. I’d much rather that they fix the current pattern! But that won’t happen….at least with pdfs the designer will (sometimes) make corrections to the file and notify the customers who have purchased.

    I haven’t tried the Gertie patterns…I wonder when guest-designers submit patterns, are they checked by the pattern company?

  14. I have been wondering the very same thing (lack of notches) and it IS annoying because I always depended on them for seam matching. Thank you for putting it out there that this is just WRONG and what to do a sewist if you come across it. I will definitely email the creators of the pattern if I come across this. I like some Indie pattern makers I confess – I like their styling (the big pattern companies have really slowed down on their new seasonal design offerings and they stop printing the old ones up really fast). I like the detailed instructions that often accompany the indie patterns (being a returned sewist after an almost 35 years hiatus :) ) I don’t however favour the PDF versions and avoid these as much as humanly possible. Thank you for a great post!

  15. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who finds this annoying! I love many of the indie designers, but I do wish that (some of them) had more professionally drafted patterns. The plus with most indies is that they can turn around styles faster than the large pattern companies (no waiting for design approval and endless committee meetings!), plus they aren’t held to the very traditional methods of writing instructions. So bravo for that! Thanks for reading!!

  16. Ingrid says:

    Hi Janet, maybe I’m just tired but the last bit of your answer to Ruth seems to contradict what you said just before… about when to seam the rise on active wear pants. The bit about “rise AFTER the inseams”. Please clarify for my grey brain.

  17. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    You are right, I got it backwards, eeek! Thanks for picking up on that, I’ve gone in to fix it. Must have been me being tired…or needing coffee.

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