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:
I spent several decades in the garment industry making and using professional patterns. They always had notches:
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)
So for example on a basic pant, the notches on an industrial (factory) pattern would look like this:
(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)
So the notches on a commercial (home sewing) pants pattern might look like this:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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)
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!