Clipping vs. Notching

Oh curved seams. You tricky little things, you.

Have you ever sewn a garment, and a seam just don’t seem to lay right? Or it bubbles or twists in a weird way? Annoying, I know. Chances are, you forgot to clip or notch your curved edge. When you work with curved seams, you can either end up with excess bulk or a lot of pulling and tugging. This is because the length of your stitch line measures differently from the length of the edge of your fabric. So when it is turned right side out, it doesn’t conform correctly or lie flat. You can solve this by either clipping or notching your seam allowance, to allow for that adjustment.

Another time it comes in handy? When trying to attach a curved edge to a straight edge. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

So… when do you clip and when do you notch? Read on to find out!

Clipping is done on concave curves. Think inward, sunken in, bowl, or valley. These type of edges would include necklines, armholes, etc.

For concave curves, you simply clip, or snip, into the seam allowance at a vertical angle to the stitching. You want to get as close to the stitching as possible, without actually clipping through it. Do this about every 1/2” or so. Too much clipping can weaken the fabric, but not enough won’t provide the necessary movement.

Clipping like this will allow the seam allowance to spread / fan out, giving it the necessary movement to conform to the right shape when it’s turned right side out. See the last photo above? Look how nice and flat and neat it looks! No twisting and pulling!

Clipping also comes in handy when attaching a curved edge to a straight edge. Like attaching the curved waist of the Cascade skirt to the straight edge of the waistband. You just sew a 5/8″ staystitch around the edge of the curve (the skirt waist), and then clip as described above. The curve will spread and lie flat, making it easier to join it to the flat waistband.

Notching is done on convex curves. Think outward, hill, or mountain. You will find these in princess seam bustlines, or even the bottom edge of a dipped hem.

For a convex curve, you need to notch out little v shapes from the seam allowance. Again, every 1/2” or so. And to, but not through, the stitching.

You see, when a curve like this is turned right side out, there ends up being too much fabric in the seam allowance. Which causes it to bunch up. Unlike clipping, which allows fabric to spread out, notching enables it to come closer together without the bulk, by removing the excess fabric.  So it will now lie neat and flat without any bunching, like the last photo above!

Does that make sense? Do you have any of your own tips and tricks when it comes to curved edges?

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  1. says

    Nice post and comparison!
    I’m always afraid clipping/ notching might make the fabric fray and travel through the seams though…

    • says

      Oh no, it definitely shouldn’t do that as long as you don’t clip through the stitching. Shouldn’t be an issue! And if you are worried about fraying, you could trim your edge and cut your clips with pinking shears. That should help prevent fraying.

  2. Kelly says

    Very useful, thank you! I’m wondering, though, what is typically done on RTW, for example, to hide these techniques. Whenever I am using a thinner material, such as voile, I can always see the notching from the right side, like on my Banksia collar for example, and it feels like a dead giveaway of it being a “homemade” garment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just wondering if there’s a more discreet finish.

    • MegMeg says

      Hi Kelly! Emma is very right, and in my personal sewing thats what i do. I generally trim very close (1/8″) to the seam line. For curves, like on the Banksia collar my favourite trick is to use pinking shears -it’s not visible from the outside but it provides a nice gentle curve, even notching and more stability since it’s not as close to the stitches as straight trimming. i hope that helps!!

  3. Emma says

    Hi Kelly. I’ve been told by someone who used to work in the trade that, for speed (and I suppose aesthetics), they dont’t clip or notch but trim v close to the seam line.

    • MegMeg says

      Hi Emma! thanks for jumping in! you are 100% right – most of the time that’s what i do, trim close to the edge or use pinking sheers.
      thanks hun!!

    • MegMeg says

      Hi Kathy! It was a silk cotton blend i found at G Street fabrics in Washington DC – but at the bottom of the post i linked to a really similar fabric i found online :) i hope that helps!! xoxo

  4. Tuesday says

    I love this entire blog/company/brand/designer/style–everything! Can I make a request for a couple of topics? I’d like to know more about snaps. What tools do you use for the kind of snaps that you’d add to, say, the Kelly skirt? Also, how would it work to add an elastic panel to the back of the waistband of the Kelly skirt? Again, thanks for all your wonderful, inspiring work!

  5. Kelly says

    Thank you so much Emma and Meg! I’ll try those tips. Also, I second the request for a tutorial on how to add elastic to the back panel. My Kelly skirt came out a smidge too big and I fear the fit will fluctuate with every pound lost/gained!

  6. Ness says

    What I have always got my nickers in a knot about is armholes. To clip or not to clip… and if you want to over-lock that seam if you over-lock first and then clip – all the over-locking falls apart (yuck) but if you clip then over lock…then what? Is it wrong not to clip an armhole and just over-lock both sleeve head and armhole together like in ready-to-wear (my preferred option – but can be tricky with the cutter)? This is among the sewing dilemmas that do my head in! Any suggestions appreciated!

  7. Lisa says

    Thank you so much for explaining the difference so clearly. I can’t believe I thought they were the same thing all this time!

  8. says

    Yes! I have a tip. Pinking shears can be used for notching. Not only does it trim the seam allowances but it is also very easy!

  9. says

    Just wanted to say thanks for the extra tips in the comments! I know about clipping and notching; my issues are with the show through and the fraying. I have one dress where the armhole clipping has become VERY frayed; I never thought to clip with pinking shears. Since I made that dress, though, I how generally just trim very close to the seam line, since I’ve read that tip somewhere and liked it. But trimming the seam allowance closely with pinking shears sounds like an even better idea. Now I just need to get myself a pair of pinking shears! :)

  10. says

    This was super helpful! I’ve just started to pick up apparel sewing lately, so when I went through and made an entire dress for the first time from a McCall’s pattern, I could not figure out how in the world a curved edge and a straight edge were supposed to go together! I ended up with a lot of little tucks in my seam. Now I know, thanks!