The Hows and Whys of Clips and Notches ~ Sarai Mitnick, Colette Patterns

on October 25 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 51 Comments

We’re so excited to bring you today’s tutorial about clips and notches from Sarai Mitnick, owner and designer of our favorite “modern vintage” Colette Patterns. We also can’t wait for the November release of Sarai’s new book, The Colette Sewing Handbook. The book is perfect for beginner through intermediate sewists, and features “five simple fundamentals” to help you create a beautiful wardrobe just right for you. Five gorgeous, exclusive patterns also help you build from Sarai’s sewing fundamentals as you sew. We always learn so much from Sarai through her clear instructions and helpful guidance; we’re so excited to have an entire book full of her support and incredible style to help us learn more. The book is definitely on our holiday wish list!


Sarai will be back after the book’s release to tell us a little more, but today you can enjoy her “Hows and Whys of Clips and Notches” so your seams will look great!

Concave clip, Convex notch

Have you ever wondered why sewing patterns often tell you to clip or notch a seam? You’ll usually come across those instructions when you’re working with a curved seam, but why is that?

The reason is simple. When a seam curves, like the ones shown above, the outer edge of the fabric (where the fabric has been cut) is a different length than the stitching line. When you try to fold the seam allowance under a curved seam, it bulges or strains in unsightly ways.

You can avoid this easily just by using your shears. I cover this in my book, but I thought it would be fun to take a little bit of a closer look.

What you want to do is clip into inward curves (the “canyons”, or concave curves) and notch the outward curves (the “hills”, or convex curves). Be sure to do this at even intervals, and don’t cut through your stitching. Let’s take a look.

Concave Curve

You can see what a mess this concave curve is when we don’t clip the seam allowance. It’s almost impossible to get it to turn neatly to the inside.

To correct the problem, the concave curve has been clipped evenly. Again, when cutting make sure to snip close to the seam allowance but take care not to cut the stitches.

After being turned to the right side and pressed, the curve is just as it should be. You can just see how the clipped seam allowance has spread out, allowing the fabric to bend into shape.

Convex Curve

The convex curve will form its final shape when flipped to the right side. Notice the bulkiness of the seam allowance beneath, how it doesn’t allow the fabric to lie flat even though an iron was used. It looks messy and a bit lumpy.

Notch the curve snipping at angles with the point of the notch just above the stitching line. Creating gaps in the seam allowance removes bulk.

Once turned to the right side, the notches move closer to each other but aren’t quite touching. The curve lies much flatter with the notched seam allowance.

Voila! You’ve mastered the simple art of clipping and notching for neater curves! Just remember that you clip the canyons and notch the hills.

Comment today for your chance to win a new sewing book! We’ll select two winners from the comments each week. This week you might just win Sewn by Hand: Two Dozen Projects Stitched with Needle & Thread or Get the Most from Your Sewing Machine. For book details see this post, and don’t forget to add your progress photos to our Sew-Along Flickr Pools for more chances to WIN!

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51 Responses to The Hows and Whys of Clips and Notches ~ Sarai Mitnick, Colette Patterns

  1. Sixthandelm says:

    If you need to notch or clip, how do you finish the seams so they won’t unravel? I usually zigzag over the edge, but I can’t if I need to notch or clip, right?

    • Irene says:

      Chantelle- If you notch or clip, there won’t be any need to finish your seams. With the fabric cut at intervals, this breaks up the unraveling so it doesn’t continue on and on.

  2. Rose says:

    Thanks for the useful tip! Looking forward to seeing your book.

  3. AnnaPK says:

    I’ve always wondered if I was doing this properly, I wasn’t! Thank you for showing me the right way!

  4. Beth T says:

    I love phrases I can remember and incorporate: ‘clip the canyons and notch the hills’ will be one of them.

    While I’m thinking of it, let me just add a great big thank you for all of your excellent tutorials. Today I was shopping for fabric and met a woman who was buying a huge amount of yardage to make some cushions, and confided she had no idea what she was doing. I referred her to you, knowing that your tutes are always so concise and thorough and with such a helpful tone.

  5. Candi says:

    I’ve never clipped, only notched. News to me, so thanks!

  6. Ginger says:

    Great article. I can’t wait for this book to be released.

  7. Dana says:

    I love Sarai’s shop and her blog is always full of great tips and beautiful garments. Cannot wait for the book release. Thanks for the informative guide here!

  8. Fran says:

    Great tip ! Can’t wait to see the book !

  9. Heidi says:

    very clear and precise teaching like this helps to cement those ideas learned by trial and error into easy to remember rules. wish I’d had a book like this when I was starting out.
    Great Job!

  10. Consuelo says:

    Learned something new. Thanks!

  11. Linda Thayer says:

    An ERROR in text after the concave clipping illustration
    stood out to me.

    The photo shows the concave *clipping*** clearly.

    The TEXT directly underneath says, instead:

    “To correct the problem, the concave curve has been *notched* evenly.”

    Shouldn’t it read, the concave curve
    has been CLIPPED evenly?

    • Irene says:

      Thanks Linda! You are correct and we’ve fixed the error.

  12. scuffsan says:

    Great post! It’s always good with a reminder.

  13. Blossom says:

    Very useful – thank you!

  14. kathyh says:

    Very useful tutorial

  15. Sarai says:

    Beezus: The book will be out within the next couple weeks! Amazon lists the date at Nov 16, but it will likely be available a little sooner. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Nina: It depends on your fabric, because some fabrics ravel more than others. For most fabrics, you can get to within about 1/8″ easily without worrying about it. Some fabrics, you can get much closer.

    As for finishing, you can finish in a number of ways, but serging (which stretches) or pinking the seams works well for a lot of fabrics.

    Glad everyone likes the tips!

  16. Judi says:

    That makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

  17. Crystal says:

    Just like our Home Ec teacher explained it in sewing class ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sending this link to my daughters who are beginning sewers. Thanks for sharing a giveaway too!

  18. camelama says:

    Oh, how many times I’ve clipped too far and hit the seam… Oops. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Stephanie W says:

    oh wow, thanks for such great information. I have just started sewing clothes, so this is very helpful! Thanks!

  20. MarciaW says:

    clip the canyons and notch the hills – good tip

  21. Hilary says:

    What Beezus said – I know this now, but I wish I’d known it a few years ago!

  22. Samantha says:

    Great way to remember, thanks!

    Funnily enough I was just having a conversation with someone about clipping and notching today ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. Colbean says:

    Very nicely illustrated. As a kid, when I would sew, I thought clipping seams (and pressing them) was overrated. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized what a difference this simple step makes.

  24. Penny J says:

    Great tip for quilting too! Thanks

  25. Nina says:

    Helpful, but I’d really like some very precise guidance on exactly HOW close you can get to the stitches without causing trouble (eg holes)… Also, how do you finish a clipped seam?

  26. Alli says:

    Until recently, I was lazy about clipping curves and then wondered why my little stuffed animals had flat cheeks. Doh! ๐Ÿ˜€

  27. Very nice post!

  28. Megan says:

    Thanks for the clear tutorial. I already do use clips & notches, but a revisit to things are always helpful for improving!

    Looking forward to the rest of the wonderful skills in the book!
    Thank you!

  29. Liz says:

    Such a great reminder! Thanks for the tip.

  30. Christine says:

    Thanks for the great info!

  31. Christina G. says:

    The book sounds fantastic!

  32. syd says:

    Great tip, thank you so much!

  33. margie says:

    I can’t wait for her book to come out! It’s on my Christmas list (the only thing so I’m guaranteed to get it!)

  34. Beezus says:

    I’ve been sewing for long enough that I already understood this principle, but I really wish someone had explained it to me when I first started. It would have saved me so many headaches along the way! Looks like this will be a good book for different levels of expertise. Any idea when it will be out?

  35. This small details make all the difference, just like small secrets to make sewing perfect.

  36. Annie says:

    I had to learn this the hard way, and I still remember how amazed I was a what a HUGE difference a couple of 1/4 inch snips could make.

  37. Betsy says:

    This was very helpful!

  38. Hannah says:

    So helpful. I’m always tempted to skip steps like this, but it makes such a difference.

  39. Jessica says:

    This is certinately a skill everyone needs to learn!

  40. fullertonregan says:

    Fabulous and clear. Glossaries and tutes like this are stuff beginners really need to know! I’ll definitely be pointing my Sewing 101 students to this page!

  41. Julia says:

    Great explanation! I’ve always seen this in instructions but never really understand the rationale behind it.

  42. Debra I. says:

    Such excellent, clear photos. Thank you, Colette, and good luck with your book!

  43. Melissa says:

    Thanks so much, it’s so useful to understand the why and how of what we are trying to create!

  44. Lor says:

    Great explanation and so clear. I’m sure this will be very useful to me.

  45. Glenys says:

    Thats really useful. Thanks!

  46. Anne Marie says:

    Great tips – thanks.

  47. NMPatricia says:

    This is a really clear explanation of the how and whys of clipping curved seams. The trick for me is getting it close enough to the seam to be effective. Thanks for the tutorial!

  48. thanks for the simple explanation!

  49. Jan says:

    I’ll be on the lookout for the new Collette book! I already have her Sorbetto tank top printed out and next on my list of “must haves”.

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