Even if you sew curved seams or corners perfectly, there is absolutely no way that you will end up with flat, smooth curves or sharp corners if you haven’t become the boss of…
grading/trimming and clipping or notching.
Let me begin by sharing a true story that illustrates the importance of learning how to grade, clip, and notch curves…
NOTE: If you’re ready to begin this journey and would like to buy my recommended tools and supplies, please click HERE!
First, A True Story
Here’s how my first experience with a sewing pattern went…
I was smart enough to choose a piece of cotton. Check.
Then, I choose an “easy” bag pattern. It looked simple enough. It even said, “See and Sew.” Check.
I thought that once completed it would be the perfect home for my sewing tools and supplies.
But I have to tell you that there was nothing “See and Sew” about this pattern!
I got down on the floor and carefully cut out my pattern pieces with no problem. (This was some time back when I was young!)
I was even able to pleat and sew those pockets perfectly.
And I was also able to line the bag with little difficulty. Yes, I was crazy enough to be lining a bag on my first go!
But the devil came to visit when I got to the handles and tried to turn them out. They look like an unredeemable hot mess. Because they refused to lay flat and pretty like in the picture. WTF?!
Anyhoo, I was just about to chuck the entire project and along with it a large chunk of my confidence when the phone rang. It was my mum checking in to get a status update on how my first project was coming along.
Our conversation went something like this…
Me (dramatically): “It’s an abysmal failure! I’m just about to chuck it in the garbage!”
Mum: “Why? What’s wrong?”
Me: “The handles of my bag are puffy and simply won’t lay flat. I have no idea what I did wrong.”
Mum: “Janine, did you trim and clip your curves?”
Me: Trim and clip my curves? What’s that?
My mum went on to explain what trimming and clipping my curves was and why I needed to do so.
Clearly, by now, you realize I had failed to read the instructions all the way through!
I have to tell you that I was very skeptical that it would make any difference. But I did as I was told.
And you know what?
My hot mess project turned into a proud first sewing achievement and my confidence soared!
And when my mum saw my bag, she was very, very impressed! In fact, mum was so impressed she insisted that I had to make one for her.
And I did without any of that previous nonsense!
Okay. Now that you know why grading/trimming, clipping, and notching are important, let’s define some terms and learn how…
How to Grade, Clip, & Notch Seam Allowances
How to Grade (Trim) Seam Allowances
During the construction of a garment, you may have to grade (or trim) two seam allowances (SAs) that are pressed together, rather than pressed open. For example, like when you apply a collar.
And lucky for us, grading SAs is a lot easier than earning good grades in school. Because all you need to do is reduce the width of one or both SAs to about half their original width.
If only ONE SA is to be graded, the SA that faces the world (or the exterior of the garment) is the one that gets to keep its width while the other is trimmed by half. This is so that the seam appears smooth when you’re gazing at it from the right side (RS) of the garment.
Makes sense, right?!
Now, let’s make curves submit…
How to Clip a Concave Curve
When sewing concave or inward curves, you will need to clip them.
By clipping the SAs you allow the fabric to relax and spread so it can lie smooth. This is precisely what you need to do when finishing, for example, a scooped neckline or armholes.
And it is super simple.
And here’s how…
With the tips of your shears or a small embroidery scissors, just make straight cuts about ¼ inch apart in the SA. You want to clip right up to but NOT through the stitching line like this…
Don’t be afraid to clip right up to that stitching line!
See what a hot mess that concave curve was before clipping. And then behold the magic of clipping!
Sew easy tip: Only clip where necessary. For example, you don’t have to clip the entire armhole seam allowance — you only need to clip where the curve deepens as you come down from the shoulder point. See what I mean in the bottom left image above.
How to Notch a Convex Curve
When you sew convex or outward curves, you will need to notch the SAs.
A notch is a little wedge shape that reduces fullness or bulk, for example, in the outward curve of a sleeve.
See what a hot mess that concave curve was before notching. And then behold the magic of notching!
Oh, and when you press, don’t over press! You don’t want the empty spaces to leave impressions on the RS of your finished garment.
How to Trim & Clip Corners
When sewing corners and collar points, you will also have to trim if you desire a beautiful corner or point on the right side of your garment.
To trim a corner or point…
First, use a regular stitch length for most of the stitching line; however, as you near the corners or points reduce the stitch length to 1.0mm.
And use this shorter stitch length on both sides of the corner or point, before returning to the average stitch length for the fabric you are sewing.
This will allow you to trim or clip very close to the stitching line and not worry about the corner or point unraveling.
RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to change your stitch length.
RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to pivot outside corners.
Grading, clipping, and notching occur AFTER a garment has been sewn together and facings or lining have been attached.
These are some of the essential skills you need to sew garments that are finished to perfection.
I want to offer a bonus tip to anyone who has read this entire article through. And it is this…
There is a ridiculously super easy way to clip OR notch curves: Use your pinking shears!
Yep! If you own a pair of pinking shears, you could use them to trim SAs to 1/8 inch. This allows you to grade and clip or notch in one go!
See it in action here…
I am wild for this technique! Because it isn’t fiddly and it works for both concave and convex curves. So what’s not to love?!
Yes, I know. I’m so good to you. And you deserve it!
Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!
RELATED: Click HERE to learn the other basic skills you need to sew insanely pretty garments!
RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to sew insanely pretty dresses!