How to Grade, Trim, Clip, Notch

In this article, you will learn why you must grade, trim, clip and notch; how to grade seam allowances; how to trim outside corners; and a super cool hack for quickly clipping and notching curves fast!

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…

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.

See the offending “easy” sewing pattern at the top of this article.

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 to Grade Seam Allowances (SAs)

During the construction of a garment, you may have to grade (or trim) two SAs that are pressed together, rather than pressed open. For example: when you apply a collar or a waistband.

And lucky for us, grading SAs is a lot easier than earning good grades in school. Because all you need to do is to:

Step 1: Trim the width the SA that will face the inside of the garment to an ⅛ inch.

Step 2: Then, trim the width of the SA that will face the outside of the garment to a ½ inch.

In other words, in the final garment, the SA that faces the world (or the outside of the garment) is wider than the inside SA. This is so that the seam appears smooth when you’re gazing at it from the right side (RS) of the garment.

Make sense, right?!

How to Grade Trim Clip & Notch
The top seam allowance has been reduce by half.

Step 3: Generally, press both SAs in the direction of the narrower SA.

Now, let’s make “sharp” corners…

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.

Use this shorter stitch length on both sides of the corner or point, before returning to the regular stitch length for the fabric you’re sewing.

Shortening your stitch length around the corner or point will allow you to trim or clip very close to the stitching line and not have to worry about the corner or point unraveling.

Once you’ve sewn your corners, then you will need to do some trimming before you turn them to the RS like this…

How to Grade Trim Clip & Notch

And if you’ve done a good job trimming, you will get a nice sharp corner like this…

How to Clip a Concave Curve & Notch a Convex Curve

When sewing curves, you will need to clip or notch them to get a smooth result from the RS.

Traditionally, concave curves are clipped and convex curves are notched with the tips of dressmaker’s shears or small embroidery scissors.

By clipping or notching the SAs, you allow the fabric to relax and spread so it can lie smoothly when you turn it to the RS and press.

These traditional methods are super simple.

But there’s an even easier way to both clip and notch using your pinking shears regardless of the type of curve!

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!

FIRST, check out what a hot mess this concave curve was before pinking…

How to Grade Trim Clip & Notch

Now, go ahead and pink the SAs like this…

How to Grade Trim Clip & Notch

And then behold the magic of pinking and pressing your SAs!

How to Grade Trim Clip & Notch

and this…

How to Grade Trim Clip & Notch

I’m 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!

Sew easy tip: 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.

The End

Grading, trimming, clipping, and notching occur AFTER a garment has been sewn together, such as when facings or lining have been attached.

There’s one pair of shears that will grade and clip or notch any curve in one go!

Now, with these essential skills mastered, you’re on your way to sewing garments that are finished to perfection.

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to pivot outside corners and HERE to learn how to sew curves!