Trim Seam Allowance

Trimmed Seams CollageYou know when a sewing pattern tells you, ‘Trim seam allowance.’ Seriously – do it. It’s an easy instruction to ignore, but I’m always shocked at how much excess fabric is removed from a make. This is bulk that could seriously interfere with how a waistband hugs or pocket lies flat.

A wise woman told me that sewing is all about the stuff you can’t see. I totally agree with her. Scissors to the ready, peeps!

Now, tell me. Get it off your chest. Is there a sewing instruction that you always ignore? I’ll go first. Suggested placement of pattern pieces on fabric for cutting out? Yeah, that one can take a running jump.

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81 Responses to Trim Seam Allowance

  1. jane says:

    Using a button on a waistband – particularly centre front – always a hook and bar for me. The other thing to ignore is “home dressmaker” facings round neck and armholes when a neat binding looks so much more professional.

    • I’m with you on buttons and facings – I really don’t like seeing facings through a light fabric, binding looks much better. I also totally disregard the recommended pattern layout!

  2. Stay stitching – I always skip it!

    • LinB says:

      Oh, I skip this step, too! If you don’t wrestle your garment through the machine with the force of a lowland gorilla, you most usually won’t stretch it out of shape. There are always exceptions, but I’ve trained myself not to choose those fabrics with which to sew. It’s been very freeing.

  3. sewbusylizzy says:

    I’m getting naughtier by the make! To be honest for some things I don’t even bother reading the instructions – basic dresses, shorts, tshirts, I don’t really need them.
    I hardly ever slip stitch the lining to the zip by hand, it’s always using the Sewaholic Cambie method. I will never understand why some instructions have you sew the end of the waistband, overlap etc before you attach it to the skirt. I’m an instinctive stitcher and I do what I think will result in the best finish, I don’t mind extra time I just loathe complication which contributes nothing.

  4. victoriapeat says:

    I also ignore the pattern placement for cutting out…it’s a challenge to see if I can beat the fabric requirement!

    • I’m with you folk here. I was brought up never to pay much attention to suggested layouts because, by and large, they’re very wasteful. And my grandmother didn’t have Scottish ancestry for nothing: thrifty through and through.

      • Joni says:

        My family isn’t Scottish but they are certainly thrifty. I do not like to waste fabric and so I also ignore the sewing layouts. Sometimes they are just silly. I don’t mind having extra fabric as it can always be used for bags, goofy stuffed critters, doll clothes, etc. More sewing fun awaits me!

      • LinB says:

        We must always remember that the fabric industry and the pattern industry are symbiotic: they each feed on the success of the other. Like the pattern? You’ll buy fabric. Like the fabric? You’ll find a pattern. Also, remember that the pattern designers offer layout options as options — they have no way to predict how one consumer’s pattern alterations will affect the shape of each pattern piece, or exactly how wide is the fabric you’re using, etc. We, as consumers, must also remember our role in the transaction of pattern and fabric purchasing. If we don’t buy, the industries die.

      • Margaret says:

        The first thing i remember when learning to sew from my mom, was that grandma says not to ever bother cutting out the little triangles for the matching notches. Just snip it a little. And I”m with you on beating the supposed fabric requirement.

      • I think they are so wasteful too! If I’m going to have fabric leftover, I want it be all in one big piece at the end, not in a bunch of smaller awkward pieces that I’ll never use. I’m pretty sure that being thrifty has a lot to do with this for me too, and it totally pays off, I’m often able to get my main project AND a smaller project out of the fabric if I place all the pieces carefully.

  5. Sam says:

    I’m very naughty, I never follow pattern placement for cutting out and I usually skip staystitching too!

  6. Maga says:

    Like victoriapeat I love to get a garment out of less fabric than required – so satisfying 🙂
    I never use iron-on interfacing and I have learnt not to be scared to cut back and grade SAs. As Karen says it makes a huge difference. I do it even if the pattern does not tell you to. I never cut facings for armholes and necklines on the straight always on bias if I decide to use them as they are drawn out. I also agree that sometimes a binding is a better look than using the facings included in the pattern. On trousers I always do a “men’s” waistband so I can open up the centre back seam should I need to add a bit more wearing ease a couple of years down the line. I often move centre back zips n dresses to under the arm and skirt zips from the side seam to centre back even if the pattern does not have a centre back seam. Do I follow patterns at all? Yes when I make the toile I do and then I learn from that and do my own thing on the real thing.

  7. I’m a swine with pattern placement too in the spirit of trying to squeeze out all I can. I love how rebellious we are all. We’ve clearly got gumption!

  8. Suzie says:

    Basting! I just can’t stand the thought of having to step away from the machine once in full sewing swing and have to thread a needle and slowly baste pieces together (and my machine’s ‘basting’ stitches are far too small)! Unless I really have to, I skip it.

  9. Helena says:

    One of my goals for this year is to to skip shortcuts and make things look more professional, therefore I am trying to do everything per instructions this time. That said, I totally ignored the pattern layout, otherwise I wouldn’t have had enough fabric

  10. BeanButtons says:

    My friend always follows the pattern placement. We often make the same patterns at the same time (sewing bee style) and it always horrifies me at how much fabric she wastes!
    I also always cut the waistband at least 3 sizes bigger than I need, I have spent too much time re-cutting short waistbands to take the risk. And like sewbusylizzy, I always attach the waistband before sewing the ends up. I love these little rebellions.

  11. I skip the instructions. Mainly because most patterns i have at home have been written in languages I don’t speak 🙂

  12. onedabbles says:

    No, no! New to all this and terrified! I don’t know enough to do it step-by-step, let alone skipping bits and doing it myself. I feel like the newbie at school, totally in awe of the cool people who know enough to be bold!

    • Me too I’m still at the do as I’m told stage!

      • Linda says:

        Me three! Totally in awe!!

      • Lorna says:

        Oh, me too, scary – and v frustrating! My biggest issue is the fact that I have a full bust and I’m terrified of FBA’s. They feel like a step too far for a newbie, so I’m consequently only making skirts. Well, I did attempt the lovely Lisette Portfolio last week – ended up looking like a cross between a hospital gown and a shop assistant’s uniform. And was too big on the upper bust, way too tight on the apex and strained across the stomach. Fitted fine on the back, though! Perhaps I need to not only tackle the FBA but the FBB too – Full Belly Adjustment?!! I gave up in despair and resorted to chocolate, which probably didn’t help! Hopefully we’ll all get there in the end!

  13. Karen Windsor says:

    Greetings from Syndey, Australia,
    I just had to say love your irrevelance in the face of authority, even if just sewing pattern instructions, reminds me of what stock I am from 🙂 I miss my home country sometimes, you are a great link 🙂
    carry on sewing honey, you are an inspiration,
    Warm regards,
    Karen

  14. I’m with everyone who disregards pattern layouts. Some pattern companies tend to list way too much required yardage (Colette Patterns does this a lot! Sometimes I have an entire yard left…).

    I also never staystitch but I do apply fusible stay tape, so I’m not sure if that counts as skipping steps.

  15. Marie says:

    I sometimes (when I’m feeling super brave) ignore the grainline…eeep!

  16. Wendy says:

    Top stitch close to seam and again , 1/4inch away – I choose one or the other. Just think of all those thread pennies saved!

  17. Fadanista says:

    I love the challenge of jigsawing a garment out of a tiny piece of fabric – I don’t even look at the layouts, and usually I don’t look at how much fabric is needed for something, just buy what I think – I have had this backfire on me though!

    • Laura says:

      Yes that’s usually my case too! Or I have bought a remnant on sale, or found a piece of fabric at the op shop, and then try and jigsaw the pattern pieces on there… I have even been known to, very gently, sort of ‘adjust’ the grainline to make this work 🙂
      I’ll often ignore the order of business on pattern too, so I can sew assembly-line-style.

  18. helen marshall says:

    small scraps left over can be saved for stuffing,charity bags(who weigh in rags) or i save every scrap of thread and fabric and use it to light our woodburner x

  19. Marianne isaacs says:

    I think the difference comes when you KNOW what you can ignore rather than doing it out of ignorance . Reducing bulk is very important but sometimes large seam allowances and heaven hems can make a garment hang really well . In my view underlining makes a huge difference as does making neck and armhole facings as one unit .

    • Jeanette says:

      I agree! I was taught to do things by the book by a very wise teacher, but once she knew I was accomplished enough to skip certain things like basting, she let me know I could. (This was at school)

  20. I don’t believe I’ve ever used the suggested fabric layout. Much more fun to play pattern Tetris and try and get all your pieces into the smallest possible area of fabric (allowing for grain … or not as the case may be.)

    I try to follow instructions otherwise, but there are two notable exceptions: I don’t finish my seams, unless the fabric is so fray-y that an unfinished seam will just come apart; and I hate hand-stitching. I’ll put on buttons by hand because my machine doesn’t have a function for it, but otherwise, if it can be done by machine, it will be.

  21. helen says:

    I never follow suggested pattern layouts as I love to get the garment out of less fabric. Also I’m at the smaller size or the range and the layouts usually cater for all sizes. I’ve just ordered the sewaholic Renfrew pattern as I’d like to make the cowl neck version. The fabric amount is 2mts which sounds a lot to me espeically as I want to make in a printed jersey which is £18 per metre. The plan is to cut the pattern out first and make a layout before I order the fabric – I’m hoping I can get it out of 1.5mt.
    I did used to ignore staystitching but now I’ve learnt how useful it can be.

    • Erin says:

      I love the Renfrew! It’s very easy to cut it out of less fabric than stated, it helps to fold the fabric the width of the bodice before cutting. Assuming of course you’re not dealing with a pattern that requires a lot of matching. I’ve managed to squeeze View C in size 0 out of only 1.25 yds. Everything stayed on grain & didn’t need to be pieced. Sleeves can be cut out in a single layer to save fabric as well. 1.5 meters is definitely possible!

  22. maddie says:

    This doesn’t have to do with instructions, but I always skip adding a hook and eye. It’s the last step, and because I’m so excited about the finished garment, I just nix it completely.

  23. Sewer from across the Pond says:

    I don’t usually use commercial patterns, but instead of using a contrast bias strip that shows on the outside to bind a raw edge, I use the invisible kind that turns under.

    I never serge the seam allowances before sewing the seams. A very basic Kwiksew skirt pattern had me doing that. I guess it was to prevent a beginner sewer from cutting a hole in the garment with the serger, which I have done in the past because I was using a fast industrial serger.

    I’m trying to get away from commercial patterns altogether because they require so much fitting. I’m better off using some blocks that have been fitted to be in the past.

    • Sewer from across the Pond says:

      I’ve taken a lot of classes over the years and have learned many different methods of construction. We never used commercial patterns, but patterns that had been drafted by the instructor. After a while, you learn the rules of engagement: largest pieces first, then fill in with the others. If I have a pattern I’m going to use a lot I’ll make a full version to save time in tracing and cutting out. (I trace the pattern onto the fabric with chalk.)

      I never skip things like basting, stay stitching, interfacing, grading, etc. If I’m going to put that kind of time into making something, I want to try for a good result.

  24. MsTegan says:

    I’m shocked at how many people ignore layouts! I always skip taylor’s tacks and don’t press as often as I should.

  25. Karen says:

    My grandma taught me to sew when I was 9 and she never used the suggested pattern layout so I was in my teens before I realized there were instructions with patterns since she had always ignored them. As a result my sewing habits were already established based on logic. I thank her every time I sew for her knowledge plus I’ve saved lots of fabric and have the freedom to follow my instinct in garment construction.

  26. Lynn Mally says:

    I don’t transfer all of the markings…but I know I should.

  27. I never make tailor’s tacks, and I almost never stay stitch unless my fabric is going to really demand it. And I never follow the suggested pattern layout. I’ll happily ditch convoluted machine-sewing instructions in favour of hand-sewing that actually makes things quicker and neater! However, I always used to avoid under stitching (so fiddly!) until I realised just how much nicer it makes the finish.

  28. Margaret says:

    Could I please get a giant sign, with flashing lights that says “Sewing is all about the stuff you can’t see” for my studio? Perhaps it would help explain to non-sewers why the bill is supposedly high. And yeah, I take a million shortcuts in my personal sewing and then regret it. Sigh. But I always iron the seams. Always.

  29. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Instead of trimming seam allowances after stitching, in places like necklines, collars and facings the trick is to cut them down to 3/8″ (if on the bulky side) or 1/4″ when cutting out the garment. Putting on collars is much easier if you don’t have to staystitch and clip; just sew. And always, always try to do the fiddly little details when the garment is flat. Some commercial patterns, McCall’s Palmer and Pletsch, for example, do a very good job with their instructions so I tend to follow those a bit closer than I normally would.

    • jane says:

      Now that is inspired! What a time saver. Have had a mass cutting out session this afternoon (6 garments) and will trim the curves down this evening. 😉

  30. Liz says:

    I never understitch. I feel a weight off my shoulders for making this confession! I also ignore the pattern placement instructions 🙂

  31. Mrs.Smith says:

    I can’t remember the last time I read the instructions for a pattern! LOL!!! I do look at the suggested layout because I never buy more than what I need and I’m terrified of messing up and not having enough fabric.

    I used to skip clipping curved SA – no! Never skip this!
    I used to skip understitching – Never skip this either!!!
    I do not use pins on straight lengths of fabric. Makes it faster.
    Baste? Pfft. I do not baste seams. And like someone else said my basting stitch is small and I hate having to unpick them!

  32. Hannah says:

    I must admit I ignore quite a few things because I just don’t know why they are there or what effect they will have, although sometimes I do find this out later!!!

    As long as your pattern pieces are placed in the right direction, it doesn’t matter how you lay them out.

    I never draw round patterns, just pin to fabric and cut out, never baste seams, too much work, make muslins?? No, seems like such a waste (unless you have some really amazing fabric or want something perfect!

    Hannah.
    http://surfjewels.tumblr.com/

  33. Rosanna says:

    I’ve got a naughty tendency to ignore steps that I don’t understand (would call myself a beginner/improver) and then go back and figure out went wrong after it’s done! Still don’t know what understitching actually is…

  34. At this point, so many of my patterns are things that I’ve copied or drafted, I’m used to not having instructions, and I have my preferred construction order for various garments in my head. So if I do use someone else’s pattern, I usually don’t read the instructions at all. I probably should, especially with indie patterns, there might be some interesting methods in there!

  35. Alex in California says:

    I figure out pattern placement when cutting out the muslin. This process shows me how much yardage I need to purchase. This is particularly helpful when the fabric is expensive. I’ll spring for what is needed but not over-spend.

  36. I made it!! says:

    I have seen a lot of “things I don’t do” in these comments, most of them apply to me. It all starts with not reading the pattern instructions, until I mess something up or get confused, then I am digging for the instructions AND the chocolate (as someone else also mentioned above!) LOL

  37. I never even look at suggested pattern placement as it does seem pretty wasteful and I always seem to end up having bought the wrong size fabric and trying to squeeze the pieces out of it.

  38. susew says:

    When I buy fabric, especially in 150 cm width, I disregard the length amounts on the back of the envelope and usually buy 0.2 m less as I know I won’t be missing it. Fabric layout is something I don”t pay much attention to also- I layout in same direction and make sure pieces that need to be on a fold are cut out on a fold paralell to the grain.

  39. Ann says:

    I never sew the sleeve into a tube before I insert it. I always leave the side and underarm seams open. It’s so much easier to ease the sleeve cap in that way. Then, to make sure the underarm seams line up, I sew from the underarm to the wrist and then the underarm to the waist. Someday someone will explain to me why this is bad. But until then ….

    • Sandra says:

      Ditto!

      • LinB says:

        It’s not that either technique is “wrong” or “bad.” It’s that, in some garments — particularly ones with a high, close-fitting armscye — the sleeve sits better on your body when you sew in a sleeve “in the round.” Also, some sleeves-to-armscye ratios are so tight that it is really difficult to apply the sleeve head on the flat. And it is 1,800 times easier to set in a sleeve with french seams if you do it in the round, imo.

        That said, industry frequently applies sleeves on the flat, then sews up the entire side seam in one go … and Lord knows they know how to streamline sewing steps to speed up production!

        You can blend the two techniques quite effectively, like this: 1. Sew in the sleeve head on the flat, except for a couple of inches on both ends of the seam. 2. Sew up side seam, and sew up sleeve seam. 3. Apply the remaining few inches of sleeve to the bodice “in the round.” You’ve now accomplished two important things, both speed and ease of application of sleeve head to armscye, and a nicety of fit to the underarm of your garment. Trim the sleeve seam down in the underarm area to further finesse the fit.

  40. Paola says:

    I never use a jersey or ballpoint needle when sewing knits, and I just use a normal straight stitch. Works for me!

    • Gema says:

      Ooh…controversial! I’m too scared to try that in case I waste the expensive fabric… (Which stretchy normally is) – might try it now with some left over scraps….. 🙂

      • LinB says:

        You must have a better machine than do I! Mine greatly prefers a ballpoint for all knits, and a ballpoint tip performs better on tapestry fabric than does a sharp tip. Definitely try this out on scraps, Gema. Don’t waste your precious uncut yardage on suggestions from relative strangers, lol.

  41. Gema says:

    I love how this post turned into a massive confessional! Having grown up in a non-sewing household, it’s helpful posts like this that really show beginners the ropes; I’ve done a couple of short dressmaking courses where I’m the only participant under the age of 70, and invariably I’ve learnt SO much from those ladies. They learned how to sew in an era where being thrifty was mandatory… And attention to detail was paramount (for the longevity of the garment). What I would say is, in order to cut corners, you need to know the ‘long hand’ way to sew first -experience is key. Thanks to all of you for sharing your experience 🙂

  42. Jeanette says:

    I would say it depends what I’m making. With basic garments I don’t even look at the instructions, I spent so long in school on “orders of work” that it comes naturally to me, but on a more complex vintage pattern or something very special like a wedding or prom dress, I take my time to work out what I can ignore.
    And yes, suggested layouts have been ignored since I was a teenager and trying to get my latest outfit out of as little fabric as possible.

  43. Yes, I skip the suggested layouts too, so long as the grain arrows are pointing all the right way. And half the time I ignore the suggested order of steps and just do it whatever way seems to work best. Why attach the collar before the sleeves? Why sew on the buttons before the cuffs are done? etc.

  44. Lysy says:

    Press everything – I’m too lazy to get the iron out even though I know I should 🙂

  45. I look at the suggested pattern layout and then I just revise to save fabric.

  46. Add another voice to the crowd of people who ignore pattern placement, and try to maximize the fabric. To that end I also never just cut skirt pieces without measuring length first because I’m short and can usually save several inches!

    And I never wait until I’ve set in a sleeve to finish the sleeve hem, I’m not sure why so many patterns have you do that. I always do it before. Who wants to flip around an entire garment to do that?

  47. Gill says:

    I agree with you on ignoring the layout- pattern writers are clearly in cahoots with fabric manufacturers/sellers. That, plus the fact I’ve not usually bought enough fabric. And I quite often go without pinning the pieces down. I don’t have fabric weights, I just use whatever is to hand. I guess I’m a lazy cow!

  48. Carol Ribar says:

    Here in the States the pattern companies have started giving single-layer layouts, instead of selvage-together, folded-fabric layouts. What a time waster. I dont know their motivation, if they are trying to save us length of fabric, or what, but it annoys me. I would rather buy 6inches (15cm) more fabric than cut pattern pieces out twice. Also , I always ignore the directions to handsew the inside of a waistband. Why bother with handsewing it when I can stitch in the ditch?

  49. Carolyn says:

    Some patterns tell you to baste pieces together and then remove the basting stitches later – I never do this! Seems like a huge waste of time. I just sew it slightly inside the finished seam line and call it a day.

  50. GattiRenata says:

    Fabric placement as well hahahha never did it!!!! 😉

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