Last week we looked at terms used in the actual stitching of a project.  This week we’re looking at instructions that follow after stitching.

Post Stitching Terms

Seam Pressed Open, Closed Or To The Side

The pressing of seams is something that I find tends to preoccupy quilters more than any other type of sewer, and many times in sewing it makes no difference, but trust me, if a bag pattern tells you to press seams open, then do as it says! This can be for several reasons: 1. To reduce bulk at a seam – bags tend to have a lot of layers that meet, such as fabric, interfacings and interlinings, and they can be challenging enough without inadvertently doubling the bulk on one side, and 2. It is easier to match the seams on the bag to sit nicely in line, for example when sewing round the top seam of that simple tote bag we talked about last week. Whilst you may be the only one that notices that things have gone a bit wonky, you will probably see it every time you go into that bag if you’re that way inclined.

The other pressing instruction you may come across is to press the seam towards X, and then topstitch. A common place you might find this is if you have a bag with a main upper fabric and a contrasting bottom fabric. In this case the seam is visible at the fabric change point, but to prevent it from gaping open or giving way at this point, the instruction is usually to press the seam towards the bottom fabric before topstitching.

Clip/Notch Curves

When you sew a curve, depending on which way the curve goes, you’re either going to end up with fabric under strain because you’re trying to stretch it in a way it’s not designed to go (concave curves) or it’s all bunched up in the seam because there’s more fabric than there’s space for (convex curve). To get past this problem and help everything to lie flat, you will often see the instruction to ‘clip curves’. For a concave curve, it is sufficient to do a straight snip from the edge of the fabric up to the stitching line through the seam allowance roughly every 1/4″, which will allow things to spread out a bit and relax. For a convex curve, you want to actually cut wee triangles out of the seam allowance, again roughly every 1/4″. Now I do understand that this is a step that people hate, and that people think that once every few inches should suffice, but really, if you’ve spent all that money on supplies, why would you cut corners and not spend the extra couple of minutes it would take to do it properly?

Clip Corners

Rather like with convex curves, if you turn a bag right sides out without trimming anything, you can find a huge bulk of fabric at the corners (if they exist) where all the fabric/interfacings/interlinings meet. In order to reduce the bulk, you are often advised to cut off the corner of the seam allowance so that when turned RSO you get a nice, neat corner. I usually do this at around 30 degrees to the seam to allow everything to fit nicely together, as cutting straight across at 45 degrees can still cause some bits to meet in a bumfley kind of a way (if you are unfamiliar with the word ‘bumfle’, I suggest you have a read at this description or for further amusement this article, it’s totally useful and you need that word in your life)


There may be occasions when the pattern writer errs on the side of caution and gets you to cut pieces bigger than they need to be so that when you’ve sewn them together you end up with something a bit bigger than the next piece you have to attach it to. This can be most common when adding a zip across the full width of a section, for example a zipped pocket in the back of a messenger bag to hold a laptop/tablet, because different people’s zipper feet can give slightly different widths of visible tape on either side of the zip. I know, for example, that as long as I have the zipper teeth tucked tightly under the notch in the side of my zipper foot for my Brother NX2000 that I get a 1/4″ from the centre of the teeth to the seam being sewn, however, if I use the zipper foot on my vintage Singers, then I can get much closer to the zipper teeth when sewing as it’s a teeny, tiny foot. In cases like this the instruction might be to sew the entire back panel together, then trim to a certain size – you may take off 1/4″, you may not take anything but a whisker off, but at least you shouldn’t end up with something too small.


Once you’ve finished a bag it can often do with a good press, after all, you’ve probably had it turned inside out, squeezed it through a hole to get it the right way out and manipulated it in half a dozen other different ways, so it’s not entirely surprising if it looks a little sorry for itself at this point. If you can, applying an iron to the outside can be really helpful, either by pulling the bag over the end of your ironing board and rotating it, or, if it’s smaller, by using a sleeve board or pressing ham.