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Are You Stitching & Clipping Corners Correctly?

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One of the common areas of sewing frustration, especially if you're new, is the corner. Those pesky four corners create any square or rectangular item, like the home décor standard: the pillow! In reality, any time you sew two pieces together then turn them right side out, that turned-out seam becomes the clean, finished edge you ( and everyone else) will see. The number one goal when sewing a corner is to be precise. You must stop and pivot at the exact point where the seam allowances on the two sides intersect. This precision stitching, when combined with proper trimming of the excess fabric from the seam allowance, will create a beautiful sharp point and smooth edge every time.

Sounds simple, right? Mostly it is, but there are some techniques about stitching and clipping corners that will help you maintain the best, sharpest shape every time. From those tabs on top of panel curtains, you'll never be backed into a corner again!

Everyone's favorite corner is the right or 90˚ angle. You'll find them on pillows, panels, placemats... as well as other items that don't necessarily start with a "P"! These corners come in TWO types: inward and outward. The two are sewn in a similar fashion, but clipped differently.

Although most corners in home décor projects are of the right angle variety, others can be more like a point (or acute angle, which means less than 90°). We used these in our Gypsy Romance 3-D Triangle Pillows.

Then there are the obtuse angles, which means more than 180°. We encountered these on the flap of our Scrap It: Gift Card Case/Biz Card Holder.

And you thought you'd never use geometry when you got older!

When you venture into garment sewing, you're likely to see a lot of stitching and clipping of corners on collars and cuffs. The good news is, you'll be ahead of the learning curve thanks to this tutorial.

In our examples below, we used a bold red thread so you could see and understand the technique. In actual application, you would select a thread to coordinate with your fabric. In the majority of our photos, we also used our Janome Open Toe Satin Stitch foot so you could clearly see all the stitching. For the majority of corner stitching, a standard pressure foot is the best choice.

Sewing and trimming an OUTWARD right angle corner

  1. When starting out, regardless of the angle, it's a good idea to mark the seam allowance a couple inches from the corner along both sides on the wrong side of your fabric. This will enable you to clearly see where the lines intersect and improve your stitching accuracy. For right angles, it's fairly easy to determine where the two seam allowances intersect by measuring from each corner.
  2. Using your seam allowance measurement (our standard home décor allowance is ½"), measure in from each corner edge with a ruler or seam gauge. About 3-4" should be enough.
  3. With a fabric marking pen or pencil, mark the pivot point on each corner.
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  4. With your fabric right sides together, begin to sew along the seam allowance. As you approach the corner (and your drawn lines), get ready to stop and pivot at the marked point.
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  5. Stop with the needle in the down position. Lift up your presser foot, pivot, lower the foot back into position, and continue sewing.
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    NOTE: Remember, you have to leave an opening somewhere in the seam in order to turn your item right side out.
  6. With a pair of small, sharp scissors, trim the seam allowance at the point.
  7. First, trim off the corner point at a diagonal, being very careful not to clip your stitches.
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    NOTE: If you do accidentally clip into your seam, don't just leave it. There will be a hole at the corner and the weakened seam could continue to open up. You have to turn the piece inside out again and re-stitch the seam. This means you will not have much, if any, seam allowance to work with, so you'll need to sew carefully. Stay as close to where you clipped as possible without comprising the shape of your overall project.
  8. After you trim off the point, trim along each side at an angle from the point. This will ensure a sharp corner.
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  9. Turn the piece right side out to see how your point looks. Not so good? That's because you need to push out each corner with a point tool. There are a number of different ones you can use, we've pictured an "official" one in our photo, but you can also use a simple chopstick or a long, blunt-end knitting needle.
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  10. If you were a little shy about your clipping, you'll feel the extra fabric bunched up in the corner; it kind of feels like a little knot. That means you need to go back in and trim a little more.
  11. Press your project from the right side and admire your sharp little corners.

Sewing an INWARD right angle corner

  1. Mark your corner points in the same manner as above.
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  2. Sew as before, pivoting at the marked corner point intersection.
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  3. This time, instead of cutting off the point, you need to clip into the point.
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  4. Turn your project right side out and see how your corner looks. As above, if needed, turn it inside out and trim away more seam allowance at the corner.
  5. You'll notice you can see one of our red stitches from the right side. You will be stitching with matching thread, so no worries.
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A stitch length option

  1. Sometimes, depending on the fabric type or weight, you may need to adjust your stitch length at each corner. In fact, some sewing experts recommend doing this at any corner in your sewing.
  2. When approaching your corner, shorten your a distance equal to your seam allowance coming into and going out of the corner. In our sample, this meant we shortened the stitch length ½" before and after the corner pivot point.
  3. This helps insure a sharp point and helps strengthen the corner as well.
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Added layers

  1. When you have an added layer in a corner, like batting, everything is sewn in the same manner as we've been discussing.
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  2. When you're done stitching, first trim the excess batting to approximately ⅛" from the stitching line. This reduces the bulk. Then go back and clip the corner fabric layers as described above.
  3. It's often a good idea to trim back the batting around the entire project, rather than just at the corners, especially if you plan to do a line of  topstitching on the right side.
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Different weight fabrics

  1. To fully educate you on all we know about corners, we have to mention an option for dealing with various weights of fabrics. As above with the batting, the idea is to eliminate excess bulk in the corner that prevents you from turning out each point. Believe it or not, sometimes the best way to create a point is to not sew one to begin with!
  2. Mark your seam allowance as shown above, but instead of pivoting at the intersection of the two seam allowances, sew ACROSS the pivot point. The general rule is on lightweight fabrics (see our example below), sew one stitch across, on medium weight fabrics sew two stitches across, and on heavier weight fabrics sew three stitches.
  3. You would think you'd lose the point, but you'll actually get a good looking one.
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Acute and obtuse points

  1. Acute and obtuse angled points are sewn the exact same way as the right angles; they just look a little different.
  2. Mark your seam allowance and intersecting or pivot point. On the left is our marked acute angle; on the right is a marked obtuse angle.
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  3. Sew as normal, stopping to pivot at your marked point. You're starting to get the hang of this now!
    NOTE: When you are sewing acute angles, we recommend considering the shorter stitch length method described above. Because the acute point is so narrow, sewing across the pivot point with a stitch or two can be quite helpful. In addition, extra care and a slower speed is recommended because the raw edge can be stretchy (the exception to this would be if you are working with an interfaced piece like the point of a collar).
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  4. Trim the point and seam allowances. The acute angle trims in the same manner as an outward right angle.
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  5. The obtuse angle is more of a simple slope from the point down either side.
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  6. Obtuse angles turn right side out the easiest of all the angles, which makes sense because there's more room at the point.
  7. Acute angle points sometimes need a little more coaxing. You can use a point turning tool as we recommended above, but you may find the very tip of the point still doesn't want to turn. To fix that, all you need is a trusty straight pin! Simply insert the straight pin into the tip of seam from the right side and gently pull/pick out the point into shape.
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Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly


Comments (37)

Pat Clarke said:
Pat Clarke's picture

I am trying to add flounce to a dress which involves angles, I often stuggle to avoid puckers, have you any tips how to avoid this.

TimelessKreations said:
TimelessKreations's picture

Liz , ty for refreshing my memory on that,,,,,,, heavy weight and bulk, better to sew no stitch, does not matter how many times we read your articles, i personally see something new everytime,,... Thank you!! :)

Marion Meenach said:
Marion Meenach's picture

I always have troubles with my corners. I just finished a trapezoid cushion and the corner came to a sharp point. There was piping on top and on bottom of the cushion, so now you have a very pointed corner. When I tried to get my custome cut foam in, it would not go all the way into the corners. I ended up stuffing them with Polyfil to fill in the gaps. However when I looked at the front part of the cushion, the corners on each end now cureved in. Any one have experience with this?

Yoly said:
Yoly's picture

Loved all the tips.  Cutting, trimming, changing stitch size in corners, and then the ironing.  Wow! 

Jaz said:
Jaz's picture
I don't like dog-ears on my pillows. So when I make pillows I don't sew at a 90degree angle, at the corner. What I do is taper my square, when cutting it out.

1)Fold front into fourths. Mark a point halfway between the corner and the fold on each open side. At corner: mark a point 1/2" from raw edge.

2) Trim from center mark to corner, gradually tapering from the edge to the 1/2" mark to the center mark on opposite edge.

3) Unfold front and use it as a pattern for trimming back so that all corners are slightly rounded.

The pillow will still look square, without those empty pointed corners.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ hippi - if you are making something that is going to be laundered often and your fabric is one that is prone to raveling, you should finish all your seams - including your clipped corners with a zig zag or overcast stitch... or a serger as I mentioned below. Another tip for corners you feel are going to encounter a lot of stress, stitch around the corner twice to double the strength of the seam. We often mention this tip in our pillow articles. Hope that helps.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ CC: Theres' no corner to clip if working with a serger because you ur cutting off the seam allowance as your serge. A serger actually makes the best corners, but... this was all about regular sewing machines smilies/cheesy.gif
hippi said:
hippi's picture
I just don't understand how clipping that close holds up with washing and stress areas?smilies/shocked.gif
robyn lee said:
robyn lee's picture

I have found that it does not! Here is my solution to that problem: when approaching the corner reduce the stitch size (as noted above) and in addition; when the needle is in the pivot point back stitch once, turn your work and still with the reduced stitch size do one stitch and backstitch again...continue. Well worth the effort. I do not use a turning tool; rather a large darning needle to gently ease the corners out from the right side - works every time for a nice sharp point.

CC said:
CC's picture
What is the best way to clip a corner when you are using a serger to make a pillow cover? Thank you!
CC said:
CC's picture
What do you recommend if you are serging a pillow cover?
CrystalMooncat said:
CrystalMooncat's picture
Thank you for a very useful and well presented tutorial

Linda xx
baumwollschmiede said:
baumwollschmiede's picture
great post !!! great pics and explanations !!! thank you from germany @lex
Kristen said:
Kristen's picture
I LOVE this website. I am new to sewing, and I'm just thrilled with how clear and detailed your instructions are. And finally, pictures that go along with your instructions that make sense. I bought a book about learning to sew one project at a time, and the first project, "making bias tape" completely threw me. What did I do? Checked on sew4home and of course instructions were clear as can be. Thank you! Thank you!
Maggs said:
Maggs's picture
I'm thrilled I found this site, I've learned soooo much thank you thank you
roscoesma@gmail.com said:
roscoesma@gmail.com's picture
Thank you so much for the great tips! This all makes so much sense.
MonicaR said:
MonicaR's picture
Still more great advice! First I learn something about catnip, and now I learn that I should shorten my stitches near a corner! Love these tips. Many thanks.
judyl1948 said:
judyl1948's picture
I love all the tips. Sometimes we need a little refresher. I use pinking shears to cut corners. It helps with fraying and also helps with shaping.
judyl1948 said:
judyl1948's picture
sometimes I use pinking shears to cut the corners. Helps with raving and shaping.
love all the wonderful tips. Thanks for sharing.
Carolyn7 said:
Carolyn7's picture
I pivot across the corners on all projects that have corners. I decrease the stitch length before I get to the corner and go back to regular stitch length after I turn the corner. I also use seam sealant on the corner where I clip across. I turn right side out before it is completely dry. This keeps fabric from fraying in that corner.
Carolyn7 said:
Carolyn7's picture
I pivot across the corners on all my projects that have corners. I have also found that using seam sealant where I clip across the corners insures that the fabric won't fray. I don't let it completely dry before I turn right side out.
lirit said:
lirit's picture
Perfect timing as I'm making my first pillow to gift to someone and was panicking about my lightweight fabric on the corners!!! Feeling more confident now! Thanks!
Heather B. said:
Heather B.'s picture
Exactly how I learned to do it too, and it's great to remind us of those simple lessons. Another crucial part of sewing that shouldn't be forgotten is to IRON afterwards! smilies/smiley.gif
Sewingcrazy said:
Sewingcrazy's picture
Wonderful tips. Sharp corners can make or break the look of the project. Did not know about the light weight fabric thing. Makes sense! Thank you smilies/cool.gif
Quiltbird T said:
Quiltbird T's picture
Thanks for the tutorial, it was an excellent refresher for me. My corners have been peskysmilies/sad.gif
GG said:
GG's picture
Wonderful tips and technic to get those corners just the way we like to see them
Dawna said:
Dawna's picture
Exactly How My dear mother taught me. She sewed everything when I was growing up. Very Talented Mom.
GramJ said:
GramJ's picture
smilies/smiley.gifExactly the way my dear mother taught me; she was an expert seamtress and quilter!
auntbarky said:
auntbarky's picture
Great pointers. I look forward to logging in every morning--it's a treat to see what the post is of the day!
smiledi said:
smiledi's picture
Great tips! I've always clipped my corners with the first step, but never thought about adding the second part of the clipping. That will definitely help reduce bulk! Getting ready to sew two couch pillows soon, so I'll be using this!
suecro3 said:
suecro3's picture
Thanks. I have been sewing a long time.....thought I knew these things..but got some great tips here.

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