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Stitching + Cutting Corners Correctly
A common area 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! 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 clipping and stitching corners that will help you maintain the best, cleanest shape every time. From curtain panels to pillow edges to accessory details, by following a few simple steps, 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 Fabric Wallet with Zippered Coin Purse.
And you thought you’d never use geometry when you got older!
For pillows, you can adapt the instructions to create a tapered corner that can actually result in a squarer finish. We have a full tutorial on this specialty corner: Quick Tip: How Tapered Corners Make Square Pillows.
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.
Our Velvet Border Portfolio Clutch shows a crisp flap for a nice pro finish.
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 your corner stitching, a standard presser foot is the best choice.
Sewing and trimming an OUTWARD right angle corner
- 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.
- 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.
- With a fabric marking pen or pencil, mark the pivot point on each corner.
- 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.
- At that exact point, stop with the needle in the down position. Lift up your presser foot, pivot, lower the foot back into position, and continue sewing along the next side.
- With a pair of small, sharp scissors, trim the seam allowance at the point.
- First, trim off the corner point at a diagonal, being very careful not to clip your stitches.
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. Take the time to 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.
- After you trim off the point, trim along each side at an angle from the point. This will help ensure a sharp corner.
- Turn the piece right side out to see how your point looks. Not so good? That’s because you need to gently push out the corner with a point tool. There are a number of different ones you can use, we’ve pictured an “official” point turner in our photo, but you can also use a simple chopstick or a long, blunt-end knitting needle.
- 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 bit more.
- Press your project from the right side and admire your sharp little corner.
Sewing and trimming an INWARD right angle corner
- Mark your corner points in the same manner as above.
- Sew as before, pivoting at the marked corner point intersection.
- This time, instead of cutting off the point, you need to clip into the point. Again, be careful to not cut through your seam.
- Turn your project right side out and see how the corner looks. As above, if need be, turn it inside out again and trim away more seam allowance at the corner.
- 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 if a thread peeks through.
A stitch length option
- 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.
- When approaching your corner, shorten your stitch length for a distance equal to your seam allowance. Do this both 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.
- When you have an added layer in a corner, like batting, everything is sewn in the same manner as we’ve shown above.
- When you’re done stitching, first trim the excess batting to approximately ⅛” from the stitching line. This reduces the bulk. Next, go back and clip the corner fabric layers as described above.
- 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 use a line of topstitching along the seamed edge on the right side. For more detail, take a look at our article on Grading Seams.
Different weight fabrics
- As above with the batting, the idea here is to eliminate excess bulk in the corner that could prevent you from effectively turning out each corner. Believe it or not, sometimes the best way to create a sharp point is to not sew one to begin with!
- 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 rules are: 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.
- You would think you’d lose the point, but you’ll actually get a good looking one.
Acute and obtuse corners
- Acute and obtuse angled corners are sewn exactly the same way as the right angles; they just look a little different.
- Mark your seam allowance and intersecting or pivot point. On the left is our marked acute (less than 90˚) angle; on the right is a marked obtuse (more than 90˚) angle.
- Sew as normal, stopping to pivot at your marked point.
NOTE: When you are sewing acute angles, we recommend considering the “cross stitch” 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).
- Trim the point and seam allowances. The acute angle trims in the same manner as an outward right angle.
- The obtuse angle should be trimmed as more of a simple slope from the point down either side.
- Obtuse angles are the easiest to turn right side out because there’s more room at the point.
- 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. Insert the straight pin into the tip of seam from the right side and gently pull/pick out the point into its correct shape.
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly
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I find that my sewing machine sometimes skips the corner or it looks like the stitch is pulling so it goes across instead of creating a sharp point. If I go slower this happens less frequently. Juke 2010 and Janome both do this. If I turn my dial ever so slightly before starting to stitch again after turning, that also often helps. But I feel like I am doing something wrong – no one else seems have this problem 🙂 Thanks for the informative post with great photos by the way 🙂
Hello Dawn Marie – All our best tips are in the article here, and it sounds like some of the things above were helpful. You should be able to stitch right into the corner, stop with your needle in the down position, raise the presser foot, pivot 90˚, lower the presser foot, and take off down the next side. If that doesn’t seem to be working, it might be that a new/different needle is needed or maybe a trip to your local dealer for further troubleshooting.
Thank you for this tutorial. I have a question though. I can make pretty good corners, but when I turn a square or rectangular project, the points are always too pointy and the distance between corners seems to sag. I hope this makes sense. I’ve tried pressing the seams open before I turn, and finger pressing them after turning, but I always seem to have rabbit ears on the corners. Not professional looking at all. Any suggestions for that? Thank you.
Hi Jen — It can be easy to poke the corners too hard with something pointy and stretch out the fabric weave. It’s kind of at a bias angle and easy to stretch. If you are referring in particular to pillow projects, there is a little trick to tighter corners by using some intersecting diagonals. We have a tutorial on that here: https://sew4home.com/how-tapered-corners-make-square-pillows-quick-pro-trick/
One thing I used to do with the acute angles was to grasp the edges on either side of the point and wiggle them back and forth, pushing them into and against each other. What that does is push the point out without having to take the chance of pulling out a thread with a pin. It actually does a great job if you sew a stitch across the corner in stead of sewing to a fine point.
Hi Judy – Haven’t heard that tip – so thanks for lending your expertise!
This is an excellent tutorial
This is an excellent tutorial– easy to follow and great for beginners, like me! Thank you! I look forward to seeing what else you have. 🙂
@Melanie – That’s great news
@Melanie – That’s great news – thanks for taking the time to let us know we helped you out with a new skill. And yes! Browse around – there’s lots to see and do
Hello, thankyou for creating
Hello, thankyou for creating this helpful page – I am still having a problem though with sewing insward right angle corners. I find when I turn them the right way round there is a lot of puckering around the corner, like the fabric is under tension. Do you have any advice?
@Ruth – So glad you’ve found @Ruth – So glad you’ve found our tutorial helpful. We really did pack all our “pearls of wisdom” into the information above. There are a lot of variables too – especially regarding the fabric you’re working with. You might check the notes above about stitch length – shortening your stitch as you come into and go out of the corner. And, try being a bit more aggressive with your clipping (but as always, careful not to clip into the seam), actually clipping small wedges out of the seam allowance – as you might do… Read more »
Many thanks for the quick
Many thanks for the quick reply, I’m looking forward to trying your tips tonight 🙂
I always wondered how this is
I always wondered how this is done
Thank you very much for these
Thank you very much for these clear, concise instructions. I’ve been really impressed by Sew4Home’s helpful instructions and patterns for many years but have never taken the time to say “thank you”. Your weekly update email is one of my favourites.
@Robby – Thank you for such a
@Robby – Thank you for such a lovely compliment. We’re lucky to have you as a follower!
Thank you. Wish I had read
Thank you. Wish I had read this a loooong time ago. Extremely helpful advise.
@Diane – You are so welcome.
@Diane – You are so welcome. Sometimes it’s the easiest things that can be the biggest help.
Good stuff, thank you. The
Good stuff, thank you. The tip of adjusting the stitch length on approaching a corner is a new one for me; it sounds extremely sensible and I shall adopt it on my next project!
@Caroline – Thank you! It’s
@Caroline – Thank you! It’s always nice to polish up basic skills!
Thank you. Good info to
Thank you. Good info to reread. Going to put this to use right now!
@Annie – You are so welcome.
@Annie – You are so welcome. Sharp corners here you come!!