I make things., I sew., I think you should know., I'll show you how!

Tools of the Trade: Add a Seam Allowance

What better way to start off this series than with a tool that you already have lying in your desk drawer?  Clever AND frugal…I like it.

It just so happens that, in their infinite wisdom, the creators of The Pencil engineered the distance between two pencil tips held side-by-side to equal 1/4.”  As they were no doubt good friends with the engineer of the standard sewing machine foot, the two parties concurred that 1/4″ was indeed the divine proportion, forever marrying the utility of pencils to the needs of sewing.

So you have a pattern that does not include a seam allowance?  Problem solved.  Two pencils and a few pieces of tape are all you need to add 1/4″ to the pattern before cutting your fabric.  Simply trace the innermost lead along the perimeter of the pattern and the other lead will add an adjacent line 1/4″ from the pattern’s edge.  You could trace directly on to the fabric or on to a larger sheet of paper, making a new pattern piece.

This is also useful for making your own patterns, as long as you roll with a 1/4″ seam allowance.  If not, dig deep into your school pencil bag and pull out the compass you haven’t used since geometry class and measure and mark your desired seam allowance width.  I’ve just added “compass” to the shopping list myself; emptying my cupboards for bowls to trace for various-sized circles is no longer working for me.

Elevate the status of your pencils!


The rest of the Tools of the Trade series is here.

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33 responses to “Tools of the Trade: Add a Seam Allowance

You should alert Amy over at angry chicken of this clever trick! You’ve no doubt noticed she’s been lauding the new BBW dress book and evidently the patterns are sans seam allowances. This would be a perfect way to add-and-not-forget that critical pattern drafting element!


I am also impressed your pencils would actually be able to write with in a pinch. Any I find around my house are usually dull or never been sharpened causing me to try to sharpen with a kitchen knife to scribble down anything…

Hilarious post! The funny thing is I was hoping you’d be sharing how to add a seam allowance to already cut fabric (oops!). I know, I know, you’re not a miracle-worker.


Holy Cow, thank you so much! I bought a cute pattern that I had never made because it didn’t include a seam allowance, and now I can get started! Thanks SEW much! LoL!

This is just about exactly what I do. I use two artists’ charcoal pencils with a clothespin in between, and secure them with a rubber band. That gives me a seam allowance of about 3/4″. If I need it bigger, I can squeeze the two pencils to lever the clothespin open, and wedge a bit of paper or something inside to keep it at the distance I need.

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