Home » Sewing Techniques » How to Sew Holes, cut outs and negative shapes

How to Sew Holes, cut outs and negative shapes

Holes and decorative edging can be used to frame a fabric underneath or simply to create a neat edging. Cut-out holes can be used as windows to reveal layers beneath while scalloped edges can be overlapped to create a dense surface texture. A hole of any shape can be made, as long as it is stitched, clipped, turned and pressed carefully. Scallops likewise can be made in any shape, as the Seaweed Edge Scarf shows.

Material and Design Notes

  • In the samples shown, the lining fabric is the same as the main fabric so it barely shows on the opening edge once it has been turned. A contrasting fabric would show as a line around the edge of the opening.
  • Medium-weight fabrics such as quilting cotton work well. Thick fabrics will not lie flat when turned as the seam is bulky. Back fabrics with a matching, light fabric, such as silk organza (if the reverse will not be seen) so you can have a neat opening without the bulk.
  • The seam allowances will show through on transparent or light fabrics, or if the backing is darker than the front fabric.

Basic method

Note : This describes the making of a square or rectangular hole.

1). Mark the shape of the opening on the reverse of the lining fabric. Place the main fabric and lining fabrics right sides together.

2). Machine stitch around the lines of the marked shape, using a short stitch length and starting in the middle of one of the long sides. Do not reverse to start and end the thread, but pull the threads to the
back and knot.

Basic method holes cut outs and negative shapes A

3). Cut through both layers of fabric inside the square in an X-shape, right up to the stitching but not through it. Cut away the triangles of fabric to within 3mm (1⁄₈in) of the stitching.

Basic method holes cut outs and negative shapes B

4). Turn the lining through the hole to the back. Carefully manipulate the edges of the fabric so that the hole is neat. Press the hole thoroughly so that there are no wrinkles or puckers.

Basic method holes cut outs and negative shapes C

5). Place the contrast fabric behind the fabric with the hole in it, lining the pieces up carefully with plenty of overlap behind the opening. Pin and tack (baste) if required.

6). Sew through all layers to join the pieces together. Keep the stitching an even distance from the edge of the hole, either by using a guide foot or by keeping the edge of the machine foot on the edge of the hole, and pivot at the corners.

Basic method holes cut outs and negative shapes D

Square or rectangular hole.

Circular hole

This is created in the same way as the square in the Basic Method, but by stitching in a circle. Cut away the fabric within the circle up to 3mm (1⁄₈in) from the stitching. If the fabric is too thick to allow it to turn neatly, cut notches in the seam allowance. Turn and press, then add backing fabric as required.

Basic method holes cut outs and negative shapes E

Basic method holes cut outs and negative shapes F

Circular hole.

Project Idea : Seaweed Edge Scarf

This scarf is created using an irregular scallop edge design based on seaweed.

Technique : Scalloped Edge
Material : Light cotton or lawn

  • First create a template using seaweed as your inspiration. The template does not have to be the whole design; you can draw around the same small template several times, moving it slightly, turning it over and adapting it to get an irregular edge.
  • Take a piece of fabric measuring 1 x 2m (11⁄₈ x 2¼yd). Fold in half lengthways with right sides together, and pin the raw edges. Use the template to draw the scallop edging design along both ends, from side to side.

Project Idea Seaweed Edge Scarf A

  • Starting from the folded edge at one end of the scarf, stitch the drawn line carefully, using tiny stitches. (Alternatively, draw a guideline on the fabric and use free-motion stitching, ensuring the stitches are small.)
  • At the raw edge side, sew up the long side of the scarf using a 1.5 cm (⁵⁄₈ in) seam allowance, and leaving a 15 cm (6 in) gap unsewn half way along. Sew the seaweed scallops at the other end, finishing at the folded edge.
  • Cut away the excess fabric from the seaweed scallops leaving a 5mm (¼in) seam allowance. Clip and notch as required. Turn the right way out through the gap left in the side seam. Push out all the scallops with a knitting needle. Press flat and hand sew the opening closed.

Project Idea Seaweed Edge Scarf B

Scalloped Edge

The scalloped edge can be used for shaped hems on garments or in layers to create textured effects. For a perfectly neat finish, accurate machine stitching is required, as well as a template. To create a template, use adhesive-tape rolls or circle templates to draw out the curves onto card and cut out. Measure accurately and ensure there is a large enough gap between the scallops for them to turn out properly: 5–6mm (¼in) is best for a light fabric while thicker fabrics will require a wider gap.

Scalloped edge holes cut outs and negative shapes A

Selecting fabrics

Very thick fabrics are hard to turn out neatly and would need to be extra-large scallops. Lightweight fabrics are fine but be aware that the seam allowances will show through. Medium-weight fabrics are ideal. If the reverse side does not show, you could use matching silk organza as the lining fabric, as this will allow a thicker fabric to be used without creating bulky seams, but it will need to be the same colour as the edge will show.

Scalloped edge holes cut outs and negative shapes C

Basic method

  1. Draw around the template on the reverse side of one of the fabrics, close to the edge.
  2. Place the two pieces of fabric right sides together, with the marked line facing up. Pin in place, including through the scallops, and tack (baste) if required.
  3. Machine stitch along the marked line using a 2mm stitch length. Go very slowly to make sure the curves are accurate. Pivot the needle to make the corners and to adjust to the curves.
  4. Cut out the scallops about 6mm (¼in) from the stitching, and cut a slit into the narrow gaps between scallops. Notch the curved edges, but not too close to the stitching.
  5. Turn the right way out and use a knitting needle to push the corners and edges out. Finger press, manipulating the fabric so that the lining does not show on the front side. Press thoroughly.

Scalloped edge holes cut outs and negative shapes B

Fine cotton creates neat scallops.

Scallop variations

These are all created using the Basic Method, clipping and notching the curves (see Other Techniques).

Scallop variations holes cut outs and negative shapes A

Inverted scallops – this template has 1cm (3⁄₈ in) gaps between the circles.

Scallop variations holes cut outs and negative shapes B

Bunting – this template has 1cm (3⁄₈ in) gaps between the flag-shapes.

Scallop variations holes cut outs and negative shapes C

Squares – this template has 2 cm (¾ in) gaps between the squares.

Scallop variations holes cut outs and negative shapes D

Overlapping inverted scallops: several rows of inverted scallops have been overlapped in alternating layers; each layer is stitched to the backing fabric before the next is added.

Fabric Manipulation
150 CREATIVE Sewing Techniques

Ruth Singer