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TIPS AND TRICKS FOR CUTTING FABRIC

Have you ever finished a garment only to have the seams all twisted? Or have two different lengths when trying to match up seams during construction? Or how about have a finished garment’s hem become uneven after a few wears? All of these problems can often be traced back to some of the very first few steps of sewing – cutting your fabric. Accurate cutting, on the grain, is such an important step in creating a well fitted garment.

I’ve laid out some simple tips and tricks to help you get a perfect cut every time!

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PREWASH AND PRESS

The first step before cutting is actually a really important one, but often overlooked. Yep – you should be pre-washing and ironing your fabric. For the impatient (like myself), this can seem tedious. But you really should not skip this step! The last thing you want is to spend all your time perfecting your garment, just to have it shrink afterwards in the first washing. So pre-wash, and iron out all those wrinkles so the fabric lays nice and flat. Make sure to follow any manufacturers recommendations.

Something else you may not realize – you can iron your pattern pieces too! Most patterns come out of their packages with all those creases, which can prevent them from laying flat. If you take the time to smooth out your fabric, might as well smooth out your paper patterns as well!

The flatter everything is, the more precise your cutting will be. And all those seams should match up better!

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ESTABLISH SELVEDGE EDGE / GRAINLINE

The selvedge of your fabric is the self-finished edge of the fabric. The sides that don’t unravel. This is also considered the straight edge of your fabric, and is how you find your grain. The lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvedge.

The majority of your pattern pieces will have a directional grain line printed on them. When placing your pattern pieces onto your fabric, use a clear ruler to line up the grain line on each piece with the selvedge / straight edge. A cutting mat with a grid is also helpful in making sure everything lines up perfectly!

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CUTTING METHOD 1 : PINS AND DRESSMAKER SHEARS

Once you have your pieces lined up perfectly, there a few different tools and options you can use for cutting.

The first method is pinning your pattern pieces to the fabric with dressmaker pins. Make sure your pins are sharp – dull pins can damage delicate fabrics. Use enough pins to hold your pattern piece in place, but too many that it distorts, pulls, or bunches the fabric.

Now cut around your pattern pieces with your fabric shears. Make sure your scissors are sharp! Dull scissors will create frayed, jagged cuts. Oh, and another big thing with scissors – don’t lift the scissors and fabric off of your flat surface as you cut. Remember, you want everything to remain as flat as possible, so keep the lower blade of the scissors against the surface.

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CUTTING METHOD 2 : WEIGHTS AND ROTARY BLADE

On the other hand, instead of pinning your pattern pieces, you can hold them in place with weights.  A lot of people prefer this method because it is faster than pinning, and keeps the pieces and fabric flatter than pins. This is really good when working with knits. Pins can sometimes stretch a knit fabric, so weights can help you prevent that. You can buy specialty weights at the craft store, but you really don’t have to. Just use anything you have around the house – magnets off the fridge, washi tape rolls, rocks, etc.

Swap out your fabric shears for a rotary blade cutter. Again, it is smoother and faster than cutting with scissors, and reduces fraying a bit. Just be careful not to let it slip. Use a ruler along straight edges of the pattern pieces to ensure a straight, clean cut.

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CUTTING METHOD 3 : TRACING AND DRESSMAKER SHEARS / ROTARY BLADE

Lastly, once you have your pattern pieces weighed down, you could choose to trace and draw around the edge with a washable pen/pencil or tailors chalk. You could also use carbon paper and a tracing wheel, if you prefer.

Trace everything (including notches, darts, etc), remove the pattern pieces, and then cut out with your fabric shears or rotary blade.

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TISSUE PAPER FOR SLIPPERY FABRICS

If you’ve ever worked with fabrics like silk charmeuse or chiffon, you know how difficult it is to keep everything in place and straight when trying to cut it. Here’s a trick – sandwich the fabric in between sheets of tissue paper before placing your pattern pieces and cutting. It won’t slip and slide as much!

CUTTING ON FOLD VS. CUTTING FLAT

Most patterns will almost always call for fabric to be cut on the fold. But you can usually use less yardage if you actually cut with the fabric laying open and flat. This is especially helpful for garments with exceptionally large pattern pieces, like the Tania Culottes.

WRONG SIDE OF THE FABRIC

Always place your patterns, mark, and cut from the wrong side of the fabric. That way all notches and marks are done on the backside where you can’t see them from the outside /right side of the fabric. Also, pieces are usually sewn with right sides together, so this way all of your marks will be facing you where you can see them and match them easily.

PRINTS AND NAPS

Don’t forget – If your fabric has a directional print or nap (like velvet or corduroy), you’ll need to pay extra close attention to how you’re laying out your pattern pieces so every piece is facing the right direction and matches up. Same goes with matching stripes and plaids. You might need extra yardage to be able to do this.

About Author

Holly writes part time for the Megan Nielsen blog– sewing like crazy, creating tutorials and sewalongs. She has been sewing since she was a little girl, and has her degree in apparel design. Now she’s a stay at home mama, and spends all her free nap times at her sewing machine.

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Jill
Jill
6 years ago

Hi Megan,

Thank you for these great tips! At what point in the process should you straighten the grain? Do you do that as you are ironing or after, Before?

Thank you,
Jill

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