A beginners guide to accurately cutting fabrics
Precision is key to making a beautiful finished item – inaccurate cutting means an inaccurate finish, it just won’t look sharp and pristine. So here are a few of my top tips for accurately cutting woven fabrics.
Before you start cutting:
Press your fabric well with plenty of steam before you make a single cut. It’s so much easier to cut accurately without any creases in your fabric. Many fabrics shrink a little in steam (or the wash), so make sure it has shrunk (if it’s going to) before you cut, or your finished piece is going to end up too small. (No time in my life to wash fabrics first, steam all the way for me!).
If your iron does not produce much steam, keep a water mist bottle next to the iron, they are great for lots of things. I have my own very special version!
Fuse your fabrics before cutting (if they are going to be interfaced), this not only avoids cutting twice, but also stabilises a fabric that might otherwise distort a little in cutting.
Find a large flat uncluttered surface to work on. I often just head straight for the floor if I’m cutting out something large. The weight of 5 yards of fabric hanging off the edge of the table will pull your fabric out of shape.
Square your fabric on a cutting mat before you cut. Line up your selvedge on a cutting mat. If you are cutting double, fold the fabric down in half, selvedge on top of selvedge to give an accurate 90 degree angle at the fold.
Match selvedges not cut ends of the fabric, they might not be straight, remember somebody just cut it quickly in the store.
NB: Spelling selvage or selvedge – the same word can be spelled either way – I prefer selvedge because it’s an edge!
Double check your print placement on the fabric – ensure the print is running exactly straight with the selvedge before you cut. Occasionally the print can be slightly off. In this case, always cut singly following the line of the print.
Make sure any printed pattern is running in the right direction – if you fold your fabric across the width matching up the selvedges, the fabric on the back will be upside down, which means if you cut now, on the underneath piece the print will be upside down. It can be worth cutting pieces singly to ensure you don’t make this mistake, or fold across the width and match selvedges.
Pattern matching. A whole different topic I won’t go into here, but if you are going to be pattern matching, remember to buy more fabric than the pattern calls for, as you will need to allow for wastage. The extra amount you need will be in relation to the size of the print itself.
Cut out your paper pattern pieces accurately before pinning them to your fabric.
Ensure you have the grain running in the right direction according to your pattern pieces. The straight grain of a fabric runs parallel to the selvage.
The further you move ‘off grain’ the more the fabric can stretch and distort. Even a rigid woven fabric will have stretch in the bias or cross grain, that’s why we cut it on the diagonal for binding and piping.
Make sure your pins are sharp, blunt pins can push the fabric out of place or create snags – if you are struggling to push a pin through, throw it away!
Use good sharp, long scissors and take long cuts. Stay exactly on the printed line.
If you are using a rotary cutter, make sure it’s sharp, and use a good self-healing cutting mat. Use a really long quilters rule or yard stick, you want to make a whole cut in one slice. Hold the quilt ruler down really firmly so it doesn’t shift while you are cutting. Good tip – keep your fingers well away, (hmmm… I’m covered in little scars). To let you into a secret, I don’t get on too well with a rotary cutter – I only tend to use it for straps and strips and when I’m cutting vinyl. I prefer to use the pattern piece for everything else.
Roughly cut around the pattern pieces first if you are using large pieces of fabric, and then cut accurately to the pattern itself. It’s much easier to manipulate a small piece of fabric and turn it as you cut rather than whilst manhandling a 5 meter bolt over one shoulder!
Cut in single pieces rather than stacking – if you are making something small like a wallet, every 1/8” accuracy counts in terms of both the measurement and the print placement.
If you are cutting faux leather or cork, do not use pins, they can leave holes – use a rotary cutter. If you have to use pins for any reason, keep them within the seam allowance so the holes are not visible after the item is made up.
Slippery fabrics – always cut in one layer if you can. A spray of water also helps.
If you are making a pattern a second time, print it out again, you may have snipped off little bits of the paper pattern first time around!
And finally, if you find your finished item isn’t sitting absolutely accurately, yet you have cut out perfectly, it could be unequal seam allowances that have made the difference – use a seam guide to sew – a ¼ “ foot or a 1cm (3/8”) foot are available to help maintain an accurate seam allowance.
I’m sure there are lots of things I’ve forgotten – just add any more tips in the comments below!
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