Puckered seams. Misaligned panels. If you’ve ever tried to work with fabric cuts are that are not straight and true, you know why it’s so important to square-up your fabric. This is a technique that belongs in everyone’s sewing toolbox. Read on for our easy folding, aligning, and cutting tips plus ruler recommendations.
When you have the right tools, every project is easier… and more precise. This is especially true for beginners, but is really great advice for us all.
For this technique, arm yourself with a rotary cutter, a cutting mat with ½” and/or 1” gridlines, and a 3″-6” x 12” quilter’s ruler, which is the kind with both horizontal and vertical markings down to at least ¼”, down to ⅛” is even better.
We love the wonky look of some modern quilting, but in most situations, having a cut with perfectly straight sides and exact 90˚ corners makes construction so much easier and more precise.
The samples below show squares (12” x 12” and 4½” x 4½”), but the technique also works for rectangles. Simply follow the first steps as-is to cut the height then slide the ruler as needed for the greater needed width.
Let’s get squared
We started with a half yard cut of a standard 44” WOF (width of fabric) quilting cotton (18” x 44”). From this yardage, we want to cut two perfect 12” x 12” squares.
In the steps below, you’ll see the instructions say to “align” edges but the photos show the edges slightly off-set. Hey! The photos are set-up to better show the layers; we are “in the process” of aligning but stopped just short so you can more clearly see the layers and/or folds.
Fold the fabric in half so the selvedges match. Your folded piece is now 18” x 22”.
Fold in half again so the selvedges are now parallel with the center fold and the fabric is smooth and even. Your folded piece is now 18” x 11”.
Position the folded fabric on the cutting mat so the center fold (the 18” folded edge) is aligned with a horizontal gridline on the cutting mat and the “ragged” 11” side is to your right. The first step in squaring your fabric is to align the ruler with a vertical gridline close to that ragged edge.
Conserve fabric when squaring; get as close as possible to the innermost layer. The vertical markings on the ruler should match the gridlines of the cutting mat. This ensures that the cut will be accurate.
Using the rotary cutter, slice off the ragged edge.
With the fabric still double-folded, make sure the newly trimmed/squared end remains aligned with the vertical gridline on the cutting mat. For extra security, you could tape that edge in place or use pattern weights.
Slide your ruler 12” to the left from the newly trimmed/squared end of the fabric. You can see in the photo below that our ruler is 12 squares to the left of the sliced edge.
The ruler’s edge should be perfectly aligned with the grid at the 12” measurement. Confirm this alignment both above and below the fabric. As in the steps above, the ruler’s vertical lines should be flush with the gridlines of the mat.
Using the rotary cutter, slice along the 12” line.
Unfold the 12″ strip you just created. It should be 12” x approximately 22”. Re-fold it so the two cut edges are aligned. The piece is now folded to 6” x approximately 22” — so it is the perfect height but wider than needed. The 6” end to the right is free layers – the remaining selvedges. The other 6” end to the left (outside the frame of the photo in our picture) is folded edges.
Align the cut edges (the 22” edges) along a horizontal gridline on the cutting mat.
You now have a new end to square. To do this, align the ruler with a vertical gridline close to the selvedge ends. Using the rotary cutter, trim away the selvedge.
Slide your ruler 12” to the left from the newly trimmed/squared end of the fabric. Once again, you can see in the photo below that our ruler is 12 squares to the left of the sliced edge.
NOTE: As mentioned above, if you need rectangle, you’d keep sliding for the wider width.
As you’ve done above, double check the vertical alignment from the ruler to the mat gridlines.
Using the rotary cutter, slice along the 12” line.
Unfold to reveal your two, perfectly squared 12″ x 12″ pieces with which to work.
Cutting fractional sizes
We created a second sample to cut 4½” squares, showing you that with a properly marked ruler, your squares don’t need to be whole numbers (such as our 12” x 12” above). You can cut factional sizes just as easily.
Follow the same steps as above to double-fold and square the first edge. Place this trimmed/squared end along a grid line on the mat. Slide the ruler 4½” to the left. This is also done in two steps. First, with the fabric folded and the end squared, place the ruler 4½” from the trimmed end.
You can get that perfect ½” by aligning the ½”mark on the ruler to the 5th mat gridline, counting right to left from the trimmed/squared end.
Once aligned and confirmed both above and below the fabric, slice with a rotary cutter.
The remaining steps are the same as for the 12” square above. Unfold the strip so it is folded in half just once with the selvedge edges matching and the cut edges even. Place the fabric on the cutting mat with the lower edge of the fabric aligned along a horizontal gridline on the cutting mat. Align the ruler to the vertical gridline closest to the selvedge end, and using a rotary cutter, trim away the selvedge.
Slide the ruler 4½” from the trimmed end of the fabric, again using the gridlines of the cutting mat as your guide. Again align the ½” mark of the ruler to the gridline of the mat between the 4” and 5” measurement. If you need more than one square, you can continue along the strip in 4½” increments, aligning and slicing in the same manner.
As you can see, squaring up can be done with a standard quilting ruler, but there are a variety of specialty rulers than can make the task even easier.
Perhaps you want to fussy cut a square, centering a motif within a 6½” square. One type of square-up ruler that make this a frustration-free task is a 6½” square marked with concentric squares and diagonal lines. The concentric squares help center the motif so it is evenly placed within the square; the diagonal lines aide in positioning the ruler. You simply center your motif, then cut around the square with a rotary cutter.
NOTE: We are showing the 6½” size, but all styles of rulers featured are available in a number of sizes.
You can also use a window square up ruler. The ruler we show is a 12½” square with a 6½” window. Center the motif in the window, then cut along the inside edges with a rotary cutter.
Notice those teardrop slices at each corner. These allow the rotary cutter to easily cut into the corners.
The result is the same with either tool: a perfectly fussy cut 6½” x 6½” accent square, with a perfectly centered bouquet of blooms.
For more information about fussy cutting, take a look at our full tutorial on the subject.