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Checklist: Before You Cut Your Fabric

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Click to Read MoreIf only there were a tool that did the opposite of scissors... a handy tool that would uncut fabric after a mistake. How great would that be! Until this future sewing essential is on the market, a simple checklist will have to do.

There are so many factors to consider when cutting fabric, especially a fabric with a large or one-directional print. Take your time. The difference between ordinary and spectacular is often just careful pattern placement.

  1. Prepare your fabric by preshrinking it following the care instructions found on the fabric bolt label.
  2. If you are using a purchased pattern, check the envelope to determine which pieces are needed for your project. Return any unused pieces to the pattern pattern envelope to eliminate confusion.
  3. Look at the project layout diagrams and select the appropriate layout for the width of your chosen fabric. A 45-inch wide fabric is likely to have a different pattern layout than a 60-inch wide fabric.
  4. Fold the fabric as shown in the instructions, with right sides of the fabric together. Most patterns indicate the right side (the pretty side) using a darker shade than the wrong side. (Occasionally, you may be instructed to cut a fabric on the right side, or to "cut one" meaning to cut on single layer.)
  5. Place your fabric on your cutting surface. This can be a large flat table or counter. An uncarpeted floor works too -- it's just harder on your back. A cardboard cutting board (well worth the $5-10 cost) or a self-healing cutting mat is a big plus. Actually, a self-healing cutting mat is a necessity if you plan to use a rotary cutter.
  6. Position your pattern pieces on the fold or on the grainline as indicated.
  7. Pattern pieces have a front side (printed side) and back side. The layout diagram will indicate which way each piece should be placed.
  8. If your fabric has a one-way design, lay all of your pattern pieces in the same direction, with your finished project in mind. For example, you don't want to make curtains for the nursery with upside-down ducks. One-way designs can be very subtle so look carefully. All three fabrics shown below have one-way designs.

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  1. If your fabric has a nap, lay all of the pieces in the same direction lengthwise.
  2. If your fabric has a large-scale design, think about where on the design to place pattern pieces. For example, if you are making a throw pillow and you want the spectacular flower design square in the middle of the pillow, place your pattern piece appropriately. That means you probably need extra fabric so you have the luxury of placing pieces on specific areas of the fabric design. It's so worth it. In the photos below, the first block would make a striking pillow. The middle block shows a random not-so-striking placement. The third block shows what happens when you don't place pattern pieces on the grainline.

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  1. If you are working with stripes and plaids, use the pattern notches to match patterns from piece-to-piece. If you're a beginner, it's better to avoid stripes and plaids until you've had some practice with more forgiving fabric patterns.
  2. Once you are satisfied, pin the pattern pieces to the fabric beginning with pieces along the fold.
  3. Place pins perpendicular to the pattern edge and inside the cutting line. Be sure the pins go through both layers of fabric. Place pins several inches apart, and at corners and notches.

Click to Enlarge

  1. Take a deep breath. Do you feel confident? If not, there's probably a good reason for that. Double check your steps before you cut.

Remember, everyone makes a few mistakes as they learn. It's only fabric!

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Comments (9)

Justme said:
Justme's picture

You say to pin perpendicular to the pattern edge but you have pinned parallel to the pattern edge.  Might wanna fix that!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Justme - The perpendicular note in step 13 refers to step 12 above, which talks about starting the pinning along the fold. Those pins are perpendicular, and yes, the remaining pins are parallel. 

KimP said:
KimP's picture

I was just looking at this tutorial for the first time today and notice that it seems to be missing a large chunk of it.  The steps go from 1-3 above the photo, to #14 and that's it.  I couldn't find 4-13 at all.  What's happened to them?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ KimP - some odd glitch - all the steps are back now.

PUPERITA said:
PUPERITA's picture

I'm an independent patternmaker. This answer is for non directional or one-directional prints.

It depends on the pattern piece. If you have a pattern piece with no differences among right and left sides, a symmetric piece, it is better to cut your fabric section by folding fabric WRONG sides together so you can decide how to place the printing motif.

Marks will be placed on the seam allowance or inside the section with a pencil n. 2 (it goes soon away).

Original pattern pieces to be placed on the fold of fabric are always on the fold of fabric RIGHT sides together, if you fold fabric WRONG sides together darts or plies will be in the opposite versus.

For me, the printing motif placement is the most relevant issue.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ tiggteach - we don't do a lot of dart tracing here at S4H; most of our pattern markings are for placement, which I prefer to be on the wrong side of the fabric. I don't use tracing paper very often at all, opting instead for pencil or chalk lines in combination with pins. You could place a few strategic pins to help keep your fabric from shifting when you insert your paper between the layers. Or, you could cut wrong sides together. I know several people who prefer to do this. It really is personal taste. Again, most patterns suggest right sides together to keep markings on the wrong side of the fabric.
tiggteach said:
tiggteach's picture
if you're cutting fabric right sides together, and need to trace darts, don't you run the risk of 'things' not lining up when you have to turn the fabric over to inset the tracing paper? Wouldn't it be better to cut the fabric wrong sides together?
dsantil71 said:
dsantil71's picture

If the fabric is right sides together and you need to trace darts or other markings then you just make sure you have left enough pins in to anchor both pieces of fabric & pattern together but not be in the way of where you need to place the tracing paper. Then carefully slide a folded sheet of tracing paper between fabric to the right sides. Then use a tracing wheel & ruler as a guide go over pattern to mark dart or other markings. Press hard, repeatedly. Remove tracing paper & carefully lift up fabric to ensure you can see tracing on fabrics, if not, repeat. If there are other areas that need marking, move pins to anchor other areas & repeat. No need to turn anything over. I have seen professional seamstresses do this. Hope this helps

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@dsantil71 - Another handy tip! Thanks so much