So, what is fussy cutting? It is the way you can choose to cut your fabric, to specially highlight a picture or pattern in the print on your fabric. The first evidence of fussy cutting was in the 1700s when the quilting technique of Broderie Perse was started. This is a meticulous applique method of quilting.
Fussy cutting is a lovely way to add extra character to your quilt or to make a themed quilt. It places designs and patterns in the fabric right in the center of your block so that the images are complete. For example, a baby quilt made with woodland animals in the center of each block, or a ‘Shabby Chic’ quilt made with a rose in the middle of each block. It is often used for smaller items such as a pouch or a bag, with just one fussy cut element in the construction of the item.
It can be quite difficult to master at first, to precisely cut exact pieces from somewhere in the middle of your fabric. But don’t be discouraged, read on and you will find out all the tips and tricks you need!
Fussy Cutting - Supplies
To fussy cut effectively you will need the following:
- QUILT RULER - A small transparent quilt ruler to place over the top of your fabric, so that you can clearly see and center your design.
- TEMPLATES - Instead of a quilt ruler, you can purchase a template of the shape you want your fussy cut design to be. It is possible to buy special kits for fussy cutting, which include see through squares of varying sizes, or outline templates of various shapes. The small dots on some templates are there to measure your seam allowance. You simply mark the dots with your removable marker then connect them up to show your cutting lines. The shapes on the template will be your completed shape, so you can be sure your chosen image fits within those boundaries.
- CUTTING TOOLS - A small rotary cutter. You need to be able to cut small areas precisely. Or a pair of small, very sharp scissors.
- FABRIC - Specific fabric with images that you want to feature in your design. Closely woven cotton is always best.
- MARKING TOOLS - Removable marker or chalk.
These are things you will need just for the fussy cutting aspect. To complete your quilt/bag/ whatever you plan to make, you will also need all the normal sewing requirements:
Tips For Fussy Cutting
- SEAM ALLOWANCE - Remember to include you seam allowance around your image, otherwise your picture may get partially hidden inside your seams.
- TRIM - It is a good idea to cut your piece around your image too big, and then trim it down to size.
- CENTER - Center your image carefully, using the markings on your quilting ruler.
- PURCHASE EXTRA - You will need extra fabric to fussy cut! Be sure to buy enough, so that you don’t struggle to find and match your images halfway through your quilt.
How To Fussy Cut
Step 1 - Decisions
Look at your fabric as a whole, and decide which elements or pictures you want to showcase.
Step 2 - Templates
Place your template over the picture on your fabric. If you are using thick acrylic templates, you can simply be certain the picture is centered, then use your small rotary cutter to cut around the template.
If you don’t have templates, you can make your own, using clear, stiff, cuttable plastic. Cut the desired shape out of the plastic, then place it over your chosen image and draw around it carefully and accurately with your removable marker. Add a seam allowance around your shape before cutting. Cut out your shape using small sharp scissors. In this case, it is better not to use the small rotary cutter, as the plastic is soft enough to cut through.
Cut out all the required images. Experiment with the placement of your images. Here I am making a 4-inch block and have added seam allowance. The clear template made it easy to see the image placement.
More About Fussy Cutting
Fussy cutting is most commonly used in English Paper Piecing. Usually referred to as EPP. Here your quilt pieces are cut and backed with paper, then sewn together by hand. It is useful for curved shapes, or other shapes which are difficult to put together with a sewing machine, such as hexagons. EPP is a whole quilting technique on its own and is favored by those who enjoy hand stitching or the movement towards simple living and slow stitching.
It is also often used with vintage embroidered fabrics, such as old tablecloths or tray cloths. The embroidered section is cut out with fussy cutting methods and then used as an accent in a patchwork piece. Often the rest of the vintage fabric is worn or stained, so it is simply cut away. This can be hand or machine stitched.
You can also use fussy cutting for appliqué work. Instead of cutting, say, flower petals and leaves out of solid colored fabrics and then building them up into the full flower, you cut out a complete flower image and appliqué it in place. This would of course not require a template. You would carefully cut around the exact shape of your image, leaving a small seam allowance to turn under if doing needle turn appliqué.
Ideas For Fussy Cutting
The simplest way to use it is as a central square in a quilt unit. When deciding on what type of quilt block you want to use, choose one with a central square. Instead of just randomly cutting the fabric for that central square, fussy cut it for maximum effect.
You can see the difference!
Fussy cutting is also needed when making a watercolor quilt because you need your adjacent blocks to blend and fade into one another. Or in some cases, you need to have matching flowers next to each other. This too is a whole quilting technique to be learned. It is a way of combining your blocks according to shade or tone, to create a watercolor landscape effect, then details are added to make your ‘painting’ more realistic. They are fussy cut, then appliquéd onto the quilt afterward. The ‘watercolor’ background for these quilts is usually made up of squares because you don’t want the blocks to have any contrast, you want them to fade gently into each other.
For the adventurous among you, another way of using fussy cutting is to make a Kaleidoscope quilt. Also known as a “One Block Wonder” quilt.
Each block in this type of quilt is made up of a hexagon which is made up of 6 triangles. These must be 60-degree triangles. You arrange your triangles in a circle to make up the hexagon shape. Each triangle must have exactly the same design on it. This gives the Kaleidoscopic effect. The triangles for these types of quilts are often made of bright, highly contrasting fabrics for the greatest effect. Your fabric needs to have an obviously repeating pattern, so you can pick out 6 of the same image, then fussy cut that image using a triangle template. How you rotate your triangles will make a huge difference to your final design. This is a really exciting, experimental patchwork!
Fussy Cutting - In Conclusion
After reading this you can see that by simply considering the prints on your fabric you can make very different and original quilts using the fussy cutting technique. If it all seems a little complicated, consider making a small pouch, bag, or book cover using a central fussy cut image. Create a large patchwork square with a fussy cut middle, then use that as a piece of fabric to cut out your pattern. Just make sure your special image remains in the center!
Some quilters feel that fussy cutting is a waste of fabric, but it doesn’t need to be. Save all your leftover bits of fabric, they can always be used in another project! Give it a try, and use your sample to make something small. You will soon be addicted to the wonderful effects you can get using fussy cutting!