Cutting fabric accurately is just as important to getting a professionally finished project as the actual sewing is. With a little extra care taken to learn how to cut fabric, you will be on your way to the next step – sewing.
Cutting Fabric Tutorial
This tutorial will show you how to cut fabric patterns to get great results, as well as what to do before you start cutting fabric.
Why Cutting Fabric Matters
If your cutting is inaccurate, then you will have seams that don’t match and clothing that doesn’t hang nicely. It will be difficult to put pieces together as well, adding to your frustration levels and the amount of seam ripping to do.
Here are some reasons why cutting fabric correctly matters:
- Cutting fabric in or out of the pattern borders means your seam allowance will be inaccurate, resulting in an item that is the wrong size. All that time you spend sewing is wasted if your beautiful clothing doesn't fit.
- Jagged edges created by incorrect cutting fabric techniques result in increased tendencies to fray and are harder to sew accurately.
- Imagine if you cut a hem longer on one side than the other. It wouldn't look great, would it?
So how to cut fabric to get the best results?
Preparation for How to Cut Fabric
Tools for Cutting Fabric
Before you start, check your cutting tools. At a minimum, you will need
- Fabric Shears - These are types of sewing scissors specially designed for cutting fabric. They are sharp and accurate and will become your most used tool in the workroom.
- Cheap Scissors - Use a cheaper pair to cut the paper patterns.
- Measuring tool - You will need a quilters ruler or yardstick.
- Chalk or washable fabric pen.
- Piece of fabric
Professional Tools for Cut Fabric
If you are going to be doing a lot of sewing and cutting fabric, then using a rotary cutter can save you a lot of time, particularly if you will be cutting straight edges such as those found on a quilt or long ruffles. Always make sure you have a sharp rotary blade and cut away from yourself. Rotary cutters work especially well for woven cotton fabrics.
For using a rotary cutter, you will also need other quilting tools, such as a cutting mat and a ruler.
I assume you have arrived at this article because you are a beginner sewer, but if you ever decide to go professional and sew for profit, then you may consider purchasing some electric scissors. These are great at cutting several layers at once and can save your wrist from pain if you are cutting for days at a time.
Before you Start Cutting Fabric
If you haven't already, protect your table from scratches. Even careful cutting can result in table scratches, so if you are worried about this, place something in between your wooden surface and the fabric. Vinyl tablecloths do a good job as their slippery nature makes fabric easy to maneuver.
If you haven't set up your basic sewing kit yet, then read these articles first
How to Cut Fabric Step by Step Instructions
Here are the step-by-step instructions for cutting fabric:
Step 1 – Prepare Your Fabric
Pre-washing can admittedly seem like a bit of a hassle, but you will be glad you did this in the long run. Plan ahead and wash fabric soon after you purchase it, and you will always be ready to start cutting fabric. If you forget to prewash, you could end up with a garment that is too small after the first wash.
If you have a fabric that frays easily, it is a good idea to zig-zag, serger, or use pinking shears on the seam edges before washing.
Dry and Press
Knit fabric will need to be laid out flat to dry so they don't stretch out of shape. Other fabrics, like woven fabrics, can be air-dried on your washing line. Don't use the dryer, as this is more likely to cause shrinkage.
After washing, gently press your fabric so it is flat and ready for cutting. It is next to impossible to get great cutting fabric results if it is all creased.
Relax the Fabric Before Cutting
Ideally, leave your fabric to relax for up to a day after the pressing so it has a chance to relax, and any stretching will go back into shape. If you are impatient like me, then just do your best to leave it as long as possible.
Get Ready to Cut
Lay your fabric on a flat table that is as large as you can manage. Try to have all the fabric on the table so none is over the edge and stretching out the fabric.
Knits can stretch out of shape if they are hanging off the table due to their weight.
Step 2 – Establish the Grainline
Now we are ready to fold the fabric ready for cutting. Fold your fabric in half lengthwise so the 2 selvages meet. This will establish the straight grain of the fabric.
There should be no wrinkles in the fabric. Keep in mind the shop may not have cut your fabric straight, so the tops may not meet perfectly.
If a stubborn wrinkle is preventing your fabric from laying flat, give it an extra press in that area using a water spray.
The purpose of folding the fabric with the selvages meeting serves 2 purposes.
- Firstly it means that the woven fibers of your fabric will be straight, which enables clothing, in particular, to sit nicely on your body without twisting.
- Secondly, folding the fabric allows you to cut symmetrically and allows you to cut pieces that are mirror images of each other.
Further Reading: What is Selvage, Grain and Bias
I often find it best to square off the edge if it has been cut crookedly by the shop. Use a quilting ruler or even 2 edges of your table to get a sharp 90-degree angle.
Step 3 – Check your Pattern Sizing
Check the sizing you will be using and cut out the paper pattern pieces for your size.
Most modern patterns come in multiple sizes, so you will need to follow the color-coded or dotted lines. All my sewing patterns come with color-coded lines to make it easier for you to cut the correct size.
Remember to only cut paper patterns with cheap scissors. Paper will quickly blunt your expensive fabric shears.
Step 4 – Pin your Patterns
Most patterns will have a suggested pattern layout. This is the layout that will use the least amount of fabric for your size and design. Place your pieces and pin them accordingly.
Did you know there are different types of sewing pins for different purposes? Using the correct pin can mean no snags or holes are left when they are removed.
PATTERN WEIGHTS - When you have a fabric that cannot be pinned for example, faux leather, go to your pantry and grab some tins to use as pattern weights. You can also purchase pattern weights from haberdashery stores. These will hold the pattern in place while you cut.
You may find that by moving the pieces around and testing a couple of layouts, you can save more fabric than suggested by the designer.
Now is the time to think about what you can sew from the scrap fabric around your pattern and perhaps cut that out at the same time.
Pin all your pattern pieces to the fabric before you start cutting. This way, you will make sure you are using minimal wastage of fabric.
If you have a pattern piece that needs to be cut multiple times, then draw around it with tailor's chalk and then place it in the next position.
Cutting Fabric with Nap
Keep in mind that if you have a fabric with a pile like velvet or a one-way pattern or plaids, all pieces should face the same direction. See my blog article for cutting one-way or directional fabrics.
How to Fold Fabric for Cutting
This symbol means place on the fold. Pattern pieces with this symbol will be placed on the fold. The purpose of cutting on the fold is to get a perfectly symmetrical piece.
Place all arrows on the pattern pieces parallel to the side selvages. Use a ruler to check the distance at the top and bottom of the arrow. Don’t just measure at one spot.
Add Seam Allowances if Necessary
Check if seam allowances are included in the pattern. If you need to add seam allowance, leave a large gap between the pattern pieces. (Read how to add seam allowance)
Double-check - Before you move on to the next step, just do a quick double-check that any fabric designs or stripes are strategically placed.
Further Reading: How to sew stripes
Step 5 - Cutting Fabric
We're at the final step in learning how to cut fabric! The actual cutting of fabric takes far less time than all the pinning and preparation.
Carefully cut around the pattern pieces with sharp scissors to get a nice accurate, clean edge. Try to follow the pattern piece as closely as possible. For most patterns, you will cut through 2 layers of fabric.
Sometimes you may want to rough cut around the pieces first and then go back and cut properly. This allows you to turn the pieces in the best direction to cut. When you have several pieces laid out on your table, it can initially be a little awkward until they are all separated.
Don’t forget to cut the fabric notches. I generally cut the notches outwards as there is less chance of accidentally cutting into the seam allowance.
Step 6 - Transfer Markings
Thanks for reading "How to cut fabric"
How to Cut Fabric on the Bias
Cutting fabric on the bias means cutting it at a 45-degree angle. The purpose of this is to give stretch to woven fabrics.
Fold the fabric in a triangle from the selvage to find the bias. You can use an iron to press this fold to mark it. Alternatively, mark the bias line with the tailor's chalk or a removable marking pen.
Once you have marked and folded the bias, place your pattern pieces in line with it. Use sharp scissors or a rotary cutter and mat, as the fabric will be slightly stretchy when you cut it.
How to Cut Fabric FAQs
Should you rip or cut fabric?
Ripping fabric is done by making a small snip in the edge and then ripping along the grain. It can be faster and more accurate than cutting but is not suitable for all types of fabric. It cannot be used with knits, non-woven fabrics, or those with a loose weave. Some cheap fabrics can be woven off grain, and ripping will result in distorting the fabric further and inaccurate lines.
What is the best thing to use to cut fabric?
The best thing to use for cutting fabric depends on the fabric types and the amount of accuracy you require. As a general rule, fabric shears make clean, precise cuts in most types of fabric. A rotary cutter is useful for quilting and smaller straight cuts. If you want a serrated edge to your fabric that will minimize fraying, then use pinking shears.
How to keep fabric from moving when cutting
If your fabric moves, it can cause inaccuracies in your final garment. For slippery fabric like silk, it may be better to cut in single layers. If you do this, don't forget to flip any double pattern pieces to get a mirror image. Pin securely and additionally use pattern weights to hold the pattern and fabric in place.
Use a non-slip surface underneath that will grip the fabric. Blunt scissors can cause the fabric to move, so always use sharp cutting tools.
Ensure your fabric is ironed flat before you start to cut, as wrinkled fabric is more likely to move.
Further Reading for Beginners
Now you know how to cut fabric, it is time to start sewing! These articles may help you discover where to start.
If you need more help with your pattern:
- Seam Allowance - What are seam allowances, and how to add them
- How to Cut Notches - What are notches and how to cut notches
- Reading Pattern Symbols - More symbols you might come across
- Sewing Measurements - How to take body measurements for sewing
- Napped Fabric - Extra cutting tips if your fabric has a one-way design or nap
For setting up your sewing machine and starting sewing: