Learn how to cut fabric straight! Cutting fabric straight is a vital aspect of successful sewing. It does not matter if you are cutting out a dress, blouse, or shorts or even just trying to get a new set of curtains to hang straight, you have to know how to cut fabric straight.
How to Cut Fabric Straight
Some fabrics are easy to handle because the grain of the fabric is visible, and the weave of the fabric is true to its straight grain. However, other fabric weaves are not exactly straight, and it takes a bit more skill to cut these fabrics.
Here is a step-by-step approach to simple cotton fabrics. This is a process you will find useful for every sewing project. Every item you sew needs a straight edge for the complete range of sewing activities, from quilting to curtain making and dressmaking. Ensuring you have a reliable straight edge is the most important starting point for any project involving fabrics.
How to Cut Fabric Straight with Scissors
Step 1 - Preparation
A good habit to get into is to pre-wash and press your fabric, whatever the project is. This allows for any shrinkage and allows you to press the fabric and look for the straight edge or straight grain of the fabric. Wash, and then iron the fabric flat before you begin to do anything. Read more about pre-washing and shrinkage.
Step 2 - Cutting Surfaces
Accurate cutting relies on a flat surface that supports the fabric. Keep the edges of the fabric on the edge of the table, so there is no drop or drag of the main portion of the fabric. Step two, therefore, is finding the correct cutting surface. If your table is too small, then it is best to cut on the floor.
Step 3 - The Right Tools
Finding a really sharp pair of dressmaking scissors is next. A reputable make of scissors by your side is essential and you have to keep them sharpened. Read more about the best cutting tools for sewing and how to sharpen scissors at home. You can also use a rotary cutter instead of scissors and this method of how to cut fabric straight is addressed further on in this article.
Step 4 - Find The Selvage
Finding the first straight edge is the next step. One straight edge is the guide for all the other cutting edges. Start by looking for the selvage. This edge is usually the straight edge of the fabric where it has been held on the loom for weaving. Typically the selvage has holes along its edge and it may have the designer's details and color codes printed on it. Selvages are the uncut edge of the fabric.
Cut off the selvage in a straight line following tips for ‘squaring up’ your fabric. Use a ruler to mark parallel to the selvage and then cut using sharp scissors.
Step 5 - Squaring Up
Square up the fabric by using a 90-degree corner as the guide. A table corner is an easy option or your marked cutting board.
Place the cut selvage straight edge on the table or mat and trim off the excess fabric at 90 degrees to create a straight edge to the top of the fabric.
Step 6 - Check the Grain
Check on the grain of your fabric. Is the straight grain running with the length of the fabric and the cross-grain with the width of the fabric? In connection with the straight edge, the grain of the fabric is essential for a pattern. Following this straight edge ensures the pattern pieces follow the curves and corners of your pattern correctly.
How to Cut Fabric Straight With a Rotary Cutter
There are other ways to consider cutting a piece of fabric straight besides using scissors. Rotary cutters are very popular, but there is a skill to using a rotary cutter and some extra tools that you will need. You don’t want to cut with a rotary cutter on your antique oak dining room table! Read all about how to use a rotary cutter.
The method you use for cutting fabric straight will be exactly the same as outlined above using scissors. The only difference being that you will use a ruler and rotary cutter.
You need a good quality rotary cutter, a self-healing cutting mat, and a transparent ruler to cut accurately and efficiently. Rotary cutters come in different sizes, and generally, the bigger size is best for large projects, while the smaller one works well for smaller cuts or for going around curves. The 45mm cutter is the recommended size for most projects.
Additional Tools - Rulers
Rulers come in different sizes too. Find the one to suit the kind of cutting you plan to do. If you can build up the number of different sizes of rulers, that gives you a choice. Try a non-slip ruler for an added tool and something to make your cutting easier. The most important facet of your ruler is transparent and sturdy. You need a ruler you can place on the cutting line of the fabric while you run the rotary cutter along the ruler’s edge. Read more about measuring tools.
Additional Tools - Weights
Additional helpful gadgets are fabric weights and a protective glove. The rotary cutter is basically a round sharp blade like a wheel. It can easily slip out of turn. Having a protective glove is a good way to protect your hand. An added safety tip to remember with a rotary cutter is to push the blade away from your body as you press into the fabric. Keep your blade close to the ruler and use the ruler as a guide.
How to Cut Fabric Straight - Best Tips
Practice makes perfect they say! This is a very important aspect of working with materials and cutting tools. Always try out these new gadgets before you get cutting on your real fabric. Try to have some practice on scrap fabrics using your rotary cutter, mat, and ruler.
Here are some other suggestions for straightening your fabric before you start.
- Snip and tear - You can use this method with woven fabrics. However, it leaves an untidy frayed edge as it rips through the weave of the fabric. Do not rely on this snip and tear method from the fabric shop direct to your cutting table. Rather be sure it is straight before you start to cut out pattern pieces.
- Diagonal fold - This is a good way to cut across the fabric and square off the cutting edge at the top of the piece before you start. Match the length of the fabric with the selvage running down your cutting board. Take up the bottom corner and diagonally fold the corner to match up at the top of the fabric. If you take the bottom left corner towards the top right corner, the selvage will lie in a straight line across the top of the fabric. Use this line as a guide to cut across the top of the fabric.
- Ruler and mat alignment - Use your marked cutting mat with the grid markings and line your transparent ruler across the fabric from one marked line on the mat to the corresponding mark on the opposite side. This gives you a straight cutting line providing that the fold and the selvages are matched to the straight line of the cutting board.
- The T square - If you have this particular ruler it can help cut straight fabric edges especially those that are part of a long piece of fabric needing to be measured up several times. The T square is followed up by sliding the ruler down the fabric while keeping the top and sides at a 45 degree angle.
How to Cut Fabric Straight - Troubleshooting
What can you do if you have followed all the preparation steps to get your fabric ready for cutting and you see the fabric is still out of shape and not lying flat on your cutting table? Perhaps your fabric shop assistant used the snip and tear method to cut your fabric and it is all out of shape.
If this happens to your fabric you may need some help to pull it back into shape. The woven threads of your fabric have been pulled out of line. Enlist the help of someone else and hold the fabric at each end. Hold one side in one hand and the other in the other hand. Then pull opposite hands away from each other. After a few tugs pull the fabric on the other side with the other opposite hands pulling against each other. This action pulls the fabric, through the bias of the fabric. You will see the fabric pull across the grain and this helps to straighten the actual warp and weft threads.
Probably the most important aspect of learning how to cut fabric straight is to work with the fabric threads. These are the warp and the weft. Your fabric, especially woven fabric, is made of two sets of threads woven to create this warp and weft. The pattern you plan to cut out based on a straight grain of warp and weft will not hang or drape correctly if the fabric is not straight. It means your straight grain, on your pattern, is not going to be true to the straight grain of the fabric.
How to Cut Fabric Straight - In Conclusion
Understanding this aspect of pattern sewing and cutting is one of the most basic and important components of dressmaking. The principle of how to cut fabric straight plays a big part in quilting and the cutting and placing of quilting squares. Working with fabric is an art and knowing how to cut your fabric straight is a fundamentally important process in all your sewing projects.