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.
Why Cutting Fabric Matters
If your cutting is out 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 unpicking to do.
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?
How to Cut Fabric
Before you Start Cutting Fabric
Before you start, check your cutting tools. At a minimum, you will need
- Fabric Shears - These are 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
If you are going to be doing a lot of sewing and cutting fabric then a rotary cutter can save you a lot of time particularly if you will be cutting a lot of straight edges such as those found on a quilt or long ruffles. For using a rotary cutter you will also need 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.
Further Reading: Using a Rotary Cutter
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
Step 1 – Prepare Your Fabric
Pre washing your fabric before sewing checks for shrinkage, color bleeding and removes any unwanted finishing chemicals the fabric has been treated with.
If you have a fabric that frays easily it is a good idea to zig-zag, serge or use pinking shears on the edges before washing.
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.
Dry and Press
Knits will need to be laid out flat to dry so they don't stretch out of shape. Other 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.
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 handing 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.
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 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.
Further Reading: Best Cutting Tools for Sewing
Step 4 – Pin your Patterns
Most patterns will have a suggested pattern layout. Place your pieces and pin them accordingly.
Did you know there are different types of pins for different purposes? Using the correct pin can mean no snags or holes are left when they are removed.
Further Reading: Types of Pins
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. These will hold the pattern in place while you cut.
Keep in mind that if you have a fabric with a pile or one-way pattern, all pieces should face the same direction. See my blog article for cutting one-way or directional fabrics.
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.
Check if seam allowances are included in the pattern. If you need to add seam allowance, leave a larget gap between the pattern pieces. (Read how to add seam allowance)
Pin all your pattern pieces to the fabric before you start cutting. This way you will make sure you are using the minimal wastage of fabric.
You may find that by moving the pieces around and testing a couple of layouts, that 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.
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.
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 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.
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 for 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 notches. I generally cut the notches outwards as there is less chance of accidentally cutting into the seam allowance.
Further Reading: How to Cut Notches
If your pattern has markings to transfer, make sure you do this before removing the pattern pieces.
Thanks for reading "How to cut fabric"
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 - you learned some of these here but these are some more symbols you might come across
- Sewing Measurements: How to take body measurements for sewing
- Napped Fabric, What is Nap in Sewing - Extra cutting tips if your fabric has a one-way design or nap
For setting up your sewing machine and starting sewing
- How to Use a Sewing Machine
- How to Wind a Bobbin
- Sewing 101
- How to Sew a Seam
- Learn to Sew
- Clipping Sewing - if you are sewing curves or corners you will need to learn how to clip.