How to cut Fabric ?
You have your pattern. You have your beautiful fabric and you want to get on with sewing it. I know that cutting is something you want to get over fast. But there are more to cutting than using the scissors to cut the fabric. That is if you are really serious about sewing.
Sloppy cutting will result in sloppy garment. That is guaranteed. Get some basic knowledge of cutting and you are set to go. A professionally finished garment requires that you cut accurately and precisely.
Table of Contents
What are the ESSENTIAL tools you need for cutting the fabric
1. A long pair of fabric scissors which is at least 8 inch long
There are two kinds of scissors -Bent handled scissors which has an angled handle that lets you cut comfortably. Then you have those scissors with a blunt point on the upper blade which prevents it from tearing the fabric.
2. Thread snips ( embroidery snips)
I am lost without this scissors near my sewing machine or in my embroidery kit. All those stray thread tails look so horribly messy and these scissors do save the day for me.
3. Pinking scissors
This is the one you use when one is too lazy to finish the fabric edges properly. This scissors gives a nice zig zag edge to the fabric edges and this will stop all ravelling of the fabric threads.
There are some materials which you can cut with this scissors and use it as it is like a fleece and faux leather.
4. Rotary Blade.(optional)
If you are not familiar with this blade, just imagine a very sharp pizza cutter. The blades are available in different sizes. Be extra careful with these blades. They could run away with your fingers if you are not careful. Also using this one with out a mat beneath the material you are cutting could ruin your cutting surface. A clean smooth edge is the advantage of using this cutter. Cutting through many layers of fabric with precision is a breeze with a rotary blade. This kind of cutting is impossible with scissors.
If you cut multiple layers of cloth regularly rotary cutter and a self healing mat is a good investment.
5. All purpose Scissors
This is needed to cut your sewing patterns, trims, cords, cello tapes and whatever you use in your sewing.
6. Seam Ripper
A clumsy girl like me sewing is a disaster waiting to happen for fabrics.But I manage to survive with this cute little handy tool.I cannot explain how much indispensable seam ripper is for me in my sewing.
This tool has a sharp curved hook that lets you cut open the stitches. I use it for a variety of purposes like straightening the corners of tight places like collar stands ripping open buttonholes, etc but the main thing is it lets you rip off the stitches super easily
I have a detailed post on 13 cutting tools you (may) want for sewing.
Keep your cutting tools well maintained and sharp at all times for frutration free cutting.Checkout this post on sharpening your scissors.
Ways of your fabric
Let us learn about how a fabric is constituted before learning how to cut it.
A fabric is made of warp threads and weft threads woven in a pattern. Warp threads are found along the length and the weft threads along the width.
All Fabric have grain lines which denotes the length and width of a fabric.What we call the width of a fabric has the unfinished edge of a fabric. This edge frays and this is the edge which we cut.
The length of the fabric is the finished edge of the fabric. This edge on either side of the fabric is also called the selvedges or selvages.Selvages usually have small perforated holes along the length. For printed fabric selvages are mostly plain.
When sewing we usually cut fabric lengthwise , i.e along the warp threads. These threads are stronger. But sometimes we cut fabric by the weft threads ie width wise also. This is usually done to save fabric or sometimes because the pattern calls for it.
When a pattern calls for lengthwise cut it shows Straight grain; Width wise is denoted as Off grain and Bias grain as Diagonal grain
The diagonal grain of the fabric produces the maximum stretch of the fabric. This is used to cut for fitted garments. The 45 angle cut is called the true bias.Checkout the best way to cut and sew fabric on the bias
The best use of diagonal cut of fabric is to make bias tapes which are used for biding, facing and piping. It is especially useful in curved areas like necklines, armholes and circular hems
The amount of stretch of the diagonal cut varies with the type of fabric. You will not get the same stretch for a knit and a heavy cotton cloth
It is also important that you know if the fabric you have is with nap. This is a very crucial consideration because it can effect the way the finished garment looks. Checkout the post on definition of nap and identifying the nap for more details.
Folding the fabric for cutting
Generally fabric is folded lengthwise matching the selvedges.
Sometimes you find that the pattern pieces are too wide to fit on the fabric which is folded lengthwise. That is when you fold the fabric Crosswise when fabric is folded so that the cut ends match.
This is used when you have to cut many layers of pattern pieces. Also used when you want to avoid the fold line which is present in the middle of fabric bolts which are mostly permanent. This foldline is especially evident in knit fabrics so a double fold is preferable when cutting knit fabric
How to make your fabric cut edge straight
Sometimes after repeated cuts from the fabric store, your fabric may come out with the edges not at all straight. Do not pull out your hair yet. You can make it straight with some simple steps.
- We have to get the crosswise grain of the fabric at 90 degrees to the lengthwise grain.
- Most typical way to get the straight edge is to tear it from one side. First make a small snip with the scissors and then tear straight. but this method works only with naturally woven fabric like cotton and I do not like the ragged edges that result when you tear the cloth.
- The greatest ever is if you have a cutting mat with grid lines. You just have to align the selvages with it and cut off the extra.
- Not every one has a cutting mat. Then you can still do this trick with a ruler.Fold the fabric lengthwise selvage to selvage. Then Keep a wide ruler along the cut edge, with a side flush with the selvage . Cut off the fabric above the ruler.
- Another easy way is to fold up the selvages diagonally so that the straight edge of the selvage will form the top straight edge. Now you have a straight edge guide to mark your cut edge. Isn’t this easy. I use this method all the time.
I generally donot cut off the selvages. They anyway will be cut off when you cut out the pattern pieces. Why go for an additional step.
How to fold the fabric for cutting on the straight grain
Identify the center line of the fabric lengthwise.
Fold the fabric along the center line, aligning the selvages together.
Fold again widthwise by half. Now you have four layers of selvages together on one edge .
This folding helps in cutting two of the same pieces at once. This fold can be used to cut front and back bodices if they are similar, pant legs and sleeves. The center fold line of the fabric will correspond to the center fold line of the pattern.
In case the patterns need just 2 layers like for collars, different front and bodice patterns etc. skip the second step and cut.
Look out for pattern pieces that MUST be cut on FOLd. If it says cut on fold donnot cut along the folded edge. Keep the bodice pattern along the center fold line as the picture below for cutting the fabric
Basic steps to cutting fabric
- Prepare the paper pattern by cutting it out.
- Prepare the fabric by prewashing and pressing.
- Lay out the fabric on your cutting surface as per the grain.
- Pin paper pattern to fabric. You can also use pattern weights. (Sometimes I use old clothes as pattern. Sometimes make sewing patterns using the tutorials here.
- Trace around the pattern. I have a detailed post about the different marking tools available to mark here along with how to make paper patterns by yourself.Mark the darts etc by tracing with a carbon paper or by tailor’s tacks.
- Remove paper pattern
- Cut off the excess fabric outside the marked lines using a scissors or a rotary cutter.
Points to consider before cutting the fabric
- Most of the time there will be creases in the paper pattern; use a dry iron to take them out.
- Skip prewashing of new fabric at your own peril. A way out is to leave some seam allowance to let out when the fabric will shrink after you have washed it after sewing.
- Ensure that you have lightly pressed the fabric with a medium hot iron. For accuracy in cutting you need to get the wrinkles out. Check out this article to know how to press fabric before sewing.
- Use the sharpest scissors you can get your hands on for cutting.
On a personal note I am irritated with my scissors (?) now. I have cut with it for a long time beautifully but nowadays it is giving ragged cuts. I suspect that my daughters have taken it to cut paper.
Never ever cut paper or any non fabric with your fabric scissors. Always maintain your scissor blades. Dull scissors can snag your lovely fabric. Take it to your local blacksmith to sharpen it if you suspect that it is not as sharp as you want it. Having a sharp scissors makes all the difference in your cutting
Checkout this post on different ways to sharpen your scissors
You also donot want hand fatigue or soreness as a result of using the wrong scissors. The most basic scissors you need are fabric scissors, paper scissors, seam ripper and thread snips. Rotary cutter is optional but a nice addition. For heavy fabrics like faux leather, leather.
Do you know that apart from the metal scissors blades we are familiar with, they come in non stick nowadays, for effectively cutting duct tapes etc. Fiskars even have scissors geared for left handers. Isn’t that convenient ?
- Layout your fabric on a large hard surface (I use my big dining table for cutting) – gives you a perspective. Also ensures smooth cutting. It will be best if you can find a big surface where you can rest the full or the folded cloth without any edges hanging out. Keep the surface uncluttered as well ( if it is possible)
- If you are using paper patterns use your pins liberally to pin it to the fabric before cutting. This ensures that there will be no shifting of the paper pattern. Pin near the outer edge as well as inside.Pattern weight can also be used. I prefer pins but there are people who say pins distort the fabric.
- Cut off the marking lines – When you mark outside the paper pattern with chalk or a pencil, this results in marking lines which are not really needed in the pattern. These cutting lines can add up and create unwanted width to the pattern. Ensure that you have cut out these marking lines. For side seams this addition may not be a big deal but when you are joining more than two pieces of fabric for a bodice like a princess seam or paneled skirt all those marking lines will considerably increase the width of the pieces.
- In store bought patterns there will be an arrow across the pattern indicating the grain line. This arrow tells you how to position the pattern in relation to the lengthwise straight grain of the fabric. You have to ensure that this line is parallel to the selvage of the fabric.
- You need to know that all your pattern pieces will fit into the fabric you have at hand.So ensure that all the pattern pieces will fit within the fabric. This has to be done before cutting. If they donot fit you may have to adjust the placement of the pieces. Like wise if you are marking directly onto the fabric mark the big pieces first, then the smaller pieces. This way if the cloth is not enough you can adjust and cut smaller pieces better than big pieces.
- Cut with your one hand holding the fabric and pattern paper and the other hand holding the scissors and cutting.
Cutting tips for different fabric types
How to cut Leather or faux leather
If you are cutting leather or faux leather you can save a lot of frustrations by using a rotary cutter and mat. That is not to say you cannot use scissors. But rotary cutter cuts best.
Never ever pin the pattern to the faux leather. Pin holes look horrible and it is better to use pattern weights. You can use paper clips or binder clips also clipping the pattern to the edges. I have even used tic tac hair clips
Checkout out further tips on sewing with leather.
How to cut slippery fabrics like chiffon
This is a tricky and frustrating space – cutting slippery fabrics. You can do the worst – wet it before cutting. Wetting the fabric lightly with a spray bottle will give some weight to the fabric. But you have to be careful with cutting surface. If it is a wooden table like mine you cannot risk damage.
If you have an absolutely unmanageable fabric in your hands you can skip cutting before sewing altogether. I know this is hearsay but you need your shortcuts. Mark the pattern on the fabric. Sew the seams . Cut it out after sewing with enough seam allowances.
How to cut delicate fabrics
For tissue like fabrics you can keep a thin paper/ tissue paper along with the fabric and cut together. I use this method for silk also . Checkout this post on sewing sheer/ transparent fabric for more details
How to cut Printed fabric
One of the joys of sewing your own clothes for me is matching prints on the seam lines. You rarely see this in store brought clothes. Just imagine a printed pencil skirt with unmatched prints along the center seam line on the back. It will look so odd.
If you are cutting stripe, plaid and other fabric with prints and designs do not follow the lengthwise grain. Instead you can follow the print. Cut the pattern pieces out of a single layer of fabric. Then match the design of the second piece with the first.
You should be aware that if you want to match prints along the seam line you will need more cloth than the pattern calls for. This is because once we have cut one side of the pattern, you will have to search for the matching portion in the rest of the cloth for the same print. When looking out for the matching print take into consideration seam allowance along the seam also.
Keep the part you have already cut on the matching printed portion. Mark around and cut it out. If you use invisible zippers along the seam you will not even notice that the fabric panel belongs to two pieces.
Another very important thing to consider when cutting printed fabrics is the direction of the prints. You do not want an upside down design on your sewn garment ( imagine an upside down house print). Keep all the pattern piece in the same direction before cutting.
Plaids, in my opinion, is very difficult to match. They should be attempted to cut and match after you have some sewing experience under your belt. Checkout the easy beginners sewing projects if you are a beginner.
Sometimes you may also want a particular print on a special place of the garment. This is should also be taken into consideration when buying the fabric ( may need more yardage) and placement of patterns
See the clever use of prints on the dress worn by Carrington Durham.