Properly prepping and cutting your fabric is the first step for sewing garments that wear well. Cutting your pattern out accurately, and on the straight of grain, is essential for seams that go together with ease, and continue to hang well with wear.
Have you ever worn a garment with one side seam that kept twisting toward the front? That’s a typical consequence of fabric that hasn’t been cut on the grain. Have you ever sewn a garment and ended up with different lengths when trying to match up a seam? That can often happen when your cutting isn’t as accurate as it could be.
Learning how to cut fabric properly will result in better sewing that starts before you even turn on your machine.
Photos via Lucky Lucille
Start by pre-washing your fabric according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Iron your fabric (if allowed) to make sure it’s flat and free of wrinkles, and the selvage is pressed smooth. Be careful not to pull and stretch the fabric out of shape as you iron it.
When you buy fabric off the bolt at a store, the selvages are approximately lined up to create a fold. Now that your fabric has been washed and pre-cut, you will have to reestablish the fold line on the correct grain. The grainline that you will see most often when cutting out your pattern is the one that runs parallel to the selvage. To find this lengthwise grain of your fabric, line up the selvages with right sides together. The raw edges cut from the fabric store will most likely not line up as they did before washing. Make sure the selvages are even with each other for the entire length of your fabric and there are no twists or wrinkles in the fold. The fold line and the selvages should be parallel to each other, and the fabric should lie perfectly smooth and flat in between them.
It is important to establish the correct grainline of the fabric so you can line up your sewing pattern correctly. Your pattern should come with a cutting diagram to show you where to lay out your pieces for the most efficient use of space. Use this as a guide to help make sure all of your pieces are laid out in the correct direction.
In the photo below you can see the raw edges of the fabric running horizontally across the top and the fold running vertically and parallel to the selvage. It’s easy to lay out pieces that need to be cut on the fold, but for pieces that need to be cut on the lengthwise grain, a clear ruler is very helpful.
A cutting mat with a grid makes laying out your fabric a breeze! But all you really need to do is establish your fold line along the lengthwise grain (which is parallel to the selvage) and use your ruler or seam gauge to make sure the grainline of your pattern piece is also parallel to the fold line. Be sure to measure in multiple spots along the entire grainline to double check the piece is parallel to the fold along the entire length of the pattern tissue.
Other tips and helpful hints to consider:
- Before you actually start cutting into your fabric, make sure all of your pattern pieces are laid out correctly and you’ve taken into account that some pieces may need to be cut out twice, or even four times (common with pockets and waistbands with interfacing).
- Extra fabric will need to be purchased when using prints that have a directional pattern, a print that needs to be matched (like with stripes and plaids), and fabric with a directional nap (like with velvet and corduroy). Pay close attention to how you’re laying out your pattern pieces on fabrics that have a direction. For example, you’d hate to buy a beautiful bird print fabric only to end up with a dress that looks wonderful from the front, but has birds flying upside down in the back!
- Make sure your pins and scissors are sharp! Dull pins can be damaging on more delicate fabrics, and sharp scissors make a big difference in the accuracy of your cutting. Your seams along corners and hemlines will line up so much easier when they’ve been cut in straight lines.
- If you don’t feel you can cut accurately around pins, try using a rotary cutter and pattern weights instead. Not only is this method much faster, but it significantly reduces fraying while cutting.