Properly prepping and cutting your fabric is the very first challenge you face when sewing a garment that wears well. Case in point: Have you ever worn a shirt with one side seam that kept twisting toward the front? It did that because the fabric wasn’t cut on the grain. Or, have you ever sewn a dress and ended up with different lengths when trying to match a seam? That can happen when your cutting isn’t as accurate as it could be.
If you learn how to properly cut fabric, your sewing will be improved before you even turn on your machine. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Prep Your Fabric
Start by pre-washing your fabric according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Iron your fabric (if allowed) to make sure it’s flat, wrinkle-free and the selvage is pressed smooth. Be careful not to pull and stretch the fabric out of shape as you iron.
2. Find the Grain
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’ll have to re-establish the fold line on the correct grain. The grainline you’ll 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. 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.
Good to Know: The raw edges cut from the fabric store will most likely not line up as they did before washing, so don’t stress if they’re different now.
3. Keep Your Cutting Diagram Close
It’s 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.
Before you start cutting 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; sometimes even four times. (This is common with pockets and waistbands with interfacing.)
4. Use the Right Tools
As you’re placing your pattern pieces, it’s easy to lay out what needs to be cut on the fold. But for pieces that need to be cut on the lengthwise grain, a clear ruler and a cutting mat with a grid are very helpful for correct placement. Just establish your fold line along the lengthwise grain (which is parallel to the selvage) and use your ruler or a seam gauge to make sure the grainline of your pattern piece is also parallel to the fold line. 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.
Along with measuring tools, you also want sharp, high-quality scissors and pins — dull pins can damage more delicate fabrics, and sharp scissors make a huge 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, crisp lines.
If you don’t feel you can cut accurately around pins, try using a rotary cutter and pattern weights instead. It can be a faster method and help reduce fraying while cutting.
5. Watch Those Directional Designs
When you’re using prints that have a directional pattern (like stripes or plaids), the prints need to be matched. This is equally true for fabric with a directional nap, like velvet or corduroy. You should buy extra fabric in these cases, so you can make sure everything lines up and looks seamless.
Also, 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.