5 Fabric Cutting Tips

We've all heard the saying "measure twice, cut once", but here are 5 cutting tips that I've learned over time that I find very useful.

1. Use the lines on your ruler, not your mat.

The lines on cutting mats are good in theory, but when you are trying to accurately cut fabric they just don't hold a candle to your ruler. Your mat is made of a more flexible material that can warp and shift but rulers are made of a hard plastic that generally does not if cared for properly. Also, when you lay your fabric out on the mat to cut, when you smooth it out and place your ruler to cut there is a strong possibility your fabric will shift, even if it is only slight, that can make a big difference over the course of a quilt.

So what do you do if the piece you need to cut is larger than your ruler? Use multiple rulers. For example, if you need to cut a piece 14 1/2" wide and you have a 12 1/2" square ruler and a 6" x 24 inch ruler you would line up the 12 1/2" square ruler on the 8 1/2" mark and then butt the 6" x 24" ruler up to it and use it to cut your piece. This will give you the most accurate cut.

2. Use the same brand of rulers for all cutting for a project.

Rulers from the same company are made in the same factories, with the same equipment, using the same standards over and over. At least this is the case with the large companies such as Creative Grids or Olfa. The result is that you get consistency in the spacing, no matter what combination of rulers you are using. While the potential difference in measurement may seem insignificant it can add up across the span of a quilt.

Let's say you have 1" finished HST (half square triangle) blocks, and your quilt is 100 HST blocks across. If every 4 blocks you are off by 1/8" the finished quilt will be off by 3 1/8" which can mean the difference between nice accurate points, rows lining up, and an overall square quilt.   

Now sometimes even I make an expectation to this rule, but it is generally on quilts with fewer blocks that are larger in size, where even if you are slightly off you can make up for it with the natural give of your fabric. 

3. Line your ruler up on the selvage end of the fabric when creating a straight edge for cutting.

Many people like to use the fold of the fabric to line up their ruler. I'll admit that is what I did for the longest time! This isn't the worst thing to do, but using the selvage line to trim up your fabric is an even better practice. Why you ask? Well it all comes down to how the fabric is made. 

Depending on the fabric type, the selvage is either a structurally sound unfinished edge, or a finished edge that runs parallel to the lengthwise threads in the weave. Since this edge is structurally sound it is less prone to the fibers shifting and moving as the fabric is handled and worked with. That makes it the most accurate part of the fabric to use to get your initial straight edge.

4. When cutting WOF (Width of Fabric) strips avoid folding your fabric more than once.

So you purchase a pre-cut 2 1/2" strip pack, and when you get home you excitedly rip open the package to fondle....erm, I mean organize your newly purchased fabric. As you are laying them out you notice that some of the strip aren't quite straight. Then you notice that where the strip is crooked is right at the fold in the fabric. What gives?

The more times you fold a cut of fabric, the more chance you have for the fabric to shift and move, which can result in strips that aren't quite straight, like the one pictured. After the first fold (which is normal for fabric off the bolt) you run the risk of fabric bunching at the fold, and as you spread out the bunching when you smooth your fabric you are shifting the fabric and may no longer be straight. 

It may seem quicker and easier to have a shorter fold (less distance to travel with the rotary cutter), but your accuracy can pay the price. If folding the fabric multiple times just can't be avoided (you don't have a large enough mat or not enough space) take your time to make sure things are sitting properly before cutting.

5. Press before trimming & cutting apart sewn units.

But.....this takes so much more time! I've heard this quite a few times when it comes to this method. Pressing, then lifting up your fabric to trim a seam, or cut a sewn unit in half to yield 2 HST blocks or multiple flying geese blocks does take more time. You have to lift your fabric and position your ruler while making sure the pressed piece doesn't bounce back. It is such a pain, but it is totally worth it and here is why.

When you do something like a flip and sew for a flying geese block, or you are using a method to make HST where you sew a 1/4" on both sides of a line and then cut it apart to yield 2 blocks, it not only can reduce the sewing time, but it also increases accuracy. It all comes down to the bias. When you are sewing a piece of fabric with the bias in tact there is less give in the fabric because of how it is woven. The moment you cut across the bias the fabric starts to pull apart so pressing, handling, anything really can help speed this up. When you press your fabric before cutting you not only set the fibers, but you avoid potentially warping your unit when pressing. Taking the time to press  before trimming can lead to greater accuracy which is important when you are making more complex and smaller blocks.


Were these tips helpful? Do you want to see more like this? Are there any cutting tips you would add? Please let me know!