woman cutting fabric with scissors

Almost every sewing or quilting project involves some fabric cutting. It doesn’t seem to be the most important part of the project. Cutting fabric is easy, isn’t it? You can use shears, rotary cutter or even fabric cutter machine if you have one. Fabric cutter machines and rotary cutters are more used for quilting projects, while a good, sharp pair of shears will do just fine for most sewing projects. So, why would anyone ask how to cut fabric? 

While cutting fabric is quite simple indeed, it is also very easy to make a mistake. The truth is that you can ruin your project even before you turn on your sewing machine. All because of sloppy cutting. Twisted seams, seams that don’t match, patterns that don’t match, not enough fabric, and a couple of other faults can occur only because you didn’t cut your fabric properly.

But, don’t get scared. Fabric cutting is not rocket science. You just need to prepare the fabric properly and follow a couple of simple rules. That should be enough to avoid rookie mistakes and create great garments from the very beginning of your sewing journey. Proper cutting will make your sewing projects easier and smoother, and you will avoid unnecessary frustrations.

Preparation Tips

It all starts with proper preparation. You can’t just grab shears and start cutting. So, preparation is a very important part of cutting. For best results, don’t rush it and take one step at a time. You will lose more time if you have to do something all over again because of mistakes that you make in a hurry.

Washing and Ironing

The first step is to wash your fabric. It is actually a general sewing tip that many sewers don’t follow. But, it’s a very important habit. Once you have finished your project it can look beautiful, but washing can cause shrinking that can deform and ruin your garment. So, washing the fabric before you cut it will allow you to take accurate measurements. And precise cutting will allow you to create a great garment.

Ironing is important as well. You need to iron your fabric flat to make sure that your measurements are correct. You will straighten out the wrinkles and make the fabric perfectly flat. This way it is much easier to take measures and cut the fabric with precision.

washing and ironing before learning how to cut fabric

Take Measures

Accurate measures are important for every project, but even more so if you are making a piece of garment. It depends on your project, how precise you need to be. But, precise measures can spare you a lot of trouble. So, don’t be lazy! Even if you sew for yourself check out your measures once again.

Knowing the right height, shoulder, bust, waist, and hip measures is helpful. Of course, you don’t need all of them if you are sewing a pair of pants, but I just want to emphasize the importance of measuring. As the old adage goes: “Measure twice, cut once.

Hard Work Surface

You should always cut your material on a hard flat surface. It sounds like trivial advice but even the surface matters. It is much harder to cut the fabric precisely on a softer surface like carpet or bed. Also, make sure that your fabric doesn’t hang from the working surface. If the fabric hangs partially, it may pull the rest a little bit resulting in an uneven cutting line.

High-Quality Shears

Shears and scissors have an important place in your sewing kit. Low-quality shears will dull quickly. A good pair of shears will work great for a long time and allow you to cut through the fabric easily and with precision. Never use your shears for patterns on anything else but fabric. Use regular scissors for paper patterns and other purposes.


Cutting Tips

Now, you are ready to start cutting. 


It is not enough to place your ruler down and draw the lines. You need to make sure that you’ll get a desirable outcome. To achieve it you need straight edges aligned in a particular way. The first step is truing. It’s a fancy word that denotes checking and correcting the way you cut so that your pattern will match. Moreover, it will allow the final product to fit and hang properly.

So, how do you do it? Most woven fabrics come with selvages on two opposite sides. Usually, selvages are straight. Find a thread one inch away from the cut edge. The thread should be perpendicular to the selvage. Pull the thread gently and your fabric will pucker a little bit. Hold the thread and straighten the fabric. Keep pulling and straightening until you reach the opposite selvage. When you pull out the whole thread you will see that it has left a perfect straight line on the fabric. Now, you can cut your first straight line. This works only for woven fabrics. For knits and non-woven fabrics use a ruler.

Squaring Your Fabric

Basically, it means cutting off the selvages. You can use a 90-degree ruler to make sure that you really have a 90-degree angle. Or you can use the same thread-pulling technique that I mentioned above. Fold your fabric in half to check out the accuracy and trim it if needed. If you are cutting a square, you can fold it diagonally to see if it fits perfectly.

Cutting Pattern and Fabric

Cutting out your patterns is easy. Just make sure you use regular scissors and not your fabric scissors. Pin the pattern and pay attention to grainlines. If you don’t align your pattern with grainlines, you might ruin your garment. The patterns won’t match and the fabric will twist awkwardly. It will happen because the fabric will stretch at an angle.

Grainlines aren’t always obvious. But, truing, squaring and accurate placing of the pattern will allow you to avoid problems further down the road.

Use tailor’s chalk to trace the pattern. Remove the pattern and cut the fabric with your shears.

And that’s about it.



Bonus Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes

Buy More Fabric When You Use Plaid or Stripe Patterns 

This is a common mistake. If you buy just enough fabric, chances are you won’t be able to match plaids and stripes properly. To avoid this you need to buy more fabric. Generally, it is the width of the fabric that decides how much fabric you need. You can use your best judgment to make sure you bought enough fabric. Or you can take your pattern to the store and place it on the fabric to check out how much is enough.

Don’t Forget Ease

When you take body measurements you need to add a little extra. This is called ease. Basically, if you follow your exact measurements you would get a skin-tight garment. Unless you are making a spiderman costume you need to add some wearing ease, so that you can feel comfortable when you wear your new garment.

There’s also a stylish part. If you want a close fit you will add a little bit of ease, while you will need more for loose fit appearance. The pattern sheets usually come with ease charts, so don’t forget to check them out.