Quilt Along Series: Cutting Fabric

by Amy on September 28, 2010

Cutting fabric. Does it scare the heck out of you? Hopefully from this day on you will wield a rotary-cutter with confidence.

Rotary cutters have made cutting fabric much more accurate and efficient.  I love my rotary cutter. Be careful though – those blades are sharp.  Make it a habit to keep the safety cover in position and the cutter hidden away from curious small people.

An important – and sometimes over-looked – aspect of cutting fabric is squaring-up the fabric edges before you start hacking-off strips or squares. Sometimes the fabric is wound funny on the bolt or the busy fabric-store worker may just randomly hack off your yardage.  Above is a piece that I brought home from the fabric shop. When I stopped to match-up the selvage edges I found out how off it was.

Before you start cutting:

  • Match-up selvage edges
  • Press the fabric. This may include re-pressing the center fold if the fabric was stretched out of place.
  • A light mist of spray starch can also keep things crisp and help with accuracy.

After fabric is pressed and lined-up nicely we want to trim any uneven or frayed edges so we start cutting with a clean, square edge. (Why all the fuss? What happens if we don’t square-up the edges? Your strips will end up in a useless v-shape instead of a straight line.)

  • 1- Line up center fold with a straight line on the cutting mat
  • 2- Use rotary cutter to trim off the uneven edge
  • 3- Line up a straight line on the ruler with folded edge to make sure your strip is square
  • 4- Now you’re ready to cut your first strip at the desired width.  Whenever possible, use your ruler (not the grid on the mat) to measure the width of the strip. Place the ruler over the fabric at the desired width.

When using the ruler and rotary cutter, hold the ruler in place with a wide, steady hand. Make sure your finger is not hanging over the edge of the ruler. (Trust me on this one. Blood on nice fabric is not pretty.) Cutting while standing will give you more control.

There are other helps to keep your ruler from sliding around.  The Notions department at the fabric store sells little sandpaper dots you can stick on the back of your ruler. I use Nexcare Flexible Clear Tape on the bottom of my ruler. I like it  because it’s cheap and clear.

Grip the rotary cutter firmly and push it away from your body like a pizza cutter. Be sure to put pressure on the cutter so that it goes through all layers of fabric and keep the blade right next to the edge of the ruler. (The above demo is obviously for right handed folks.  Reverse the image if you are left handed.)

If all this seems like a lot to keep track of, remember, the more you do it, the faster it will get and the more it will become automatic. But don’t be afraid to take it slow at first and remember the old carpenter’s rule: measure twice, cut once. Double check your ruler before you start slicing!

For our Quilt Along project, we are going to need these cut pieces:

  • 81 – 4 ½” (4″ finished) squares. You should be able to get 9 squares out of  1/8th yard. (Or 64 5″ squares if you are using a Charm Pack.)
  • 4 - 3 ½” strips for border fabric.
  • 4 – 2 ½” strips for binding fabric. (see photo at the top.)

Up next Tuesday in our Quilt Along Series: Piecing Squares

Amy Smart is a wife and mom. During her spare time she likes to cut up fabric into small pieces and sew them back together. She blogs about her fabric addiction at Diary of a Quilter. She also likes to do lots of other things that she doesn’t blog about like: watch Masterpiece Theater, eat homegrown tomatoes, and wear flip-flops.

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