14 January 2013

Before You Cut Your Fabric...

Before you cut your fabric... - Tilly and the Buttons

You've got your pattern and your fabric to make your first sewing project. How do you go about cutting it out? Well, before we get to wield the scissors, there are a few little things to do first...

Pre-wash your fabric

Before you cut your fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

I know you’re desperate to get cracking and this is a really boring step, but it’s a reeeeeally good idea to pre-wash your fabric before you cut it out (or steam/dry clean, depending on your fabric choice). It may well shrink a little, or change other properties such as the drape, resulting in a garment that’s too tight for you if you don't wash it first. Just get into the habit of whacking it in the wash as soon as you get home from fabric shopping and you’ll save a lot of frustration later.

Press your fabric

Before you cut your fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

Once it's washed and dry, get your iron out and press out any creases in your fabric. You'll want to get it nice and smooth to help ensure the shapes and sizes you cut are accurate. Test out the iron on a small patch first to check that the temperature and steam/non-steam setting you use is suitable for your fabric and won’t leave a mark.

Prepare your pattern

Before you cut your fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

Patterns usually come on a massive sheet of paper and need dividing up into different pieces. Cut around each piece using paper scissors. In the next post I'll outline different methods of cutting the fabric - depending on which option you choose, you may want to cut the pattern roughly or accurately. For now, a good option is to cut around each piece leaving a bit of extra space outside the lines.

Give your pattern a press if it’s folded or crumpled, again to help with accurate cutting. Most pattern paper will be fine with a low, dry iron – although do test a small patch first as the ink on some patterns can smudge.

Lay out your fabric

Find as long a table as you can get, clear everything off it and give it a wipe down. If you don’t have a table at all, you can get a large fold-out cutting mat for the floor.


Fold your fabric in half lengthways, right sides together, matching up the two selvedges. Okay, so there's a lot of information in that sentence, so let's break it down:

- Folding the fabric in half makes it easier to cut two of the same piece at once - for example, sleeves or half a bodice when there's an opening in the middle. Folding also allows you to cut single symmetrical pieces - notice that some pattern pieces correspond to half of a fabric piece only, and will say "place on fold" if they're to be cut like this.

- The “right” side is the front of the fabric if it has a print or slightly different weave on one side - it's the side you want to show on the outside of your finished garment. Take a close look – it’s not always obvious if they're different at first glance! The opposite of the right side in this context is the "wrong" side, rather than left side. You'll hear the expression "right sides together" a lot in sewing instructions.

- The "selvedges" (or selvages in US English) are the woven edges of the fabric running lengthways.

Smooth the fabric out to make both sides as flat as possible. If your fabric is longer than your table, lay out as much as you can and keep one end rolled up neatly. That way you can cut a few pieces at a time and unroll more when you free up some space. Just check that all the pattern pieces fit on the fabric before you start cutting.

Lay out your pattern

Place your pattern pieces on top of your fabric. This part is a bit like a puzzle. If you’re feeling thrifty, the aim of the game is to fit all the pattern pieces on as short a piece of fabric as you can manage. Your pattern instructions will include a suggested layout, or you can play around to see what works best for the width of fabric you have and the size you're mkaing. You can also rearrange the fabric fold if it saves fabric – for example, folding one third over two thirds – as long as the selvedges remain exactly parallel to each other.

Each pattern piece will give you some instructions as to how to position them:

- “Place on fold” or “Cut 1 on fold” → Line up the fold edge indicated on the pattern with the fold of the fabric. You'll end up cutting one symmetrical piece of fabric from a pattern piece which corresponds to half.

- “Cut 1” or “Cut 2” → Cut out one piece on a single layer of fabric or matching pairs on a double layer of fabric.

- “Cut 2 + 2” → On Tilly and the Buttons patterns we say "Cut 2 + 2 interfacing", but if you're using another brand of pattern the second number refers to the interfacing. So in this example, you’d cut two pieces in fabric and two matching pieces in interfacing.

- Most pieces are laid out face up, unless they’re shaded on the pattern layout diagram, in which case they go face down.

Before you cut your fabric... - Tilly and the Buttons

- A long double-pointed arrow across a pattern piece indicates the grainline. The grainline arrow shows you how to position your pieces in relation to the direction of threads which make up the fabric. Line up the arrow parallel to the selvedge or fold, ie. running lengthwise down the fabric. An easy way to do this is to start by sticking a pin in one end of the grainline arrow. Measure the distance from the arrow to the selvedge. Now pivot the piece so that the other end of the arrow is the same distance away from the selvedge. Once you’re happy with the positioning, pin the other end of the arrow to hold it in place.

So that's what to do just before you cut your fabric!

If you'd like some more help getting started with sewing patterns - from cutting through basic clothing construction - try our online video workshop, Learn to Sew Skirts.

51 comments:

  1. I totally love your iron! It looks amazing. I think I need to invest in a new one, but who wants to spend money in irons when there's so much gorgeous fabric to buy?

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    1. Very true! I got mine second hand off my brother :)

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  2. I usually also preshrink my interfacing before I start my projects (or as soon as I get home after buying it). I'm kind of forgetful, so this is a must for me if I don't want bubbling on collars and such after the first wash.

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  3. Phew! That must have taken ages to write and photograph - kudos. Why is your washing machine so pristine?! My washing machine door is covered in dust and grime. I'm such a sloven!

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    1. Why yes it did, Karen! Washing machines clean themselves, don't they?!

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  4. Excellent post! I try to always put my fabric in the washing machine when it gets home, but sometimes I forget. That means I have to wait to start a project until it is washed, which feels like it takes forever ;) Thanks, Tilly!

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  5. Another great post. Washing fabric before cutting is a real must. Can you believe we were never told to do this when studying for a fashion degree! I guess we were all really lucky that are garments fitted our models when we showed are collections at graduate fashion week.

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    1. Ha! Maybe the teachers assumed you'd be working in a big company with another department to do that?

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  6. Great tips! Thanks for sharing.
    -Emily

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  7. Thank you! Your posts are so useful for a beginner like me.


    Penny

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  8. Thanks for doing these posts Tilly! I attempted to make a top last year and although I managed to piece it together using a pattern, I certainly need a refresher and a good explanation of how to do it properly, ha! x

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  9. Pre-washing my fabric is something I know I *should* do but I never do! But you've persuaded me... This evening I was going to cut but instead - I am going to wash!

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    1. I know it's so tempting to not bother... but if you just do it straight away it doesn't seem like such a hassle.

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  10. I wish i learnt all of this kind of thing before i jumped in and made my first dress (that sits at the back of the wardrobe looking shamefully pathetic). I will probably cut it up to reuse some of the fabric in the near future, or just make it into a skirt :)

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  11. Well, we had a little back and forth in the shop today over which was correct. "selvedge' (my pick) or 'selvage'. I guess I like EnglishEnglish better? I live in the US. haha.

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    1. Yeah I had to look it up to check!

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  12. I love this series, and this is an invaluable post. I start teaching my next Intro to Sewing group this semester & will definitely point the students to your series for additional resources. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks Fleur. Exciting that you're teaching!

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  13. I lurve washing my fabric because (horror of horrors) I like to use fabric conditioner and the fabric smells luverly afterwards! In the UK I could get fragrant water that you poured into your iron so as you pressed your fabric, it again smelled (? or 'smelt') fabulous - I am about the scents!!!

    Unfortunately here in Canada I haven't been able to find 'ironing' water - the spray on stuff is just not the same :(

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    1. Ooh fragrant water... I didn't know that existed, I'll have to keep an eye out.

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    2. You can make your own linen water is ironing water. Just mix distilled water with a few drops of essential oil of your favorite frangrance. You may ha e to play with how many drops to use for the strength you want.

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  14. Tilly, I have returned to sewing after a good number of years and am finding your posts so helpful. I am going to a night class (next week) and hope the teacher is as good as the posts you are putting on your site.
    We were advised to bring an easy pattern, along with materials, I chose to make a dress that is cut on the bias!! and it's lined, how adventurous am I? Hopefully, she'll think it's an easy pattern, I'm really anxious about it to tell the truth. Will let you know how I get on and hopefully will be able to post a picture of the finished product.

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    1. Oh good, I'm so pleased. Your teacher will probably tell you that a lined, bias-cut dress is not "easy". But if you're up for it, go for it I say!

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  15. Lots of good tips here - thank you so much!

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  16. This is best bunch of info ever! Thank you so much :)

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  17. Hi Tilly, thanks for this series. Could you please offer some advice about truing-up fabric? I try every time before cutting but I'm really not sure what I am doing. How to approach the different fabric types and also how exact does it have to be? I am sure I am spending much too much time trying. Many thanks.

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    1. Do you mean straightening out the grain? There's a tutorial here which might help you.

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  18. Tilly, sorry for the Unknown post above. It's Jenny from Melbourne Australia.

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  19. Thank you thank you thank you for these helpful posts! You are making my introduction to sewing a much smoother process than it otherwise would be. It seems like such an obvious thing... "Just cut it out..." But it can be overwhelming to a beginner (especially since fabric isn't free and cutting is permanent!). Thanks again. Keep it up! I'm looking forward to the post on cutting it all out.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that, Natalie! Yeah, it's exactly those questions which are often overlooked which I want to answer in these posts.

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  20. Your "learn to sew series" is great. My mother teached me all about sewing when I was younger, so I'm familiar with most of the stuff, but I still found some very helpfull tips. I'm looking forward to the next part!

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    1. Thank you for your supportive comment - I'm glad you like it!

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  21. Hi Tilly, I've been a beginner sewer for a long time - I read a lot of sewing blogs but don't find the time to make much on my own. I'm making my way through your learn to sew posts and I have to say these are the most thorough and simple explanations I've ever seen! I remember wondering if I should pre-wash my fabric, and it took me quite awhile to find the answer. Thanks for taking the time to lay this all out for us.

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  22. I would love to see a tutorial on how to square fabric right off the bolt. I've wasted $20 in burlap and muslin simply because I do not know how to make my measurements and lines even. Thanks so much for the tutorials!

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  23. Am about to cut out my first sewing pattern, eek! Would not have got this far without your blog, sooo helpful and it's written in a way that is easy for a beginner like me to understand. Thank you Tilly!!! Can't wait for your book next year. :)

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  24. you are so wonderful, thank you for explaining these things! I am a beginning sewer and I have books and other things but I end up avoiding patterns and just doing DIYs based off of clothing I have already because I don't know how to read patterns and I spend most of my time trying to look up what the sewing terms mean (like "selvedges"), thank you for outlining it so clearly! Now I feel brave enough to try some patterns!

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  25. You have saved my baffled brain looking at a pattern for the first time. :)

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  26. Great job ! I too am coming back to sewing , and was very happy to find your blog together with your 'building blocks' process ! I will now sign up for your newsletter - thank you again !

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  27. why are some pattern pieces placed face down?

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    1. Wish this had been answered. Would love to know why as well.

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  28. Great series Tilly hoping to inspire my Girls to use it as I don't get enough time with them myself now they're all grown up.

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  29. Thank you for the wonderful reminder, sometimes I do get in a hurry and skip certain steps but all most always regret later.

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  30. THIS s EXACTLY what I have been looking for! I've washed my fabric now to cut out my patters (but other places say to not cut the pattern but to trace it on to something and cut that instead? Seems like 'make work' but maybe there is a good reason....?

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  31. Hi Keda,

    Yes, Tilly like to trace the pattern onto fabric rather than cutting it so you can keep your pattern intact in case you want to use the larger sizes later. You can read about it here.

    Hope this helps!

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  32. I'm learning to sew again after many,many years. I love how easy and well explained (the why)you have made this, I'm learning lots even that I had seen/helped with in the past, thanks so much.

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  33. Thank you for such an amazing blog. I bought some raw fiber materials from Fiber Partner after reading tips from this blog. Keep posting such useful articles!

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  34. Wow I have been searching for a tutorial or blog where someone describes all of this terminology in patterns for 3 years. My first project has been on hold that long! Every time I've searched for tutorials on how to read patterns, everyone assumes I know the terminology and it has been so frustrating. Thank you so very much!

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