May 24, 2011

Cutting Tips for Beginners

Aren't you so excited? Once all the fitting and adjustments and alterations are behind you, now you can whip out your shears, cut your cloth and stitch up your sewing pattern! It's a big day! Yay!

I thought I would do a small post on cutting tips for beginners if indeed you are a beginner. Be aware that these are just my tips and there are other methods out there too - so if you find cutting methods that work better for you - Go for it! Let's get started, shall we? You will be needing dressmaking shears or a rotary cutter and mat - whichever works best for you - and pins or marking chalk.

Tip #1 - Make sure your fabric is freshly pressed. This is a must and it really helps you to cut your cloth much more accurately.

Tip #2 - Cut your cloth on a hard surface like your dining room table. Cutting your fabric on a soft surface or on the carpet can result in inaccurate cutting and then you'll find that certain pieces won't line up together or one piece might be longer than another, etc. Hard surface is the way to go.

Tip #3 - Follow the cutting layout given in the pattern instructions. Especially for specialty cuts like cutting napped fabric or stripes!

Tip #4 - Press your pattern pieces with a dry iron and then position them on the fabric. Again, this really aids in accuracy. Tape involved from adjustments? Just iron carefully around the tape or use a press cloth on top of the pattern pieces.

Tip #5 - Check your grainline. Check your grainline again. And again. How, you might ask? Have your tape measure handy, like draped around your neck, and measure from the grainline to the selvage edge of the fabric at the top of the grainline near one arrowhead and then again at the other end with the other arrowhead. Both measurements should be exactly the same. Then if you need, pin the grainline in place before pinning anywhere else.

Tip #6 - Pin your pattern pieces to the fabric or use pattern weights (like canned food bottles) and outline the pattern pieces with chalk. I'm a pinner. It's the way I learned and for me, I'm much more accurate with pinning that outlining the pattern pieces in chalk. But that's just me. When pinning, pin at the corners of the pattern first and then pin a pin or two in between the corners. Try both methods and see what works best for you.

Tip #7 - Cut your fabric with your shears at a perfect 90 degree angle to your hard surface area. In other words, keep your shears straight up and down. Also, cut the full length of the shear almost to the end (but not quite) before moving the shears up again to cut more. Take as long a cut with your shears as possible. Cut with one hand and hold the pattern and fabric down next to the shears with the other, like in the photo above. Do this with a rotary cutter and mat too.

Tip #8- Snip your notches. When I first learned how to sew, my teacher made me keep those silly notches (those triangular looking things) on the pattern pieces and then cut them out too. Carefully snipping your notches is much more accurate and a ton easier than trying to cut them out of the fabric. Just snip to the point of the notch and there you go.

Tip #9 - Mark any pattern markings before removing the tissue from the freshly cut fabric. I use chalk, pins or tailor's tacks to accomplish this.

Tip #10 - Have fun! Cutting into the final fabric is one of my favorite parts of sewing. I'm a serious fabric lover so I like doing stuff like pinning and watching my shears slice through the cloth. The sound even gets to me. Seriously, enjoy yourself. Turn on some music and having a cutting party.

Don't forget to cut your interfacing. I always forget to do that, but you don't have to now because I told you! Enjoy sewalongers!




  1. Thanks so much for this post! As a beginner, I need the details explained to become a better sewer. I really appreciate this, because although I'm doing most of these things already, the grainline measuring tip is awesome. That really cleared up a mystery for me.

  2. Great tips, Sunni! Cutting is the absolute foundation to any project. I've found that many of my heartaches throughout a project are direct results of sloppy cutting. My rotary cutter has become my best friend!

  3. #11 Make sure your scissors are sharp. Many sewing shops can recommend where you can go to get your scissors sharpened. My local shop even has a guy that comes in once a month. It only costs $3. Soooooooo worth it.

  4. One more tip would be to cut on the inside of the cutting line. In other words, cut off the cutting line. If you think of measuring a 2 inch strip and marking the cutting line with a ruler and pencil; the 2 inch measurement does not include the pencil line. (The width of a cutting line on a commercial pattern is wider than the normal pencil line.) I know this may sound inconsequential but it really is just a good standard and can make a difference in fit. In a bodice with princess lines there will be 8 seams (back, back princess seam, side, and front princess seam times two sides); 16 extra "lines" that could add an extra inch. (figuring 1/16 inch added to each seam allowance of each cut piece).

  5. I'm so glad! Sometimes its just refreshing to see things from a different perspective too. This always helps me. I love seeing the behind the scenes of how people sew they way they sew.

  6. An awesome tip! I have mine sharpened every so often at my local fabric store too. Best investment ever!

  7. A very good tip! Thank you Doreen!

  8. I wish I had a big table for cutting, then I might not hate this part of the process so much. The pinning and cutting are so tedious to me, and it feels like that part takes forever. If I had space for a big table, I could use weights and a rotary cutter and I bet it would all go much faster. But no, I cut my stuff out on the floor with pins and scissors. We do what we have to do! :)

  9. This is true! I have you seen those extra large cutting mats at the fabric store? This might be a good idea even to cut on the floor with. They are a bit expensive, but gosh they are amazing. I really really want one. But then of course I would want some thing to lay it on too - like a nice fabric table. Someday....sigh....

  10. Hi Sunny,
    do you have any tips for transferring darts onto the fabric? it is a nightmare for me and the tracing paper with the denty wheel thingy does not help at all...i never end up with 2 darts looking identical.
    Thank you for the tips, I am off to buy some good pins, i think that's where some of my problems stem from... :)

  11. Sunni - I just want to say HUGE thanks for organizing this sewlong. Your tips are great and this is the best garmet making experience I've had to date.

  12. Ever tried tailor's tacks? They are awfully accurate. Here's a fabulous post from the Sewaholic on how to do them:

  13. WOW! That post is very helpful, i did not even know until today what tailor tacks are. Sunni, THANK YOU!! this sewalong is truly the best :)

  14. I recently started cutting on a counter height workspace my landlord uses for building silk flower arrangements. As long as I clean up she doesn't mind, and it's amazing to cut standing erect for the most part. I love using clipped notches rather than anything you have to trim off. So efficient, so foolproof.

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