June 25, 2012

2-in-1 Sew-Along: Cutting Tips & Plaids/Directional Prints

Some of my best projects were a happy marriage of fabric and sewing pattern. Humans aren't the only ones who enjoy connubial felicity. Yes, I did just type that. Today, I thought I would give my cutting tips. It's time to cut into that fabric!

First, be sure that you've pre-laundered your fabric. This helps reduce shrinking, color bleeding and gets rid of sizing in any given fabric. This can change your mind when it comes to cutting into a particular fabric and for the purposes for which you are thinking this fabric would work. It has happened to me on more than one occasion. Make sure you give it a go in a wash or if you prefer, to the dry cleaners, dry it and press the fabric yardage. I like to do this all at once and then hang on a hanger until I'm ready to cut.
Second, before you go cutting into the fabric, make sure that you're taking into consideration some important points:
  • Is your fabric a directional print? This means that there is a clear upside down and right side up to the print. If there is, make sure that you are considering that when you are cutting out each piece. Having the bodice right side up and the sleeves upside down could look amateurish. 
  • Are you working with a large print? A large print with lots of space in between the print and the base color of the fabric? Be very careful of where you place those big prints and/or lighter parts of the prints. Be sure to think about if a particularly large flower is being put directly on the apex of the bust, or the hips, especially on the bum or the front area (which I'll not directly name). 
  • Is your fabric a plaid? I've included cutting tips for plaids down lower, so please be sure to read through them. You can adapt some of the instructions for pattern matching if you desire. I don't do a lot of pattern matching with prints (non plaid fabrics) only because I find the result is not particularly worth the work to me. You may feel differently, which is A, OK. 
Cutting a slippery fabric? Personally, I prefer to cut these out on a cutting cloth, which is a fancy name for a yard or longer of sticky like fabric, like flannel. I use dressmaker's shears, FYI. Lay your cut cloth down first, then lay the slippery fabric on top. When pinning the pattern to the fabric, pin through all the layers, including the cut cloth. Cut in between the fashion fabric and the cut cloth. The cut cloth will keep the slippery fabric from moving around too much.

You can also cut in a paper sandwich, like this tutorial. This would work better for a rotary cutter set up.

Planning a Plaid
You'll need more planning if you have selected a plaid fabric. To start, make sure that you've purchased extra fabric so that you'll have enough to match the plaids with. If you've selected a small scale plaid, you'll not need as much as if you've selected a large scale plaid. Additionally, if you have ideas of doing sections on the bias, it's easier to deal with fabrics that are stable and not fluid. I'm talking cotton versus rayon challis. I've selected a cotton/linen blend and so it has some stability factor that will be easier to work around for the pattern pieces I've selected to put on the bias.

If you're considering a plaid, make sure that you are considering scale and how that is going to play out on your body. One rule of thumb is to save larger plaids for longer garments on adults. Having a large scale plaid on a child throws the proportions off significantly.

Before cutting, I get a read on my plaid fabric by draping it on my dressform and seeing which plaid is the dominant plaid. If you take several steps back, you'll see which stripe is the most visible. Usually, it's a light colored stripe and the darker colors fade into the background. That's the stripe that you need to base the plaid matching around later down the road.

For Simplicity 1880, you're going to want to decide on a plaid design for the different pattern pieces before you cut. It's a good idea to draw your ideas directly onto the line drawing which is located on the pattern instructions. It's a good visual that will help you determine if you're going to come up with any problems and like most plaids, you will, so the trick is to find the trouble spots and determine if it's worth putting something on the bias. I see a trouble spot with the skirt sections attaching to the bodice. Since the bodice has pleats going into the skirt sections, once you reach that part the plaid will be off and unable to match because there are no corresponding pleats in the skirt. Plus the skirt pieces are such that you'll run into tricky matching since the seams are cut at angles. This is a good section to possibly put on the bias. So are the shoulder yokes for the same reason.

In the case of cutting, it's also a good idea to reverse engineer the yoke pieces. Instead of two pieces, you can put the pieces back together and cut as one. Mark in your seam allowances at the shoulder seams and pin the pattern pieces together over the top of each other. Voila! Instant one piece yoke instead of two.

Here is my plan for the Simplicity 1880 shirt dress with 3/4 sleeve:
  • Collar, Bodice and Sleeve on the straight of grain.
  • Yokes and Skirt on the bias.
Cutting the plaid
Since I've determined which parts are going to be on the straight of grain and which on the bias, I'm mostly ready to cut. I like to make some pattern markings to help myself out. We want a pleasing effect so we need to follow some general rules. Below is a diagram of that and this is where finding that dominant plaid comes into play. You need to be careful with the dominant plaid. Like a large scale print it can emphasize things that will end up looking disproportionate. Right across the bust line could really emphasize a fuller busted woman as right across the hip line would emphasize a pear shaped woman. Here's some examples of what to think about:

From here, I made markings on my pattern pieces to better help me visualize what I want. For myself, I want to put a dominant stripe above my bust and down the center front. I mark T shapes on my bodice front above the apex marking (the bull's eye mark on the bodice front) and also on the sleeve. I match the sleeve by walking the seam lines up to my T shape in my bodice front. The bodice back I match on the cloth from the waistline. On my skirt pieces and the yokes, I need to mark bias grainlines or 45* angles to the straight of grain. Here's a great tutorial for that.

To prep the fabric for cutting now, I pin baste every other plaid stripe both vertically and horizontally. I've found it's more accurate for me to cut out two pieces at once than cut out one piece over the other, but if you like, here is a tutorial from Sewaholic for doing it the other way. Please note, this is for the bodice section only. The skirt on the bias will need some extra work. I work my way around the body starting with the bodice front. I then move onto the bodice back, the sleeve and then the yokes.

The skirt sections, if they are on the bias, take a little more work. You'll need to consider seam lines for the skirt sections, instead of the cut edges. So in this case, we'll be utilizing the tutorial from Sewaholic and cutting each piece one by one. I'm starting with the skirt fronts. One piece cut and the next piece we have to actually pattern match. I've flipped my pattern piece over so that I'm cutting both a right front and a left front. I've temporarily folded over the seam line of my cut skirt piece. To do that, I lightly pressed/steamed it over - not hard pressed which would leave a permanent press mark. I've also folded over the seam allowance on the pattern piece and now I sidle up the cut piece to the pattern piece until I've found the place where these two pieces are sewn together, I'll have perfect chevrons down the center front of the dress. When you've found that, unfold the pattern, pin in place and cut. You'll need to do this process for the side seams and also center back seam.

For more 2-in-1 Sew-Along posts, click here!



  1. Love your fabric choices!!!!!!!!

  2. I am jealous! That silk-crepe is exactly my color/style... I've never seen anything of the sort at Joann's (actually, I've never really seen anything I wanted to wear at Joann's O_o, but maybe I don't have enough experience/vision.)

  3. Oh dear - you would never find a fabric like this at Joann! Ha ha! I mostly have to look online for fine fabrics. There is a local fabric shop here in SLC that sells fine apparel fabrics, but alas, only one!

  4. What a gorgeous silk. My eyes have gone green with envy! I'm spitting as well because my pattern STILL hasn't arrived in the mail, fingers crossed it does this week! I'll be playing catch-ups then!

  5. Wow! That silk crepe is absolutely stunning.

    I'm not joining in this Sewalong, but will be reading with interest and can't wait to see the finished dresses.

  6. Any tips for transferring pattern markings?

  7. For marking within a seamline, clip a tiny notch or a small slanted slit into the edge of the seam (tiny being the operative word! Slanted slit means that the cut is on the bias, and less likely to fray). For internal markings, you can poke a pin vertically through your pattern and all layers of fabric, hold it gingerly in place as you separate the layers and put other pins to mark where the vertical pin goes through. Thread marking, with tailor's tacks, is a wee bit more time consuming, but also a venerable and respected way to mark. I always opt for removable markings, myself. Chalk, pencil, "vanishing pens" and -- worst of all -- punching or cutting a hole to mark the end of a dart, pocket placement, etc., may not go away when you want them to go away. The hole-cutting practice is sound practice for manufacturers, but makes alterations merry heck. I sometimes use the sharp edge of a sliver of soap to mark hemlines, esp. on dark fabrics.


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