Cutting your fabric with how to quilt

Cutting Your Fabric Correctly Cut-your-Fabric


One hundred percent cotton fabric is the choice for quilt making. To best understand how to quilt and how to cut fabric to make a quilt, it’s a good idea to understand how quilting cotton fabric is made.

Quilting cotton is a “plain woven” fabric. All fabric has threads that run the lengthwise direction of the fabric –warp- and woven threads that run perpendicular to the warp called weft. Plain woven fabric means the weft is woven one thread over and one under. The direction of the warp threads is called “straight grain”, and the direction of the weft threads is called “cross grain”. Bias runs a 45 degree angle between warp and weft.  Straight grain has no stretch, cross grain has a little stretch and bias will stretch a lot when tugging the fabric slightly. You can identify the grain of the fabric by giving it a hard, fast tug. If you hear a popping sound, you are tugging the fabric in the straight grain.

When cutting fabric for most quilt blocks, both the straight grain and the cross grain are considered the same. However, when cutting long strips for borders, and lattices, it is best to cut with the straight grain for stability.

Take the First Step

The first thing a quiltmaker must do after pre washing the pieces of fabric that will be used for piecing a quilt is to be sure that the first cut is precisely aligned with the grain of the fabric. After pressing the fabric, fold it in half lengthwise with selvedges together. Place it on the cutting mat, aligning the folded edge with the horizontal lines on the cutting mat nearest your body. Look carefully and find the “thread” of the fabric, that is, the weft threads that run from selvedge to selvedge. Align the long side of your ruler with those threads, close to the fabric edge. The horizontal lines on the ruler should form a 90-degree angle with the folded edge of the fabric. Then, hold the ruler firmly in place with your left hand if you are right handed, and make the first cut, rolling the cutter with some pressure away from your body and next to the ruler’s edge with your right hand. Make sure your hand is out of the way before sliding the rotary cutter for your own safety. While still holding the ruler, remove the small remnant of fabric you just cut. Reverse the directions if you are left handed.

Once you have made this first cut, you can flip the fabric carefully to start cutting the strips needed for the pieces of your blocks. To cut strips, use your ruler to measure the required width from the edge of the fabric (just cut). If you need to cut two inch strips, align the two inch line mark on your ruler with the vertical edge of the fabric. Once again, hold the ruler with your left hand and cut by sliding the rotary cutter right next to the edge of the ruler away from your body.

Be Careful

When sub-cutting pieces from strips to piece a block, remember that the pieces on the outside of the block should, as far as possible, have edges cut on the straight grain. Pieces with bias edges would make the block less stable and more likely to ripple and stretch. If for some reason pieces with edges cut on the bias have to be used, stabilize them by stitching near the edge with the sewing machine before pressing the completed block. Some quilt block patterns show the direction of the grain on the pieces by printed arrows. If the pattern you are using has none, look at the line drawing and figure out how to cut the outside pieces so that they are aligned with the fabric grain.

Problems with Print

Problems can arise when cutting printed fabric. Prints are not always perfectly aligned with the grain of the fabric. In most cases, this misalignment is slight and doesn’t really affect the cutting. If you notice a big problem with the alignment, is best to discard that fabric, more so if the print is directional (with stripes, checks or polka dots).

Don’t Get too Bold

If you are a beginner, it is a good idea to cut no more than two layers of fabric at the time. Also, make sure your rotary cut blade is sharp. A dull blade will skip and leave uncut sections. Replace the blade as needed.

Cutting Your Fabric with Templates

When cutting fabric pieces for a quilt block using templates, the process is different. First, you must trace the pattern pieces on your choice of template material. Template plastic sheets with and without a grid are available for template making; they are far better than cardboard, since they don’t wear out. Mark your templates with arrows to indicate the position of the template relative to the grain line of the fabric and perhaps with letters, so you will recognize the position of the piece when comparing it to your block pattern. Place the template on the fabric, aligning the arrow with the grain line, draw around it on the fabric with a pencil. Make sure you leave one half inch space between the drawn pieces, to allow for the quarter inch seam allowance. After all the pieces are marked on the fabric, you can cut the pieces with either sharp scissors or a small rotary cutter, adding the seam allowance outside the marked lines.

For more information on making a quilting block click here!

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