Having a straight edge to work from and being able to produce neat, perfectly straight cuts, is vital - no matter what type of sewing you’re into. A common question that I am frequently asked by newbies and experienced sewists alike, is this: how do you cut fabric perfectly straight every time?
Quilters will know that having a straight edge is paramount, and garment makers everywhere will have experienced the disappointment of mismatched seams at least once in their life. It’s safe to say that no matter what type of sewing project you’re working on, having nice straight lines will make the entire process run a lot more smoothly. Because of this, it’s good practice to take your time when it comes to cutting your fabric and try your best to get it right the first time.
There are a couple of ways to ensure that you cut your fabric perfectly straight every time, and we’re going to cover them in this blog post, weighing up the pros and cons of each method. If you’re looking to improve your cutting technique, or you’re a beginner trying to sharpen (ha) your skills as, keep reading for some fantastic tips for cutting your fabric.
How to cut your fabric perfectly straight every time using scissors
Every sewist needs a good pair of fabric scissors, they’re part of the essential sewing kit that every sewist should be familiar with. It is very possible to cut perfectly straight lines using sharp fabric scissors, however, there are a few steps you need to take in order to ensure that you produce perfect, straight lines.
Wash and dry your fabric
First thing’s first - wash and dry your fabric! I have previously written about why it’s important to wash your fabric before you start cutting and sewing and the relevance here is that some fabrics shrink when washed. To ensure you cut a straight line every time, you will first need to make sure that you’ve washed and dried your fabric (some recommend tumble drying fabric, especially if it is a garment that’s likely to be regularly dried this way) and then iron it flat to remove any wrinkles that could warp your straight lines.
Find a flat surface to work on
This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen people waving fabric in the air trying to cut it and I’m telling you now - you will NOT get a straight edge by doing this, no matter how carefully you think you’re cutting. The same goes for cutting on a surface that isn’t flat, such as on the carpet or bed. Always stick to cutting on a hard, flat surface.
Tip: If you’re cutting fabric on a tabletop, make sure all the fabric is on the table too, not just the section you’re cutting. If fabric overhangs, the weight will pull the fabric and cause uneven lines when cutting without you even realising.
Make sure the scissors you’re using are SHARP
Don’t just use your kitchen scissors or any old pair you’ve happened to have found laying about. Use good quality, sharp scissors that are designed to be used with fabric. Once you’ve got yourself a pair of decent fabric scissors, they will last a long time provided that they’re only used on fabric (please don’t use them to cut paper!)
Find your fabrics straight edgeIn order to cut straight, you need to find the straight edge. Look for the selvage of your fabric - for more information on beginner’s sewing terms check out this A-Z glossary of sewing terms. The selvage is the term used for the finished edge of the fabric that keeps it from fraying or unraveling - it’ll often have the fabric designer or company printed on it.
The selvedge is usually straight, it might waver occasionally, but it is normally a good place to start from. Cut off the line of the selvedge to create straight edges.
Create a 90 degree corner
A clever way of ensuring you get the perfect 90 degree angle when cutting fabric is to line it up with the edge of a table, countertop, or cutting mat. First, make sure that this edge is actually 90 degrees - don’t put blind faith in your carpenter, everyone is capable of making mistakes.
Then line up the selvedge side of your fabric with the lower portion of your surface, ensure that the selvedge hangs off as we’re not going to include this area when cutting or measuring. Line up the side of your fabric with the side of your surface and check to see if the fabric is straight against the surface. Sometimes fabric can angle inwards or outwards, so trim that with your scissors until your fabric is in line with your table (you may need to use a ruler to help you trim this section).
Cutting perfect squares and rectangles
So, now that you’ve got two perfectly straight edges and a right angle, it’s time to cut the rest of your fabric into either a square or rectangle. Use a ruler to measure the amount of fabric you need, for example, if you wanted to make a 12 inch square, you would line your ruler up against the straight edge and measure out 12 inches, marking with a small cut (or sewing marker of choice).
From here, move a few inches up and do the same again, cutting upwards to meet the measurement or using your fabric marker to continue the straight line. For a 12 inch square, you would repeat this process until you have cut, or marked, 12 inches in height. If using a marker, you will now have a perfectly straight line to cut along.
Finally, turn your fabric to cut your fourth side and repeat the process to give yourself the perfect 12 inch square with wonderfully straight edges.
A good way to check your accuracy is to fold the fabric in half and determine whether the edges align; if not, measure and adjust accordingly.
The Pros and Cons of using scissors to cut straight lines in your fabricThis is a great method of teaching discipline and accuracy when it comes to cutting fabric. It teaches valuable skills needed in order to successfully sew quilts, garments, and accessories.
However, it is also a tedious and long process, with plenty room for error. Always make sure you measure twice before cutting.
Using a rotary cutter to cut your fabric perfectly straight every time
Rotary cutters have revolutionised fabric cutting and are an extremely valuable tool to have in your sewing arsenal. A rotary cutter features a round blade set in a handle designed to give you perfect, seamless, and quick cuts. They come in a variety of styles, sizes, and handle shapes.
Decide on the size of blade you need
The general rule with rotary cutter blades is that small blades are great for cutting corners and precise measurements, whereas the larger blades are useful for cutting a wide surface area and going through several layers at once. The size of the blade you’ll need will depend on the project you’re working on, therefore it’s generally useful to have more than one rotary cutter to hand.
Other equipment needed for cutting fabric with a rotary cutter
With scissors, you’re very unlikely to damage the work surface you’re using. That means you could cut fabric sat at your antique oak dining room table without worrying about slicing into a family heirloom. The same cannot be said for rotary cutters. You NEED to have a cutting mat beneath your fabric when using a rotary cutter to avoid slicing into your work surface. You also need to have a nonslip ruler to help you align the rotary cutter. A nonslip ruler is advised as other rulers can move whilst cutting and this is likely to cause some serious damage to your hands, fingers, and your fabric.
The Pros and Cons of using a rotary cutter to cut fabric
Rotary cutters make cutting fabric quick and efficient thanks to sharp blades that are able to cut precisely and go through several layers at once. This is particularly handy for quilters!
On the other hand, if you’re not careful and don’t use the correct equipment, you can injure yourself when using a rotary cutter.
Give them and go and decide which method works best for youSome people prefer to use good old fashioned fabric scissors and swear by them for all their projects. Others have found that the rotary cutter completely changed their experience of cutting and sewing in general, thanks to it’s speed and precision. Ultimately, which ever tool you choose to use, cutting straight lines into your fabric is definitely achievable, it just requires some patience and accurate measuring.
Join us at Stitch Sewcial!
What is your preferred method for cutting fabric? Is cutting in a straight line something you struggle with? Let me know in the comments. Alternatively, why not pop over to our Facebook group, Stitch Sewcial, and introduce yourself. Stitch Sewcial is also a great place to ask for advice, seek new patterns, and natter away with like-minded people.
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