Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The SoChick Chick's Guide to Fabric [Part 2: Pre-washing & Cutting Fabric]

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Today we are continuing along with my Guide to Fabric by talking about the prep and cutting of our quilting cotton.  Last week I talked about Fabric Grain, if you missed it, check it out here: [Part 1: Fabric Grain]

[Part 2: Pre-Washing & Cutting Fabric]


I find that it is usually recommended that you pre-wash your fabric before cutting it; we're talking quilting cottons for the purpose of this guide.  Mostly this applies to fabric that is being used in a project that will be laundered once it is made: garments, quilting, small "washable" accessories and the like.

When I pre-wash my quilting cottons, I wash on cold with mild detergent and tumble dry warm. I'm always careful to remove my fabric from the dryer asap... otherwise, its a wrinkled mess!  

Once my fabric is washed and dried, I will press it with a hot iron, on cotton setting, with steam.  

The key phrase here is Press.  
What is the difference between ironing and pressing?  Well, when you press fabric you are doing just that: Press, lift, press.  Basically, you lift the iron slightly off of the fabric, this is where steam helps out, then place it down again on the next section you are pressing.  Ironing applies pressure to the fabric combined with a back and forth movement that can distort your fabric grain, true story, so we stay away from that method for our sewing projects.

*Note: I do not pre-wash fabric for bag making, I feel that by not washing, the fabric will stay crisp and bright, which is desirable for some bag styles.  Also, bags that have structure should not be machine washed.  When spot cleaning is the recommended method of cleaning for a given project, I say, skip pre-washing.

Once our fabric is ready, it's time to cut!

Cutting Fabric:
Tools for Cutting Fabric

I use two methods when making width-of-fabric cuts (cutting straight across from selvage to selvage):

The first is folding the fabric in half with the selvage edges lined up and making a straight cut across the width, with a ruler and rotary blade.
Be sure that your rotary blade runs alongside your ruler.

The second is not actually cutting at all, it's ripping.  By making a small cut, with scissors, through one selvage, I will then rip the fabric straight across to the other selvage by pulling the two pieces apart.  Ripping fabric in this way will give you a line that is true to grain.  Some folks swear by only ripping their fabric and while I do like to do it when taking yardage from a bolt, for my sewing purposes it's not really necessary... I'm not a full-time ripper, haha.

Once you have your yardage ready you can cut it per your project's

Always "Measure Twice, Cut Once".  This is an old standby for sewing... and so important for saving time, and money!  Also, dimensions for straight cuts are Length by Width. (Good to know for cutting rectangular pieces, which are sometimes not printed as pattern pieces)

Cutting With Scissors:

I often find people who say their #1 reason for not sewing is "I can't cut in a straight line".  Well, neither can I... not if I'm eyeballing it anyway.  This is where it's super handy to have a ruler and tailor's chalk, or a water soluble pen, handy.

Using a ruler and chalk, simply measure and mark your lines parallel or perpendicular to the selvage, or grain, of the fabric you are cutting.  Once your lines are marked, you can take a pair of fabric scissors and cut along the lines you just made... This makes cutting in a straight line much easier.

Once lines are marked, cut with fabric scissors for straight lines.

Cutting With a Rotary Blade & Cutting Mat:

This is my preferred way to cut fabric.  If you are planning on spending time with fabric and your sewing machine, you should invest in a good rotary cutter and self-healing mat... aaaand a ruler, but you should have that already.

Of all of the rulers I have, I think I use my acrylic 3 1/2 x 18 1/2 inch one the most.

Simply lay your fabric down on your mat, with the selvage parallel to the lines on your mat; place your acrylic ruler on top and move your rotary blade along the edge of the ruler, applying slight pressure to make your cut.  With a sharp rotary blade, you should not have to press hard on your fabric to cut it.
Cut along the ruler's edge for a straight, clean, line.
Your rotary blade will run alongside the ruler's edge,
making for a straight cut.
Using a pattern:

I always pin my pattern pieces to the fabric I am cutting.  Sometimes by doing this, I can layer a few pieces of fabric to be cut, pin them all together with the pattern piece and make one cut.  I use fabric scissors when cutting around pattern pieces; this is where good quality dressmaker shears come in handy to cut through layers!
Remember to pin within your pattern piece
to avoid hitting pins with your scissors, which will ruin them!

So, there you have it, are you ready to cut into some fabulous fabric with no worries?  I hope so!

Next, I'll be talking about pre-cut fabrics (Fat Quarters, Fat Eigths, Charm Packs, etc) and why you should use them!

[Part 3: Fat Quarters & Pre-Cuts]

XxOo~ Melissa 


  1. Thank you! All this is very helpful to me, a beginning quilter.

  2. Great tutorial! I'm your newest follower!
    Briana @ babblingsandmore.blogspot.com

  3. Thank you! What fabric is used above? I'm so in love!!

    1. The fabric I used in these photos is K & Company for Robert Kaufman Fabrics "The Hanah Collection" ... I've had it for a while, if you can't locate it online just shoot me an email, I have about two yards of it. ;-)


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