How to Cut Fabric PERFECTLY STRAIGHT…and Square It Up!
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Almost every single project you make that involves fabric (whether it involves sewing or not), requires that you find at least one straight edge…..and then you can move forward from there. I think finding that first straight edge can sometimes be tricky, and that’s why I get emails about it. In fact, I have gotten this question for years and always seem to forget to share what I do.
But let me tell you — fabric isn’t so scary. Once you figure out how to find that first straight edge, you can make perfectly straight fabric cuts from there on out.
And none of this will be done with a rotary cutter. Though, you can use one if you want to. But I RARELY use one (unless I’m quilting….aaaaand, I don’t quilt very much), because if I only need it for a few cuts, it’s annoying to pull out the mat, the cutter, the straight edge, etc. And most things don’t have to be absolutely perfect in all angles and measurements like quilting does. But, you can still cut nice even lines, without the cutter.
Just remember, cutting things even and precise will make your project process a lot smoother. And a whole lot LESS hair pulling will be involved! So…..don’t rush through the cutting, do it right the FIRST time!
Okay, let’s get to this…
STEP 1: Wash & Iron Fabric
- A really good habit to get into, is to wash your fabric right after you purchase it. I, however, don’t have this habit……but wish I did. Because when it comes time to cut something up and it hasn’t been washed, I make little adjustment to my measurements and such, knowing it may shrink a little. But for the best results — always WASH & DRY before beginning any project! (More about washing fabrics HERE.)
- Before measuring fabric that needs to have precise measurements, ALWAYS iron it flat. This will release the wrinkles and allow the fabric to lay flat as its actual size. In fact, always have an iron handy while sewing….it makes such a difference to sew things flat after you’ve sewn them!
STEP 2: Flat Work Surface
- When cutting your fabric, always use a hard flat surface. If you want those lines to stay even and flat, it’s crucial to use a hard surface, and NOT on a carpeted floor or on top of a bed. Blah.
- If you’re cutting on a table, be sure that all the edges of the fabric are up on the table too. If there is fabric hanging over the edge, it will most likely pull the fabric and will cause uneven lines without you realizing it.
STEP 3: Good SHARP Scissors
- Let’s talk scissors. They make a HUGE difference. I have used a variety of scissors and yes, I have bought certain scissors because they were a lot cheaper. And at first, they have been awesome. But, after a few months, they dull and get nicks in the blade, etc. It’s so frustrating.
- My very FAVORITE pair of scissors of all time…..are Ginghers. Hands down. And I have cut miles and miles of fabric. These 8-inch Knife Edge Dressmaker Ginghers are my absolute FAVORITE! I have used the lightweight Ginghers and I don’t like them as much as these. They cut like butter. And make absolute precise lines. Plus, they can be sharpened if they ever dull. (And yes, I have two pairs because I lost one, bought another, and then found the first. Of course. Ha.)
STEP 4: Finding Your Straight Edge
- First things first….you need to find (or create) one straight edge first. And then you can cut everything else from there. So look at your fabric and find the selvage edge. (More on what the selvage is and where to find it HERE.)
- The selvage line is generally always straight. Sometimes you will see it waver just a bit but it pretty much gives you a straight line.
- So, cut off the line of selvage in a straight line….and you have your straight edge of fabric to work from.
STEP 5: Squaring up a Corner (90 degree angle)
- My favorite method for creating a nice 90 degree cut on my fabric, is to match it up with a perfectly square table corner. Or counter corner. HOWEVER, be sure that it’s actually a 90 degree angle. You can’s always trust that the carpenter was precise either.
- Then, line up your straight edge from STEP 4 along the bottom edge of the table. (I left the selvage hanging from that edge of the fabric fro here on out, as a reference in these pictures.)
- Now, see what the left side of the fabric looks like and see if lines up exactly with the left edge of the table, or if it slightly angles outward or inward. I don’t know if you can tell, but my fabric slightly angles out to the left, as you get higher up on the fabric. So trim that up with your scissors until the fabric is in line with the edge of the table.
- If you have a hard time cutting a straight line that matched the edge of the table, use a straight edge of some sort and draw a line. And then cut.
STEP 6: Cutting a Square or Rectangle
- Now that you have a nice 90 degree corner, and TWO straight edges, you can start measuring whatever size square or rectangle you need…..and start cutting. Lay your fabric down in front of you and measure from one of the straight edges, over the amount that you need and begin cutting.
- For example, I wanted to make a 14 inch square…so I placed the end of my ruler all the way up against the right edge (which is already straight) and measured over to the left 14 inches. I made a small cut right where the arrow is pointing at the bottom.
- Then, slide the ruler up a few inches, making sure that it’s sill lined up with the edge of the fabric (the right edge in my case), and then measure over again the same amount (14 inches in my case)….and then continue cutting until you reach your measurement.
- Repeat and continue cutting up the fabric until you’ve cut high enough to meet the other dimension you need. (Since I wanted a 14 inch square, I cut up about 14 inches and then stopped.)
- Now, you have 3 sides cut. Just one more.
- Rotate your fabric to that 4th side and measure over the same way you did above. In my example below, I measured over from the left edge of the fabric 14 inches and then made a cut down by that small arrow at the bottom.
- Move the ruler up and continue measuring and cutting, just like you did previously, making sure to cut directly towards the measurement you need on your ruler.
- Continue cutting until you have reached the top.
- Using the ruler is the method I used most often and seems to work the best for me. However, if I’m cutting long lengths of fabric, sometimes I take this shortcut. (But if your fabric is stretchy, don’t do this….it will throw off your measurements because the fabric will most likely stretch.)
- Once you’ve made a few cuts along your fabric, you can fold it up and keep the two edges even along the side that are already cut (the left side in my case) and then use the folded over fabric as a guide to cut your opposite edge of fabric (the right side in my case).
STEP 7: Checking For Accuracy
- A great way to check yourself and be sure that you cut even lines, is to fold your fabric in half and make sure that the width along one end is the same width as the other end.
- Then fold it the opposite way and and check the other widths.
- If not, re-measure/trim/adjust as needed.
- If you’re cutting a square, and need it perfectly square, fold it in half diagonally to check your angles.
- Line up the edges and make sure they’re even….and that the corners are folded right in half.
STEP 8: No Selvage . . . Make your own 1st Straight Edge
- Sometimes you’ll have fabric that doesn’t have a straight edge to start with (like the selvage edge I explained above).
- Woven fabric is created with woven threads that run vertically and horizontally, called fabric grain. So, if you can find the exact grain, you can use that as a guide to create a straight edge. (More about fabric grain and construction HERE.)
- So, if you make a snip along one side of the fabric, about one inch from the edge…
- …and then pull the fabric apart and rip it, it will rip right along the grain line. (I know mine is ripping exactly parallel to the edge…..but that’s because it was already a straight line. BUT, that shows me that the original line was in fact straight.)
- If you look closely though, it distresses the fabric a bit and stretched the edge into a ripple.
- You don’t want to use that as your straight edge that you base everything else off of…..because, well, it’s bumpy.
- However, you can use that ripped edge (even though it’s ripply), to measure over about 1 inch and cut a straight line parallel to the rip.
- Now you have a straight edge to use and can use it to begin whatever project you are making.
And that’s it! A nice straight edge of fabric isn’t so hard after all!!!
Now, get cutting! :)
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articles. Find even more sewing projects, patterns, and tips for beginners and advanced sewists by Liz Call
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